Our C-U Women Outdoors series is all about highlighting the women in our local RuggedOutdoors community who are passionate about the outdoors. Meet Susie Roloff, a kayak fishing pro and learn more about her story!
Name: Susie Roloff
Occupation: Secretary at OSF HealthCare in Peoria, Illinois
Tell us a little about yourself:
I grew up living in the country outside Washington, Illinois. I spent my childhood playing outdoors and catching critters at a nearby creek. I would often make a tent out of chairs and bed sheets and sleep outside. I have always been drawn to the water and activities that come with it. I developed asthma and allergies at the age 11 and have had endless struggles with it, but I don’t let it keep me from doing the things I love. I’ve had many adventures and traveled through 37 of the 48 inner states. I majored in Recreation, Tourism Administration at WIU and lived in Maine for a time working as an outdoor education instructor.
How did you get started in kayak fishing?
I first got started into kayak fishing after a good friend gave me a sit-in Pelican kayak to have. I would use it primarily to just get out on the water and enjoy the ability to paddle anywhere on a body of water. In 2014, my now husband took me to a rec show at the Peoria Civic Center and I first saw a Hobie fishing kayak, which needless to say I was instantly hooked and wanted to have one. I bought my first Hobie kayak in June of that year and learned about kayak fishing tournaments when I went to pick it up at the Quest Watersports store in Ottawa, Illinois. I thought to myself, well why not give it a try? I competed in my very first tournament in July that year and only caught one fish, but the experience I had and warm welcome the other competitors gave me had me wanting more. I inquired about learning more about how to run a kayak fishing tournament, and the staff of the tournament told me that I could just join them on staff so that I could learn first hand. Now I’m the tournament director for that group (Great Lakes Kayak Fishing Series- GLKFS) and also on staff of the Kayak Bass League (KBL).
How many tournaments have you competed in?
I’ve been competing in Kayak Fishing Tournaments since 2015 and compete in both online and live tournaments. Since then I have fished in around 100 tournaments.
What accomplishment in are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of getting 11th place at the Kayak Bass Fishing National Championship in 2017 on Kentucky Lake against 375 other competitors. I am also proud for getting on the Ketch pro staff fishing team and having my own podcast that airs every other work in conjunction with the PaddleN’Fin podcast. I have also put on a couple kayak fishing seminars at my local Bass Pro Shop in East Peoria.
What’s your favorite part about being out on the water fishing?
Escaping the digital word to be in the real world. Re-connecting with nature is my way of re-charging, forgetting about troubles, and just enjoying nature in all its glory. I turn my phone on silent so that I’m not distracted and can enjoy the sounds of nature. I also love connecting with other people I’m out on the water with. Sharing in the experience and also learning from one another is both empowering, enlightening and refreshing. And of course, catching fish.
What’s the most challenging thing about kayak fishing?
One of the most challenging things is having so many options when it comes to tackle, gear, lures, techniques, technology, etc. It can get overwhelming very quickly. When I first started, I would literally take all my gear with me, which would often leave me uncertain of what to use or where to even start. Over the years as I’ve learned different techniques and skills, I’ve gained a level of confidence and learned what techniques I’m best at, and which ones I still have a lot to learn. Another aspect that’s been challenging is, as I have become competitive, it becomes challenging to not see myself as a bad angler when I don’t place well in a tournament. There is always something to learn when it comes from fishing, whether it be a technique, learning how to read the water, and figure out a pattern. It takes time, and can get frustration when nothing seems like it’s working, but when you finally have that moment when everything finally comes together and you have the best day of fishing, it’s one of greatest feelings in the world.
What has your experience been like as a woman competing in a sport that has a majority of male participants?
I’ve had some varied experiences over the past 5 years. When I first got started, everyone was very welcoming, helpful, and supportive. As I’ve gotten to learn both the insides and outsides to kayak fishing and the communities and even politics, it can just be like anything else, but it’s important to make sure that it remains a joy and benefit. I’ve struggled with perceptions of myself being a bigger woman, but as I have had both failures and successes, I feel that’s less of a worry and people see me for who I am as an angler, competitor and director. It still is a challenge to get a guy or group of guys to go out fishing with because, well it’s not only awkward for me to ask, but very odd and awkward for the guy to ask/tell his significant other that he is going fishing with a lady. I also travel a lot, which means I stay at places alone a lot, which again, it’s odd/awkward to ask another guy to split a hotel room. Since I have years of being a tournament director, I have gained the respect of the local clubs/organizations and anglers.
What’s your best advice for a woman or young girl just getting started in kayak fishing?
Don’t let the fact that this sport is 95% men stop you from trying. The kayak fishing community is so welcoming and supportive of new anglers, especially women. There are many online communities that can help get you started and plenty of people who will help show you around local lakes, rivers, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask questions regardless of what it may be. I still ask guys questions all the time about what lures, gear, techniques to use.
Where is your favorite fishing spot in Central Illinois?
Banner Marsh in Fulton County, Illinois.
What’s at the top of your bucket list?
I want to catch a double digit Largemouth Bass, take 1st place in a tournament, and get back on as a Hobie Fishing Team Member at a Hobie Dealership.
Is there a project that you are a part of that you're excited about right now?
I helped put on a seminar at the first annual Worldwide Women’s Fishing Federation: A Kayak Fishing Experience down on Lake Taneycomo, MO. We had over 50 women attend and this is the first time this event is happened. We put on seminars ranging from safety to learning how to back up a trailer. It was great to meet all of the wonderful ladies and see them gain valuable experiences from this free event. I was honored to be part of this amazing group.