Mary Bryant
Ruth Toth, Candice Cobb, Mary Dean, Joyce O'Neal, and Liz Hotchkiss. Not pictured: Melinda Sutton and Leslie Lanier
Ruth Toth, Candice Cobb, Mary Dean, Joyce O'Neal, and Liz Hotchkiss. Not pictured: Melinda Sutton and Leslie Lanier

These days women can do anything men can do.

Seriously, they can. There is even a rumor that there may be a female president in 2016. Women really have come a long way. My grandmother told stories of riding on the back of a motorcycle with a boy and how scandalous that was! Now, women ride their own bikes! Women own and operate many of the businesses on Ocracoke. So it should come as no surprise that women fish, too! In the recent OISFT (Ocracoke Invitational Surf Fishing Tournament) that has been going on for 32 years, there were 18 all-female fishing teams out of the 71 registered teams. The teams consist of 6 members with 1 alternate member. This is serious business.

I recently sat down and talked to the Tide Runners of Ocracoke and they were delightful! We sat on the back deck of the newly opened Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar on a gorgeous morning and talked about fishing. I am not an angler but by the time our hour was up, I was ready to grab a rod and go! I asked the most basic questions about tournament fishing and the ladies were very gracious and patient with me.

The OISFT was held on April 29th, 30th, and May 1st this year. These three days are full of fun, parties, and fishing. Each day of fishing means two fishing sessions with a break for lunch in between. Spots are assigned to each team randomly. To be fair, the teams are moved around for each session so that no one team has a “good” or “bad” hole. This makes the fishing luck more random because you can’t use your knowledge of the spots here on Ocracoke or your fishing sixth sense to find a better hole if the fish aren’t biting.

I learned a few tricks from the ladies. When going out to the surf to begin fishing, DO NOT run out hastily! You could be scaring fish away! Some fish prefer shallow surf and may be in mere inches of water. If you go galloping through the shallow water, they may get spooked and decided to pack up and leave.

Go, Tide Runners!
Go, Tide Runners!
Photo by Candice Cobb
If you apply sun block or bug spray, be sure to wash your hands well before touching the bait and tackle! The fish will not come near your bait if it reeks of chemicals.

You don’t have to throw your fishing line out super far, try tossing it in shallow water and seeing what is there.
Some of the women prefer shrimp as bait while others like to use squid. I also learned about the purists who like to fish with lures and no bait. They have to pull the line a certain way to make the lure shimmer so fish will bite. Fishing is a true art form.

When asked if they think women fish differently than men, the women all said “Yes!” They see women as being better listeners when given advice. The women on this team had a really great vibe going on. They all enjoy the serenity and solitude of surf fishing. They told me that they could fish alone, separated by quite a distance yet liked knowing that they had their teammates nearby if they needed anything. Other teams take a more festive approach to the tournament and set up tables with food and drink, like tailgating at a college game. The women told me that this is okay because each team has their own vibe.

Some of the women on the Tide Runners have been fishing for many years while others are newcomers to the sport. This year Liz Hotchkiss fished in the tournament for the first time. Liz filled in for Leslie Lanier. Leslie and I recently had a conversation about "throwing like a girl." Throwing like a girl turned into "fishing like a girl" when Leslie recalled someone saying that to her. She replied that she caught a prize-winning fish one year so fishing like a girl must be a very good thing!

This was Melinda Sutton’s second year fishing in the OISFT. Melinda and her husband own Tradewinds Tackle on Ocracoke. The tournament was enjoyable for her because it is a quiet time fishing with friends away from the family. She said she enjoyed the tournament even though all she caught this year were puffer fish which don’t count for points. A fish must be at least 11” to count for the coveted points that are needed to win. A team wins by having the most points. If there is a tie for points, the team with the most fish wins. If there is still a tie, a coin toss is the tiebreaker. While none of our Tide Runners caught anything huge this year, Melinda Sutton and Mary Dean have both caught huge Red Drums in the past, 46” and 44” respectively.

They both told the stories of their catches which were very exciting. When asked what the most unusual thing she has pulled in, Mary remembered that she caught a small octopus once. A storm has a way of tossing things about in the ocean.

Ruth Toth and Melinda Sutton.
Ruth Toth and Melinda Sutton.
Liz had a nice memory of Betty Salem who fished in this tournament for over 20 years. She gave a beautiful decorative lure to new members. All the Tide Runners agreed that Betty symbolized all women who fish with her spirit and love for the sport. Betty passed away in July of 2014.

Candice Cobb told me There seem to be more women fishing now than ever, and that's a good thing. I think it's been easier for men because they grow up fishing with fathers and brothers. In the past, women only fished with their boyfriends or husbands, but stereotypes have changed. Tackle shops and fishing programs have noticeably targeted women and increased interest over the last couple of decades. I've also noticed the more commonplace usage of the term "angler" in place of the gender-specific 'fisherman' or 'fisherwoman.' The required skill sets for successful fishing are pretty gender-equal (the fish don't know who's on the end of the line!). My teammates taught me that one advantage women have is that they tend to cast shorter distances. Inexperienced anglers only cast a long way out, but many times impressive fish come into the wash where women cast the most.”

The main sentiment that was echoed throughout the group was that you don’t fish for the catching because that honestly doesn’t always happen. You fish for the love of being out on the water, with your friends and communing with nature. 

While there's nothing better than the exhilaration of hooking a big fish, the camaraderie comes close. I also really enjoy giving back to Ocracoke with OISFT. It's a great fundraiser for the community, an economic shot in the arm during a shoulder season, and a great way to raise awareness of the importance of catch-and-release.said Candice.

The members of the Tide Runners are Melinda Sutton, Ruth Toth, Leslie Lanier, Mary Dean, Candice Cobb, Joyce O’Neal and Liz Hotchkiss.