By CAPT. MEL BERMAN, 970-WFLA
Over the last decade, there has been a notable increase in women anglers. A sport that heretofore appeared to be a men-only club is now populated with a growing number of female fishing enthusiasts. Many are quite talented and can often fish rings around their male counterparts. Yet, when it comes to fishing guides, the ratio of women to men is surprisingly small.
What are some of the limiting factors for the distaff side? Why is it so few have taken up this profession, while the ranks of male guides have increased at a good pace? For some answers, we spoke with Capt. Rachel Cato who, a few years ago, made the life-changing decision — becoming a full time guide.
As a 3-year old, then Rachel Nobbe eagerly anticipated each adventure with her dad, fishing lakes in the Ozarks. Chuck Nobbe devoted the necessary time and energy required to instill in Rachel a deep love and appreciation for the sport.
When the Nobbes moved to Tampa Bay, Rachel was 7, and she took advantage of the great fishing opportunities the area presented. “We fished any place we could get to by land. “ Her brothers and sisters would all go along on these family angling outings, but it was Rachel who really got the bug. Chuck took his daughter under his wing when she was a little kid, guiding her through all phases of fishing. And Rachel honed her fishing skills on each and every one of these early adventures.
“I learned that it’s never always the same. And once you think that you get it — it changes. You can always count on each trip being different, and it’s always a challenge,” she said
Rachel became a captain only recently and started her charter service in July of 2005. What was it like for the attractive 30-year old? “Overall, it was just being nervous about things like — whether the fish are going to be there? Will I be able to catch sufficient bait? How productive is the day going to be? And then I started to realize that it s what it is — it’s fishing,” she said “And the more you get experience, the more you know what to do. When confronted with tough tides or the snook aren’t eating, you fish for redfish. If those are tough, you fish for trout. Generally speaking, you always try to work those productive areas where you can find some cooperative species.”
What about being a woman guide? Are there any obstacles or resistance from potential clients? Does Capt. Rachel harbor any concerns about who she takes fishing? ”I never lived my life worrying what people might do. It’s all about taking necessary precautions to be as safe as you can be before hand. I get much of my client’s personal information and always let my dad or someone ashore know where I’m going to be — and when I’m scheduled to return.” She added that “I think it’s always a good idea for anyone to have a person on land keeping tabs on you as an overall safety measure.”
We asked Rachel if it’s an advantage or a handicap being a woman guide. “You know, I think I might almost have an advantage. It’s because I’m one of the very few out there. And of course being a male dominated profession, it’s almost like the guys want to take care of women. They want to look out for them and make sure they’re safe and okay. So I think all of the other guides that I regularly work with – we keep an eye on each other. We take care of each other. If I have extra bait, I’m more than happy to share with other skippers, as they are with me.”
What’s a typical trip with Capt. Rachel Cato like? “We meet up and before my clients board the boat, I discuss the expectations for the trip. I listen to any possible concerns they might have. I just want to make sure that everyone’s comfortable, happy, safe and satisfied. In the end, it’s about having a great day on the water, enjoying fishing.”
Nobbe’s preference is light tackle fishing. ”And really it’s whatever is there. Like, recently we had a blast just catching trout. And then there are those times when snook fishing can be phenomenal. But most of all, guiding is a situation that has me in a natural environment, observing the beautiful wildlife and pristine setting. For me those are always calm and soothing surroundings,” she said.
Women guides like Capt. Rachel can also serve as role models for young girls. “I’ve had a couple times where the father or the grandfather calls and they want me to take them and their granddaughter or their daughter out for a trip. And I just think it’s a great opportunity for families and for parents to be able to open up their daughter’s world to a fishing experience with a female guide. This shows the youngsters that there’s a wonderful outdoor experience that’s available for women.
Are there a certain set of skills that women guides need to learn? “I think that for guides of any gender it’s a life-long learning process. As I said before, the minute you think you get it – you realize that you don’t.” Capt Rachel has been fishing in salt water for at least 15 years and is quite capable and comfortable handling a boat in uncomfortable situations like very strong currents or high winds. She added that “I’m the one who’s in charge and I can deal with it.” It all comes with time and experience in handling the boat, reading the weather and the tides, and always know what’s going on. It has taken Rachel some 10 to 15 years to get a good basis and learn what she needs to know to be a qualified fishing guide. That’s experience she can depend on for conducting her charter business.
What would Rachel say to other women who are considering becoming a guide? “Definitely do your homework. Get lots of on-water experience and look at it as an occupation, something you must do day in and day out. And ask yourself; is this something that you’re willing to do? For me it’s enjoyable and a lot of fun. But like with any other job there are going to be tough days and times when it’s a real struggle. Yet for me, it’s definitely rewarding. But again, you need the willingness to do the work required to make that charter service successful.”