The Pacific Ocean parted obligingly before Geaux Fly on that January afternoon as Amanda Sabin stood at the stern, scanning Costa Rica’s indigo plain for fish that refused to rise. These waters off Los Sueños are famous for their primordial numbers of sailfish, and Sabin had wrangled plenty of them over the years as an angler on Florida’s competitive sailfish circuit. But now, competing in the Triple Crown with an all-female team, the stakes felt higher. This was about more than personal glory: Sabin was here to advance the reputation of all women, everywhere.
It was a burden that felt heavier with every fish they flubbed. She hadn’t imagined this would be an exercise in humiliation. On the contrary, Sabin had brought together this team of lady anglers to prove how capable women could be. Sure, a handful of female anglers have risen to superstar status, and some of them (such as Stephanie Choate) were also competing in Los Sueños — on boats crewed entirely by men. Offshore fishing is an undeniably male-dominated sport. But that’s precisely why Sabin wanted to shove more women into the limelight: If an all-ladies team could achieve a respectable ranking in arguably the world’s most competitive billfish tournament, it would prove to the sport-fishing community that women can do much more than wear bikinis on a boat.
Yet Sabin’s team, the Reinas de Costa, had released just two sailfish in two days. They ranked dead last.
Other anglers might’ve shrugged it off as the typical growing pains of a brand-new tournament team. Groups need time to develop the kind of synchronicity that scores points, yet the Reinas had never fished together before. Some of them had never even fished for billfish prior to Los Sueños.
Two of Sabin’s recruits — Florida anglers Tara Eddings and Regina Gallant — were experienced billfish anglers; Gallant had even won Top Female Angler at Cap Cana’s White Marlin Classic. But Monique “Moe” Newman, a Louisiana offshore-fishing captain and guide, knew tuna, not sails. The same was true for Brittany McCurdy, a mate out of Kona, Hawaii, where the opportunities to catch a sailfish are few and far between. And although Florida angler Heather Harkavy had spent her childhood chasing IGFA world records, she was just 21 years old and a tournament newbie. All of them were fishing for the first time with Capt. David Mesen on Geaux Fly, a 43-foot Maverick they’d chartered for the Los Sueños Triple Crown.
The team had intended to make a statement at Los Sueños, but their dismal performance only threatened to confirm sexist assumptions about what women can’t do. So when Sabin stepped off Geaux Fly on the second day of the tournament’s first leg, she vowed to change their luck on Day Three — even if it meant taunting the fishing gods.
At 5:30 the next morning, Sabin appeared with armloads of bananas and hurled them into the boat. Her fury rose with every banana she threw: The fruit slammed into the deck, splitting the peels and squeezing pulp everywhere. Banana paste covered the cockpit. Newman stood frozen with shock, while Mesen scowled from the bridge.
Later that day, they landed a striped marlin and 500 points — the equivalent of five sailfish in the tournament’s scoring rubric. Apparently, the Reinas were determined to take down all of fishing’s sacred cows. Male dominance was only one of them.
A Man’s Game
There are 2 million offshore anglers in the United States, but only a tiny fraction of them are women. The few who do fish are used to being the only female on the boat most of the time. If you’re a girl and you want to be a saltwater angler, you’d better like the company of men.
Laura Jessen, who won Top Female Angler for catching 18 sails and four marlin while competing on Fish Tank at Los Sueños, says, “Other than the farting and burping, [fishing with men] is nice, because there’s no drama.” During her three-month stints in Costa Rica to compete on the tournament circuit and for trips to the seamounts to chase blue marlin, Jessen generally encounters few other women. “After being around testosterone for that long, I need my girl time when
I get back home,” she admits. “I would like to see more of my friends come fishing.”
So what keeps women from joining in? Jessen says it’s not the physical demands. As tackle has become lighter and better over the years, women are not at a strength disadvantage, except when wielding the heaviest 80- or 130‑pound outfits.
“It comes down to accessibility,” says Barbara Evans, a lifelong saltwater angler who served as an observer at Los Sueños and who teaches workshops through Ladies, Let’s Go Fishing, a Florida-based organization dedicated to “no yelling” instruction. The boats, the trailers, the rigging — it can all seem intimidating to women, who might not have grown up fishing with their dads because men have historically taken their sons, not their daughters, along. And saltwater angling requires big chunks of time — usually an entire day — which can be impractical for mothers with small children.
Sabin, like most of the Reinas, did fish with her father as a child. But she also remembers being excluded from certain trips because she didn’t fit the father-son pair-up or because having a girl on a guys’ trip felt awkward. And invitations that she received as an adult sometimes seemed ambiguous: Were they about fishing? Or dating? Having more women involved in the offshore scene would limit such complications.
“My entire life, I’ve been trying to find other women who want to fish,” Sabin says. Fishing with beginners was fun, but Sabin yearned to surround herself with diehards — with women who matched her passion and commitment to fishing. She dreamed of assembling a tournament team made up entirely of lady badasses. So last year, Sabin pitched the idea to her boss at Costa: Showcasing authentic female anglers could convince more women to pick up a fishing rod.
“We know that many of Costa’s website customers are women,” says Sabin, who serves as Costa’s marketing manager, core markets. “So it’s not so much about targeting a new demographic, but letting women know that they don’t have to be bow candy. They can be real.”
Costa agreed to foot the bill. Los Sueños provided the big-league no-kill arena that Sabin sought for her dream team. All the women had to do was prove themselves.
Third Time’s the Charm
At 7:55 a.m. on the second day of Los Sueños’s final leg, Sabin swallows the last bite of her banana. “They’re good luck for me,” she winks. Then she gathers the team for a huddle in the cockpit. “I’m so proud of you women and how far we’ve come,” she peps. Cheers erupt, the women throw their hands in the air, then they pick up their rods. At exactly 8 a.m., the lines go in.
