- When do women outfish men? Chilly air and morning fog make little difference.
- Is it luck when you catch a limit…and you are the only woman around?
- When we talk to ourselves when fishing, are we talking to the fish too? A higher power?
- Annie shares her experiences and connections on the water…and more.
By Larry Whiteley
It’s early morning on the river in Trout Park. The sun is beginning to peek through the forested hills. Annie is at the river’s edge, waiting with rod in hand. She is visiting with the men on both sides of her. It’s a cool morning. Annie is the only woman to brave the chill. The fishermen and one fisherwoman talk about the early spring weather and how they are glad that winter is over.
The rising sun reveals a beautiful fog rising from the water. The siren sounds to signal the anglers they can now start fishing. Annie’s lure is the first one to hit the water. In minutes, she is smiling and bringing a trout to her net. She puts it on a stringer and makes another cast. A few turns of the reel handle, and another trout takes her lure. This one is bigger and pulling line from her reel. It leaps from the water, and Annie shrieks with joy. After a few more jumps, she scoops it up with her net. She admires its beauty, puts it on the stringer and makes another cast. An hour later, she has her daily limit.
Several other fishermen who hadn’t been quite as successful came over to congratulate her. One of them asked what kind of lure she was using. She looked at him, smiled and said, “Honey, it’s not the lure that’s catching the fish. It’s this 75-year-old woman using it.” She laughed too, wished them luck and headed for her car. After she put her fish in the cooler, she looked up to the sky and thanked God for this particular time in the outdoors that He created. She also thanked Him for watching over her all these years.
Looking back at the river, she saw an eagle perched in a tree across from where she had been fishing. She remembered her favorite bible verse – “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” She looked back at the eagle, smiled again and said to herself, “God sent an eagle to watch over me today!”
When she got home, she couldn’t get the eagle out of her mind, so she sat down to read about eagles. One of the things it said was that Native American Indians believe an eagle delivers their prayers to the Great Spirit. They hold an eagle feather aloft as a custom while saying a prayer. To them, the eagle meant strength, wisdom and courage. Annie has needed all those things throughout her life. A tear flowed down her cheek.
Annie was raised in the church and grew up loving the great outdoors. In San Mateo, California, she was born, where her dad worked for United Airlines. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman. Her mom liked to fish too and taught Annie that if you catch them, you clean them.
She loved it when they would travel north to see her grandparents in Ahwahnee, California. Her granddad was a friend of the famous photographer Ansel Adams, who rose to prominence as a photographer of the American West, notably Yosemite National Park, using his iconic black-and-white images to promote the conservation of wilderness areas.
Her granddad won awards for his photography. She remembers him having a darkroom in their house where he developed the pictures he took while out enjoying nature. Yosemite National Park was just 5 miles from Ahwahnee. The waterfalls, towering granite monoliths, deep valleys and ancient giant sequoias were a big part of her young life. Annie gives credit to her parents and grandparents for her love of the outdoors.
Annie was 9-years old when her dad was transferred by United Airlines to Kansas City, Missouri. Later they bought a home at Lake Waukomis, a town with a great fishing lake. That continued to fuel her love for fishing. One night she set some baited lines off a dock for catfish. She got up early the following day and found she had caught three nice catfish. She knew how to scale and clean other fish but had no idea how to clean a slimy ole’ catfish. So she took them into the bedroom where her dad was still asleep to ask him to help. “He sure wasn’t pleased about it,” said Annie.
They would travel down to Lebanon, Missouri, to visit her Grandma Effie on her mom’s side in the summers. Like most of her family, Grandma Effie was an outdoorsy person too. She took care of a 4-acre garden and still fished. During the depression, she did it to survive, but now she did it for fun and food.
Her Uncle Dale lived next to her grandma. He loved fly fishing and would take Annie along with him. After he caught a fish, he would hand Annie the rod and let her reel it in. “I never got into fly fishing like Uncle Dale,” says Annie. “I just thought, why would I want to cast five times to a fish when I could cast one time and catch it with a regular fishing rod and reel?”
When Annie graduated high school, her dad took her on a Canadian fishing trip with six other men. For seven days they caught and ate walleye. A few years later, her dad was transferred back to California with United Airlines. Her mom got sick, and her dad couldn’t take off work, so it was up to 18-year-old Annie to find them a place to live in San Mateo. She did.
Not long after that, Annie got married. She and her husband Bob lived in the state of Washington, and she traveled with him to Australia and other places. He passed away, but Annie won’t talk about that. After all those years, it still hurts too much. Annie says, “I was blessed with a strong father and a strong husband who said I could do anything, and through God, I can.”
Annie eventually re-married to another man named Bob, who loved to fish as much as she did. They lived in Warsaw, Missouri, in a lakefront home on Lake of the Ozarks for 28 years. He had his own bass boat, and he got Annie an aluminum fishing boat with a bright yellow life jacket just for her. The yellow life jacket was so if he or neighbors came out looking for her (when she stayed out fishing too long), they could find her a lot easier. She still remembers the elk hunt he took her on and the beautiful Colorado Mountains.
