Capt. Slate’s ‘Creature Feature’ Dive – New Location, New Thrills

September 22, 2015 at 1:58 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost Staff Writer

(Tavernier, FL)  The five-foot-long green moray eel glides out of its coral reef cave and heads straight for the ballyhoo that Captain Spencer Slate dangles from two gloved fingers.  The eel quickly gulps the bait then allows Slate to cradle it in his arms and stroke its slick sides.  Slate holds the eel out to a ten-year-old diver sitting nearby who gives it a pat, and it returns to its cave.

“A sweetheart, a doll,” Slate says later of the eel, who he has named Wasabi.

Slate has been making friends with eels, sharks, barracudas, Goliath groupers, and numerous other Upper Keys reef denizens since the late 1970s.  His twice-weekly ‘creature feature’ feeding dives on Fridays and Sundays conducted from Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures Dive Center, a Guy Harvey Outpost outfitter in Tavernier, regularly draws a sell-out audience.

On a recent Sunday, two families from Fort Pierce– both with newly certified scuba diving ten-year-old daughters– travelled to the Keys for the third time to participate.  Both girls thoroughly enjoyed the dive, and declared they would share photos and videos upon returning to school.

“They were cute!” one girl said of Wasabi and Lester, another green moray befriended by Slate.

Slate escorted his guests to the first dive at Davis Reef, a shallow, scenic coral ledge about 25 feet deep where Wasabi makes her home.  Slate dropped to the bottom carrying a PVC canister filled with chum and bally hoo, quickly attracting a school of yellowtail snapper and grunts that followed the scent trail.

The captain stopped in front of a shallow cave near a large Southern stingray that rested half-buried in the sand and kept a wary eye on the food fest.  The swarming snapper and grunts were so thick around the chum canister that the divers could barely see Slate.  The divers settled down in the sand to see what would happen next.


Wasabi appeared pretty quickly after Slate took out the first bally hoo.  Her jaws flexed open and closed as she approached the bait, then devoured it.  She held pretty still for all the public displays of affection by the humans, then went back to her cave to digest the meal.  She never snapped at anybody.

The stingray, tired of the hoopla, slowly dusted itself off and swam away.

Slate let the schooling fish have their way in the chum slick for a little while, then got out another bally hoo for Wasabi.  She re-emerged from her cave, ate her snack, indulged the divers, then departed.

None of Slate’s guests has been injured by his featured creatures in decades, but he has. Following numerous nips to the fingers requiring multiple visits to a hand surgeon over the years, Slate began wearing chain-mail gloves.  Even today, he has very little feeling in his digits. Trying to feed barracudas bally hoo clasped between his teeth, Slate has suffered split lips, a black eye and a severed nerve in his cheek.

“Like getting  a haymaker from Sonny Liston,” he said.

A Goliath grouper he fed regularly at the wreck of the City of Washington off Key Largo once swallowed his arm and part of his head in its haste to score a meal.

He just laughs off the injuries and vows to keep hanging with the sea life.

“You know me.  If I find an eel, I am going to make a buddy out of it,” he said.

On the second dive with the group from Fort Pierce, Slate headed to nearby Pleasure Reef where he is trying to cultivate a more solid friendship with Lester, another moray.  Lester responded a bit slowly to the offered bally hoo and didn’t want to hang around too long for the requisite love fest.  But he didn’t display any hostility, just shyness.

During that dive, the guests also spotted a large nurse shark and a sea turtle passing by. Nobody was scared — just excited.

That’s the whole purpose behind the creature feature, Slate said — showing visitors that residents of the underwater world are not out to get them.

“I’ve done this my whole life, so people will respect them and get over the idea they’ll eat you alive,” Slate said.

That message certainly went a long way with two very exhilarated ten-year-old girls.

Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing, and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.

Guy Harvey Outpost’s Islander Resort Profiled in “Southern Boating” Magazine

September 17, 2015 at 8:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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IslanderBeachThe following article appears courtesy of Southern Boating magazine.

