by Ron Presley
Fishing for Brother Bear
When boat number seven (7) launched at the 2016 Monsters on the Ohio, it marked the first time in history that an all women team had fished the event. Tournament teams are frequently brothers, fathers and sons, husband and wife, or some other combination of family members, but not until that day had Aaron Wheatley had a team made up of two sisters.
Jessica Little-Oakley and Reesha Little-Oakley fish under the team name of GTO Fishing. “We have always fished and hunted since we were very young,” said Jessica. “The outdoors has always been a passion and a lifestyle. We grew up learning to hunt, fish, camp, and ride four wheelers and horses. We have been blessed to grow up with people close to us that supported us in our outdoor activities.”
“Fishing has always been a favorite,” added Reesha. “We learned to fish in ponds and small rivers as children and as we got older we began to hunt and fish in different areas for different species.”
The sisters attended Morehead State University, which is close to Cave Run Lake. “We spent countless weekends and evenings camping and fishing for catfish, muskie, crappie, and bass. During our time in college we also started bowfishing for carp and gar at Cave Run Lake. We could not afford to travel a lot, so we primarily spent our time in the KY water systems closer to home.”
Once they graduated from Morehead and their work/life balance became easier, they started hunting and fishing together again. Jessica is an FMD/MSD teacher for Garrard County Schools. Reesha works at Jeff Jones Marine in operations and sales. Both were born in Mt. Sterling, KY, they now live in Jeffersonville, KY.
When asked where the GTO Fishing name came from Jessica and Reesha revealed a heart-felt story of personal loss. “We lost our baby brother,” disclosed Jessica. “His name was Grant Thomas Oakley, thus the GTO. He loved to hunt and fish. He was killed at work on November 3, 2015.”
Grant was only 17-years-old and was an avid outdoorsman. He loved spending time with his sisters and loved everything about the outdoors. They nicknamed him, affectionately, “Brother Bear.”
“He was amazing at all of it,” said Jessica. “He was a natural. We took him with us and taught him how to fish and hunt, but his favorite was catfishing. After his death, we decided we wanted to do something to benefit women and children in the outdoors.”
“We just didn’t know what that was going to be,” offered Reesha. “We started fishing more for catfish and started learning about different methods for different areas. It was really about the challenge.”
“Last year we were offered an opportunity to help support a growing industry,” added Jessica. “We were presented with the possibility of competing at the tournament level for catfish at the Monsters on the Ohio tournament. It was something we never expected to happen. We would be one of the first all-women’s catfishing teams. We were both nervous and excited, but felt more privileged than anything, to be able to help promote women anglers as well as the growth of the sport we love.”
“Now we travel almost every weekend to a new fishing destination,” revealed Reesha. “We have met many people along the way. The majority of the time, we fish alone. We just pick a new body of water and try to learn what we can while we are fishing. We have spent a little time with other anglers who showed us different methods that work for them, both on and off the water. Talking to different people and sharing advice has taught us so much more than we could ever learn on our own.”
“So, not only is tournament fishing something we enjoy immensely, we get to continue in our brother’s name and it seems almost like fate. We get to do what we love and we get to honor our brother and his memory.”
Team GTO Fishing’s next big tournament is the Mississippi River Monsters (MRM) tournament out of Memphis. Just like every tournament they fish, the sisters have one goal in mind. “Our goal is to enjoy it,” stated Jessica. “We want to have fun and help others have fun. Do we want to catch some fish? Absolutely! We always want to catch fish, but above all we want to give it our all and just enjoy it. We do it for fun, because fishing is something we love.”
It is at least possible that being sisters makes it easier to also be a catfishing team. “It is exciting to be an all-women’s team,” commented Jessica. “Especially with my sister as a partner. Whether we fish a tournament or somewhere new just for fun we work well together and we always have a great time. We are very fortunate to be able to participate in tournament fishing, and grateful for the opportunity.”
For those catfish anglers keeping tabs on the upcoming Mississippi River Monsters tournament, you have probably noticed that Jessica and Reesha are headlining the Angler Round Up event with Bill Dance, the Mud Bums, and several other well-known catfishing personalities. They will be on hand to visit and talk catfish with any and all that attend.
