Women’s ‘fishing university’ opens doors

Sue Fields Tolliver wants a hobby to de-stress from graduate school at Nova Southeastern University. Belinda Martin would like to go trolling offshore aboard her 23-foot boat in the Turks Caicos Islands. Kathryn Feanny of Fort Lauderdale wants to spend more quality time with her husband.

The three women were among 50 who attended a recent “Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing!” weekend saltwater seminar in Dania Beach. The seminar series, now in its 16th year, is the brainchild of Fort Lauderdale marketing executive Betty Bauman. Billed as the women’s “fishing university;” and the “no-yelling” school of fishing, it has drawn about 6,000 women of all ages who want to learn more about sport fishing in a friendly, noncompetitive environment.

“We get a lot of people who never fished before,” Bauman said. “They need somebody to open the door and give them a helping hand.”

The recent Dania seminar was a three-day affair with a welcome party, a day full of lectures, demonstrations and hands-on skill stations, followed by a half-day fishing adventure.

Students learned basics from captain Lee Lavery — such as the differences between conventional and spinning gear; various effective baits; and why a five-gallon bucket is a vital piece of equipment to carry on a boat.

“You never want to go fishing without a bucket,” Lavery said. “If you need to tinkle, use the bucket. Buckets are 12 inches across; you can measure your yellowtail across the bucket — and it carries a lot of things.”

The women learned about the addictive powers of inshore fishing from part-time captain Lou Volpe.

“I am warning you ladies that you are sliding down a slippery slope,” Volpe said, half-joking. “A lot of family occasions were missed by me because it was good weather for fishing. Fly-fishing is another drug. I’m trying to limit my crazy.”

And captain Tony DiGuilian told the women — after explaining elementary offshore trolling tactics: “Get as much information as you can from events like this. Start with one thing and get pretty good at it before you go on to the next thing. There’s very little luck in fishing. The people who really work at it are the most successful at it. You can be just as good or better than men. Women compete in tournaments all around the world and beat the men’s butts on a consistent basis.”

After lunch and a fishing fashion show, the women divided into smaller groups and visited skill stations where they used various hand-held devices for releasing fish alive; rigged bally hoo for trolling; threw a cast net to catch live bait; learned how to cast spinning and fly rods; tied several kinds of fishing knots; practiced gaffing a fish using a floating grapefruit; and learned how to back a boat on a trailer safely down a ramp, and how to drive and dock the boat.

Tolliver was glad to learn the difference between circle hooks — which hook a fish in the corner of the mouth — and j-hooks, which can injure fish from becoming stuck in their throats or gills. The knowledge is important for releasing unwanted or undersized fish unharmed.

“I plan to go to the piers and Lake Okeechobee,” the doctoral student in trauma psychology said. “I need activities that are de-stressing to me, and I love fishing.”

Tolliver said she grew up fishing in freshwater, but she didn’t learn much because her mother baited her hook, tied knots and handled the fish.

“All I did was reel it in,” she said.

Tolliver said her husband isn’t interested in fishing, but “I think if I’m bringing home eating fish, he will want to come.”

The women looked to be making good progress at the skill stations.

With some instruction from Chuck Baldwin, Martin successfully gaffed a grapefruit bobbing in the canal outside I.T Parker Community Center where the seminar was held.

“I thought it would be a lot harder than it actually was for the first time,” Martin said.

An organizer of fishing tournaments in the Turks Caicos Islands, Martin says she frequently gets invited on offshore big-game trolling trips.

“The guys like to take me, but they won’t teach me fishing,” she said. “We go out and everything is done. They’ve already chosen the lures and the bait.”

Bauman doesn’t expect women to emerge from her seminars as angling experts. But she hopes they build confidence and become more effective fishing team members.

“When they’re done with us, they’re more confident, going to a tackle shop and saying, ‘I’d like to buy this lure to catch a mackerel,’ ” Bauman said. “If the lady can do a bit more and is part of the team, tying on her own hooks, she gets more respect.”

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