And they wait. Unlike last year’s record-setting tallies, this year’s tournament suffered from a painfully slow bite. The few fish spotted were finicky and tentative, failing to make the aggressive bite typically accustomed to Pacific sails. Yet teams were catching more blue and striped marlin than are usually seen around Los Sueños from January through March. “We can’t do anything about the fish we don’t raise,” says Sabin, “but we can make sure we catch the ones that do.” Their goal is zero misses.
So at 11:18 a.m., Newman sees a fish on the teaser and responds immediately by popping her line out of the flat-line clip and getting her bait over toward the teaser. Just like they practiced, the fish switches off the teaser and eats her bait as she drops back to the sailfish before engaging the drag to set the hook. The line goes taut. Suddenly, the Reinas work in formation, whisking in other lines while Mesen aggressively backs down Geaux Fly on the sailfish. McCurdy grabs the leader and takes four ninja-fast wraps before she cuts the sailfish free for a legal tournament release. One down. So many more to go.
“They’re very good,” says Dempsey Pérez, Geaux Fly’s mate. “I’ve mated during a lot of tournaments, and a lot of guys don’t care. They sit in the shade and drink beer. But these girls are responsible,” he says, nodding at the women who are standing by their rods with fingers on the line in the blazing equatorial sun — as they have for every hour of this leg. Their tenacity and passion for fishing has earned the Costa Rican’s respect. Even if they do insist on acting like girls.
“I say the Reinas rock the house!” shouts Newman, leading the team in its signature cheer. More voices join hers, as if they held pompoms instead of fishing rods. “And when the Reinas rock the house, they rock it all the way down!”
Society has long assumed that athletic women must be tomboys who give up the traditional trappings of femininity. But the Reinas don’t adhere to that philosophy. Eddings, a self-described NASCAR driver and manicurist, has gleaming fuchsia fingernails. McCurdy braids the anglers’ hair into fishtails. All wear the wildly patterned compression tights that Costa made especially for its pros.
But almost on principle, they keep their tops on, even when camera-wielding “admirers” heckle them to show off their breasts. “You’d think we’d be beyond that by now,” says Gallant. Instead, Instagram and even some fishing magazines are full of that kind of “fish porn” the Reinas resent. “Most of the images of women on boats show them in bikinis, holding a fish that maybe they didn’t even catch,” says Gallant, who especially hates the “fish bra” — when a topless woman holds up a fish to hide her nipples. “I don’t want to be known because I look cute,” agrees McCurdy. These savvy anglers don’t want to be reduced to a few body parts.
What they do want is to inspire young girls and women to try fishing. McCurdy describes how one afternoon, an angler from a competing boat brought his 3- and 8-year-old granddaughters to meet the Reinas. “That is what this whole thing is about,” she says.
These women are anything but man-haters. In fact, most of them started fishing with their fathers, and cherish those memories more than anything else. “There’s a real daddy-daughter bond with fishing,” says Sabin, who in college, passed up spring-break trips with friends to go fishing with pops.
Harkavy has a similar relationship with her dad. “My mom is sometimes jealous because I talk to my dad on the phone all the time,” she admits. “But my dad and I share so many great memories through fishing. It’s really bonded us.”
Clearly, welcoming more women into the fold gives everyone more opportunities to fish as a family, which is a big part of fishing’s satisfaction for many anglers. Jessen fishes with her husband, Chris. And some of Los Sueños’s top-ranking teams (competing on boats such as Agitator and Sea Angel) involve multiple family members across generations. Winning feels that much better when it involves your closest kin. And even noncompetitive anglers enjoy sharing their passion with their children.
“My dad had four daughters, and he raised them like sons,” says Gallant, grinning. Her father is very much on her mind as she fishes here today. “I like making my dad proud.”
But at 2:01, it’s Sabin’s shotgun bait, not Gallant’s, that attracts the bite. All she felt was the added pressure on the spool, but she knows that it’s a blue marlin from the aggressive bite, and she’s determined to turn the opportunity into 500 points. Her years of experience let her keep a calm head as she waits with the line peeling off the reel and through the center rigger. She lets the marlin eat the bait before trying to give it a go, despite every fiber of her being wanting to pounce on this game-changing fish. Then — yes! — she engages the drag, and the line tightens and pops out of the clip before the line begins to peel off the reel against the drag.
The marlin jumps once, then again, surging like the women’s own hopes. As the captain backs toward the fish, gaining line, salt water sweeps over the transom and floods the cockpit. McCurdy seems not to notice, staring into the waves and leadering the 300-pounder.
Pérez pushes Newman and Gallant aside as he beelines toward Sabin, giving her a jubilant hug. “I feel like I just jumped off a cliff or something,” says Sabin, shuddering with adrenaline. “That bite was so quick, I think if I hadn’t been holding the rod, we probably wouldn’t have gotten it,” she says, still breathless. “I say the Reinas rock the house!” Newman rallies.
As Geaux Fly speeds toward the marina, Sabin gets the news: The Reinas came in 28th for the final leg, out of 50 teams. It’s enough to pull them out of last place overall in the Triple Crown. The news sparks another hugfest: They had, at long last, shown that they could be competitive.
“Man, I wish we could redo that first leg,” Newman says, shaking her head. This girl group was finally hitting its stride, just as the three-leg series was closing. They are drunk with pride — not from winning, but from proving that they can hang.
The team’s de facto DJ, McCurdy cranks up the stereo to let female pop singer Miley Cyrus sing their anthem, but the Reinas drown her out. “I came in like a wrecking ball,” the women sing from the bridge, waving to the teams that are smiling and saluting Geaux Fly from the dock.
“I never hit so hard in love. All I wanted was to break your walls.”