Marianne Huskey started young, applied herself, climbed the walleye fishing circuit then broke the gender gap with an AOY title, making her the
First Female of Fishing
Article by TJ Maglio
Huskey is the first female to win Angler of the Year honors in a major professional bass or walleye circuit.
Believing in themselves is what Marianne Huskey hopes more women will take from her gender-breaking angling accomplishment.
“A lot of women just feel like it’s not their place,” the 37-year-old professional walleye angler said. “Just have the confidence to take the boat out and fish on their own!”
Huskey is the first female to win Angler of the Year honors in a major professional bass or walleye circuit. She won the AOY title in the 2012 AIM Pro Walleye Series last season and wouldn’t mind if some other women join her.
“I hope this helps change the mindset for some women,” the Shawano, Wis., based pro said.
Huskey credits finding her own place early in life to her grandfather, who started taking her fishing on Lake Michigan when she was a little girl. Anthony “Tony” Dunaski retired from a career in the gas industry in Detroit, bought a place on Lake Michigan in Charlevoix and a boat big enough for the family to enjoy.
Trouble was, his sons stayed back in the Motor City, and the only person interested in joining him was his 6-year-old granddaughter. That was good enough for Tony, who took the brindle-haired Marianne everywhere, including frequent fishing trips onto the Great Lake and hunting trips throughout Northern Michigan.
“I was pretty much my grandpa’s pet,” said Huskey, whom she called “Popy, ” German for grandfather. “We fished together every chance we got. I was drawn to the water, and he saw that and nurtured my passion for boating and fishing.”
Tony counseled his grandchild on subjects that went far beyond mere fishing, however.
“I remember spending time with grandpa and really sitting down and asking him questions about relationships, growing up, and his life,” Huskey said. “I learned he was in World War II and helped liberate Paris, things like that. He was the first person to give me advice on life changes, career advice and fiscal advice. He was a huge influence in all phases of my life.”
Huskey bought her first boat – a 14-foot Lund – in her early 20s and began fishing in earnest.
“I’m an Aquarius,” she said, “So I guess I’ve got boating and fishing in my blood. I just feel an attraction to the water.”
The problem is that blood is attractive to mosquitoes and black flies, and Huskey is highly allergic.
She learned early on during fishing trips for stream trout inland that “I swell up like a balloon” when bitten – a finding that prompted her passion for fishing from boats that could take her offshore and out of range of ‘skeeters and flies.
Out on the open water, Huskey honed her skills at taking lake trout, salmon, perch and especially walleyes.
“Fishing for walleyes is more of a challenge than the other species,” she said. “It’s more like hunting.”
She learned that by sharing many deer camps with Popy in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, but only after the first frost had throttled the area’s famous insect population.
Huskey married in 2003 and helped her husband run their construction business while continuing to fish for walleye every chance she got. After her husband suddenly passed away in 2009, it was Popy’s advice and her passion for fishing that helped Huskey weather the tragedy.
By then she had entered local walleye tournaments, and throwing all her energy into angling, she moved up through the ranks of the AIM Pro Walleye Series.
At the close of the 2010 tournament season, Huskey was voted by her peers – all males -- as AIM Series “Sportsman of the Year,” an honor bestowed on the angler who showed the most professionalism and sportsmanship over the season.
In 2012 she hit a milestone: after staying near the top of the ranks all season, Huskey scored a second-place finish in an AIM Pro Qualifier on Lake Superior off Brimley, Mich., making her the highest-placing female finisher in a pro walleye event.
When she spooled up her reels for the final AIM Pro qualifier in Minnesota’s fabled Lake of the Woods, Huskey did so with a chance to earn the coveted Angler of the Year honor. She finished 14th and secured the AOY title on August 18 – her granddad’s birthday, becoming the first female to earn an AOY in a major professional fishing series. Huskey dedicated that trophy to Popy.
“It was bittersweet day,” Huskey said. “He would have been very proud.”
Huskey is prepping for the 2013 walleye tournament season as a full-time fishing pro, fishing guide and fishing wife. She married Matthew Pikka in September, who she described as “a musky fisherman,” and earned her USCG captain’s credentials to allow her to begin guiding professionally.
