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Women Anglers

Rods, Reels, & Relief: Fishing Encourages & Empowers Women

Two of Indiana's fishing groups for women anglers create confidence and community.

Casting for Recovery: Fostering Friendships for Women with Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Survivors

As a child, Amie Lieurance would wake up early many summer days with her family to fish for bluegill with her Snoopy pole.

As she got older, she fished less and less, eventually stopping altogether. When diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, she hadn’t fished in years. Like many women who receive such news, she asked, what’s next?

For Lieurance, this was only a medical question, as in which treatments, tests, and services she might pursue. She didn’t realize one of her next steps might be a return to her childhood sport.

In 2017, after a year-and-a-half of being cancer-free, she attended her first Casting for Recovery (CfR) retreat. The Indiana chapter of CfR provides these no-cost outdoor events for women diagnosed with breast cancer to connect with nature and fellow breast cancer patients and survivors from all over the Hoosier State. Participants receive the space to heal through community, counseling, and the nurturing of a new hobby—fly fishing.

Founded by a breast reconstruction surgeon and a fly fisher in 1996, CfR is based on a single action, the motion of fly casting. The reason is simple. Repeating this gentle action over time can increase mobility in the arm and upper body of women who have had lymph nodes removed, a common part of breast cancer treatment.

Most of the retreats are open to women at every stage of breast cancer, but Indiana’s chapter also offers an exclusive retreat for women at the most severe stage of breast cancer. It provides an open space for women with stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer to support each other. Combining the physical therapy of casting with emotional support and time spent in the outdoors allows such women to have some of the best weekends of their lives.

Connections formed through CfR are lifelong. Erica Elliott, a fly fisher who volunteers as a casting instructor and river guide for CfR, appreciates the angling community she’s found in the group. Elliott has traveled with Lieurance and other CfR participants to some of the nation’s best fishing areas. Before she discovered CfR, Elliott had fly fished for nearly 20 years—even teaching her husband the sport. Like CfR participants, Elliott also experiences therapeutic results.

“(Fly fishing) helps me release the worries of the world; it’s pretty special,” Elliott says, also noting how CfR’s sole focus on women allows for more vulnerability for those learning to fish. She says mixed-gender fishing can be intimidating, but, in comparison, when women practice fishing alongside only other women, “There are no preconceived notions of what to do.”

While women anglers enjoy fishing for the love of the sport, they also acknowledge that the purpose of their time spent on the water is twofold, because engaging with other women who fish is just as meaningful. Viewing fishing as a contest is “missing the point,” says river guide and retreat leader, Desi Shidler. “It’s not a competition. It’s camaraderie. We want to support each other.”

Leaving their competitive edges on shore doesn’t lessen the thrill of fishing for CfR participants; rather, it seems to empower them to experience the joys of angling without the stress of hooking the perfect catch. The accomplishment Lieurance says she feels when she sees the bend in her rod and a fish on her hook affirms her strength, reminding her that “(I) caught this all on my own!”

“What’s next” for CfR in Indiana this year and beyond is more retreats that will provide women with hope, healing, and a new hobby.

Now that Lieurance is cancer free, she says her “next steps” when attending a CfR event differ from what they were before.

“Next is connecting with other patients and survivors, my pink sisters,” she says. “The retreat is a gift of love.”

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Bass’N Gals: Indiana’s All-women Fishing Club Connects Women Anglers

Although fishing is a male-dominated activity, female anglers make up an integral part of the sport.

According to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation’s 2023 report, female fishing participation in 2022 was at an all-time high, with half of the women anglers surveyed saying they would like to fish more often.

In Indiana, some may have difficulty finding fishing groups with an exclusive focus on women; however, one has been creating opportunities for women anglers since 1985.

Called Indiana Bass’N Gals, it’s the state’s first and only all-women fishing club. For more than three decades, the group has been dedicated to serving women who fish for bass. Today, members of this still-thriving club focus on conservation, youth, and community service. They meet monthly to plan their own tournaments as well as services such as an annual tournament for youth, clothing drives, habitat builds, and shoreline clean-ups.

Bass’N Gals holds several statewide annual tournaments from April through September. The top eight finishers in each can compete in the Indiana Bass Federation’s statewide regionals, and two qualifying club members can compete in national tournaments. While these opportunities may seem like they require a mastery of bass fishing, members emphasize that all skills levels are welcome in their club and in club tournaments.

“Do we fish hard?” asks Rebecca Hubbard, vice president of Bass’N Gals. “We do. But the ladies help each other feel comfortable. We don’t want to intimidate anyone.”

Instead, members connect with one another in an open and honest way, starting at their love for bass fishing.

“The friendship kicks off with the core hobby, then grows on the water and off the water,” says Amy King, the club’s tournament director.

Many of the women’s involvement with the club has evolved from an introduction at the Bass’N Gals’ booth at the annual Indianapolis Boat, Sport, and Travel Show to evenings spent sharing a cabin with each other before taking off for a tournament at sunrise.

Not only has Bass’N Gals allowed the women to create friendships with one another, but it’s also strengthened their beliefs in their angling skills, allowing them to seek new opportunities and challenges.

“Bass’N Gals has helped me build enough confidence to go out and compete with men,” Leigh Ann Pittman says.

Although she started with Bass’N Gals only two years ago, Pittman now serves as club president.

Although all of the women now fish frequently, they found their way to fishing for various reasons. Some were influenced by their families and friends. Others had worm-and-bobber fished most of their lives and wanted to try something different. Because bass fishing uses particular baits and techniques, the women could use their foundational angling skills to hone their knowledge and abilities for catching a different species.

While they appreciate the biggest catches the most, they also value the practice of catch-and-release, as this allows the bass to stay healthy and grow even larger for the next anglers who may come across them at a later tournament.

And there will always be more tournaments. The women have no plans to quit angling as a group anytime soon, especially considering how their sisterhood emboldens their passion for fishing.

“(Our group) empowers women,” says Sandra Lugo, club treasurer. “We’re all like-minded. We’re able to admit when we forget something and build each other up.”

Although conservation and bass fishing are the primary focus of Bass’N Gals, members appreciate the bonds they’ve created with other bass fishers from all walks of life. Asked what angling advice they could give their younger selves, all seem to agree: They only wish they’d started fishing sooner.

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