BY SHERI TRUSTY
Juls Davis and Peg Van Vleet are redefining the concept of charter boat captain – at least in theory. They are the only female charter boat captains in Ottawa County. Of the 945 guides licensed in Ohio, they are among the 18 who are female. Earning success in a male-dominated profession is a significant accomplishment, but the discrepancies between them and their male colleagues pretty much end there.
Out on the water, each is just a captain running her boat.
Davis stepped into the world of charter boats with years of professional fishing experience behind her. She is entering her 12th season as a charter boat captain, but she has been fishing professionally since 2000 and sport angler since she was four years old.
“My dad taught me how to fish when I was growing up in Wisconsin. I’ve always loved it,” she said. “I was invited to Port Clinton to do a fall fishing trip with a couple of walleye pros. I didn’t know walleye tournaments existed.”
Not only did she discover walleye tournaments, but she took the tournament world by storm.
“I fished with some pretty big names, and they all said I should go to the pro side. There were no women pros,” Davis said.
She fished professionally for 24 years, facing some of the top walleye anglers on the FLW Walleye Tour, Professional Walleye Trail and Masters Walleye Circuit, and she worked as a senior moderator on Walleye Central for 24 years as well.
Davis moved to Port Clinton in 2001.
“I fell in love with the place. When I was here, I didn’t want to leave, and when I was in Wisconsin, I wanted to be here,” she said. “So I sold my house, quit my job, and moved here.”
In 2011, she passed her U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s exam with a perfect score and embarked on a new journey as a charter boat captain and the owner of Juls Walleye Fishing Adventures. Throughout her journey as a professional angler and charter boat captain, she never faced discrimination from her male colleagues, even when she began writing a blog about fishing conditions and tips on her website, www.julswalleyefishingadventures.com.
“I thought I’d get pushback from captains, but a lot of them read my blog,” she said.
Like Davis, Van Vleet of Blue Sky Charters (www.blueskycharters.net) faced few challenges as she entered the male-dominated charter business 25 years ago.
“I went into Lakefront Marina with my boat because of the people there. The other charter boat captains were very open to me as a female and as a competitor,” Van Vleet said. “The guys protected me and showed me the ropes.”
They didn’t, however, show her how to fish. Van Vleet has been doing that since she was five years old. Every weekend, her family would travel from their home in Midway to stay either in a cottage or on the boat.
“I’m a marine rat. We’d fish all day Saturday and Sunday, get the fish all detailed out, and head home,” she said. “Put me in front of water with a pole, and I’m fishing.”
Van Vleet worked in construction and project management as an adult, but she never stopped fishing. When she became a charter boat captain, she opened up a new world of fishing opportunities to women and children.
“Early on, I had success with women and families who didn’t want to go fishing with big, burly sea captains. Captains had a bad name in that day, but that’s pretty much gone away,” she said.
Van Vleet was named Lake Erie Charter Boat Association Captain of the Year in 2016 and was appointed as the association’s VP of Environmental Issues last June. Van Vleet has announced that the 2023 fishing season will be her last, but she will continue on as one of Lake Erie’s strongest advocates.
“The lake water is in my veins,” she said. “I love it, and I’ll protect it anyway I can.”