Kendra McDaniel used to help the women who came into Half Hitch Tackle all the time when she was manager there.
Sometimes, she said, they came in with their husbands or boyfriends who were too impatient to teach them to fish.
Sometimes they came in widowed and looking for a way to get outdoors like they had with their husbands who had passed. And sometimes, McDaniel said, they were just new to town and looking for a way to connect with others in the community.
Regardless, McDaniel saw a need.
These women inspired her to start Swivel Sisters, a women’s fishing organization out of Port St. Joe that has been connecting women to water since Jan. 2018.
“I was like, you know what, I’m going to throw this club together and see what happens, thinking we’d maybe get 15, 20 people,” McDaniel said. “And we had like over 50 people show up. And it was like whoa, OK. So, we just went with it and started expanding the club.”
Now, McDaniel is a high school physical education teacher, but she continues to share her love of fishing with other women through Swivel Sisters, and the club’s membership has continued to grow.
They boast 65 regularly-attending members and have become a staple of the Gulf County fishing community, taking up the roles that other fishing organizations have been unable to uphold, whether due to lack of funding or lack of membership.
In, 2019, the ladies took over the Bayou Bash, an annual tournament held in Port St. Joe since 1994 that was offered to the Swivel Sisters after the previous organizer could not host.
“After the hurricane, they approached us about taking over Bayou Bash, which is an inshore tournament,” McDaniel said. “So, we did it. And once we did that, the first year, we had 75 people participate. The second year we had 160, I think, and then last year, we had brought it 292 people, so it’s doubled every year.”
Since, the Swivel Sisters have added two additional tournaments to their repertoire, which McDaniel said takes a lot of planning and commitment.
“We just got finished doing a tournament called Running of the Bulls,” McDaniel said. “Everybody was like ‘Can y’all do more Bayou Bashes?’ And we were like ‘Uh, no! You don’t realize how much work goes into it.’ But I was like ‘Well, let’s just throw this tournament together and see what happens.’
“Now everybody’s like ‘Y’all did that. We’ve got to have another tournament,’” she laughed.
The Swivel Sisters are planning another smaller photo catch-and-release tournament to fill the time between now and the Bayou Bash in May.
McDaniel said many of the proceeds from the tournaments go back into the community, including financial support of the Wewahitchka High School’s Bass Fishing team and a scholarship for local students looking to go into water-related fields.
But despite the club’s increasing presence in the community, Swivel Sisters remains, at its core, centered around its mission: “Connecting women to water.”
The club meets the last Sunday of every month. For more information, you can visit the Swivel Sisters’ Facebook page.