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Dedicated women of sailfishing

12/16/2008

ISLAMORADA, Fla. — Around 20 boats line the docks of Whale Harbor hours after the competition day ended at the Don Gurgiolo Sailfish Classic presented by the ESPN Outdoors Saltwater Series.

The vast majority of boats are inhabited by men of all ages, ethnicities and shapes but then "The Killer White" pulls in and two middle-aged women amble off the charter boat with their own fish story to tell.

Linda Butler, owner of the vessel and avid angler for 10 years, and Sharon Mahoney, a 15-year outdoorswoman and tireless promoter of women and fishing, tally their score and learn they sit in a tie for seventh place at the final event of the year of the Redbone Series, marking the end of ESPN's wall-to-wall coverage of the Series in 2008.

Of the 20-boat field, Butler and Mahoney are the only women participating here and they don't think that's nearly enough.

"I think sailfish are the ideal gamefish for women," said Butler. "It takes some strength, but a lot of finesse is involved. You can't just horse them in the boat."

The two politely complement each other's fishing acumen and personality. Each believe they learn something from the other and they generally enjoy the camaraderie they built after their first tournament experience together.

"I think women can be better anglers than men," said Butler. "We don't think we know everything and we are willing to listen and learn."

After a joking remark that some men might think exactly the opposite, Mahoney responded best:

"Well, once we learn it, then we think we know everything. But until then, we are willing to soak up all the information."

One could reasonably say that the publicity surrounding women in the outdoors has never been more prevalent.

Most recently, Kim Bain-Moore became the first female to score a qualifying berth in the Bassmaster Classic, the most visible fishing tournament in the world, in the event's 38-year history. Bain-Moore has been featured in The USA Today and recently was profiled on The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

But the duo believes that the interest isn't where it needs to be for females and offshore fishing. So, they are doing their part to give female anglers a touch point into what can be a very overwhelming and expensive sport of off-shore fishing.

Butler, who owns and operates a guide business with The Killer White, donates boats and services to local women's events while Mahoney started up an annual tournament titled Poor Girls, which caters to women who want to compete but not pay sky-high entry fees.

The two are high-profile, accomplished anglers in the area and add a certain cache to the events they compete in. Butler is one of the few females who owns a boat, let alone a guide service. Mahoney aspires to do the same but understands the hefty finances involved.

While the decision to purchase the boat was a business decision for Butler, she insists that she wouldn't have done so if she didn't have extreme passion for off-shore fishing.

"It was from the heart," said Butler. "It was a bit overwhelming when I bought the boat and I didn't really plan the whole thing out, but I love being a boat owner."

While there are strong numbers to indicate the proliferation of women in bass fishing, both feel that off-shore fishing presents challenges to women.

For one, the expenses are high. But both feel that the more serious problem is the few role models that aspiring female offshore anglers can connect with. Women bassers have pros on the Women's Bassmaster Tour presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors to look up to but Butler, in particular, feels that there are a lack of prominent females on the offshore side.

While neither feel that they are suited to be the role model, they hope that their efforts will serve to educate young female anglers about the challenge and excitement that saltwater fishing offers. With refined skills, engaging personalities and unwavering determination, it's hard to imagine them not succeeding.