“If it swims, I’ve caught it! How’s that for a one liner?” he chuckles. His white mustache is Tom Selleck-esque, and the sparkle in his blue eyes intimates wisdom, adventure… and a bit of trouble. Sitting in his office at the Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Florida—the walls covered with pictures of himself, friends, family, celebrities, and the fish he’s caught—Richard Stanczyk captivates me with countless tales of the sea in his 50-plus years as an angler, captain, guide, and owner of the marina. Stanczyk is a bit of a celebrity himself. He’s often credited for reinventing swordfishing and once caught seven of these gladiators in a single day.

I’ve come to visit to talk about Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts & Lodges (GHO) and their expeditions—organized trips for adventure-oriented travelers. The expeditions are a new product for the brand, created “given the time poverty prevalent in everyone’s life,” says Mark Ellert, president of GHO. There’s “Mako Mexico” to follow and tag a shark off Isla Mujeres; “Panama Trifecta Safari” for a chance to tailor your experience on three fishing machines; and “Fish Daze Islamorada,” a three-day adventure with Stanczyk to battle swordfish and tarpon. (More expeditions are available and some are in the making in Central America and the Galapagos Islands.) “I’ve had the pleasure of taking Guy Harvey fishing,” Stanczyk says. “We had a stellar day. We ended up catching four of these giant swordfish.”

Guy Harvey—marine biologist, artist, diver, and conservationist—has come to embody the ocean lifestyle. Ellert saw the opportunity to create a lodging brand that would resonate with families and the salt life, and the Guy Harvey Outpost was born. Current destinations include The Bahamas; Isla Mujeres, Mexico; Dominica and Little Cayman Island in the Caribbean; and Isabela in the Galapagos—a project on the easternmost side of the island is also underway. In the U.S., GHO locations are only in Florida so far. The first was the TradeWinds Beach Resort in St. Petersburg Beach on the Gulf of Mexico. A new spot is set to open in this fall in St. Augustine on the Atlantic Ocean. A freshwater resort with RV campground and marina on Lake Okeechobee is also planned for 2017. Then there’s the Islander Resort in Islamorada—it joined the GHO brand in 2014—with unique access to the bay and the ocean.

The Islander Resort offers two locations: on MM 82 (Oceanside) and MM 81 (Bayside). With 114 guestrooms that spread across 25 acres, the Oceanside exudes the island resort feel that one expects in the Florida Keys. Past the reception area, pristine white sand paves the way—with scattered palm trees from which hammocks hang—to rooms with a screened front porch and full kitchen. Chirping birds and conservation quotations from famous characters accompany you while the salty sea tang lures you closer to the beach. The typical Jimmy buffet melodies hint of the two pools’ proximity and Guy’s Beachside Bar & Grill—Fish Daze participants get to dine with Stanczyk right here, a “truly memorable opportunity to hear Richard some incredible fishing tales,” says Ellert. (I second that.) the restaurant will cook your catch of the day—Harvey’s words on the menu remind you of ocean preservation just like in the rooms.

The Islander Watersports (IW) by the pier has water toys galore—all the GHOs do. There, Donna Warwas and her friend, Joni Taylor, are looking for fun while their husbands are out fishing on a Bud N’ Mary’s charter boat. “What do you have for women like us in their fifties?” Warwas, a petite brunette asks Jaime sanders, a tan and toned IW attendant. They settle for kayaking from the bayside (“it’s calmer,” says sanders) and a snorkeling trip to Cheeca Rocks Reef, a shallow site less than five miles away. Wave runners, sailboats, aqua cycles, and three 18 to 29-foot powerboats are also available. Sanders says she sends boaters to the sandbar right off Whale Harbor bridge on mm 83. “It’s ankle deep, the kids can snorkel and the dogs can play,” she adds. “There’s also the Alligator [Reef] Lighthouse. It’s only six feet deep and it’s St. Thomas [U.S.V.I.]-beautiful.” She advises using Whale Harbor rather than Tea Table Channel bridge on mm 79.1 to go from the bay to the ocean because the latter is lower. Rent a mooring ball on the Oceanside for boats up to 30 feet, or dock on the bayside complete with 14 slips (for boats up to 24 feet), fish cleaning stations and shore power—guests must stay at one of the 25 bayside townhomes to use a slip. There’s no onsite ramp but plenty nearby, and trailers may be stored on the Oceanside property by the Florida Keys Conference Center.

