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It took men five years to win the Key Colony Beach Sailfish Tournament, and then the male victory was decided on the basis of time by breaking a tie with two women. When the late Dorothea Lincoln Dean won the Cat Cay Tuna Tournament in 1963, the upset was comparable to a George Plimpton knocking out Muhammad Ali. The same year Dorothea went to Newfoundland where she boated five giant tuna in a single day for a total catch of more than 2,800 pounds, a feat that made her as well-known as the Queen in that province.
Last year's World Series of Sport Fishing was won by another IWFA member, Mrs. Gloria Nicholson of Palm Beach. That city's annual Silver Sailfish Tournament, probably the best-known open contest on the Florida coast, has been won any number of times by women, as have most of the tournaments in which they are eligible to fish.
Such feminine angling skill is not limited to the deep sea. Women like Mrs. H. Howard Babcock of New York, Mrs. LaMont Albertson of West Palm Beach, Fla. and Mrs. D. Gordon Rupe of Dallas are among the finest freshwater anglers in the U.S. Indeed, IWFA member Joan Salvato has cast a fly 161 feet with a one-handed rod—just a few feet short of the men's record for this event.
The almost fanatical determination that women bring to angling has won them as much notice among the professionals as has their prowess. One woman had an engine blow up while she was fighting a fish. She kept right on while the captain and mate fought the fire. Another, pulled to her knees by a giant tuna, cracked her mouth on the transom and lost a front tooth in the process. When the mate ran to help her, she told him in decidedly unladylike terms exactly what his fate would be if he so much as put a finger to her gear.
It is an inviolate rule that no one but the angler may touch any part of the rod, reel and line while a fish is on. The rule applies even if the reel falls apart, as it did to Mrs. John Stetson of Palm Beach during a tournament at Palm Beach in 1965. With a sailfish tugging on her line and with nuts and bolts strewn all over the deck, she calmly asked the mate for a screwdriver, put the reel back in working order and then proceeded to land the fish.
Other women have fought fish in braces, in plaster casts, while shot full of novocain, in the throes of mal de mer, the final stages of pregnancy and during a variety of illnesses that ordinarily would hospitalize less determined anglers. Still others have passed up confirmations, graduations and luncheons with rich relatives and have even abandoned vigils outside the operating rooms of loved ones in order to go fishing.
One woman interrupted her honeymoon, leaving her spouse in an empty bridal suite 200 miles away, to fill a team for a recent IWFA tournament. Another, fishing from a 15-foot open boat off Marathon, Fla., hooked into a tarpon that appeared to be of record size. Five hours later, with the radio out, the hands of the clock past midnight and the boat now six miles off shore in treacherous water, the lady refused to listen to the near-panic pleas of the guide to cut the fish off and head home while they still had a chance. A shark, most likely male, put an abrupt end to the battle.
While the professionals agree on the angling abilities of women, they seem less sure about what inspires a woman to take up the sport. One thing is certain. She does not do so because of the fish. There is probably no single, all-encompassing reason why women angle, but the one that doubtless comes closest to the truth is men.
If the husband is a fisherman, he may persuade his wife to take up angling to keep him company, or to give him a chance to show off what he knows in front of her, or because he is not especially good at the sport himself but hopes to achieve a modicum of fame through his wife or because he wants to get her so hooked that he will have some free time to skip out on his own now and then.
Besides the fishing husband who lures his wife into the sport, there is also the fishing husband whose wife takes the initiative. She may be jealous of his sport or feel left out if she does not fish, too, or she may view angling as a unique opportunity to compete against him in an area where she has a good chance of beating him at his own game, or she may be consumed by curiosity about any activity that takes his time or captures his attention or, though such women are rare, she may simply want to be with him and to share his interest.