Meet the Women of Pro Bass Tournaments


Christie Bradley


Michelle Jalaba

You can’t miss Christie Bradley and Michelle Jalaba when they are performing their craft on the water. The two women compete at the professional level of bass fishing. That makes them stand out in the crowd, since most tournament trails have predominantly male rosters.

Bradley, Jalaba and a steadily increasing number of women are proving that gender makes no difference, however. They don’t compete against other men, but against the appetite and behavior of the fish, specifically largemouth and smallmouth bass.

“A fish doesn’t know the difference between a man or a woman on the other end of the line,” Bradley said. “It’s really just me and the fish, instead of me competing just against guys.”

Jalaba, a former collegiate gymnast and Olympic team hopeful, is a lifelong athlete already with an ultra-highly competitive drive.

“I grew up the middle of five kids, boys included, and the thought never occurred to me that it really was just a sport for men,” she said. “The reality is you are out there to catch bass; you aren’t competing face to face with another man.”

Professional bass tournaments originated in the early 1970s, when fishing at any level was considered a man’s sport. Over the years, participation among women grew and continues even more today.

In the early 2000’s, FLW launched its premier tours and feeder trails, while ESPN-owned Bassmaster elevated its already popular format fueled by the sports and entertainment powerhouse. ESPN launched the Women’s Bassmaster Tour (WBT), bringing with it the media coverage that influenced more women into the sport.

Today, thousands of high school and college students compete on their school teams, with a surprising number of young women involved. To them, coed sports are commonplace, and they carry the interest to the next level upon graduating.

Meet Christie Bradley, a tournament veteran in women and coed competitions, and Michelle Jalaba, a relative newcomer. Their stories prove there is more to competing in the sport of fishing than gender.

Christie Bradley's Hardline Dedication

Bradley’s entry into the sport of fishing came from her brother Gary Schembs. He talked his sister into entering a coed team tournament in their home state of Virginia. They won the event and Schembs made his sister a permanent partner. Success eventually inspired her to the next level.

Her Bassmaster career started in 2005 with the launch of the WBT. Bradley competed all four years on the tour until it was dissolved when ESPN sold B.A.S.S. Bradley shifted to the Bassmaster Opens Series, where she’s competed ever since. In 2013, she made history with a 4th place finish that stands as the highest finish for a woman in a coed professional level tournament.

“I know that if I surround myself with people that are better than me, then I’m going to improve as a result,” Bradley said. “Stepping up to the level of the Opens was a good next step.”

In the Opens and FLW circuits, a co-angler shares the boat with its owner, or boater angler. Bradley runs a Ranger Boats Z520C Ranger Cup Equipped inventory bass boat, powered by a Mercury Pro XS 250 h.p. outboard. She learned early on about the intimidation factor of a man riding along in her boat.

“The bathroom issue is obvious, but so is the question about my boat handling skills, because most women at this level are co-anglers,” Bradley said. “I address the bathroom question upon meeting my co-angler to put aside any stress they might have before we go out.”

Bradley breaks the stress with humorous anecdotes about being paired with “the girl” to lighten the mood. The next morning, when it comes time to compete, she tells the partner they are fishing as a team. The best part of the day is following the boat run to their first fishing area.

“What happens more than ever is they tell me that I drive a boat better than many of the men they fished with,” she said. “I can just see the relief when we get to the first spot.”

The veteran has this sound advice for newcomers.

“You can quickly ruin your reputation and damage your brand based on how you conduct yourself off the water,” she said. “It puts me at a disadvantage without a network of competitors to compare notes, like the men have.”

Even still, she proves her integrity and dedication by fishing from daylight to dark during practice, and spending the remaining hours working on tackle.

Michelle Jalaba is Driven to Compete

Jalaba followed a similar path, convinced by a local angler during a visit to a tackle shop to give tournament angling a try. She showed up on Lake St. Clair in Michigan having never fished all day from a boat, much less a high energy tournament. The weather turned ugly, as it can on the Great Lakes, with a storm packing high winds, rain and otherwise miserable conditions for someone not wearing rainwear. Misery turned to inspiration.

“After gymnastics ended in college I had nowhere to channel my competitive drive,” she said. “To do it through fishing, being outdoors, was intriguing, while renewing my interest in competing.”

Jalaba continued fishing local events, while testing the waters as an FLW Tour co-angler, the goal being to observe, learn and gain skills from the back of the boat. Her ultra-highly competitive drive from collegiate gymnastics, where she trained six hours a day, put her on the fast track to the next level.

“Once you are conditioned to train that way, then you don’t know any other way,” she said. “Training for the pro ranks took me back to what I’d lost, and missed, from gymnastics.”

The second year, Jalaba was a co-angler for as many FLW Tour events as time allowed, viewing the time well spent to learn, gain experience about the rules and format, and watch from the back of the boat.

“I zoomed in and focused, learned to be a sponge,” she said. “I’m an observer, a researcher and a learner, and the variety of the different anglers and fisheries added a great dynamic to my skills and interest.”

Jalaba earned success, made a plan and revaluated it for the next steps. That came when FLW eliminated co-anglers. The timing lined up with her confidence to move up to the highest level.

“Fishing as an FLW Tour co-angler took it to the next level, as I witnessed the pros’ higher degree of professionalism, dedication to the sport and their seriousness,” she said. “It was also a test of my endurance and commitment to see if it was what I really wanted to do.”

It was and she moved to the front of the boat after two years as a co-angler. Now, Jalaba competes on the NITRO Pro Team from a NITRO Z21 bass boat powered by a Mercury Pro XS 250 h.p. outboard.

Success and notoriety have attracted attention from other women aspiring to be like her. Many are reluctant to take the leap.

“It’s really a lack of knowledge about the sport, because they only see men on a screen when watching the tournament coverage,” she said. “Truth is, there are more women in the sport than is perceived, and more coming into it through the college ranks after they graduate.” 

As an athlete, Jalaba acknowledged that experience enabled her to fast track her goals. She discourages newcomers from going that route, instead choosing to find their cadence based on their skills and desires.

“Keep in mind that first and foremost, it’s fishing,” she said. “You can either keep it like that, or add the competitive element at the level you enjoy.”

How To Get Started On The Trails

Bradley suggests joining a local bass club to develop fishing skills, while getting a taste for competing in a friendly, low expectations environment. Or like Jalaba, you can form relationships with other anglers and sign up for tournaments as a co-angler at the very basic level.

“You can decide to stay at the club level, or make the next move,” said Bradley. “You don’t need a boat; you can fish as a co-angler and go from there.”

Seeking out other women anglers at her level is another suggestion.

“Consider those of us who are serious about competing as a resource,” said Bradley. “It is truly gratifying to me to mentor other women and serve as a role model for younger anglers.”

Bradley recommends avoiding online shopping until you are skilled at the fundamentals. She suggests shopping at a Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s store for hands-on shopping and advice from the store associates.

“That can be intimidating, too, because tackle selection is so vast now,” said Bradley. “Go straight to the reel counter and seek advice of the associates, who are experienced anglers.”

She added, “be honest about your level of experience to give them a starting point on where to help.”

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