Tonya Sanders prepares for a red drum she caught on Aug. 30 and posted it to Female Fishing Fanatics, a Facebook group she started as a safe place for female fishermen. Photo: contributed

Tonya Sanders is tired of online trolls.

She simply wanted to share her fishing accomplishments on social media, her abilities as a recreational angler, and share fishing tips with others who enjoy fishing as much as she does.

But as anyone on social media knows, there are plenty of keyboard warriors eager to pounce at the chance to belittle, discourage, and insult.

As she boosted her online presence earlier this summer, so did the negative comments.

One poster called Sanders a “prop” and accused her of not catching the fish she was holding in one of the photos. Another commenter mocked a different photo, telling her she looked like she was taking a glamorous photo.

Online harassment took a particularly disturbing turn when one man commented on female breasts.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be like this and it was probably my fault because I was lucky and didn’t dive too deep into the social media aspect to put myself out there like, ‘Hey, I took this and I’m proud of it.’ Does anyone else want help learning how to do this? “Or maybe someone else will give me advice,” Sanders said.

A screenshot of the responses Tonya Sanders received in the social media group she posted earlier.  Photo: contributed
A screenshot of the responses Tonya Sanders received in the social media group she posted earlier. Photo: contributed

So what if she was wearing makeup, I thought.

“I think maybe it didn’t look like I was fighting a fish,” she said. “I have no idea.”

But Sanders firmly believes that she would not read the same insulting comments on her posts if she were a man.

“So I decided to start my own group,” Sanders said.

The Facebook group will be open to all anglers, regardless of gender or experience level.

“But it’s specifically a safe haven for women so they can spread their catch or connect with other hunters,” Sanders said.

Within the first four weeks of creating the Female Fishing Fanatics group earlier this summer, Sanders’ Facebook group grew to more than 320 members from across the country and as far away as Thailand.

She enlisted the support of local businesses who joined her group, donated prizes to be distributed to the winners of raffles she hosted — just a way to keep things interesting — and she and her fiancé, Rob LeSueur, were welcomed by business owners. , showcasing what they plan to turn into a mobile hunter-type series that they will share in the group.

“I knew I was going to have to put in a lot of work and get involved, but I didn’t expect it to take off the way it did,” she said.

This wasn’t where the 37-year-old Wilmington native thought she’d find herself.

Tonya Sanders shows off her flounder catch.  Photo: contributed
Tonya Sanders reviews flounder fishing during the 2022 season. Photo: Contributed

She had been hunting around the area since she was a little girl, accompanied by her father, a man who, upon learning he had a daughter, said, “It’s okay. I’ll take her hunting anyway.”

Sanders doesn’t claim to be an expert hunter. She doesn’t own a boat

This does not hinder her desire to hunt. On her days off, she can be found fishing at Wrightsville Beach for sheepshead or at Fort Fisher for drum, depending on the season.

She was fishing Town Creek, a blackwater river that meanders through Brunswick County, during a phone interview with Coastal Review.

She stopped mid-sentence, and the conversation fell silent, before apologizing and explaining, “I heard screaming and that’s my favorite sound.”

Sanders and LeSueur were in the midst of showing Gator Hole Country Store and Tackle, a small store in Winnabo that proudly advertises the sale of cold drinks, cigarettes, live bait and fishing tackle.

It was August 30, the day before the remnants of Hurricane Idalia blew in from the southwest after making landfall on August 29 in Florida’s Big Bend as a Category 3 storm.

“We’ve got a hurricane on our doorstep and here we are, and you know, that’s what it’s all about,” LeSueur said. “I have rekindled my love of fishing since we started this.

“Speaking as a male in a management position in a women’s group, the amount of support we provide to our members and that our members give to each other is something I have never seen before in any Facebook group. We uplift, care, and encourage everyone to post and celebrate these posts. There is no negativity on “The launch is what draws people in. It’s been a tough journey so far and we’re loving it.”

Jaime Short, who owns The Gator Hole with his fiancée Nicole Pruitt, said he teamed up with Sanders and LeSueur for the love of fishing.

“We just like to see people having fun and getting out fishing,” Short said. “We just want everyone to enjoy the water. It’s fishing. It’s supposed to be something everyone gets out and enjoys. I took Nicole’s life, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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