If asked for one word of self-description, not one of us would have chosen "outdoorsy." Big skies, fresh air and far-off horizons had never held much appeal. Camping under the stars? Not on your Sears' Boating and Fishing Catalog. Stalking wild game? Get serious. Sitting in a bass boat skewering worms on a fishhook? Well, we would rather be dead, that's all. Yes, it would be safe to say we were blissfully deaf to the call of the wild until boredom, two long-in-the-tooth Zebco 404s and a quarter-pound of dead shrimp came into our lives.
It's not that any of us thought a woman's place was in the home or that the wilderness was too untamed for womenfolk. We wondered why anyone—female or male—would prefer a night swatting mosquitoes in a tent to an evening sipping champagne in a Plaza suite. Who would rather hunt ducks than hunt mall merchandise? Why angle for trout when you could do the same for compliments or party invitations? Questions like these baffled girls like us.
Admittedly, it might be stretching things just a bit to think of ourselves as girls at age 27, but we did, we do, we are. Gloria Steinem is a woman. Martina Navratilova is a woman. Vanna White is a woman. Jane, Jackie, Shawn, Betsy and I? Well, we're girls—old girls, but girls just the same. Career girls. Jane is a fashion merchandiser. Jackie, a freelance artist and designer of T-shirts. Shawn teaches elementary school. Betsy works in the real estate department of a bank, and I make my living by exploiting my friends with stories about their lives and intimate personal experiences.
Friends since college, we gathered occasionally to shop, to visit, to eat Mexican food or to relax by the pool but never, ever, to commune with nature or to murder God's lesser creatures in the name of sport...until that weekend two summers ago when Jackie, Betsy and I were thrown some very tempting bait. And while we will most probably remain forever ignorant of the allure of sitting around a campfire and declaring war on deer, we five climate-controlled city girls now fish with a zeal that would do Squanto proud.
That bait we nibbled, and eventually took, was disguised as a simple invitation: Please come to a friend of a friend's weekend hideaway "at the beach." It turned out that the closest thing to a decent "beach" was 15 or 20 miles from said hideaway. However, there was a private pier, jutting out over the marshy shore of a bay, just a few steps from our host's door. As we sunned and raised griping to an art form on the pier, we spotted two Zebco spin-casting outfits well into their autumn years and a newspaperful of rancid shrimp well beyond theirs. Bored silly and already closer to nature than any of us really cared to get, we were forced by unfortunate circumstance to fish, to angle, to do something.
Our host baited the hooks. We learned to cast. And before the afternoon was out, we landed a flounder, two croakers, a crab and—almost—a sea gull. We dropped both rod-reel combos into the salt water, twice. We hooked our host in the shoulder, once. We did not touch a single fish or shrimp. By day's end we were nicely tanned, our catch was cleaned and put into a deep-frozen hereafter and our hands remained as clean and unsullied as when we had started. We were hooked.
Jackie, Betsy and I became proselytizers. Passing up shopping, bridge, charity work, league tennis and other such traditional feminine activities, we preached the gospel of fishing to our pals and soon had made converts of Jane and Shawn. We purchased our first modest rigs—$15 "ready-to-fish" spin-casting outfits—from a five-and-dime store. We traveled to various fishing piers almost every weekend, gradually gaining piscatory expertise.
Before long we were baiting our own hooks—and with live, wriggling shrimp, too, thank you very much. After four or five outings we were even able to remove our own catches from the line. All our fancy pocketbooks soon contained fishing licenses adorned with saltwater stamps authorizing us to harvest the fruit of the Gulf of Mexico. We became faithful readers of the area newspaper's outdoor reports. The Orlando Wilson Show and Fishing with Mark Sosin replaced Dynasty and Cosby as favored TV fare. As our Vogue subscriptions lapsed, we replaced them with Salt Water Sportsman.
Our telephone conversations began to change from talk of careers, men and clothes to serious discussions of tide schedules and water temperatures. We shopped at the plastic-worm-by-the-pound bar at the big fishing expo, and we lusted dreamily after tackle boxes the size of picnic baskets and the jewelrylike reels we saw in shop windows. When Jane's husband gave her a custom-made graphite rod—with her name indelibly scripted on it under a layer of clear epoxy—and a to-die-for filigreed bait-casting reel, the rest of us coveted them with an envy previously reserved for multicarat diamond rings, Rolexes and BMWs.
We talked tackle in the powder rooms of trendy restaurants. Jackie made dangling earrings out of spinnerbaits. For birthdays we gave each other spoons and root beer-colored imitation shrimp. The Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico became our bible. I wore my khaki 10-pocket fishing vest as a fashion accessory. It was clear: This fishing habit of ours was getting serious.