Fog was heavy and created an eerily beautiful landscape in the Babcock/Webb Wildlife Management Area. Navigating my car through the campground, the landscape of slash pine trees and saw palmettos looked as though it was strewn with cotton and a light layer floated above Webb Lake. I worried I would miss the boat ramp where I was meeting my guide for a morning trip.
I pulled in as my Southwest Florida freshwater fishing guide, Debbie Hanson, had just launched her jon boat and just after 8 a.m., we were on the Webb Lake fishing for largemouth bass. Other than a few casts with my fly rod several months prior, this was the first time truly fishing Webb Lake and in a boat, no less.
Motors cannot be used on the man-made, 395-acre lake and Debbie’s boat is equipped with a trolling motor, along with a pair of oars. Thankfully, the oars were only used when I interviewed Debbie and not because the trolling motor failed (because it didn’t).
Empowering Female Anglers
Debbie Hanson is the founder of SheFishes2.com, a website about empowering women to become competent and confident anglers. Let me correct that because SheFishes2 is more than a website, it’s a mindset and community led by Debbie.
I have known her for several years and she has invigorated my interest in fishing. Debbie’s grandfather introduced her to fishing as a young child which has turned into a passion. Now, she is inspiring others, especially women, to get outside and wet a line.
Debbie has coordinated fly-casting events for women in conjunction with West Wall Outfitters in Port Charlotte and has led introductory to freshwater fishing classes for women at Bass Pro in Fort Myers. She has also spoken on several panels about fishing in general. Now, she is a Southwest Florida freshwater fishing guide with Webb Lake being one of her fishing spots.
Freshwater Fishing in Southwest Florida: Webb Lake
Although *I think* I could have done it (because I attended one of Debbie’s freshwater classes), she rigged my hook with a Yamamoto Seko worm in watermelon color. She suggested where I should cast and within minutes, maybe seconds, I had hooked my very first largemouth bass!
Cautiously, I reeled in the bass hoping it would not jump off the line. Just like life, there have been many times where I have experienced the excitement of hooking a fish, reeling it in, then dealing with the disappointment when the fish breaks free.
When it was close enough to the boat, Debbie scooped it up with a landing net (specifically, a net made by Isafish which is fish-friendly, so to say, because the net is made of soft rubber and won’t harm the fish) and I contained my excitement as she handed it to me for a photo.
At 47 years old, this was my VERY FIRST LARGEMOUTH BASS! But because I’m 47, I felt I had to contain my excitement to Debbie because it’s one of those experiences, like other experiences in life, that I should have experienced by now. When I finally confessed it was my first one EVER, Debbie shared in the excitement.
Silly as it may be, reeling in this first fish gave me a bit of confidence. I successfully hooked and reeled it in and realized the other times I’ve hooked, reeled, then lost fish, it probably wasn’t me. Well, if it was me in the past, I now knew how to land a decent sized fish.
We spent a few more hours on the water where I caught a couple more and Debbie landed three as well. She also gave me a tip to get out of a snag without breaking the line or losing bait, a tip that was passed along to her. When in a snag, make your line as tight as possible, point the rod tip toward the snag, place your hand over the reel and pull. Viola! It worked perfectly for me.
Traits of a Fishing Guide
An excellent fishing guide needs several traits and Debbie has those. First and obvious, they need to know where to find the fish and Debbie did. Not necessarily using a chart pointing where to find the fish but by observing the environment, seeing shadows which means cooler water, and looking for feeding habitats in submerged tree branches and roots.
Second, a guide needs to be properly equipped. When I did break a line or lose the artificial bait, she patiently and quickly set me up and had another rod set and ready to go.
Third, excellent guides need to be entertainers. Luckily, we caught fish during our morning trip but sometimes, the fish don’t bite which means a guide needs to keep the clients happy. This may mean storytelling or providing narrative about the natural environment including identifying birds by sight and sound or vegetation. Between casts and landing fish, Debbie kept the conversation going and is extremely knowledgeable about freshwater fishing (and I’m pretty sure she’s just as knowledgeable about saltwater fishing, but the conversation didn’t turn that way.)
A bonus for guides is patience. Debbie coached me where to cast rather than casting for me, which drives me crazy on a charter when I can’t cast my own line.
Time flew but I had an excellent and memorable day on this lake in eastern Punta Gorda. If you’re in the area and interested in Southwest Florida freshwater fishing, consider Debbie Hanson. She can accommodate up to 2 people and offers half-day (4 hours) trips on Webb Lake at the Fred C. Babcock/Cecil M. Webb Wildlife Management Area and North Fort Myers. A Florida freshwater fishing license is needed.
Or, if you’re not in the area but want to learn more about fishing, female or male, check out her site SheFishes2.com for useful angling information.