A member of the Mercury Pro Team at age 20, Chasten Whitfield might never have gotten into competitive tournament fishing if it weren’t for her mother, Kapi. “My mom talked me into doing my first fishing tournament five years ago,” Chasten said. It was the 2015 Fire Charity Fishing Foundation (FCFF) Tournament in her hometown of Bradenton, Florida – a large annual inshore event with multiple divisions.
Although she had grown up on the Gulf Coast fishing with her family from an early age and already was proving to be a talented angler, at the time, Chasten was far more interested in cheerleading than fishing in a tournament. “I did not want to do it,” she said. “Mom was like, ‘Just try it; we’ll pretend we’re fishing for fun.’”
“I said, ‘Go fish, you have a gift,’” Kapi recalls. “She ended up winning the whole thing.”
Not only did that tournament hook Chasten on competitive angling, it also helped to sow the seeds of “Chastenation,” her mission to empower disadvantaged children by taking them out on the water and putting a rod in their hands.
The FCFF Tournament benefits the Children’s Burn Foundation of Florida, a nonprofit organization that sends children who have suffered severe burns to a camp where they can have fun, feel “normal” and build memories. At the awards ceremony, when the master of ceremonies presented Chasten with a “big check” for her winnings, she says, “I leaned over to the guy with the microphone and said, ‘I’m going to give this back to you guys . . . take the money and give it back to the charity.”
Chasten went on to compete in many more tournaments, ultimately earning a Mercury sponsorship, but she has never stopped fishing with her mother for fun.
“She’s taught me life lessons through fishing, like reeling in a fish; if you get all stressed out and freaked out, you will most likely break [the line] off, but if you calm down and just breathe and just reel it in, it will be okay,” Chasten says. “That has helped me calm down and release my stress. Now I can be in a tournament or a job and everything’s going crazy, and I can stop, breathe, and I’ll be fine.”
Being one of only a handful of women on the pro angling circuit has been challenging for Chasten at times, but she says her mother has pushed her to stay positive – a life lesson that proved to be crucial when, in November of 2018, Kapi was diagnosed with breast cancer while Chasten was away at the Savannah College of Art. Kapi said she privately called Chasten’s college roommate and asked her to keep her daughter busy and discourage her from coming home while her mom went through chemotherapy. Last spring, however, when Kapi showed up to cheer for Chasten at a pro tournament on Lake Seminole in Tallahassee, Florida, her mother’s illness was impossible to ignore.
“I knew she was coming, but I didn’t understand the toll cancer would take on her,” said Chasten.
Today, Kapi is a breast cancer survivor, having completed her final chemo session in late April. With both Whitfield women now at home, working and studying, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have been finding more time to fish together. This Mother’s Day, in fact, they plan to uphold an annual tradition.
“Every year she takes me tarpon fishing,” Kapi says. “The goal is to catch a tarpon and be back in enough time to go to breakfast somewhere.”
While they are not sure any breakfast places will be open due to the pandemic, she says, “That’s what I want for Mother’s Day, a tarpon.”