Tennessee Catwomen – No Man Needed
by Richard Simms
Admittedly introduced to catfishing by the men in their lives, these two women have taken it to the next level.
Pay a visit to Jenny Simpson’s Facebook page and one of the first things you may notice is the hashtag, #NoManNeeded. The second thing you will notice is a picture of she and her sister-in-law, Britteny Jackson, struggling to hold up a pair of monster blue cats.
“I am a trophy catfisher,” said Simpson. “I can catch 20 and 30-pounders all day long, but when that big 50-plus comes along, there is no other feeling like it.”
Simpson owns the Double D Bait & Tackle shop in Dickson, Tenn. with her husband, Clay Crafton. He is the man who introduced her to serious catfishing about five years ago.
“I had always fished with my dad and uncles growing up,” she said. “However, their version of catfishing and the version I was introduced to in 2014 are completely different. My catfishing addiction really started after I caught my first big catfish in May 2015.”
She and her husband launched their tiny 14-foot V-bottom on the Cumberland River that night and anchored down on a 60-foot hole. One rod went out and Simpson began readying the second rod when she saw the first rod twist sideways. Thinking she had simply kicked it accidentally, she picked it up to reset it when suddenly the drag began to scream.
“I cranked down on it and the fight was on,” said Simpson. “I was scared and anxious, especially when I caught sight of it. It looked as big as our boat. I had never been more scared in my life.”
She said it was a major effort to finally net the fish and swing it into the small boat. The huge blue pulled the scales to 64 pounds.
“That was the biggest fish I had ever seen in my life,” she said. “I was so scared I wouldn’t even hold it. But that moment is when my catfishing addiction began, and it’s only gotten worse.”
It is a similar story for Amy Starnes, a dental assistant from Fall Branch, Tenn. Her boyfriend, Eric Williams, introduced her to catfishing about three years ago when they first started dating.
“I was raised on a farm. I’m a country girl so I was interested in going,” said Starnes. “Our first trip was horrible. It was miserably hot and we only caught one fish. But all it took was catching that first catfish and I was hooked.”
She said her addiction got worse on a trip to Watts Bar Lake.
“Eric and I had been fishing all night and weren’t catching much,” she said. “But as the sun came up we got a good run. He told me to grab the rod because ‘it was just a striper.’ Of course he knew it wasn’t.”
Starnes said she was awed by the power of the fish. She worked it underneath the boat but couldn’t coax it off the bottom.
“I was still new to catfishing so I didn’t know how,” she said. “Eric had to help me but when he got it up, he handed the rod back. I finally got it in the boat and it was the biggest flathead I had ever seen! It was beautiful.”
At 47 pounds, it remains her personal best but she knows she’ll break it someday, hopefully soon.
Both women have graduated to the #NoManNeeded category. Both fished in the first-ever Chick Fight Tournament on Alabama’s Wheeler Lake earlier this year. There were 45 teams from 18 states. Most of the teams included a male “Captain” on the boat but Starnes said she and her partner, Joanna Renee, were one of only eight teams without a man on board.
“We placed eighth overall and we were the top placing all-female team. But just finishing that tournament and proving we could do it was a win to us,” said Starnes, who is looking forward to next year’s Chick Fight.
Simpson also fished the Chick Fight with Jackson. They have declared themselves the “Whisker Sisters” and also fish numerous local tournaments.
“We were declared the ‘Queens of the Cumberland’ when we fished against all guys and took first place with a 50-pound flathead and a 45-pound blue as our two ‘overs.’ We have placed in every tournament we have fished since we formed our team.”
Both women wish that more ladies would take up the sport and especially learn how to “go it alone,” fishing without a male counterpart.
“Don’t ever think that just because it’s a “man thing,” that you can’t make it a “woman thing” as well,” said Simpson.
Starnes admits that one impediment for many women is learning how to hook up, tow and launch the boat.
“I was a little intimidated going it alone at first,” said Starnes, sponsored by Hookers Terminal Tackle. “From my perspective men do like to take charge on the boat and micromanage things, so that makes it difficult to learn to do it by yourself. My advice would be to just get out there and learn everything you can and have confidence. It is an awesome feeling knowing you can do it without a help.”
Remember, #GirlsFishToo with #NoManNeeded.