What is it like to be a professional captain and a woman? For me, the answer lies in one word: NOV·EL·TY (noun): the quality of being new, original, or unusual.
When people outside the industry have asked what I do for a living, this word describes exactly how I feel. It’s almost as if I hope they don’t ask, knowing what to follow is an in-depth, minimum 20-minute conversation with a slew of questions filled with intrigue and astonishment. Inside the industry, however, I am sometimes faced with other questions—coupled by a faint tinge of disbelief.
Either way, I’m still left feeling a bit like, well, a flybridge sideshow. There are so many wonderful, intelligent and respected women in this business. There are also dozens of past and present record-holders, tournament winners, and world-class anglers who have paved the way for women in sportfishing. There are, however, very few women running or mating on sportboats today.
Finding them is like searching for that one sardine in a school of minnows. While the bikini-clad ladies on your social media feed certainly have their place in the world, there is a difference here. The women I describe are professional fishermen. We are not models. We are just a few regular girls who have passion for a sport-turned-career that happens to be male-dominated.
Professional Women of Sportfishing: Who Are We?
We are the women currently working in this field. We are the novelties, the ones you may mistake for men on the rip. We are the ladies doing the same things you do: grinding, working hard at the expense of our families (and bodies!) Though we may be rare, we have finally (perhaps hopefully) arrived.
How in the world did this happen? Working on fishing boats has always been considered a “man’s job.” There are so many obstacles that face aspiring male mates when trying to break into the business. One can only imagine the additional hurdles women face while attempting to make this male-dominated sport their career choice. Physical strength, mechanical prowess, and scrutiny are only a few of these obstacles. While anyone can be taught how to fish, how to drive a boat or how to mate, the woman who wishes to make her career in this business isn’t always taken seriously.
Strength – Above and Beyond
Physical strength is a give-and-take. We do what we can. What we can’t do, we ask for help. In turn, women rely on more than just physical strength. We also give back by going
above and beyond the normal job expectations and stepping up the personality game, which may or may not be part of the original job description.
Captain Charlie Stuve of Native Guide Fishing Charters in Jupiter, Florida employed a female mate by the name of Chessy Ricca. Drawing from his perspective, Stuve said “Women must know their limitations, but Chessy is great with my charters. The kids especially respond better to her than to the male mates.” Stuve continues, “It’s all about the customers and having a female mate brings a new element to their experience.”
What Chessy may lack in physical brawn is more than made up for by her ability to “bond” with her charters. This helps to ensure repeat business. Captain Joe Drosey of Rhonda’s Osprey in Palm Beach feels the same about his female mate, Sasha Lickle. “People love her: she’s talented and goes above and beyond, making her a major asset to the Osprey business,” Drosey says.
While employing a female mate can be a plus – both professionally and personally – what about hiring a female captain? Beyond the ability to relate with people and establish
bonds, captains must be mechanically inclined as well. This takes a little more effort.
I grew up riding horses and playing with Barbie dolls, not riding dirt bikes or working on cars. My “tomboyish” demeanor fell with my father, brothers, and of course, my grandfather – fishing in the river, playing sports, etc.
I’ve always had a lot of “boy” friends, and still do to this day. Whenever I need help, they’re there for me. My mechanics have helped me learn by explaining how certain systems work, keeping me up-to-date with technology, or by simply taking the time to talk me through a problem or repair.
No one is born with innate mechanical knowledge, it is learned. Most women are already behind the eight ball when we decide on boating as a career, so asking questions –
no matter how trivial they may seem – is part of it. I have fired several technicians over the years either because they spoke to me with blatant disrespect or assumed I had no idea what they were talking about.
Making the mistake of thinking a woman in this industry does not know what she’s doing can result in a sorely missed business opportunity. Women are loyal by nature. I
have used the same mechanics, tackle shops and boatyards for the bulk of my career. I can honestly say that if it weren’t for these supportive people, I’d be exactly where I started – a deer in headlights. When it comes to being a sportfishing captain – all manicures aside, know in my heart that there isn’t anything else I’d rather do – at least while I’m still able.
I’m Just a Girl?
“Women wanting to survive in the dog-eat-dog world of sportfishing are very often faced with scrutiny and criticism,” says Osprey mate, Sasha Lickle. “Sometimes others perceive that because you are a woman, you aren’t as good (at the job) as a man.”
For perspective, consider this: Fishing isn’t rocket science or brain surgery – it’s just fishing. It’s like anything else – take the time to learn it and pay attention. All of the professional women of sportfishing profess shared experience. All started out washing boats for pennies and riding along for free until we know just enough to be dangerous. At
that point, we’ve all thrown ourselves to the wolves.
We learn to listen; we learn to keep our mouths shut. We learn the importance of humility and to maintain professionalism through modesty. All of these things are key
ingredients to yield a good fishing mate, or captain – man or woman. So why in the world would someone with the same, or sometimes better, credentials be passed up
merely because they are female?
All three of us have been met with the same “She’s just a girl, don’t waste your time” attitude. Sasha says, “Joe always saw me at the marina trying to do whatever I could to go
fishing. One day, he invited me to ‘help out’ on a charter – figuring I could take pictures, make food, and entertain the customers.”
After many days of Sasha’s “helping,” Capt. Drosey began to see the passion she had and how she really wanted to learn. She maintained professionalism and patience with his charters – which some of his male mates frankly lacked. He started to open up to Sasha. Sitting down with her at the end of each day, he explained what she could improve
on, what she needed to know for next time. To his surprise, Drosey says “Without getting paid, Sasha showed up day after day.”
In fact, Sasha rode along for half a season. Sasha describes the result of her dedication. “Joe asked me to be his fulltime mate and I was thrilled. I jumped at the chance,” she
says. Joe admits that he had been approached by female mates in the past (P.S. I was one of them many years ago!) and said he never even considered them. Why not??? “I thought they couldn’t do the job. I hold my mates to very high standards. I expect them to be good at the job I’m paying them to do, and come down hard if they fall short,”
Drosey explains candidly. Fast-forward a bit and Sasha still hasn’t fallen short.
Chessy, Sasha and myself have at least two things in common: we love to fish and we don’t give up. With passion comes desire. With desire comes the willingness to press
through the criticism and the endless days of working for free. We are nurturers and teachers, we make sound decisions and we care about others. We are clean and organized. We also respect the boss and we don’t take things for granted. According to Captain Charlie Stuve, anyone who doubts whether or not a woman could do this job should “man-up.”
Despite the obstacles, the professional women of sportfishing press on. It takes a certain quality of woman to succeed in this business. According to Stuve and Drosey the ability to work hard in any condition and to have thick skin will get you there. So the next time you see a girl tying a knot, wiring a fish, or docking a boat, don’t dismiss her. Be proud of her and befriend her – she likely has a story to tell.