Fishing, like many other sports, has long been considered a “man’s sport”—but times are changing. There are now more than 14 million female anglers in America, and if this Nature Coast women’s fishing club has its way… there’s going to be a lot more.
In almost any given day, at least one member of the Nature Coast Lady Anglers (NCLA) fishing club can be found fishing the Gulf waters. Most of the members use kayaks, but some also fish from larger boats, piers or the shore. These women are strong, independent and resourceful, and when it comes to saltwater fishing… they have a proven track record of success.
The group was founded in March 2013 by Ocala resident and club president Delores Belanger. Following her attendance at a Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission-sponsored seminar dedicated to women’s fishing, Delores decided to form a club so local women could share their love of the sport.
“I wanted to create a club where we women who love fishing can fish whenever and wherever we want and not be dependent on our husbands to help us out,” she says. “I wanted a club where we can fish, have safety in numbers, talk girl talk and just plain have fun… and we do.”
Fifteen women attended the first meeting and club membership has remained around that number, with some members leaving and new ones coming on board.
Delores plans speakers and club events a year in advance, and a schedule is posted online at naturecoastladyanglers.com. Club membership fees are $25 per year, and anyone interested in joining can contact Delores by email through the club website.
The club advertises itself as “a casual, low-key fishing club for adventure-loving women of the Nature Coast who enjoy the outdoors in general and fishing in particular. It is an avenue for female anglers to meet, socialize, make friends, fish together and, above all, have fun… and lots of it.”
The Nature Coast Lady Anglers meet on the first Tuesday of each month at 6pm in “The Den” room at Plantation on Crystal River.
The line flew through the air in a slow, lazy arc, creating ever-expanding ripples as the baited hook and sinkers landed in the smooth Gulf water. Tired of tanning in the hot Florida sun, Delores, out of sheer boredom and almost lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the boat, picked up one of her husband Ty’s extra rods and decided to try her hand at fishing. Even though she had fished a bit as a young girl, it held no interest for her.
She soon felt a tug on the line and gave the rod a slight pull to set the hook. It didn’t take her long to reel in the small thrashing shark. Looking at the sleek fish’s beautiful gray color and feeling the texture of its sandpaper skin, the tables turned, and instantly Delores was hooked… on Gulf Coast fishing.
“I looked at that baby shark and I was absolutely fascinated. I said to myself, ‘What else could be in that water?’” she says with a laugh. Even though this catch happened over six years ago, you can still hear the excitement in her voice. “I have always been an outdoors person, and as a young girl, I loved to camp, explore and swim. When I caught that shark, something happened inside me… I felt the need to explore the Gulf and see what other mysteries it held for me.”
Delores went home and decided she didn’t want to borrow Ty’s fishing rod—she wanted her own. In no time, she and Ty were fishing together and reeling in mysterious-looking fish they couldn’t identify. She soon bought the book Sport Fish of Florida by Vic Dunaway, and it became her fishing bible.
“As I looked through that book, my childhood curiosity came alive, and the fish in it became my bucket list. I made a game out of it, and my goal was to catch one of every fish in the Gulf,” she says.
Having an independent spirit, she grew tired of her husband picking the precise spot where they would fish. Delores thought a kayak might be the answer, and she borrowed one from a co-worker at Munroe Regional Medical Center where she works as a program assistant in the Diabetes Healthways program. She loved the independence the kayak offered when out on the water with Ty, and it wasn’t long before she decided to buy one of her own.
A friend introduced Delores to experienced kayak anglers, Jim and Fern Castrale, and she began to “tag along” on their kayak fishing outings. She learned a great deal about kayak fishing from the Castrales and soon sought even more independence. The Nature Coast Lady Anglers club was born, and Delores then had the freedom to plan kayak fishing expeditions for herself and her fellow club members.
Today, Delores still works at MRMC but looks forward to the day when she can devote more time to fishing the Gulf she loves so well.
“I love to fish, and I love to be on the water,” she says. “Some people like to go to Disney World, but I love to be on the water. It’s so much fun that it becomes an addiction, and I am addicted to kayak fishing. I can’t imagine my life without it.”
“I am the club’s newest member, and I joined about six months ago. I had quite a bit of offshore fishing experience but had only been out in a kayak three times in my life, so I wasn’t exactly an expert kayaker. The first day we went out, I was with two other club members and it was a crazy-windy day. I had just bought my new kayak and had never been out in it before, and I became quite concerned.
“The other women went further on, but I decided to hide from the wind in an estuary because it was blowing really hard. I started to fish but was more concerned with just trying to manage the kayak in the wind. I hooked and landed a 13-inch redfish, the only catch of the day for any of us. So, I was quite proud of my catch, and it was quite an initiation into the club.”
