Story and Photos by Alden Allen
The roar of the boat engine broke the silence of the early morning. In the dim light dawn afforded, we could trace the wake left behind weaving as we maneuvered our way through the coastal waters. You could feel the anticipation on the boat. We were going fishing.
The rising sun painted a picture that begged us to stop and stare for those few moments, and we did. After that, the only association left with its presence was the heat, and it was hot. But that was no deterrent, or at least not enough of one. The water held possibilities, and the day had just begun.
Engine off. Silence. The water was calm, infinite. This was it.
Rod. Hook. Bait. Cast. Wait. Nibble. Three seconds. Jerk. Set. Reel. Not too fast. Lift. Catch.
This was a day for learning. The fishermen on this boat weren’t experts; in fact, they weren’t even fishermen. These passengers were women trying their hand at the outdoors of Sportsman’s Paradise.
Yet while Louisiana boasts the nickname ‘Sportsman’s Paradise,’ many do not know exactly why, and of those even fewer have experienced the treasures and resources that make the title so fitting.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) took initiative to decrease that number through educational programs and workshops, one of which is Louisiana Women in the Wild. LDWF decided to create a program designed to not only give women the opportunity to get involved in the Louisiana outdoors, but also teach them to hunt and fish step-by-step so that they can stay involved.
LDWF found that, for many Louisiana women, lack of want was not the issue, but rather lack of knowledge, instruction, and personal resources. Given the opportunity to sign up for the program, women jumped at the chance.
This was the 2nd Annual Louisiana Women in the Wild Fishing Basics Workshop, which took place June 30th, 2012. The department takes thirty women per year into this aquatic education course, which is one part classroom, one part field application, and all parts new for the women who sign up for the venture.
Each year, LDWF and Cabela’s team up to provide the opportunity free of charge. The workshop, divided into two parts, is designed to build the women’s base understanding and then allow them to apply what they learned.
The first phase of their journey to fishing autonomy takes the women to Cabela’s Gonzales location for a one-day instructional workshop taught by LDWF outreach coordinates. They learn everything from fishing techniques and tackle tips to boating procedures and safety regulations. Instructors teach using demonstrations and hands-on training that aimed to give the women the instructional base needed to prepare them for the second leg of their journey: the jump from the classroom to the coast.
Giving the unique experience its name, the next phase of the course divides the women into two groups of 15 and takes each to Grand Isle for a weekend long fishing trip. “Once they complete the workshop they come out here and actually have the opportunity to put all those things they learned at the workshop into use,” LDWF biologist Gene Cavalier said.
The idea is to create and provide the full fishing experience outside and on top of what they packed into an eight-hour class day. Coordinators place the women in the hands of LDWF professionals for a secure environment for applied learning. “Let’s take them out, show them how to catch the fish, how to rig their own poles, how to clean their own fish, and how to cook them. Let’s let them have the total experience. We wanted a closed circle,” LDWF biologist Karen Crabtree said.
The concept formed when Karen Crabtree and fellow biologist Gene Cavalier became aware that only 7 percent of women in the United States hunt and fish. They made it a priority to put a dent in Louisiana’s numbers. The Louisiana Women in the Wild program intends to get more women involved in wildlife by making them more independent, Crabtree said.
Though some may believe that 30 women per year is not a significant enough number to make a difference, LDWF officials maintain that the program is effective. Program coordinators keep in touch with the women they mentor and encourage them to mentor others. In that way, the program affects more than the women that finish the course, Crabtree explained.
Louisiana Women in the Wild also puts on a hunting basics educational course, which will take place later this year on August 25th. It also takes thirty women per year and aims to give women the total experience and one-on-one instruction from LDWF hunting experts.