OUTCOAST sat down with Team USA Ladies Match Fishing teammates and spouses, Penelope Smit and Elise Ann De Villiers, to learn about their love for fishing, their admiration for one another, and their passion for teaching youth about their sport.
Where did each of you grow up?
Penelope: We are both from South Africa. I was born in Johannesburg and stayed there until I was sixteen. I traveled so much. I eventually moved to England and then to the US in 1996.
Elise: I was born in Zambia where my father was under contract. We went back to South Africa when I nine months old. I also grew up in Johannesburg where my family bought a farm. I’m a farm girl!
Outside of fishing, do you work? And if so, what do you do?
Penelope: I was always interested in bookkeeping. I worked in banks. In South Africa, women usually started working in grade 10. I went over to England before I turned twenty-one, then back to South Africa where I continued working in the banking industry. I became bookeeper and accountant. I traveled all over South Africa. Once I went to the states, I did forensic accounting. I no longer work.
Elise: I grew up on farm and went to an all girls high school. I studied chemistry and worked at the nuclear plant in South Africa. I got into IT at an early age and have been there ever since.
Elise, when will you retire?
I will retired when I have enough money, or when someone pays me to fish!
How did you two meet?
Penelope: When I met Elise in 1983, she was in the IT department and I was in the accounting department of the same company. We met through mutual friends who sold insurances and introduced me to Elise.
Tell us about your fishing background.
Elise: I caught my first fish when I was 4-5 years old. South Africans live in the outdoors and fish all of the time. I was always fishing. When I met Penelope in 1983, I got her into fishing. I said to her, “If you want to hang out with me, you better pick up a fishing pole”.
In 1985, there was a magazine advertisement for a canoe fishing safari on the orange river. We went on this fishing safari along the border between South Africa and Namibia. On that trip, we met the editor of the magazine and the number one-ranked Spring Buck fisherman in country. We were the only two women on the safari and when we started fishing, their eyes popped up. They became very interested in us. They asked us to join the boat angling team. So we bought a boat! We wound up taking that trip twice with some of the same people. By our second trip we had already established ourselves as a force to be reckoned with in the fishing world.
What are some of your major accomplishments to date?
Elise: I’m Ranked #2 in country in my sport. I seem to always be competing for first position. We also got our state colors with our boat. Penelope held the record for the largest catfish caught in 1995, weighting a record of 19 lbs. She was ranked top in the country in the light tackle boat angling competition. Light tackle, meaning the thinnest line.
What brought you to the states?
Elise: In 1996, my company had IT interests in the states. Penelope came over on a student visa. After 9/11, visa’s were more difficult to get, but she got a scholar visa and received her bachelor’s degree here. Then she got a job at an accountant’s place and worked there for 9 years.
And then you went back to South Africa again before returning to the US. Why?
Elise: Yes. In 2010, I wanted to put my fishing skills to the test and go to the World Championship, but we didn’t have a team. So in 2011, I left my job in the US and went back to South Africa to join the ladies team. I was a US citizen by then, but not Penelope. I got a job and continued to work and fish and Penelope retired to support my fishing career.
At first we had to fish for our position on the team. We won the the first few matches we played. I was usually 1st and Penny 2nd, but we couldn’t make the team because I couldn’t qualify based on South African regulations. Instead, they asked me to join the team as a coach. I went to Holland that year and we got a silver medal. The next year, after qualifying with credentials, I won every single tournament in the country in South Africa.
Why did you come back to the US?
Penelope: In 2014, we were married in South Africa and then came back to the states in 2015. We weren’t going to stay in South Africa. We always planned to come back to the US. However, the US still didn’t have a ladies team. When we came back, we sold all of our possessions in Africa, including a very large wine collection. Within eight months, we were approached by the US Fishing Federation. They contacted Elise to if I would be interested in joining the US team if they created one.
Elisee: I said, “Yes! What an honor.” However, I had to get permission from the fishing body in South Africa to ask the World Fishing Federation if I could fish for the US team due to restriction. Usually once you fish for one country in a championship, you can’t fish for another. However, they gave me clearance. I was the first and only women in world history to get that clearance.
How is the fishing world in the US versus South Africa?
Elise: In South Africa, we fish all year long. We lived in Chicago for a while and couldn’t fish in the winter, so we took up ice fishing. We went to an ice seminar, I looked at the contraption they used, and said “I can do that!” I very quickly became a force to be rockoned with once again. I eventually became a household name in Chicago.
We participated in several big ice fishing tournaments and won. We were invited to teach ice fishing seminars. So we taught Americans how to ice fish.The irony…the two of us teaching Americans how to play their sport.
Penelope: We joined a couple of fishing clubs for fresh water fishing. One fishing club challenged us to a match one day. We came in third in the match using a cane pole while everyone else was using carbon fiber 11 meter pole. We invested in longer poles and got very interested in the sport. We became very good at fishing with a pole, achieving the top 3 ranking in the US.
Are there money prizes involved with fishing?
Elise: Minimal at best. We fish for the passion.
You recently went to Hungary. Tell us about that trip.
Elise: The US was the first team in 24 years to represent the US in the ladies world championship. The ladies that went with us to Hungary had been pole fisherman for 20+ years. The other 3 ladies on the team didn’t have the same skillset. The team coach decided we would all fish with whips. The Hungarian coaches taught us all about fish types and whips. We learned how to speed fish very quickly. During the first day of the championship, Penelope caught 301 fish. The winner caught 300, only because their total weighed more. Our strategy had been to whip fish for small fish and to keep the fish away from all of the other ladies.
Penelope: Elise finished first amongst the US ladies, but not overall in tournament.
What is your next adventure?
We are practicing for the next world championships and looking for new people to join the team. We need a total of five fisher people and one reserve, so we are looking for 4-5 people.
We also want to form a fishing club in Sarasota. However, so much of what we want to do needs financial support, so if there are any companies looking to sponsor what we do, please have them get in touch with us!
To get in touch with Elise or Penelope, email them here.