I discovered and watched some of my old TV shows last week. I hadn’t watched them in decades. It was interesting to look back 30 years and see how our fishing and water habitats appeared then. Stirring up old memories was emotional. Seeing old friends and Jesse “the wonder dog” was great. Having a golden retriever that helped me see fish was a blessing and guests loved her too.
But seeing how much places like Whidden Creek had changed was scary! Looking at Boca Grande Pass during the first World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament in 1985 reminded me of how special our tarpon fishing is. The tarpon, snook, and redfish shows illustrated how beautiful our waters and seagrasses were.
When we did our first filmed trip tarpon fishing on a hill tide in Boca Grande Pass back about ‘83, the catching was so hot my new friend and future partner Sully wouldn’t put his camera down to fish. We enjoyed steady action and multiple hookups. The rule was, don’t cast if you don’t want to catch a fish.
We had room to play with happy fish most of the time. Weekends were crazy, but weekdays we created lasting impressions with imprinted lifetime memories: Silver kings feeding aggressively all around us. Thousands of big tarpon, chummed up by the Charlotte Harbor crab flush, slurping at the surface. We couldn’t fish natural cork floats because the tarpon would literally eat them. We could predict dependable hot bites on specific strong times. Great times.
I can remember June full moon high tide changes when the entire Pass was alive with silver kings splashing as far as we could see in any direction. There were tens of thousands of active fish, preparing to school up and head offshore to spawn. We enjoyed following them, observing and catching all we wanted to. I remember asking my guests to be sure they did not tell others how many fish we caught. Loose lips sink ships. It was great while it lasted.
When we leaped into the TV world, I could let the video crew know in advance when to come down to shoot at least one show in a day’s fishing. We never had trouble delivering more than enough action for episodes. They came down, shot the footage, and drove back to St Pete the same day.
We had paradise and were sharing it, but carefully. We made sure stewardship was taught, with careful handling to preserve our fish. We shared what you needed to know — how to, not just where to go. I miss those days.
The turtle grass in Whidden’s was lush and full of fish. Betsy Fugate and Gary Ingman joined me to shoot a redfish show there. We caught plenty of redfish, a few trout and showed others how to enjoy it. It was fun and productive — great memories for us all. I look in the same areas now and it makes me want to cry.
Due to an electrical motor malfunction, I’m forced to evaluate my fishing future. It’s time to throw in the towel or stick my neck out, making another large investment while praying the guiding business improves. Recent water quality issues and habitat loss are big factors weighing into this decision.
I never imagined it would be so risky to depend on fishing for income. I’ve fed and supported myself fishing since 1972. There was always something I could do to stay ahead of the bills. These days, with hurricanes, red tides and now COVID-19, does the risk outweigh the possible rewards? Will a new engine pay for itself?
I’m not the healthy youngster I was. I’ve lived on and from our waters so long I don’t know how I’d adjust. I can’t imagine not guiding, but it needs to be profitable and fun. I’m not a quitter, but I’m not sure I can gamble this much the way it’s been. Reflections are more than images on calm waters!
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.