In celebration of International Women's Day on Sunday, March 8th, Mercury Marine is sharing the stories of a few women who have had profound impacts on the marine, angling and boating industries. We continue this series by introducing you to Cheryl Spencer.
Professional anglers stake their livelihoods on their equipment. From the engine to the smallest piece of tackle, every single item on the boat needs to help the angler find, land or transport fish. Often overlooked by the layman – but never by the professional – an angler’s electronics package is absolutely critical to providing them an opportunity win.
To put it bluntly: If the fish finder doesn’t work, the fish often don’t get found. That’s where Cheryl Spencer comes in.
Spencer is the senior tournament support technician, event coordinator, and pro team manager for Lowrance, a premier manufacturer of marine electronics. The native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, spends more than 200 days a year on the road supporting the world’s top professional bass anglers at tournaments from coast to coast. Over the past 15 years she has built a reputation as a consummate professional and peerless subject-matter expert in the area of fishfinder setup and troubleshooting.
“I like helping people, I like figuring out problems and finding solutions,” Spencer said. “Making someone happy is what I try to do.”
But don’t think her knowledge is limited to wiring, transducers and high-end displays: Spencer has been an angler her whole life. She fished every single tournament of the Women’s Bassmaster Tour during its four-year stint in the mid-2000s and has also competed in several Bassmaster Central Open events over the years, so she brings an expert angler’s eye to her work.
“I only cashed two checks during that time, nothing big,” Spencer said of her time on the WBT. “But my co-anglers really liked me – seven out of 12 of my co-anglers qualified for the final day. So at least I could find the fish. It was a good time and I learned a lot, and there was great comradery with all the women I fished with. I’m still friends with most of the girls from that time.”
Spencer is the youngest of seven children, with four older brothers. But it was her mother who instilled in her the love of fishing.
“The best part about my growing up is that my mother took me fishing,” she said. “She loved to go fishing. We would go rent a little scampi or paddleboat and go bass fishing, and at night we’d be camping and going catfishing on the shorelines. Not my dad, it was my mom who took me fishing all the time. So my love of the outdoors was because of her taking us camping and fishing.”
As a youngster she excelled at basketball and track though high school, among other things. After graduation, she went to Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College to study computer science and television production. That would lead her to her first career in television production. Starting while she was still in college and for the next 18 years, she worked for local TV stations in the Tulsa area, and contracted with Teleproductions Unlimited, a mobile production company, at many college and professional sporting events. Lowrance started recruiting her in the early 2000s, and in 2004 she finally started working for them and has never looked back.
In her current role, she supports several top-tier bass fishing tours, sets the schedule for other Lowrance field techs, and manages the Lowrance Angler Prostaff program.
“It’s been a busy 15 years for me,” Spencer said. “These days I primarily support the FLW Pro Circuit Tour, the MLF Bass Pro Tour, the BASS Elite Series, and I’m also the primary Lowrance tech for the Major League Fishing Cup events.”
At any given tournament, Spencer sets up her trailer in the designated service yard alongside the various other manufacturers’ support equipment. She is available early and late for many practice days and all tournament days, ensuring that every piece of Lowrance equipment in the competitors’ boats is working properly and that everyone is comfortable with their setup. If no-one needs her help, she’s at her desk in her trailer answering emails and taking care of various pro staff administrative duties, so there’s really no downtime. However, Spencer enjoys the mind puzzle that is presented by the issues she faces and takes great pride in getting things working properly as quickly as possible.
“Most of the things I see are flat-out installation issues – every part of the system has to work together based on how someone put it together in the boat,” she said. “And there’s a huge variety of boats, and they all run multiple units. When someone is having an issue, they always say ‘I’m having a problem with my unit.’ But I’ve found that 85-90 percent of the time it’s not the unit itself, it’s the wiring or how the pieces are connected to each other.
“If a unit won’t power on, the first thing I do is take it to my trailer and plug it in there. If it powers on in my trailer, the unit stays in the boat and I start troubleshooting everything else.”
When the tournament she’s supporting ends, she packs up and typically heads straight for the next one. Even then, the work doesn’t stop as she often fields calls from panicked anglers as she’s flying down the highway.
“I’ve spent so much time working on our units, I can be driving down the road talking to an angler, walking him through all the settings,” she said. “He’ll tell me what he’s seeing, and I have him make the adjustments while we’re on the phone. And then the best thing I hear is ‘Hey, it’s working!’”
She’s also known for physically working on one boat while providing phone support to another angler in another state – and getting them both up and running in the process.
Spencer admits that the lifestyle her job requires can be lonely at times, but she enjoys the friendships she’s built among the other service yard personnel and the anglers she supports. She also has the constant companionship of George, the cat that accompanies her on the road.
“He adopted me when he was two or three years old, in October of 2015,” she said. “I couldn’t leave him home alone and I got tired of putting him in the kennel, so he travels with me. He’s registered as a service animal, so he goes to the hotel with me. He stays in the hotel while I work, except the last day of the event when I’m leaving right afterward.
“He keeps me grounded, I guess is the best way to say it.”
When she’s not working, Spencer, 53, enjoys going on cruises in the Caribbean, where she can afford herself the rare luxury of leaving the computer at home and shutting off her phone. But despite the travel, long hours and often less-than-perfect working conditions, she loves what she does and has no plans to hang it up anytime soon.
“It’s a job I love to do,” she said. “If someone doesn’t like helping people, they’re not going to make it in this job.”