“We will be at the MRM not only to fish the tournament, but to help promote the sport of catfishing,” said Reesha. “The tournament will give us the opportunity to talk to many fellow anglers and share some fishing experiences. We are new to the competitive side of catfishing and hope to learn and share as much as possible from the people we meet while we are there.”
It looks like prefishing the Big Muddy will be part of the sister’s itinerary in Memphis. “We have been doing some research on the Mississippi River in the Memphis area,” added Jessica. “We want to get an idea of the way that river system is laid out. We are planning to go down a few days prior to the tournament to learn more about the river and get used to that body of water.”
The sister team is already collecting information from other anglers that are familiar with the Mississippi River. “Ben Goebel has offered quite a bit of advice,” offered Jessica. “So has John Allen and a few other anglers familiar with the region. We all enjoy talking about fishing and the different methods for different locations.”
Jessica and Reesha look at each new tournament as an opportunity to learn something new about catfishing. One thing they are adamant about relates to respect. “The most important thing we have learned while traveling to different bodies of water, whether it be for a tournament or fishing for pleasure, is to behave with respect,” said Jessica. “You should always respect the body of water you are on; you should respect the fish; and you should respect the people around you.”
The Mississippi River will be a new experience for Team GTO. “We have never been to the Mississippi River,” added Reesha. “We are very excited to attend the tournament and fish the river. We love going to new areas and learning different techniques. Since it is new to us we are a little nervous as well as excited.”
“We feel very honored to be a part of this event,” added Jessica. “As an all-female team, we are extremely grateful for everyone in the catfishing community for being so receptive and supportive of us joining in. Overall, we have had more support than not. We are very excited and anxious to compete in the Mississippi River Monsters tournament, as well as to be one of the only all-female teams, win or lose.”
“Being women, as well as being new to the catfishing community, there has been some skepticism over the last year,” stated Reesha. “That was not unexpected. There have been derogatory comments made, and unfortunately, we don’t foresee that changing any time soon. This sport, as any other, requires a lot of work, passion, and dedication. Man, woman, or child, it is still a team effort. All parties of the team must work together.”
“We want to see more women involved in this industry, and we want to see it grow,” agreed Jessica and Reesha. “There is always going to be competition, however being respectful and professional is what we want to help promote. Everyone in this community loves to fish, and puts in a lot of hard work and time in doing so. We want to show young girls that just because there is negativity around them, doesn’t mean they cannot succeed.”
Team GTO has been very fortunate to work with so many great people and great companies. We want to thank them for their support. They include: Catch the Fever, Bluewater LED, Katfish Clothing, Jeff Jones Marine, Seaark Boats, Suzuki Marine, B’n’M Fishing, Slimeline, Madcatter Hooks, Fishbite Rodholders and Hurricane Anchors. – Jessica and Reesha Little-Oakley
Mississippi River Monsters Tournament
Jessica and Reesha Little-Oakley are appearing as one of the headlining hosts at the Second Annual Mississippi River Monsters (MRM) tournament in Memphis, TN. Catfish anglers and enthusiasts are invited to come by on Friday, September 15 to meet the catfishing sisters and talk catfishing. Team GTO Fishing will launch on Saturday as Boat #61 to compete in the tournament.
The crazy antics of the Mud Bum boys will also be on display at the event. They are self-described all-American Iowa boys who love hunting, fishing, camping and anything that gets them outdoors. They will be filming during the event for one of their popular reality TV shows that air on the Pursuit Channel.
Another popular catfish fanatic, Bill Dance will be on hand. Dance was heavily involved in the inaugural event last year that drew more than 180 boats. This year is no different. Dance will be roaming the isles at Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid signing autographs and taking selfies. On Saturday, he will likely be found hanging around the weigh-in, telling tales and spinning yarns.
There is also a whole slate of catfish seminars schedule on Friday, starting at noon. Here’s the lineup:
Noon: Brooke Wilbanks and David Shipman
12:45: James “Big Cat” Patterson
1:45: Jeff “Big Daddy” Dodd
2:15: Glenn Flowers
3:00: Masingale Brothers (Last year’s winners)
All seminars will be inside the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid on Friday. The public is invited and encouraged to attend the live weigh-in at Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid on Saturday. There are bound to be some big catfish weighed in.