Martha Ann Brunsink
Martha Ann Brunsink has fishing in her blood. The Homosassa resident’s father was a shrimp boat captain and crabber in her hometown of Punta Gorda, and she grew up being a part of the commercial fishing industry. When she and her husband, Wayne, moved to this area in 1981, she was already an avid fisherwoman.
“I’ve been around the water my entire life,” she says. “When it comes to fishing, I have gained a lot of knowledge over the years, and I enjoy passing that knowledge on to others. The club affords me the opportunity to do that, and I want other women members to enjoy fishing as much as I do.”
Martha Ann and Wayne not only fish local waters, they travel the state searching for their next great fishing adventure. Besides being veteran kayak fishers, the couple owns a 17-foot Maverick Master Angler flat-skiff they use to cruise the coastline of Florida.
Martha Ann attended the club’s first meeting and liked what she saw. She immediately joined and has been a member ever since.
“What I love about the club is that it gives me the opportunity to fish with other women and do things on my own,” Martha Ann says. “Sometimes if women aren’t careful, they fall into the routine of letting their husbands do everything, and this helps me be more self-reliant. I also love the fishing education I get with the club… speakers teach on how to tie knots, what baits to use, what fishing techniques work best, how to read the tides… and that’s all very informative and helpful.”
Martha Ann also operates Pepper Creek Pottery in Homosassa where she hand crafts pottery and jewelry.
“I love pottery, but I think I love fishing just a little bit more,” she says. “There is just such freedom in kayak fishing; it is always an adventure, and it’s so peaceful and relaxing. It is just a great way to experience nature and the Gulf.”
“I love to fish, and I love to catch fish, but when you are out in the Gulf on a kayak, nature is so beautiful that suddenly it doesn’t matter if you catch anything at all. I have put in at Fort Island Gulf Trail and kayaked to within 40 feet of a bald eagle sitting on an oyster bar.
“On one outing there, I had a manatee trail along behind my kayak for a long time, and I have had the amazing privilege to watch a small pod of dolphin feeding. Kayaking gives you the feeling of total freedom. Because you are so close to the water, it makes you feel like you are immersed in nature. The peace and quiet are overwhelming, and it is just a wonderful experience every time I go out.”
When most people think of fly fishing, they think of western or northern states where the fish of choice is trout or salmon, but for Marilee Elias of The Villages, the Gulf and its many estuaries hold a treasure trove of fish just there for the taking.
“I come from Rhode Island, and 15 years ago, a friend taught me how to fly fish. So, when I moved here 13 years ago, I immediately joined the Tri-County Fly Fishers club that serves Lake, Sumter and Marion counties. I didn’t know it at the time I started attending, but I was the first female member of the club,” Marilee says. “I think now there are either two or three women in the club.”
Marilee arrived with one saltwater fly fishing rod and a lot of enthusiasm; now she has four fly rods, three spinning rods and even more enthusiasm, because now she not only fishes from land, she has taken her fly fishing to another level through kayak fishing.
“I was always joking in my fly fishing club how it would be nice to have other women to go fly fishing with, and one of the members came to me one day and said he had read about a women’s fishing club nearby. I investigated and found the Nature Coast Lady Anglers, and I have been a member now for over a year,” she says.
Marilee is one of only two club members who fly fish. What sets the two apart from one another is the fact that the other member fly fishes occasionally, and Marilee only uses a spinning rod occasionally. She is much more comfortable using one of her fly rods, and the handmade flies and lures she makes at home.
“Inshore fly fishing is wonderful,” she says, the excitement evident in her voice. “I can catch any fish with my fly rod that anyone else can catch with a spinning reel. I’ve caught spotted sea trout, redfish, flounder, snook. I do a lot of saltwater wading, and I like to kayak the backwaters and estuaries.”
Marilee works full time as an assistant professor in the nursing program at Lake Sumter State College in Lake County. She, too, looks forward to the day when she can devote more time to fishing.
“I don’t always get to fish as much as I want, but I plan to cut back on working within a few years. Now, whenever I find myself short on time and the Gulf is just too far away, I make my way to one of the ponds in The Villages and cast in a line and catch the small fish there,” she says with a laugh.
“Having fly fished most of my life, I am most comfortable fly fishing in the Gulf. The first time I ever kayak fished was in Fish Creek, and I was using my fly rod. The water was very murky, and I was blind casting. I caught a small redfish and was enjoying the nature around me. Suddenly, something big hit my bait, and it was really fighting. I fought it for several minutes and kept trying to get a glimpse of what it was in case it got off the hook. When I finally saw it come to the top of the water, I told my fishing partner, ‘It looks like a flat fish to me.’
“When I finally got it into the kayak, it was a Gulf flounder. Having come from Rhode Island, I knew all about flounder in the northeast, but I had no idea there were flounder in the Gulf. It was a real fighter. I performed CPR-catch, photo, release-and it was a great fishing experience.”
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