The bayside has more of a private property feel. Colorful two-story townhouses are lined up leading to the docks, the small saltwater pool and beach area. Standing aboard his flats boat, Daniel Brotzky, a husky red-haired man in his early 30s with an infectious laugh, is getting ready for another relaxing outing to the sandbar. It’s his fi rst time at the Islander and he’s beyond ecstatic, most likely due to his recent engagement (wedding scheduled for January 9th). “You’ve got everything you need—you’ve got your home feel with the townhome, the bay, the ocean… the markers are all right there,” Brotsky says. “It’s a beautiful dock with easy access and [the slip rental] is dirt cheap!”

Back at Bud N’ Mary’s, Stanczyk ponders the Islander. “I have a lot of respect for the owner David [Curry]. They’ve maintained what I call the ‘character’ of the Florida Keys, and when you go to the Islander… you find their own feeling of the Keys.”

Help Guy Harvey Outpost Volunteers Clean Up the Keys

September 15, 2015 at 3:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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11990489_10154198595179027_1235612983481628913_n            By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost Staff Writer

Some staff members of Islander Resort, a Guy Harvey Outpost in Islamorada plan to don work gloves, long pants and sun hats to join hundreds of others collecting trash along U.S. Highway 1 and ocean and bayside beaches on Sept. 19.

The Florida Keys Scenic Corridor Alliance has partnered with the Ocean Conservancy for the 30th anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup– a one-day effort that last year attracted 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries who picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash.

For this year’s cleanup, teams will fan out along the entire 110-mile U.S. 1 corridor and adjacent beaches from Key Largo to Key West, clearing roadsides and waterfronts of trash and debris.  Some employees of the Islander are expected to join a team organized by the Islamorada Chamber of Commerce cleaning the area from Tavernier Creek Bridge to the Channel 5 Bridge including Sea Oats Beach, Anne’s Beach, and Indian Key Fills.  If you would like to help, call or email Judy Hull, executive director of the Islamorada chamber at 305-664-4503/

Discarded plastic items — flip-flops, water bottles, bags, and popped balloons–are a serious environmental and ecological problem worldwide, with more than seven million tons ending up in the world’s oceans.  Not just an eyesore, they sicken and kill sea birds and marine mammals.

For more information about the Coastal Cleanup, visit the Ocean Conservancy’s web site!

Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.

“Underwater Realism” Art Course Offered at Islander Resort In Islamorada

September 14, 2015 at 2:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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RoysterBJ03tn-300x278Islamorada artist BJ Royster will unlock the creative process in you in a relaxed, informative and creative manner. This class is for designed for complete beginners, as well as those artists who want to enhance their knowledge and discipline within the creative process. You will take home a Keys reef scene on 11 x 14 stretched canvas.

WHAT: “Underwater Realism” art course

WHEN: Thurs, Oct 8, 22, Nov 5, 19; 1 – 4 pm

HOW MUCH: $165 REGISTRATION (Materials Included)

Born and raised in South Florida, BJ is recognized as a foremost artist specializing in reefs. After overcoming a fear of diving, she became a certified SCUBA diver and now translates the underwater beauty to her canvases. Her award winning work can be seen around the world, in several publications, and in her gallery, BJ Royster Ocean Gallery in Islamorada.


Fall: Prime Time for Flats Fishing in the Keys and Bahamas!

September 10, 2015 at 6:17 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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“Flats Slam” by Guy Harvey.

By Sue Cocking, Guy Harvey Outpost staff writer

Late summer/early autumn is prime time for flats fishing in the Keys and the Bahamas.  With few visiting anglers and plenty of bonefish, you have the shallow, target-rich environment pretty much to yourself.  And in the Keys, you’ll also get shots at tarpon and permit, raising hopes of a flats grand slam.

Fall brings higher tides and cooler waters, expanding the territory of feeding bonefish that spent less time foraging on the flats in the searing summer heat.

