As a child fishing the waters around Clearwater more than three decades ago, Rachel Nobbe-Cato was always familiar with the stereotypes about female fishers. Part of her even understands it. Fishing is a male-dominated world. Especially when her family moved down to Clearwater when she was 7 and she started fishing with her father for the first time, a girl out on the water was an unusual sight.
Mostly she could ignore the stigma until 11 years ago, when she started working as a guide in Manatee County. That was when she really started to hear some of the prejudices.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” she said the criticisms would usually go. “Girls can’t fish.”
“Being in a male dominated industry,” Nobbe-Cato said, “it was very stereotypical.”
Eleven years later, she’s now one of the most respected guides along the Gulf Coast, having spent years doing 20-30 seminars a year around Florida for organizations like TOMG Boat Shows. At TOMG’s Bradenton Boat Show this weekend, Nobbe-Cato will be one of the most popular speakers during the three days of seminars at the Bradenton Area Convention Center.
Nobbe-Cato, who runs Captain Rachel fishing charters off Snead Island in Palmetto, is one of seven fishing captains who will host classes at the boat show this weekend in Palmetto. The show lasts from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Bradenton Convention Center, and the earliest classes begin at 10:30 a.m. each day.
Nobbe-Cato, whose first class begins at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, will host 10 classes across the three days, including three all-day cast net fishing demos throughout the weekend. The remainder of her classes mainly focus on live-bait fishing and techniques to help aspiring anglers be successful while fishing on their own.
“I’m not related to any fishing guides. I basically am self-taught,” Nobbe-Cato said. “I had to figure out how to fish and catch fish, and this is basically my seminar is what I’ve had to do to become a guide and be successful.”
Nobbe-Cato’s greatest area of expertise is as an inshore fisher, which is how she began fishing once she started to take it seriously. After her family moved from Florida to Missouri, Nobbe-Cato’s father started to teach her the basics.
They went bridge fishing off piers and wade fishing in the shallows, eventually moving on to inshore. By then, Nobbe-Cato didn’t want to be beholden to her father’s schedule, so as a teenager she got a small boat she could take out on her own.
She didn’t have aspirations to be a guide at the time, but she had begun to build the skill set she’d need 10 years later.
Instead, she went to culinary school hoping to become a head chef before moving to Palmetto, where she got a job at a Carraba’s Italian Grill.
“I’d fish all day and cook all night, and ended up meeting another fishing guide and he was like, ‘You should be a guide,’” Nobbe-Cato said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grow up, I just like to go fishing. It just turned out it was something that I was good at. I was consistent.”
She set up in Palmetto and became successful enough to begin hosting seminars, although with a pair of young children she now keeps her seminars local. She knows this area better, anyway, and can gear her seminars to fishing in her preferred Terra Ceia Bay.
Nobbe-Cato will be the only woman to host any individual seminars this weekend and she still typically draws one of the biggest crowds, show manager Jim Scilligo said. Nobbe-Cato embraces her unique status and acknowledges the unintentional niche it’s help set up. In a male-dominated world, she presents an alternative to the stereotypes when families or a husband and wife want to plan a trip out to the water.
“That’s the benefit, I believe, of having a woman,” Nobbe-Cato said. “Mom’s usually more comfortable, and can be more at ease and more relaxed having another woman.”
Bradenton Boat Show
Where: Bradenton Area Convention Center
When: Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Admission: $5 adults, children 12-under, free