But Espenscheid was the family’s sole breadwinner. Her physician husband, David, had had a triple bypass six years earlier at the age of 45, ultimately deciding to give up his medical practice and to become what Claudia gleefully calls a pediatric chauffeur for their daughters, Katarina, now 10, and Isabella, 9. "David was 3 when his own father died, and our two girls were very little when he had his surgery," she explains. "It changed our priorities."
"It was extremely scary to make the decision to leave," says Espenscheid, who, contradicting the advice she routinely gave clients, liquidated her IRA and nipped at her 401(k) to shake loose $60,000, and more recently took out a $250,000 line of credit against the value of her house to help grow the business. "We’re living on savings," she says. "We’re putting it all on the line with the business, no pun intended.
"My husband and I are pretty big risk-takers when it comes to living life fully," she continues. "I don’t mean stupid risk-takers. But we had been through so much, and it was time to embark on a new, fresh, positive endeavor." What sealed the deal was a class field trip to Tallahassee that Espenscheid took with her daughter Katarina a year after Ivan struck. There, in one of the government buildings, she saw a display from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "I started looking at the statistics, which mentioned that 29 percent of the fishing in the state was done by women," she says. Even more alluring was the research suggesting that the growth of fishing as a sport for women was explosive. "I guess that’s when my MBA clicked in. I thought, ‘There’s a total niche out there.’ There was nothing geared to women in apparel or equipment. I’m not a fashion plate by any stretch, but I wanted to look cute when I went fishing."
To spread the word about Fishin’ Chix, Espenscheid called all her acquaintances, sent out a group e-mail, and put up flyers. Espenscheid also relied on word of mouth — usually her mouth. "I’m the sort of person who talks to everyone I see about what I’m doing," she says cheerfully and unapologetically. "I’ll talk to strangers in elevators, to people at the next table in a restaurant. It drives my husband crazy. My first question to people is, ‘Do you fish?’" If they say no, her second question is, "Do you want to?"
While Espenscheid chatted up the Pensacola populace, a fashionista friend got busy designing the club’s clothing line, which includes T-shirts, Swarovski crystal-studded tank tops, shorts, hats, rubber boots, and flip-flops, many with the Fishin’ Chix logo, a pink fish with Mick Jagger lips and a bejeweled body. The custom-designed equipment, conceived by Espenscheid with input from Wes Rozier, a fishing guide who works pro bono as a consultant for Fishin’ Chix, includes lures, rods, and reels; bait nets and special tackle boxes are in the development stage. "We’re going to ‘girly-ize’ them," Espenscheid says. "They’re going to have a water-resistant compartment for a cell phone and lipstick. And maybe a mirror," she muses.
Ask Espenscheid and she’ll say that going from money management to fishing gear was no big leap. "Most jobs boil down to selling — to selling yourself," she insists. "In my previous life, I was selling financial services. Now what I’m selling is adventure and excitement and fun. And I get photos from women all over the country saying, ‘I’m wearing your Fishin’ Chix shirt, and look at the 60-pound fish I caught!’" So far, 150 women have paid $129 in annual dues, a fee that nets them a newsletter ("The Monthly Chum"), a two-gallon bait bucket, a beach towel, a decal, and a nom de peche (Espenscheid has two such handles: Fish Lips and Mullet Head). Members also get advance notice of the club’s eight yearly fishing expeditions — two inshore (for speckled trout, redfish, and flounder) and six offshore (where red snapper and grouper are likely to be biting).