You can sight-fish for them from a poled skiff or you can simply stake out up current from a sand-and-grass-dotted flat and wait for them to feed into the tide.  By far, the best bait is a live shrimp with the tail pinched off fished on light line with a split shot for added casting distance.  To better your chances, carry dozens more live shrimp than you need for bait, cut them into pieces and toss them out as chum.

The islands of the Bahamas present your best chance of catching and releasing a bonefish on fly rod.  With seemingly endless shallow-water habitat and abundant fish of all sizes unaccustomed to encountering most fly patterns, the islands allow the novice angler to make plenty of mistakes, learn from them quickly, and eventually capture the prize.

Bonefish are fun to catch on the flats on any kind of tackle because of their warp-speed, drag-screaming runs after you hook them. Keep your line tight and a bend in the rod, and eventually you’ll catch up to them.

Bonefishing  is big business in the both the Keys and Bahamas, generating tens of millions of dollars in economic impact each year.  In the Keys, anglers fishing the ocean sides of Islamorada and Key Largo can pretty much expect to encounter bonefish most days, but the fishery has suffered declines in the Florida Bay back country over the past decade. Anglers and guides want to know why and what can be done to reverse the trend. The non-profit Bonefish Tarpon Trust has commissioned a study by scientists from Florida International University to look into everything from water quality to prey availability to determine the causes and identify solutions.  The researchers are also surveying and interviewing bonefish enthusiasts from Biscayne Bay through the Lower Keys to chronicle their experiences.

In the Bahamas, the government recently announced draft legislation that would impose licenses and fees on foreigners fishing for bonefish and require operators of fishing lodges to be citizens or permanent residents of the Bahamas.  Bonefish Tarpon Trust– in collaboration with scores of anglers, guides, scientists, conservationists and lodge operators– countered with its own recommendations for a comprehensive conservation and management plan for the species.  The government is mulling over those suggestions.

Completing the flats grand slam with tarpon and permit is more than doable in the Keys in early fall, especially if you use live bait.

The onset of cold fronts to the north pushes huge schools of forage fish such as mullet, pilchards, sardines and glass minnows south along ocean and bay waters in the Keys, with tarpon happily chasing and devouring them.  These ‘silver kings’ are not as large as the monsters typically encountered in the spring and summer migrations, but they are sporty enough on 20-pound tackle.  Your best bet for a spectacular experience is to use a live mullet hooked with a circle hook through the upper lip and rigged with a float along the edges of flats, in channels and around the U.S. 1 bridges.

Tarpon typically pile on the mullet, crashing, splashing and leaping while you hang on tight and let the fish have its way.  The moment it lets up, you put the heat on it.

The experience is so addictive that a veteran Keys guide once said that if tarpon could only be found in the Himalayas, anglers and guides wouldn’t hesitate to follow them there.

Permit, with an oval-shaped silver and yellow body and black sickle tail, is more common in the Lower Keys than the Upper Keys, but you still stand a decent chance of catching one in the northern regions.

These bulldogs of the flats rarely hesitate to gulp a live crab cast in front of their noses.  But accounts are rampant of anglers making bad casts to the fish’s tail only to have it whirl around and inhale the bait.  For sight-fishing, the best locations are narrow strip banks along both the ocean and bay sides of the Keys with hard bottom and a strong current.  Permit also can be found in channels and around bridges waiting to pounce on crabs sweeping by on the tide.

Trying to catch them on the flats with a fly rod can end up being a lifelong quest similar to the 100 Years War.  Tame your bucket list to include live crabs, and you will not be disappointed.

Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on  For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing and powerboat racing.  She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.

Guy Harvey Outpost Hosting Herman Lucerne Memorial Kick-Off Party and Awards Dinner

September 8, 2015 at 1:48 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

10345549_1090351407659179_1203005855189145553_n (2)From the early 1970s till the early 90s, Dr. Lloyd Wruble fished the remote waters of the Everglades back country twice weekly with a mentor who’d been roaming the region well before it became a national park in 1947.  Herman Lucerne– the former Florida City mayor and pioneer citrus grower nicknamed Mr. Everglades–introduced Wruble, a Miami oral surgeon, to the winding mangrove labyrinth of Hells Bay where the two endured extreme heat, relentless mosquitoes, and menacing reptiles for the exhilaration of catching monster snook.

