The Ebony Anglers, an award-winning fishing team, reflect on obstacles they’ve overcome as pioneering Black women in the world of fishing
By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography By John Michael Simpson
What does small business ownership and competitive fishing have in common? A fierce entrepreneurial spirit – one that empowers the Ebony Anglers to make waves, both in their careers and on the water.
In June 2020, Gia Wilkerson Peebles visited Beaufort, North Carolina, during the town’s annual Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. The excitement around the event energized her, but she quickly noticed a lack of women of color among the competitors. Gia, owner of The Aura Galleria Salon and Boutique, returned to Durham and approached fellow business owners Lesleigh Mausi, Glenda Turner, Bobbiette Palmer and Tiana Ives Davis with an idea to start a competitive women’s fishing team. “Each woman said yes, and the Ebony Anglers were born,” Gia says.
“Each of us has varied fishing experience,” says Bobbiette, who owns Socialotus, a branding and marketing company. “Some of us hadn’t fished since childhood, while others have fished recreationally with their families through the years.” The team marked its one-year anniversary of competing together in a special way this past June: by entering the same Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament that inspired Gia to form the team.
“We reeled in four mahi-mahi and hooked a blue marlin that snapped our line and got away after a 25-minute fight,” Lesleigh, co-owner of the Art of Cool Festival, says. And though they didn’t take home any trophies, the tournament was a full-circle moment for the team: “[We are] changing the face of what the sport of competitive angling has always looked like,” Lesleigh says.
“We have shifted from celebrating Black history to actually being Black history,” adds Tiana, who is CEO of On Board Charcuterie & Catering. “What we are doing has added to the legacies that we leave for our families, our communities and our culture.”
In July 2020, the team took first place in the King Mackerel division of Carteret Community College Foundation’s Spanish Mackerel & Dolphin Tournament in Morehead City, North Carolina. Their prize-winning King Mackerel won the team a coveted state citation, an honor reserved for outstanding catches. “Each team member is a business owner, mother and spouse or partner,” Lesleigh says. “Being able to balance the three and win in a male- dominated sport is a testament to the strength that lies within our layers as women.”They are proud that their presence at tournaments shines a light on the importance of gender and racial representation, not only in the sport of competitive fishing, but also in the realm of the outdoor lifestyle industry as a whole.
“We’re not just accountable to ourselves as individuals, we’re accountable to others,” Gia adds. And just like in a business, being on a fishing team requires collaboration and compromise in pursuit of a greater goal. “Reeling in the ‘big one’ is exhilarating, challenging and exciting all at once,” Tiana says. “Sometimes you’re fighting the same fish (as well as the elements on the water) for over an hour. Being able to pass the rod off to your teammate to finish the job requires trust and selflessness. We all feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Fishing also requires frequent adjustment of expectations. “During our first tournament in 2020, we caught three baby sharks back to back,” Bobbiette says. “We’ve even caught a sea urchin.” No matter what they reel in, “[there’s a] sense of adventure you feel fighting something that you can’t see until it surfaces,” Gia says.
For Glenda, a nail stylist in residence at Aura Galleria, being part of the Ebony Anglers also means participating in a unique sisterhood – one the team hopes will inspire other women to do the same. “Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new,” Glenda advises. “Just go for it. Put your pole in the water and start fishing. Form your own team, and get out there and compete.”
As for that blue marlin? The team will be back for it next year.