DeFuniak Springs angler competes against all men in fishing tournaments

Savannah Evanoff
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — When Teance Blackburn leaves in the morning for a fishing tournament, the director announces her boat, saying, “She’s the only girl in the tournament. Thanks for coming out.”

At least that’s how it’s been the past few competitions. The DeFuniak Springs resident competed in Florida B.A.S.S. Nation’s tournament at Black Creek, where she caught two fish and then fished a second tournament at Lake Loch Loosa in Cross Creek, Florida, to qualify for the state tournament. There, she won the Co-Angler division and the Big Bass division with a catch that weighed 7.91 pounds.

“I really like that I’m the only girl,” Blackburn said. “Another thing I like is the weather factors into it. It’s been really cold. It’s rained on me. I just like pushing myself to the limits and seeing what I’m capable of doing. I’ve always been into tomboy things — shooting guns, poker and fishing.”

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Teance Blackburn fished with her father on a chilly day.

Blackburn fished for two days at the state tournament on Lake Seminole during a three-hour lightening storm and day of rain and didn’t perform as well, she said. Since this season recently started, she has fished Lake Wimico, where she qualified for state this year, and placed fifth and won the Big Bass pot with a 6.28-pound fish at Bassmaster Pro-Am this past weekend on the Harris Chain of Lakes.

She will fish in another tournament at the end of March and then will return to Lake Loch Loosa, where she won last year to defend her title. 

Making up for lost time

Blackburn has been fishing with her father since she was a little girl.

Teance Blackburn of DeFuniak Springs won the Big Bass pot with a 6.28-pound fish, and placed fifth at Bassmaster Pro-Am on the Harris Chain of Lakes the weekend of Feb. 26.

Kenneth Blackburn, who goes by Buddy, would take her fishing with him in Maryland on the weekends.

“At first, I just started laying out on the boat with him, and that was really boring,” she said. “Then he said I should try fishing. He fished with open reel bait casters, which is hard to learn out of the gate. Usually you start with a Zebco. So that was challenging, and I liked that part about that.”

They entered tournaments together in the 1990s and won some of them in Waco, Texas, Blackburn said. The competitiveness excited her.

“I can’t sleep the night before a tournament," she said. "That’s one of the neat things I learned last year, that I really still love this. I just entered another one this month because I just can’t not fish anymore.”

Teance Blackburn and her father, Kenneth Blackburn, fished together in tournaments during the 1990s.

Spending time with her dad, though, is what Blackburn really loves about the sport.

“He’s a little rough around the edges, which I also get from him,” she said. “I guess I want to make him proud a lot, fishing. And we’re competitive together. We hold our little dollar on first fish and we’ll double up and then we’ll double up. We’ll never pay each other, but we have our own little tournaments.”

If Blackburn is anywhere near her dad, they are fishing, she said. It has been a great way for them to bond as she has gotten older. She is 48 now.

“He appreciates that he has somebody to go with, and I appreciate that he’s my dad and we have something we can do to get away from the world at this point,” she said.

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They talk about everything, from other fishing trips to what's going on in their lives.

“Sometimes we just have these songs we start singing," Blackburn said. "Sometimes we don’t talk for an hour at a time. There’s nothing we don’t talk about. It’s awesome.”

“We solve all of the world’s problems,” Buddy said. “We get out there and there’s no pressure and nobody around. We just talk about old times and what’s going on with different members of the family and stuff like that. We’re both pretty political, so we talk a lot of politics.”

For Buddy, it has been a chance to make up for lost time.

Kenneth Blackburn, aka Buddy, fishes with his daughter Teance throughout Northwest Florida.

“When we lived in Texas, I drove a truck cross-country, so I didn’t just get to see her when she was growing up,” he said. “I was always gone. I might make it home on the weekends to fish a tournament with her. My wife, she raised ‘em all by herself because I was constantly on the road. It seems like after she’s grown up, I spend more time with her now than we ever did.”

Buddy now lives nearby in Santa Rosa Beach.

They have fished thousands of hours together, Buddy said. They go out on his bass boat a couple of times a week, sometimes at Juniper Lake near DeFuniak Springs or on the dune lakes along Scenic Highway 30A.

“It’s a real treat,” Buddy said. “She makes it really hard on me at times. She wouldn’t cut me no slack. She won’t let me beat her. She’s fun. We have more fun fishing than we do hardly anything else.”

And Buddy loves to see her excel in tournaments.

“She’s an exceptional girl when it comes to fishing,” he said. “She can stand toe to toe with any man, cash for cash, eight hours in a row. She don’t back up, she don’t sit down. She stays after it hard and heavy. She tries really hard. I’d rather watch her catch one than me. She enjoys it so much, then she likes to give me so much grief over it.”

Buddy competes in tournaments, too. But his daughter likens him to her own personal golf caddy.

“I’ll tell him what I want to fish and he’ll rig everything up for me, which is probably something nobody else has in the fishing world,” Blackburn said. “Now he’s making me learn more about whether I need a heavy action rod and more technical things. I carry six rods with me when I go. I enjoy picking out the bait.”

When she has posted photos of her and her father on social media, many people have admired their shared hobby.

“I noticed a lot of people when I posted it were like, ‘I wish I could do that,’ ” Blackburn said. “When they’re gone, I don’t want to regret anything.”

Carol, Blackburn's mother, will go with her to her next tournament, she said.

“Fishing really has been a great way to stay connected to family and get outside,” Blackburn said. “(My mom) actually held the record for the biggest bass on Lake Meridian when I was in high school.”

Teance Blackburn, of DeFuniak Springs fishes weekly with her father Kenneth Blackburn, who lives in Santa Rosa Beach.

Not giving up

There is not one particular challenge in fishing. It’s all challenging, Blackburn said.

“You’re fishing more than catching,” she said. “They’re so finicky. You have to learn a lot about what they like, what they don’t like, where they go when something happens they don’t like.”

There’s a lot more that goes into fishing that people don’t think about, she added.

“Most people just think you’re going out with a minnow,” Blackburn said. “You’re having to trick the fish. You’re having to aggravate them into biting. You have to figure out the fish and the weather is your adversary on top of what you’re trying to do.”

She has surprised herself with her performance in tournaments.

“It’s not that I’m doing so well in these tournaments; it’s just that I’m not giving up in these tournaments,” Blackburn said. “This is the way it happens; I catch one giant fish about an hour before the tournament is over.”

Teance Blackburn competed in a fishing tournament at Lake Loch Loosa in Cross Creek, Florida, to qualify for the state tournament. There, she won the Co-Angler division and the Big Bass division with a fish that weighed 7.91 pounds.

In two tournaments she has gone seven hours without even getting a bite, she said.

“I start turning to the Lord at that point,” Blackburn said with a laugh. “It’s crazy. Each time this has happened, I’m really in my head at that moment about, ‘You’ve had a great day. This has been fun. Don’t hinge your whole day on the fact that I don’t want to go in without a fish.’ I don’t want to weigh in looking like a girl. I haven’t had to do that yet. It’s more about talking myself out of having a crappy attitude and boom, there’s a big fish.”

What inspired Blackburn to compete again were talks with her father in her 20s about different types of tournaments.

“Part of me has always wanted to be a professional fisherman, maybe have my own fishing show someday,” she said. “It was like remembering a dream. I’m so glad that I remembered what I wanted to do, what goal I had a long time ago and just tried it out. And it’s working.”