Australian pole vault champion Emma George has scaled the lofty heights of her sport to claim multiple world records and represent Australia at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
And, although the former professional athlete’s weeks were jam-packed with training commitments, Emma always found time amid the rigorous schedule for her life-long passion – fishing.
So much so, that she spent her first pole vaulting prize money as a rookie athlete on a 4m tinnie!
Recfishwest’s Zach Relph caught up with Emma – who joined the Recfishwest Board last month – to discuss her love of fishing, boating and helping ensure great fishing experiences across WA, forever.
A love of the outdoors
From popping for big GT off Exmouth to casting at FADs for dolphinfish in metro waters, new Recfishwest Board member Emma George has an undeniable love for fishing.
Alongside her husband Ashley and their three sons – Austin, Cooper and Bailey – Emma is a recreational fishing advocate, championing its family-friendly and fun benefits.
“For us, it’s really great to be on the water fishing, boating or diving as a family,” she said.
“It’s a passion my husband and I have had for many years and now our children love it too – it is a great way to explore the outdoors and create lasting memories together.”
Now that she’s joined the Board of WA’s peak recfishing group, representing the State’s more than 750,000 fishers, Emma is eager to protect, promote and develop not just sustainable but abundant fishing experiences.
“Recfishwest does great work, as do the WA fishers,” she said.
“I wanted to be a part of that by joining the Board because I care about our fish stocks and the future of our fisheries and the fishing experiences they support.
“We need to help protect the aquatic environment and boost fish stocks so future generations of fishers can enjoy as rich fishing experiences as we do.”
Recfishwest CEO Dr Andrew Rowland said Emma was a great addition to the Board with her fishing knowledge, considerable professional experience and reputation as a winner.
“Myself and the rest of the Board are keen to work with Emma and fellow new director Ian Sampson, who was also appointed last month,” he said.
“Emma has a wonderful fishing passion and a strong background in business, marketing and communication, all of which will be a real asset to the organisation.”
As a youngster, Emma regularly fished with family while growing up in regional Victorian town, Beechworth, near the New South Wales border.
“My pop would take me out on his boat and we’d catch redfin from his little boat or I’d go camping with my parents and we’d catch trout,” she said.
“I first got hooked when I was at Bermagui on the New South Wales coast and I caught a really good salmon off the beach – I still remember that fish and it made me want to fish a lot more.”
After moving from Beechworth to Melbourne to study an Arts-Commerce double degree at Deakin University, Emma continued to hone her fishing craft while her pole-vaulting career began to take off.
In between studying and training, Emma fished for Australian salmon along Kilcunda’s white beaches on weekends.
At the time, the rising athlete also made a wise investment after claiming her first pole-vaulting event cheque.
“When I was 20, there was a big pole-vaulting comp in Melbourne and I won my first competition prize money,” Emma said.
“It was $3,000 and I spent it on a tinnie, a 4m Quintrex, and my girlfriends all thought I was crazy.
“Ashley, who was then my boyfriend, and I got out onto the bay in the tinnie and chased snapper – it was fantastic.”
Vaulting into WA fishing
With Sydney scheduled to host the 2000 Olympic Games and, for the first time in history, women’s pole vault would be held as an event, Emma had her sights set on the prestigious sporting games.
To realise her Olympic dreams, Emma and Ashley relocated to Perth a year out from the games to further her training.
“We both told our parents we’d be in WA for three years and that was 1999 – 21 years later we’re still here,” Emma said.
“WA is our home now and we can’t see ourselves leaving now with the beautiful coastline, places to camp, it really is an amazing place to live.”
After competing in the Sydney Olympics, two back surgeries ultimately forced the 12-time world record holder to retire from pole vaulting in 2003.
While conceding it was difficult to step away from professional sport, Emma said fishing helped with the tough transition.
“It was a difficult time having to give up on your dreams and something you love so much,” she said.
“However, one of the benefits was that I had more time to go fishing and diving and having something else I really enjoyed doing definitely helped.”
Writing for recfishers
Emma, who completed a journalism degree after moving to the west coast, launched into sport writing following the end of her pole-vaulting career.
While covering sport, Emma met now-Western Angler editor Scott Coghlan, who encouraged her to write about her passion and freelance for different fishing-related publications.
Nowadays, Emma also has her own website – Love The Outdoors – which publishes how-to family fishing and camping suggestions and tips.
“I’m very passionate about getting kids out into the outdoors and the website has the basics for if you haven’t camped or fished before and what you need to take for the kids,” she said.
“There are barriers there for people who haven’t gone fishing or camping before and they might feel apprehensive as to what to do.
“I hope we can encourage as many people as possible to take their kids outdoors fishing and camping and have quality time together.”