“He showed me a lot I didn’t know,” Wruble said of Lucerne.  “We were prepared to stay all night– mosquito suits and all that.”

Being unable to explore some of the park’s narrowest inland passages in Lucerne’s wide motorboat prompted Wruble to procure a 16-foot aluminum craft with a 70-horsepower Yamaha capable of penetrating creeks only as wide as stairwells and plying flats less than a foot deep. There they caught plenty of other game fish — tarpon, bonefish, snapper, black and red drum, sea trout and even black bass where the ‘Glades waters ran fresh enough.  In the days before GPS and reliable cell phone service, the pair were the envy of South Florida sport anglers who longed to plumb their secret spots but were daunted by the perils and discomfort.

In 1992, Lucerne died in the aftermath of devastating Hurricane Andrew. But Wruble kept fishing on his own and eventually introduced up-and-comers such as captain Rick Murphy, now host of television’s Chevy Florida Insider Fishing Report, to the hardships and rewards of Hells Bay and the Everglades.

In 2001, Wruble held the first  Herman Lucerne Memorial Backcountry Fishing Championship to honor his friend’s pioneering fishing legacy.  The 2015 edition slated for Sept. 18-20 will host more than 70 angler teams competing to catch and release all seven eligible species –snook; tarpon; bonefish; sea trout; snapper; red drum; and either black drum or black bass–on bait, lures or fly tackle within Everglades National Park.  No prize money will be awarded; proceeds benefit the park.  The Islander, a Guy Harvey Outpost Resort in Islamorada, will host the Sept. 18 kick-off party and the Sept. 20 awards dinner.

Logging all seven species will be fun to try, but tough to accomplish.

“They have to time the tides and have to pre-plan where to go at what time,” Wruble said.  “Knock off the easy ones first and save time to go after the more difficult ones.  Bonefish is usually the toughest.  It’s very difficult to do, but every year we have several anglers that get all seven species.”

The angler who measures, photographs and releases the greatest total length of all seven will be crowned grand champion. Trophies will be awarded in numerous other categories as well. Co-hosting the event are fishing celebrities Flip Pallot, Chico Fernandez, C.A. Richardson and Rick Murphy.

St. Pete Beach and Key Largo Hosting September Lionfish Derbies

September 3, 2015 at 1:50 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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11894565_10153016510035966_3704420398588416464_oOpportunities to curb Florida’s burgeoning populations of invasive lionfish (and learn more about our coral reef ecosystem) will be available in St. Pete Beach and Key Largo in September.  And all ocean enthusiasts– divers or not– are invited to both events.

Guy Harvey Outpost,  a TradeWinds Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach, will co-host a Lionfish Safari Sept. 12-13, along with Reef Monitoring, Inc. and the Fishing Rights Alliance. Then from Sept. 24-27, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) will conduct REEF Fest 2015 in Key Largo– a lionfish and ocean education event.

At the Lionfish Safari, both divers and anglers will set out to capture as many of the exotic predators from the Indo-Pacific as possible on Sept. 12.  Contestants will keep their catch on ice overnight, then present it at weigh-in ceremonies Sept. 13 at the Outpost for chances of winning cash prizes and the certainty of knowing they did something to benefit the Gulf coast marine environment.  Everyone will get to eat some of the bounty, and there will be a photo contest, raffle, and prize give-aways.  Tournament entry fee is $35 per person.

It’s just as (or more) important for anglers to participate in the Safari as for scuba divers and snorkelers.  A recent study by scientists at Nova Southeastern University suggests that local, intermittent diving derbies barely make a dent in reducing overall lionfish numbers and containing their spread.  That’s because participants tend to zero in on the largest lionfish while smaller fish escape and spread their larvae to far-away downstream locations. Nova’s Dr. Matthew Johnston says what’s needed is consistent removal of all sizes of the exotics wherever they live, deep or shallow.  Anglers are urged to fish for them with hook-and-line, especially in waters too deep for divers to safely explore.

