Angler Pearl Gillespie a skilled competitor
A passion for fishing
Her name is often found on the leader board. Sometimes at the very top.
Pearl Gillespie, fishing with husband Scott, won the Anglers Insight Marketing walleye tournament out of New Town last month and are currently in the running for “Team of the Year.”
Winning fishing is not new for Gillespie. Last year she and her husband prevailed over an impressive field in posting a win in an AIM event on Devils Lake. The next stop for the catch-record-release tour this season is coming up at Parshall Bay.
“That’s next weekend and then we move to Beulah for the AIM championship,” said Gillespie.
Both tournaments are in a familiar section of sprawling Lake Sakakawea for Gillespie. In fact, she enjoys fishing Lake Sakakawea so much that she and her husband are in the process of building a home at Parshall Bay. They’ll be making the move from Minot so that they can be closer to favorite fishing water.
“Absolutely. Lake Sakakawea. The Van Hook Arm,” said Gillespie.
Gillespie works for Hess Corporation in Tioga, but spends as much time as possible at the controls of a 21-foot fishing boat. In 2018 and 2019 she fished the prestigious National Walleye Tour with stops in places like Green Bay, Wisconsin,and Sault Ste., Michigan. In 2018 she was the only woman on the NWT circuit.
“It was probably the biggest rush I’ve ever had,” recalled Gillespie with a broad smile. “It was intimidating. On that circuit you are 100% on your own. Right before the tournament, at the rules meeting, there is a blind draw and you get a co-angler, someone in the boat you’ve never met.”
Gillespie didn’t win an NWT event but she had strong enough finishes to earn the respect of other professional anglers who couldn’t ignore the lady angler who more than held her own against the top walleye fishing sticks in the country. It was exactly what she hoped for.
“I think my biggest goal when I got into this was to show other women and girls that they can do it,” said Gillespie. “It’s not rocket science. It’s not hard. It doesn’t require brute strength. It requires mental connection.”
The Montana native grew up fishing trout, but once she arrived in North Dakota she was bitten, hard, by the walleye bug. She learned as much as possible and turned that knowledge into success.
“I really got the itch and started fishing tournaments in 2009. Now that’s all I can think about,” laughed Gillespie. “I think what I like about walleye fishing is that it is something you are never going to perfect. You will have days when you’re on top of the world and days when your face gets rubbed in the mud.”
Walleyes, from one foot of water to 40 feet of water, are a challenge, said Gillespie, adding, “they move and change their minds minute by minute.”
Much of Gillespie’s success on the water has come through fishing crankbaits. Although she and her husband lean toward live bait early in season, they favor crankbaits as the summer progresses. Gillespie says crankbaits allow for covering more water than live bait rigging. There’s another reason too.
“They are fun to buy!” laughed Gillespie. “There are so many options. Purple is my favorite.”
The lady angler offers some insight for fishermen everywhere, something she says she has learned the hard way.
“One thing that has bitten me more than once is not believing in my electronics. Your graph is not lying to you,” said Gillespie. “Even if it shows the fish are in a place you don’t think they should be.”
Walleyes are not the only fish for Gillespie. She enjoys catching catfish and seeking out big pike in the spring. On the Mississippi River she caught fish she’d never seen before, gar and dogfish among them. She’s had her share of crazy moments too, such as when she snagged a rod off the bottom of the lake about 15 minutes after a walleye had pulled it overboard. The walleye was still hooked and she reeled it in.
“It was pretty funny,” remarked Gillespie. “What are the odds?
Gillespie said she is encouraged by seeing an increase in women enjoying fishing, noting that she sees more and more women driving boats and backing trailers down at the ramp. And, she said, there’s more benefits to being on the water than catching fish.
“It allows you to step away from the mayhem that is happening in the world right now,” said Gillespie. “Right now we’re bombarded with so much.”
For now the lady angler is turning her focus to the upcoming AIM event at Parshall where she and her husband hope to make a move up the seasonal standings.
“We had one rock star tournament and in the other two we didn’t do ourselves any favors. We’re hoping for some redemption next weekend,” said Gillespie.
Don’t be surprised if that happens, but to do so will require outfishing a very impressive field of anglers following several hours of pre-fishing.
“Don’t ask me what I’m doing a week before a tournament. I may send you to the wrong lake,” said Gillespie with a laugh.
She’s all fisherman. No doubt about that, and a very good one too.
“When you get hit and you think its a snag and then there’s a head shake, it’s phenomenal fun,” said Gillespie. “I’m grateful for being able to chase my dream. It’s a good time and I’m definitely not done yet.”
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or call 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.)