YOU DON'T HAVE TO be big to catch a big fish, says Vojai Reed, you just have to be smart.
It's that kind of thinking that has helped make Reed a champion bass angler on the women's circuit as well as the first woman to fish on the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society's tournament trail, the most lucrative fishing circuit in the world.
Reed, who lives in Broken Bow, Okla., entered the Missouri BASS Invitational on Truman Reservoir in May and caught 22 1/4 pounds of bass. The only woman, she finished 58th in a field of 234 and was less than 2 pounds out of the money.
It was a respectable showing, but it was too late to qualify her for the annual end-of-season BASS Masters Classic being held on the Chesapeake Bay this week. Still, she arrived in Baltimore yesterday, to root for husband Charlie, who will be a contender.
The decision to allow women into the traditionally all-male circuit came in April, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers threatened to revoke BASS permits to hold tournaments on Corps-managed reservoirs if women were denied participation. BASS agreed to change the rules, and the 55-year-old Reed entered the last open contest of the season a couple days later.
Come September, she says, she'll be competing right along with the men in all six Bass Invitational tournaments of the '91-'92 season. Why make the leap from the women's circuit to the men's circuit?
It's simple, says Reed: The stakes are higher. In a typical Bass'n Gal tournament, "you pay $150 to enter and can win a fully rigged bass fishing boat worth about $20,000," she says. On the other hand, in a BASS Invitational, you pay $600 to $1,000 to enter but can win more than $100,000.
Those invited to fish in the Classic, which is considered the World Series of fishing, have proved themselves by fishing well in a series of BASS tournaments throughout the season. This is the first time the Classic has been in Baltimore. Forty men will be competing for the top prize, which includes more than a $1 million in endorsements and sponsorship, $50,000 in cash and a lot of prestige.
As for the techniques of fishing, there's really no reason for separating men and women, says Reed. "It's not like the PGA where they can keep women out because men can hit a golf ball farther.
"Fishing is as much a mental sport as a physical one. There are so many things about bass fishing you need to know and so many things you don't know -- like where to fish, what to use, when to throw a certain type of lure."
Bass fishing doesn't require that much strength. The largest bass she ever caught was 10 pounds, and usually in tournament play they average 2 to 3 pounds.
A typical tournament allows a five-fish limit per day, and "if you can average 2 pounds per fish you're doing pretty well," she says. Needless to say the day she caught the 10-pounder was pretty exciting.
"Yeah, those big ones really make your heart beat," says the woman whose fish stories sometimes have to be cajoled out of her.
"Actually, the largest fish I ever caught was only about 35 pounds. It was a gar on Broken Bow Lake, and within about two minutes I caught two of them." But bass are different.
Bass are unpredictable, even when you're prepared, she says. "You can spend three days practicing and think you know what you're gonna do, and then things will change," like the weather or the water temperature.
"It's not like golf, where the holes are in the same place and the ball is the same size from day to day. In fishing, you really don't have that much control because you're dealing with another living thing that's very moody.
"That's what makes it interesting."
Reed grew up in southern California in a family that regularly took camping and trout fishing vacations. When she married and her husband's job took them to Colorado, Mississippi and finally Oklahoma, her interest in sports widened.
While the couple's four children were growing up, she taught ballet and gymnastics part time, but her heart was more often outdoors around Broken Bow Lake, where swimming, water skiing, deer hunting and fishing became regular family activities.
Reed started bass fishing professionally in the early 1980s and qualified for the Bass'n Gal Classic the first year she hit the tournament trail. "But I didn't win that year. I made a vow then, just like MacArthur, that 'I shall return.' "
And return she did. The following year she not only qualified, but she won the 1984 Bass'n Gal Classic on Lake Elephant Butte in New Mexico. "I remember I took a lot of kidding about that because everyone remembered what I had said."
Since then, Reed has participated in six classics and has accumulated more than $100,000 in career winnings. In 1987 and 1989 she was named Angler of the Year on the womens' circuits.
"That's probably the most prestigious title you can win," she says. There's no doubt she thrives on competition.