Catching big catfish is only one facet of what motivates Abby Miller to fish like a girl
Fish Like a Girl
By Terry Madewell
This story reflects lifelong observations about fishing like a girl developed through opportunities to fish with young, and adult, female anglers. This isn’t a comparison between girls and boys in terms of catfishing skills, just simply my thoughts on what it means to “fish like a girl.”
“Fish like a girl” may seem like a catchy phrase to attract attention, but it’s much more than that. My philosophy of the fishing attributes of the female clan has developed as I’ve experienced a lifetime of fishing with my mom and aunt, four daughters, nine granddaughters, many youngsters with their parents, female catfishing tournament anglers and guides. Collectively, I’ve learned a thing or two about fishing like a girl.
Twelve-year old Abby Miller, from Gold Point, North Carolina, along with her dad Brandon (jointly a catfish tournament team), provided an unbiased (non-family) opportunity enabling me to better describe the truth about fishing like a girl.
To meet the Millers, I traveled 2-1/2-hours to Badin Lake in North Carolina and was so eager I arrived 30 minutes prior to the meeting time. The sky was still dark when I texted Brandon that I’d arrived early.
They were earlier, and Abby was more enthusiastic.
“We’re on the dock, boat’s in the water, motor’s running, and Abby’s ready to go” was the prompt text reply.
A couple minutes later Abby helped stow my gear in the boat, and we were off.
Within a few minutes, we were anchored with rigs baited and positioned by the in-sync father/daughter team. After a few minutes of rod-tip observation, Abby grinned when she spotted a twitchy rod tip, and she quietly maneuvered past Dad and took the pole position. Outwardly calm, she waited for the rod tip to nosedive. When the rod tip arched in horseshoe shape, she cranked down on the big blue catfish, setting both the circle hook and the fish-catching trend for the morning.
A flurry of catfish action ensued, and this dad-and-daughter-duo teamed to battle and boat multiple blue catfish. Abby was a blur of activity as she moved around the boat, expertly watching, hooking, and fighting hefty blues, not to mention skillfully wielding a net as long as she is tall to scoop catfish for her dad.
Abby’s experience in catfishing tournaments began four years prior and has transformed into competing in adult tournaments with her father.
“I love catfishing, and I love catfishing with my dad,” she said. “I enjoy being on the water, even early in the morning. And I like that Dad expects me to help with everything. And I do.”
Abby said she tends to be a little shy when they take fish to a tournament weigh-in, but when carrying a big fish to the scales, “I’m too excited to worry about it,” she said. “I like weighing big fish, especially when some adults have smaller fish.”
Brandon said Abby’s love of catfishing is genuine, and he’s proud of her spirited attitude.
“On mornings when we’re going fishing, she’ll pop out of the bed at 3:30, get ready quickly and is in high-energy mode,” he said. “But for pretty much anything else, she’s not much into early mornings. At tournament weigh-ins, she’ll specifically ask to carry the big one to the scales. She’s my guide when we’re casting nets for bait shad. She’ll maneuver the boat, mark the shad on the graph and tell me when and where to cast the net.”
Brandon admits sometimes it’s difficult to remember she’s only 12 because her attitude and knowledge seem advanced for her age.
“She’s truly a partner in the catfishing process, whether fishing tournaments or for just for fun,” he said. “Many tournaments are held in colder weather, but she’s all in.”
When the going gets cold, the cold get going, according to Abby.
“I like going even when it’s cold,” she said. “I’ve learned that when the rod bends, the cold just goes away. One time it was so cold I had my shoes off and was warming my feet when a rod went down … I was so excited I had to catch that one in just my socks.”
My “wow” moment occurred while talking tactics with Brandon. I noticed Abby active at the bait-cutting station. I asked Brandon what she was doing, and she’d informed him that she’d been tracking the multiple fish caught that morning, and every one had been hooked on the same type bait. She was cutting pieces of that specific bait so we’d be sure to use it.
The 12-year-old angler assumed control of the entire fishing process with her own initiative. It’s not that she didn’t trust the adults to do it. She was simply removing the potential for mistakes.
Abby Miller doesn’t wait for someone to cut bait or hand her a rod with a fish on it. Odds are that she’d hook a catfish and hand the rig to you if you’re not busy taking pictures. She watches rods, hooks fish and fights catfish like a pro.
She considers catfish slime and blood a badge of honor. “I think being a girl makes me a better fisherman,” she said.
These traits of Abby Miller blend perfectly with experiences I’ve gleaned fishing with my daughters, granddaughters, other female anglers and female fishing guides. Granddaughter Meagan Daugherty was one of the first to delve deeply into catfishing with me, and she also demonstrates the core component of fishing like a girl.
A New-Years-Day trip on Lake Wateree in South Carolina when Meagan was 12 years old illustrates the point. She had just boated a 38-pound blue when another big catfish loaded on. This drag-squealing catfish forced her to wedge her knees into the pontoon rails to stand her ground. Challenged, she bowed her back and dug in.
When the beast reached boatside, the rod pressure caused the fish to thrash, drenching us both with cold water. Before I could react with the net, the monster turned and surged downriver. Meagan strained to hold position but was involuntarily lugged to the front corner of the pontoon.
Wanting to help, I instinctively reached to grab the rig. Meagan was holding on with both hands, her back literally bowed in a strain and the catfish smokin’ the drag. As my hand approached the rod, she turned her head and looked me squarely in the eye. Considering the intensity of the moment, she calmly said, “Papaw, I’ve got this. But next time I get this fish to the boat, how about you be ready with the net?”
That passionate, can-do attitude is the core component of fishing like a girl.
And that’s it. Intense passion is the common characteristic of female catfish anglers. All the girls I’ve fished with possess this trait. The passion for the process fuels them.
At the end of the fishing trip with Abby Miller, I asked if she minded that her vest and pants were covered in catfish slime, with catfish blood spattered over her outer garments and her hands caked with goo from cutting bait and holding fish. She checked her outerwear, smiled, gave me a thumbs up and said, “It’s all good. It just means we’ve had a good day.”
Perhaps being a girl does make her a better fisherman.
“Fish like a girl?” From my perspective, that’s a quality any angler should strive to achieve. If you’ll dare to dream and are willing to up your catfishing game, maybe you’ll be like these girls and elevate catfishing to a new level of passion, and fun, by fishing like a girl.
(Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C. has been an outdoor communicator for over 45 years. He holds a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager. He’s passionate about sharing outdoor adventures with others and still strives to learn how to fish like these girls.)