“W.T.F. – Women That Fish” Do women belong on the water, or next to it with a rod in hand? Of course, we do! It’s an archaic stereotype that women don’t, or can’t fish and that we only go with to make lunch and praise our husband’s and sons’ catches.
Do women belong on the water, or next to it with a rod in hand?
Of course, we do!
It’s an archaic stereotype that women don’t, or can’t fish and that we only go with to make lunch and praise our husband’s and sons’ catches.
I am a fisherman, I’m not a woman who can fish or a female angler, I’m just a fisherman. I participate in a male-dominated sport where personal prejudices overflow.
Like every fisherman in the world, I live for that moment when my line pulls. My heart pounds and my hands sweat as the fish fights, jumping out the water desperate to escape my grasp. When I get it out the water, a fire burns through my veins urging me to cast again and again and again. A quick photo to remember and share with my family, then a gentle return to the water to fight another day. In a world that moves at a lightning pace with no signs of slowing down, the quiet and peaceful moments of fishing are my drug of choice and I live for those moments, dream about them and plan out the next one before the last is even over.
The first time I caught a fish was on the rocks in Umdloti. I had no clue my life was about to change forever.
It was our first holiday to the coast as a young family. My son was two years old and we had stopped at the local beach shop and had bought a set of children’s fishing rods, buckets and spades to keep ourselves busy. We did not expect to catch anything and were just looking for a way to pass the lazy days away. As young children do, my son quickly got bored with fishing off the rocks and the rod was passed to me. I cast it in ocean to keep myself entertained while watching my toddler stalk crabs and poke at the squirting coral. I was lost in a day dream when I felt a soft tug on the line, I thought I had imagined it and then I felt another. I reeled it in quickly with no real expectations, but curious and excited and to my delight found a palm sized puffer fish dangling from my hook.
I stood on those rocks unsure of what to do next. Could I touch it, should I? All I knew was that I wanted to get that hook out of that little fish in and into another one as fast as I could.
It was love at first bite for me and I was solidly hooked. We found a fishing shop and bought our first real rods. Our evenings were spent sitting on the patio of our holiday home making rigs while researching fish type, baits, knots, tides and moon phases. We spent every moment on the rocks trying, but more often than not failing to catch fish. When we managed to hook a fish, we would carefully put it in my son’s bucket, where he would spend a few moments admiring it before gently returning it to the ocean where it belonged.
When we got home, fishing very quickly became our families’ passion. It filled the moments between the daily grind of traffic, work, school and homework, we got to laugh and tease each other about who was the better fisherman and who had caught the smallest fish that day.
We challenged each other to catch fish using homemade lures and rods made of sticks and cable ties that we put together after school or by fishing with nothing more than a piece of line wrapped around a hand, a hook and a worm. The winner would get bragging rights until our next fishing trip. Fishing together became the glue that has kept
our family strong in a time when families fall apart far too easily. We taught our children to respect and love nature, we ensured we left nothing, but footprints behind and took nothing but photographs to preserve those precious memories. The years flew by far too fast and my children grew up, they still love fishing but have other hobbies and interests now. I have a lot more time to fish alone nowadays and I love it. It’s my quiet time, the time when my worries slide away and my mind can focus on the simple things in life. I wake up in the dark, pack the car and leave the house before anyone else greets the morning. I make my way to wherever I am spending the day as the sun slowly peeps over the horizon and shows off in a glorious display of colours. When I arrive, I set up my rod in the cool morning air, pull my jacket a little tighter around myself and slip on my glasses. Then it is just me and my wits against the everelusive bass I hunt. The hours evaporate as I creep around the waters edges, staying out of eye-sight and stalking my prey. Treading softly on the wet grass, I more often than not lose track of time and everything and everyone around me disappears as I dance with my rod and wait for the tug that lets me know the battle has begun. When my knees buckle in exhaustion hours later, I fish my way back towards the car, pack up and drive home bone-tired but happy, knowing my “me time” was wondrously healing to my soul and far better than any spa day or shopping trip could have been. Sadly, opportunities to fish alone have become fewer and fewer for a woman on her own. Safety is always a concern even when we fish as a family, but on my own I have to constantly remind myself to be aware of my surrounding, check my gear has not grown legs, that no-one is sneaking up behind me and that my car is still where I parked it. Crime is everywhere and unfortunately, I am a soft target. I used to be able to just pop into my local pond and waste a few hours unbothered, now I have to wait for my busy husband and kids to “be in the mood” to fish or worse, fish at crowded venues in pressurised waters on weekends and holidays. While my husband has always encouraged and supported my passion he understandably worries about me being on my own, travelling in the dark on unknown roads and fishing at unsecure venues. Security needs to be a priority for more fishing establishments, not just for women but for everyone. So, we have an ongoing crime situation in South Africa, we all know this and take precautions where we can. As a woman however, I have another problem that keeps me on my toes. Way too many of my fellow fishermen are sexist; these men feel a woman’s place is barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. They claim ownership of the water simply because they are men and anyone of the opposite gender has no right to be there as anything more than sandwich maker and beer server. This antiquated view has led to me being harassed while fishing; it’s trampled my joy far too often. I’ve had my equipment tampered with and overturned onto the ground or thrown in the water. Threats of violence have rained down on my head if I don’t “stop catching their fish”. I want nothing more than to be left alone to focus on my passion and improve my skills and instead I have to ensure I don’t ‘upset the locals’ or push the status quo. What has happened to respect for your fellow man or women?
And don’t for a moment think it’s only men who are sexist. Women are just as prejudice. A lady in a shop turned to me one day while I was looking at baits and said “us women can’t really fish, we just go with to improve the scenery for our husbands” and titter as if it was the greatest joke ever told.
A sales woman ignored my requests to see the reels I enquired after and tried to sell me a cheap hot pink rod and reel combo. Commenting that “all the ladies buy this because it’s so cute”. Fishing, like all hobbies should be inclusive of everyone. I have been into shops to buy equipment and have had people refuse to serve me or treat me like an idiot and try sell me the rubbish no one else would buy. I get talked down to constantly. If I am with my husband and ask a question I have been ignored entirely and the answer given to my husband. It’s frustrating that my money has less value than his simply because I am a woman. Everyone has the right to follow their passion without question or judgement. South Africa is a glorious country with some magical watering holes for us to enjoy, we just need to learn to share and care a little more about our fellow fisherman, be they man, woman or child. It’s not just a man’s world anymore, it’s my world and I will fish its waters with patience, kindness and understanding. Please try to do the same.
Linky Ferreira at Beacon Vlei, KZN