June / July 2006 Article from Grandeur Magazine

GRANDFACES

Hooked on his seafaring heritage

As a guide on local waters, Capt. Steve Waugh is a keeper

     This time of year, veteran and novice anglers along the Gulf Coast all yearn to catch a tarpon, the silver behemoth that easily outweighs those who pursue it on the water.
     Capt. Steve Waugh has a simple way to describe the mysterious species that has bewitched fishermen for hundreds of years.
     "They're consistently inconsistent," says Waugh, a Fort Myers native and fishing guide whose economy of words is as much a part of his personality as his 20-foot flats skiff and perpetual tan, which stops where his deck shoes begin.
     For 20 years he's specialized in light-tackle and fly-fishing for snook, redfish and tarpon. His 280 to 300 days a year on the water - give or take a few hurricanes - give his succinct insights true "keeper" status.
     Snook? They're finicky but when hooked are legendary for their fight, he says.
     Redfish? They spook easily, so only stealth-like anglers manage to approach their schools successfully.
     And tarpon? The silver kings possess long lists of traits that make fishing for them from springtime through midsummer different every time, day-to-day and year-to-year. But Waugh knows how to find them and help his clients hook them.
     "I've always loved the water," says the guide whose great, great grandfather, Manuel Gonzalez, a boat captain who came to Fort Myers from Spain by way of Cuba, was among the area's first settlers.
     Gonzalez's seafaring DNA lay dormant in offspring until Waugh came along. Now he's among the most respected guides in Lee County.
    
He's out sometimes as early as 3 a.m. cast-netting baitfish. He doesn't advertise. Of the 10,000 trips he's guided, 80 percent are repeat customers. Many have been his clients for 10 to 15 years. They book their annual tarpon trips as early as Halloween or even a year in advance.
     Some, like lifelong angler Dave Connor of south Fort Myers, take it to another level. Connor books Waugh for half-day trips every Tuesday from January until May.
     "When you're going to spend four hours with a guy, you want him to be a good guy. Steve's a good guy," says Connor, who hired Waugh in 1991 and hasn't ever let him go.
     Waugh says the biggest tarpon he's helped an angler bring alongside his Lake and Bay skiff was 200 pounds, 6 feet long and had "a girth like a linebacker."
     One woman hooked a tarpon and played it for four hours and 15 minutes. The fish turned out to be 180 pounds, 74 inches. "We caught it right off the beach and landed it seven miles off shore," Waugh says.
     She's probably still talking about that fish.
     That's what tarpon anglers do.
     "If you go catch snook or redfish, you have a good day and are happy," he says. But when you catch a tarpon, you replay the entire episode and talk about it over and over, he explains.
     "When a fish jumps, it's like a photo. You never lose that image."
     Not even if you're on the water 300-some days a year.

     - BETSY CLAYTON
          
When he's not on the water, Capt. Steve Waugh works in an office in the carriage house behind his home off McGregor Boulevard. Contact him at captsw@comcast.net.

8 JUNE / JULY 2006

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