A pair of women made headlines recently as Deanna Moreno and Rachel Uribe finished 1-2 on the co-angler side of the Toyota Series event at the California Delta. This is the first time female anglers took the top two spots in a national event open to all.

I’m surprised it took this long.

The concept of women competitors in our sport is the biggest elephant in the room, easily.

It’s bigger news than online viewership, economic impact studies or unrestricted technology. It’s bigger than catch-and-release, immediately or not. It’s bigger than the Classic and REDCREST combined.

In case no one’s noticed, it doesn’t take brute strength to catch a bass. It doesn’t require any special chromosome, or acting like a man. In fact, that usually just gets in the way.

Yet, here we are, nearly 60 years into the concept of competitive bass fishing with women making up 1vpercent of the field. Good grief, what a blunder on our part!

On the bright side, the future can be different – if we play our cards right.

Looking at the history of women in competitive bass angling, we see a number of highs and lows. The Bass-N-Gal trail ran from 1976 to 1998, and included an annual Classic and Angler of the Year award. In its heyday, top-earning female anglers won prize boats and amassed a few hundred thousand dollars over a career. The tournament trail was always plagued by a lack of sponsorship, despite attracting solid numbers.

Other trails came and went, like the WBFA and Women’s Bass Tour. You’ll remember a few Bassmaster Classic qualifiers coming from the WBT, including Kim Bain.

Today, the Lady Bass Anglers Association puts on a four-event schedule across the South, but struggles to attract more than a couple dozen competitors. It's a pro-am format, with star competitors from the other leagues moving over successfully. Pam Martin-Wells, the all-time female money winner, has won several of the tour’s Classics.

While each of these ventures furthered women in our sport, they fall flat for one obvious reason: they only included women. For a breakthrough to occur, effort must be placed in empowering women in today’s established professional leagues. Remember, these are all open to either sex.

Why, then, have women been held back? Initially, maybe it was the “bathroom” factor. I’d like to think we’re past that. Today, women athletes are equally established in a number of sports, indoor and outdoor. The bathroom issue doesn’t seem to get in the way of them climbing mountains, winning triathalons or shooting under par.

I’ve seen childcare pop up as a reason. But, last I checked, it took two people to make a child. And, in today’s corporate America, women and their spouses are handling that issue just fine. I’d think wedging in a bass tournament once a month would be doable for most moms.

No, really, it’s the stereotype. The same concept that continues to hold organized bass fishing back, and has done so for decades. The traditional mindset that this is simply the assembling of a good ol’ boy network, competing for a few dollars on the side. A gentleman’s sport. Literally.

I’m surprised that the tournament organizations have not done more to bring women into the competitive fold. Seems like an easy way to expand their base.

But I’m shocked that the sponsors and manufacturers have followed along.

Are they crazy? Why would you support a professional sport, open to women with no physical component blocking their entry, that only incorporates females as 1 percent of the group? Has no one thought to call this out? Or at least put in motion programs to increase the numbers of female competitors?

And not side projects or parallel tours. No kids tables at the poker game.

Real, winning female competitors. In your face. Like, “you just got rolled” type stuff. Because, believe me, there are young women well capable of taking this on.

We’re seeing a few renegades right now. Kristine Fischer immediately comes to mind. She’s won a pile of kayak tournaments and is currently competing in the B.A.S.S. Opens as a co-angler, earning a check in each event she’s fished. Fischer has dedicated her life to fishing and is one good break from being the first woman to hold her own on Tour, believe me.

What’s coming, though, is even bigger. More and more, women are being included on high school and college bass fishing teams and are excelling. As this group of young anglers moves to competition after their schooling, we’ll see more women interested in bigger things.

At first, they, too will scratch their heads. Wondering where the rest of the girls are. Surprised by a lack of interest in their unique accomplishments, wondering why, despite the attention that female athletes receive in college, so little exists in the world of professional bass fishing.

This will be a critical time for what may be the biggest expansion in organized bass fishing since its inception. My advice to the tournament trails and sponsors: Double your investment. Pick up the phone.

But, please, text first.

It’s 2024.

(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)