Captain Tim Kehoe, Senior Outfitter at TradeWinds, recently harvested what might have been a world-record lionfish while surf-fishing near the resort.  Casting a live scaled sardine (pilchard) in knee-deep water, Kehoe landed a fat 20-inch specimen, but didn’t weigh it or turn it over to the International Game Fish Association for certification.  Still, that’s one less voracious predator plundering Southwest Florida’s native fish populations.  If you would like to get involved, go to or call 727-259-7404.

Now, if you are not an experienced lionfish hunter and would like to learn more, REEF Fest in Key Largo is the place for you.  REEF staff members will instruct you on locating them and safely avoiding their venomous spines, and will escort you on a lionfish hunt.  This is no derby; it’s for instructional purposes only.  But REEF Fest is much more than a lionfish expo.  The event features seminars on fish identification and behavior; coral restoration; reef ecology and many other topics.  Scuba celebrities such as Neal Watson, Spencer Slate, and Marty Snyderman will conduct guided dives to local reefs and wrecks.  Evening social events with food and music will cap each day.  Many events are free, but pre-registration is required.  Visit

Use Guy Harvey Outpost’s New Fishing App for a Chance to Win a Guy Harvey Florida Fishing License

September 1, 2015 at 8:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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FLFishingLicenseBe sure to set a reminder on your phone (or circle your calendar) for Sept. 5.  On that Saturday, you do not need to buy a fishing license in order to wet a line in any saltwater body in Florida.  You can fish from shore, on a boat, on a pier or a jetty in the ocean, Gulf, bays and canals license-free for that one day.

Here are several good reasons to take advantage:  you can teach a kid to fish or introduce a non-angling friend to the sport at no extra cost, or –best of all– you have a chance to win prizes, courtesy of Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts.

Anyone who logs a catch of ANY fish on the Guy Harvey iGHOFISH app –(a free download on Iphone and Google Play)–will be automatically entered in a sweepstakes to win a one-year I DO! Guy Harvey saltwater/freshwater fishing/hunting combo license and a $50 Guy Harvey merchandise gift card.  Also in this special, one-day tournament, your catch information will be instantly shared with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through the IAngler program, which helps fisheries managers and scientists conserve and protect Florida’s saltwater fish stocks.

The license-free day applies to all saltwater recreational species such as crabs, lobsters, and scallops.  But all bag and size limits and seasons still apply, so make sure you check out the regulations before harvesting.

If you don’t have a license and want to fish the rest of the year, you can purchase one online at or at any county tax collector’s office and some retail outlets.

Hunting Gators in the Heart of Florida!

August 31, 2015 at 7:35 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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[Okeechobee, FL–]  Cows bellow, a limpkin screams and distant lightning intermittently illuminates the nighttime sky as captain Bobby Stafford idles his aluminum skiff north on the Kissimmee River.  Oblivious to the eerie atmosphere,  Stafford and passengers Roger McCulloch and Butch Butler eagerly scan the tannic surface with binoculars and headlamps trying to catch a pair of ruby-red lights in their sights.

Sweeping the river ahead, bank to bank, Stafford suddenly spots what they’re looking for.

“There’s a big one!” he whispers excitedly to his companions.  “My God, he’s a stud.  He’s coming out of that creek we were in.”

The alligator’s red eyes, captured in the beam, are spaced a good distance apart not unlike the running lights on a small boat — indicating he’s probably ten feet or better.

This is just what McCulloch, a highway construction foreman from Ohio, has travelled so far to capture.  An accomplished hunter, McCulloch has bagged literally dozens of gators with Stafford as his guide over the past ten years or so during Florida’s annual statewide public gator hunt that runs from Aug. 15 through Nov. 1. McCulloch has  mounted several of these trophies, but his supply of gator meat has run out.  Scoring this target will fill his freezer.

Then Stafford says something that, to the uninitiated, might sound really weird.

“Maybe we ought to just drop a chicken,” he says to the other men, who nod in agreement as if this is the most normal conversation in the world to be having on a desolate stretch of river in the middle of the night.


Unlike the depictions of gator hunting on the popular “Swamp People” television show, hunters chosen by lottery for Florida’s annual reptile wrangle are not allowed to shoot gators with guns or snag them in the throat with baited treble hooks.  Only certain approved methods are permitted to harvest the quota of two gators per person.  One of them involves fishing with chickens, minus a hook.