She went fishing without him one day and caught a 13-pound hybrid bass. When she got it on the boat, she started crying. He asked her why she was crying. Through sniffles and tears, she said, “I always had this idea that if I ever caught a bass bigger than 5 or 6 pounds, God would take me home to heaven, so I am sitting here waiting to go.” Her husband said, “I guess God’s not done with you yet because you’re still here.”
After her second husband passed away, she never re-married. She moved to Blytheville, Arkansas and worked at a co-generation plant. When her dad passed away, she moved back to Springfield, Missouri, to take care of her mom. “With God, we can do anything,” says Annie. “He put us here to help one another.”
On May 11, 2011, nearby Joplin, Missouri, was hit by an F5 tornado. The town was devastated. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris started a fundraiser to benefit the disaster victims. They held an auction, and one of the items was a fishing trip with fishing legend Jimmy Houston on a private lake at his ranch in Oklahoma. Her bid won the trip for two. She invited the husband of a friend, who was always helping her, to go along. He was as excited as Annie. They caught well over 100 bass. “Jimmy and his wife Chris are wonderful people and could not have been more hospitable,” says Annie. “It was a sweltering day, and I got a little overheated. Chris went in and got her mamma’s fishing hat and put it on my head to shade me and cool me down. Jimmy and I still text back and forth all the time.”
Like Chris Houston, Annie has a special feeling for our Native Americans. She says her Grandma Effie always said they had Cherokee blood in them, but they have never been able to find absolute proof of that. That belief has been a big part of family stories for many years. A portion of the Cherokee Trail of Tears runs through her cousin’s property near Lebanon, Missouri. She has walked in the footsteps of the Cherokee on parts of the trail. She, like me, believes that this was their land, and we stole it from them. They were not the savages; the white man was. They were trying to protect their land and families.
Annie loves her fishing and says she will go anytime, anywhere. But, NASCAR racing comes in a close second. She got the racing bug watching dirt track races near her lake home in Missouri. She was at the race track when Dale Earnhardt died in a crash. She was always a fan of Rusty Wallace because he is a Missouri boy. She has met Tony Stewart several times and also met Richard Petty. I am not sure that I have ever seen her not wearing the Martin Truex Jr. jacket he autographed for her.
She also has agape or unconditional love for her two dogs that rule her life. Sammy is a Shitzu Poodle that adopted Annie in a Walmart parking lot. Callie is a 6-year-old Bushon that was someone’s throwaway dog. Her compassion, though, is not just for her dogs. She also once took a lady into her home that was a throwaway and needed Annie. We will never know how many other people Annie has helped.
Not one to sit around unless it is by a peaceful river, Annie is not accepting growing old. In less than a year, she has walked over 3,006,000 steps enjoying nature. Like she tells people, “You have to stay active mind and body. If not, you rot. You got to enjoy what God gives you. The fresh air in the outdoors has helped keep me well.”
At one time, Annie said she had completed her bucket list with all the places she had been and things she had done. She changed her mind and decided she still wanted to go fishing in Alaska and travel to Florida to walk on a beach looking for seashells.
A few weeks ago, Annie told a few friends sitting at a table in her church that she was leaving to go to Florida the next day. She needed a few days by herself. She was going to check another thing on her bucket list and walk a certain beach on her birthday looking for seashells. One of the men at the table stood up and walked over to Annie. He told her that was the same beach his wife loved to visit. He also said to her that was where he, their kids, and grandkids had gone to leave some of her ashes. He told Annie to say hi to her while she was there. As she stood there crying, Annie told him she would. She also told him she would bring him back a sea shell from that beach.
Over the trip, one of her friends texted her several times to check on her. She had gotten there safely and enjoyed herself but was not finding any seashells. With only a half-day left before heading home, she ate lunch at a seafood restaurant. A woman came up to her, and they started talking. In their conversation, Annie told her she couldn’t find any seashells and the story of why she wanted to find one to take back home for her friend. The woman smiled and told her to go to a certain place on the beach, and she would see what she was looking for.
Annie finished her lunch and headed to where the lady had told her. She walked and walked. A little ocean kelp weed had washed up on the beach, but that was it. She still couldn’t find any seashells. She was about to give up and get ready to head back home when something caught her eye in the kelp. It was a kelp seed pod shaped like a heart. Annie picked it up and stood there crying, looking up to heaven. She talked to the man’s wife. Annie told her what a good man he was and that he and her family missed her. Then she said that she was taking this special heart-shaped seed pod back to him from her. Annie had found what she was looking for where the woman in the restaurant told her she would.
As Annie started to walk away, she looked down and saw something else in the kelp. She thought it was some kid’s ball they had lost, but it was another seed pod. To Annie, it was a sign that God wanted her to keep on rollin’ and had a lot more living to do. She got into her car and headed home.
The Sunday after getting back, she got to church and went directly to her table of friends. The man stood to welcome her. Annie tried to tell him her amazing story without crying but couldn’t. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and tears came to the man’s eyes when she told him what had happened. Then she put the heart-shaped seed pod in his hand, and he hugged her.
Those blessed to know Annie and call her a friend will tell you that Annie has a heart as big as the outdoors she loves. As the Cherokee people would say, “ageyn gvdodi equa adanvdo“ which means, “Annie is a “woman with a big heart.”