But the IGFA record book, impressive though it may be, is no longer the arbiter elegantiarum of angling. The ladies changed that, too. IGFA records are based upon weights, and in order to weigh a fish obviously it must be dead. The ladies' objection was not to killing fish—even the most conservation-minded angler has little objection to killing a fish that is to be eaten or mounted—but, rather, to wasting fish. With the exception of swordfish, few billfish are eaten or mounted. After the pictures are taken, most are left to rot at the dock or are tossed to the sharks. Even among edible species, waste is high. It was too high for the women.
After a fish has been hooked, played and brought to gaff, they reasoned, why not set it free to fight again? Certainly the moment of truth for the angler comes not when the mate thrusts his gaff into the side of the fish, but rather just before, when the fish is at last brought alongside the boat. The test of the angler's skill ends here. For all practical purposes, the fish has been caught. To kill it tests only the efficiency of the mate.
Bolstered by such irrefutable logic, the IWFA set up its own reward system based not on fish boated but on fish released. The purpose is not to discourage members from making further bids for IGFA records—no woman would underwrite that kind of foolishness—but to encourage them to release fish that are clearly not of record size. Informed anglers, and most IWFA members are, can usually tell whether a fish has a fighting chance to make the books long before it is brought alongside the boat. The lady may have trouble figuring out the phone bill, but give her one glimpse of a leaping sailfish at 200 yards and with computer speed she will come up with a pretty accurate estimate of its length, weight and girth. Unless it is an obvious challenge to the record, there is no point in boating the fish. But by releasing it she can earn points—the kind that eventually add up to prizes.
Such serious angling for points demands remarkable discipline and meticulous bookkeeping. Not unexpectedly it has produced criticism of what less award-oriented anglers call an overemphasis on scores at the expense of sport. But, in spite of such criticism, the release-fishing concept has proved an incalculable contribution to conservation. Its widespread acceptance among virtually all angling groups today can be attributed almost entirely to the early efforts of the IWFA.
Bouquets are equally owed the ladies for their pioneering efforts in the use of light tackle—although the sincerity of their motives has sometimes been questioned. Nowhere in the battle of female vs. male angling have women excelled as dramatically as in light-tackle fishing, and nowhere have their accomplishments proved quite so frustrating to men.
The light-tackle revolution, along with the female revolution, began in the mid '50s and steadily gathered momentum along with the IWFA. Male anglers embraced the movement wholeheartedly. By the time they understood its full ramifications it was too late. Again they had been had, but good.
"Men just don't have the patience for light tackle," says Mrs. Helen (Billie) Lynch of Pompano Beach, Fla., who obviously does—if her roomful of fishing trophies is an indication. "A man gets a big fish on light line and he can't wait to whip hell out of it. Right away he starts horsing it in, and snap! the line breaks. Then he turns around and blames it on the captain instead of on his own stupidity. Women don't fish that way. They know brawn never beats brains on the really light stuff, but try to tell that to a man!"
Trying to tell anything about angling to a man can be, in itself, a herculean feat—a fact that has hastened considerably his fall from the fighting chair. The most damning witnesses to the capitulation are the fishing-boat captains, who see all, hear all and seldom mind telling all.
"Give some guy two weeks with an outdoor magazine and two days on a boat and he thinks he's written the book," says George Staros, one of the masters of the Fort Lauderdale sport-fishing fleet. "Women approach the sport differently. They listen to what you tell them, then they go ahead and do what you say, exactly the way you say it. They don't feel they are losing their dignity by taking directions."
"No matter how much they learn," adds Staros' brother, Bill, captain of the Windsong, "women keep right on asking questions. That way they keep adding to their skills. But no matter how good they get—and some of these women are really good—they never act like they know more than the captain. That's why women are a lot easier to teach and to get along with on the water. It's also why they catch fish when men don't."