Stafford retrieves a whole, raw, store-bought chicken from a five-gallon bucket with a length of coated cable attached to it.  He fastens the end of the cable to a snap swivel tied to 200-pound-test braided line on his stout conventional fishing outfit.  Inside the chicken, he has sewn a wooden dowel– perfectly legal–that will hold the gator’s jaws open if and when it devours the bait.

Stafford drops the chicken/bait in the water, puts the fishing reel in free-spool and motors slowly upriver until the boat is about 100 yards from the floating bait.  He directs McCulloch to drop anchor and then shuts off the outboard.

“You just have to have patience and let ’em come to you,” Stafford says.

The men wait and wait.  Nothing happens.  Finally, Stafford points the headlamp at the bait and spots the ‘stud’ gator far past it downriver.  No other targets can be seen lurking nearby.

Stafford reels in the bait and the group decides to go looking for more prospects.  They light up a small one in the middle of the river that freezes in the beam, but they agree to pass it up.  Not long afterward, they spot a five-footer lurking in some reeds on the bank that has someone else’s cable attached to it.  They keep looking.

Several other small boats pass by during the night believed to be those of fellow hunters.  No whoops and hollers of victory are heard, and only a few gators appear in their sights.

“Too many small ones.  Too much boat traffic for this stretch of river,” Stafford complains.  Reluctantly, he turns the skiff toward the boat ramp, done for the night.  He and McCulloch and Butler make plans to resume the hunt around 5:30 in the morning.

“If we can get a morning where there’s not a lot of people, then we’ll get it done,” he declares.

Pro Anglers Expecting a Bounty of Big Fish for FLW Event at Lake O!

August 18, 2015 at 4:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Steve Daniel - Bass FishDespite the searing August heat, the largemouth bass fishing in Lake Okeechobee hasn’t slowed down a bit.  At a recent one-day local club tournament, it took a five-bass limit of 31 pounds to win.

“This is August.  They can’t do this anywhere else in the country,” declared veteran Lake O guide and former pro tour champion Steve Daniel.  “The lake has been awesome all summer long.”

Some 300 anglers in the pro- and co-angler categories of the FLW Wal-Mart BFL Gator Division will be able see for themselves in the Aug. 29-30 ‘super tournament’ at Okeechobee’s Scott Driver Park.  It’s the fifth and final event of the 2015 Gator Division–the largest of the BFL’s 24 divisions–where the top pro will take home $9,000 and $4,500 will go to the top co-angler.

Daniel predicts the winning two-day weight could be 45 pounds.

With water levels in the Big O hovering around 12 feet and a full moon on Aug. 29, Daniel believes the big fish will go for the spawning bluegill and shellcracker bedding on the edges of grass lines first thing in the morning. Anglers using large Senkos and swim baits in bluegill hues of green and orange will be successful, he says.  As the sun rises, bass are likely to head for deeper water, such as the hydrilla beds of Harney Pond where slow-moving chatterbaits and spinnerbaits should do the trick.

FLW Tour pro Mike Surman says it’s key to knock out a couple big fish of six pounds or larger right out of the gate.

“If you find the right place early in the morning, you can catch 20 fish in the first half-hour,” Surman said.  “If you catch two good ones early and one more later in the day, you’ve got a good chance to win.”

Surman, who has won major tournaments on Lake Okeechobee in the past, said he plans to start the day with a YoZuri Nor-Z– a large, jointed minnow-shaped bait with a propeller in the back– then switch to a Gambler Big EZ minnow imitation or Gambler jig with a MegaDaddy trailer later in the day.  He believes the tournament could be won anywhere on the lake –even ten minutes’ ride from the boat ramp.  Daniel believes anglers can also catch big fish in the Kissimmee River and adjacent canals.

At the last Gator Division tournament held on the Big O in April, Joshua Morfis weighed a limit of 34 pounds, 14 ounces in a single day to earn more than $6,300.  Co-angler Hunter Abowd had the largest fish — an 11-pound, 10-ounce monster.

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