Estero’s Captain Hanson Empowers Female Anglers
By Nicole Drake
Captain Debbie Hanson was 5 years old when her grandfather got her hooked on fishing.
“I grew up fishing on those lakes in the Upper Peninsula with my grandfather, but when I was a little girl, I never saw women out on the water,” she said.
Her grandparents owned a cottage on Michigan’s Stanley Lake. During the summers, Hanson would leave her home in the suburbs of Chicago and spend those childhood summers fishing for bluegill and yellow perch off of her grandfather’s pier, digging up earthworms to use as bait, and listening to his advice as he instructed her on what lures to use under different conditions.
Now Hanson, an Estero resident of 19 years, has gone on to become the host of ESPN Reel Talk Radio, a freshwater fishing guide, an award-winning outdoor writer, and an advocate for empowering women to take up fishing.
Captain Hanson’s journey to becoming an outdoors writer and professional fishing guide was somewhat atypical. She majored in English and journalism at Western Illinois University in Chicago and went on to work in advertising in the Windy City for five years. She moved to southwest Florida in 1999 and continued working in advertising. In her free time, though, she loved the fresh challenges of fishing in Florida and applied herself to learning new techniques that would be useful in this different environment.
Although she knew she wanted to be a writer and thrived out on the water, working as an outdoors writer just wasn’t on her radar.
“I wasn’t really aware of many women having professional careers in the outdoors, because I just didn’t see other women—young women and girls like myself—out there doing it,” said Hanson.
While still working at her full-time job, Hanson decided to start a fishing blog geared toward women with how-to guides that would give female anglers the tools and knowledge they needed to tackle any challenge. Her blog, shefishes2.com, started as a passion project but became the starting point for her future career when the blog was discovered by someone from the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, a national non-profit organization that works to increase participation in recreational fishing and boating. Hanson was offered the chance to write for their website and started freelancing with other publications as well.
“It just spring-boarded off into taking friends fishing and then, you know, getting my captain’s license, and then guiding and writing, and then also getting out into the community to talk about it and present in seminars and fishing clubs,” she said.
During that time, Hanson received the devastating news that both of her parents had been diagnosed with cancer. It was something of a wakeup call for Hanson – her parents had worked incredibly hard her entire life at jobs that they didn’t love. That was not what she wanted to do with her time on Earth.
Hanson quit her digital advertising job and began to pursue the career that she wanted in earnest. Sometimes, when there are no examples of others pursuing a dream like yours, you must decide to be the first.
In her lifetime, Captain Hanson has seen the world of fishing gradually change. Fishing has traditionally been a male-dominated sport, but more women than ever are getting into it, with women making up 40% of first-time participants in 2022. According to the 2023 Special Report on Fishing, 36% of anglers were women, and the number of female anglers has gone up by 4 million over the last decade.
Hanson is encouraged to see newcomers to the sport during a time when it’s easy for people to spend the majority of their time indoors and staring at screens. Fishing is an opportunity to slow down, unplug and become immersed in nature. But for those who weren’t lucky enough to grow up fishing, it can be intimidating.
“Really this responsibility, I think, falls on all of us in the fishing community to really roll out the proverbial welcome mat and to make everyone feel like they can get out there and do it,” said Hanson.
Captain Hanson leads private freshwater fishing trips where she welcomes beginners and experts alike to spend a half day exploring the canal systems and inland freshwater lakes between Cape Coral and Naples. During her trips, she takes one or two anglers out at a time to target largemouth bass and peacock bass, which are abundant in the area, while providing a relaxed, family-friendly environment to learn in.
Her husband, Captain Greg Stamper, is a saltwater fishing guide who shares her unabating passion for the sport. When they were married eight years ago, they decided to delay their honeymoon to take advantage of the good fishing in May in Southwest Florida. To no one’s surprise, when they went on their honeymoon to New Zealand the following October, they went fishing. New Zealand’s pristine waters and lush scenery were far from the mangroves and canals of home.
One of the beautiful things about fishing, though, is that no matter how far away they venture from home, they are still connected to their community.
“The people that you meet along the way in the fishing community — whether it’s here or when you’re traveling abroad — fishing is a great equalizer, and it’s a wonderful uniter of people,” said Captain Hanson. “No matter where you are, chances are you’re going to run into somebody who fishes, and it’s pretty easy to strike up a conversation and find that you have something in common. And before you know it, you’ve spent 10 to 15 minutes talking with somebody about some of the places that you fished and some of the things that you have in common.”