Genesis of a fisherwoman: one catch and I was hooked

2012-12-08 00:00

THE roles of men and women have long been defined. Men are the providing protectors of our society whereas women are the nurturing home makers. Little boys spend weekend’s away learning to hunt or fish with their fathers while daddy’s little girls are left at home to practise the skills they will one day need to make a home of their own.

As Christmas approaches, fathers are proudly helping their sons to choose their first rods and reels while moms wrap boxes filled with dolls and ingredients for easy-to-bake goodies.

Women have spent decades fighting against gender-defined inequality, though burning their bras did not prevent our grandmothers from spending Saturday afternoons teaching our mothers to bake and sew.

The role of women in angling is somewhat undecided. Women in fishing are often the wives, girlfriends, mothers or daughters of anglers. It is exceptionally rare that a woman gets involved in fishing through her own desire. Rather, women often become involved through sheer necessity or through a chance encounter with a sport that many of us were incapable of comprehending the thrill of and somehow it reels us in.

I was a teenager the first time that I went fishing. My best friend’s father invited us to join him for a day of deep-sea fishing through what I am sure was desperation. His eldest son had just left home to become a marine and he had no friends who were available to join him, so he asked us.

Never one to turn down a challenge or an opportunity to get a little dirty, I agreed. As is always the case with fishing expeditions, we woke up unreasonably early the next morning and it was with some difficulty that I convinced myself to leave my warm bed. Teenagers, if nothing else, are known for their love of sleep. We launched the boat and spent the next hour travelling between undulating swells to a shipwreck just off the Richards Bay coastline. The cool ocean breeze and unsettled seas were enough to awaken simultaneous sensations of anticipation and dread. Was I really cut out for this?

Once we arrived at our spot, Oom Jan carefully explained the theory behind getting a bite and setting a hook before passing me a rod. I lowered a hook carefully concealed in a chunk of rancid sardine to the ocean floor and a few minutes later had my first bite. I eagerly waved my rod in the air, hoping that my flaccid attempt at a strike would meet with shouts of approval and heavy line. It didn’t. Oom Jan rolled his eyes as I continued with my uneven strike every few minutes or so until eventually deciding to reel in and check my bait. I caught a glimpse of silver as I reeled in my line, and to my pleasant surprise and Oom Jan’s utter astonishment there was a fish on my hook.

The poor thing was long dead and had started to stiffen. I didn’t care. In that moment, I felt the same sense of wonder and pride that a five-year-old boy feels the first time he catches a fish. I felt powerful. I was a hunter, a provider and a fisherman. Only, I wasn’t a fisherman, I was a fisherwoman.

Women are unable to understand their role because fishing is a fisherman’s sport. In order for women to understand how they fit into this traditionally male sport, the sport as a whole must be reassessed and the roles of both sexes must be redefined. Perhaps this is the reason for the shift in terminology from fishing to angling and from fishermen to anglers.

Women cannot expect to compete with male anglers on an even footing. Men have a centuries-old head start. Their skills were learnt from an early age as father patiently taught son the same techniques that he learnt from his father.

George Orwell had it right when he wrote “All pigs are not equal…” but not being equal does not necessarily mean that one is better than the other. It merely means that they are different. It is exactly our differences that provide us with new opportunities for growth.

We are each able to bring something different to the water and it is these differences that enable us to cultivate the sport that we all love.

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