“So many people have remarked to me: ‘Well, I guess you made it to the top,’ ” Huskey said. “But I believe we never make it to the top; there’s a new year next year and another after that. There’s always more challenges ahead."“Besides, it’s not about what’s on the other side,” she added. “It’s about the climb.”.
AIM Pro Walleye Series™
AIM Pro Walleye Series™ tournaments pair the Pro Anglers (or Pro Team) with a different randomly drawn Co-angler each day.
Exclusive AIM Format Innovations
The primary innovation is the exclusive AIM Catch-Record-Release™ (CRR™) format. With CRR, teams of Pro Anglers and Co-anglers measure each walleye on the official AIM ruler and take a digital photograph, record the length of each walleye on the official scorecard, and then immediately release the live fish. NO fish are brought to the “weigh-in” stage. Instead,... the Pro Angler selects the SEVEN largest walleyes that are tallied for his daily weight. (The length of each walleye is converted to pounds and ounces using a standardized formula prior to taking the stage.)
The photos of the largest walleyes caught are displayed to the weigh-in fans – and also included in the live streaming of the proceedings on www.aimfishing.com. Because all fish are recorded and then immediately released, Pro Anglers are allowed to “weigh” fish within local “slots” that would otherwise be excluded from the daily bag.
The AIM Catch-Record-Release™ format has three huge advantages for the sport of competitive angling.
First, AIM tournaments can be scheduled at the best times of the year for catching the most fish at each tournament site. Tournaments have been prohibited in many locations at certain times of the year due to fish kills associated with conventional formats that hold the fish in “live wells”.
Second, AIM tournaments reward the Pro Anglers that catch the biggest fish – not the anglers that were fortunate enough to catch fish in a certain order, dictated by local slot limits and possession rules. As noted above, the daily weigh limits for AIM tournaments include the SEVEN largest walleyes. This also means that a Pro Angler can come from behind and advance many places; the excitement continues up to the last minute of the last day!
Third, AIM Pro Anglers can not suffer penalties that are assessed in other formats for fish that are not releasable. With many events being decided by mere ounces, “dead fish” penalties are never a deciding factor in AIM tournaments.
The “Pro” and their “Partner” will sign up as a team with one entry fee. Each day they will draw a different co-angler partner into the boat. With the Pro/Partner format, Pro Teams will be able to enjoy all three days fishing alongside someone they are familiar with, while co-anglers will get to experience and work with two professionals each day. Furthermore, six lines will be permitted (three anglers in each boat), which will allow teams to experiment more than other premier events resulting in boating as many fish as possible.
A Festive Atmosphere
Another key component of AIM Pro Walleye Series™ events is that most are being scheduled to coincide with local festivals. While tournament angling is exciting to the participants, it receives lesser interest from the general public. Scheduling AIM events within festivals helps to expose the sport of fishing to an audience of literally hundreds of thousands of new people. The festival attendees will see tournament anglers, along with their impressive boats and tow vehicles (and sponsor affiliations) up close at the AIM weigh-ins.
AIM Pro Walleye Series™ details
AIM Pro Walleye Series™ tournaments pair the Pro Anglers (or Pro Team) with a different randomly drawn Co-angler each day. The Pro Anglers’ daily weights are cumulative over the course of the tournament. AIM utilizes CRR and allows seven fish to be weighed each day. This offers the potential for HUGE come-backs, therefore ALL Pro-anglers and Co-anglers will fish all three days!
AIM Pro Walleye Series™ events will provide the winning Pro Angler with a first prize of $30,000 (based on a field of 100 boats). Each AIM tournament guarantees a payout of not less than 100% of pro entry fees. Additional cash and prizes may boost the totals beyond 100%.
Pro Angler entry fees are $1,200 per event. Co-angler entry fees are only $300 for a guaranteed three days of fishing with the nation’s top walleye Pros. Co-Anglers do not compete for cash prizes, but instead receive great prizes provided by the AIM Marketing Partners.