Clewiston, Fla. A little more than five years ago, Angie Douthit vacationed in Florida with a friend, and they ended up bass fishing on Lake Okeechobee. Their Clewiston guide put them on a lot of fish, and Douthit had so much fun she returned a few weeks later.
The experience changed her life. She married the captain, eight-time BASSMASTER Classic qualifier Chet Douthit, obtained her captain's license, bought a boat and became the only female fishing guide on Lake O. This year, the 40-year-old Ohio native entered BASS' inaugural tournament circuit for women - the Mercury Marine Women's Bassmaster Tour, where she's ranked in the middle of the pack in the pro division after three of five tournaments.
"The field is so scattered because not everybody fishes every tournament," Douthit said. "So if I do well in one, I'm right up there."
The top 12 anglers in the Women's Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings will compete for the tour championship in February on Alabama's Lake Mitchell, held in conjunction with the BASSMASTER Classic. The Angler of the Year wins a Toyota truck.
Between tournaments, Douthit keeps busy escorting customers to bass on her home lake and working part-time at a Clewiston golf course. She and Chet won $55,000 in a fishing competition featured in a Canadian reality television show, and she was featured in a Discovery Channel Europe segment.
Douthit is thrilled at what she sees as emerging opportunities for women in bass fishing and wishes more would get involved.
"You see more women in saltwater than freshwater fishing," she said. "But this year, I've (guided) more women than the previous year. Women are getting paid more for what they're doing. They're more independent than they used to be."
Currently, there are no women competing against men at the highest levels of BASS tournaments. But Deb Wilkinson, manager of the women's tour, believes that will soon change.
"After this season, I think you're going to see women fishing the BASSMASTER tour," Wilkinson said. "They're working into that. That's the importance of getting sponsors."
Racking up sponsors - such as boat, engine, and tackle companies - pays for a bass pro's travel and tournament entry fees, and in some cases for boats and tackle as well. Big names such as BASSMASTER Classic winners Kevin VanDam and Mike Iaconelli get paid handsome salaries to make public appearances and endorse products. They are able to concentrate on bass fishing without the distraction of having an outside occupation.
Wilkinson believes the same thing will happen for women anglers, especially those who are successful in appealing to nonfishing-related companies.
"For example, Pedia-Lyte, Mary Kay, Clairol - some are gender-specific," she said. "We're all looking for a fresh face and someone to promote our products."