Rudolph flies in father's footsteps

ISLAMORADA, Fla. — Some call her Annika. Some call her Danica. Make no mistake, Diana Rudolph is decidedly different than those two sports luminaries.

Rudolph, an ultra-skilled fly angler, has hung with the boys time and time again, winning the prestigious Don Hawley Invitational Tarpon Tournament and establishing multiple IGFA records.

Largely under the radar, Rudolph was able to do what Patrick and Sorenstam consistently haven't. She has beat men and beat them badly over the course of a spectacular tournament career. Yet she has decided to hang it up, instead focusing on teaching and introducing women to fly fishing through a number of activities.

Growing up in Aurora, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, it was difficult to project that Rudolph would become a competent fly angler. Chicago is not exactly a fly fishing hotbed, but Rudolph and her family would summer in Islamorada and she first started fishing at the age of 5. Yet she didn't pick up a fly rod until she was 16.

"I used to watch my dad practice all the time in the back yard," Rudolph said. "His influence was tremendous on me."

It was her father's passing that thrust her into fishing full time. While attending graduate school (Rudolph's undergrad degree is in fisheries biology), her father passed away. The pain affected Rudolph, especially while fishing. She eventually stopped, at least initially. She moved back to Chicago and took a part-time job in a fly fishing shop. And fell back in love.

"When my dad passed, I had a very tough time fishing," she said. "But that helped me realize how much I enjoyed it. You get to a point where fly fishing just completely changes your life."

So Rudolph relocated to Islamorada — now she splits time here and in Montana — and began to hone her skills. Winning the tarpon event was probably her biggest achievement, but Rudolph has an intense passion for setting records.

As such, she has four. She has broken the 16-pound IGFA women's tarpon record, the 12-pound permit record, the 6-pound bonefish record, and the 4-pound snook record.

"With records, it's me against myself," Rudolph said. "The tarpon victory was a huge stepping stone and gave me a lot of confidence. But I love the competitive nature of establishing a record. The preciseness of the tackle and the knots that it takes to set a record gives me a lot of joy."

Rudolph has been able to channel her energy into other ventures. For one, she has a television show with Kim Bain-Moore, the first woman to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic.

Beyond that, she is intensely focused on getting women involved in fly fishing. She is involved in a program called Reel Women, which serves to provide experiences for women in fly fishing. Rudolph also works at Sandy Moret's Florida Keys Outfitters as a teacher.

"Getting women connected to fly fishing a huge part of my life," said Rudolph, 37. "To be able to provide them with opportunities to go out and enjoy the activity. That is truly important to me. A lot of progress has been made but we still have room to grow."

As for tournaments, Rudolph wasn't ready to say she is permanently retired but is enjoying her life as presently structured. That much, she has in common with Sorenstam.