Vol 6 No. 4 - October 19, 2005

Stu Apte: a life devoted to fishing
By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Angling legend Stu Apte was born in Miami in 1930, at a time when it still felt like a small town and “everyone knew each other.” He wasn’t introduced to fishing in any traditional sense, as no one in Apte’s family fished. At the age of 5, the first of his many conquests was conducted in the neighbor’s goldfish pond with a bent pin, thread and a dough ball. Even at this early age, he was analyzing his quarry. He noticed that the hybrid fish fought better than the domestics, often breaking his thread. His family’s response to his new skill was less than enthusiastic, and he was punished for his exploits. But it was too late; fishing was in his blood. Later, at age 16, when Apte inherited an old split bamboo rod and reel and taught himself to fly fish, the seeds of a lifetime passion were sown.

In his early 20s, after serving his country as a fighter pilot in the Korean War, he worked as a commercial pilot for Pan Am. He chose to fly the cargo routes simply because he would have more time off to fish. When he was eventually laid off by the airlines, he embraced his obsession by becoming a full-time fishing guide in the Florida Keys in the mid 1950s.

Stu Apte helps out a young angler in the annual Chuck Lamar Celebrity Fishing Tournament, which benefits kids with cancer.
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNISS

As an angler and guide, Apte crossed paths with fishing greats and world leaders.

He had met baseball legend Ted Williams as a teenager while fishing the canals that bordered the Tamiami Trail west of Miami. It was Williams who taught him how to pole a skiff, and Stu eventually became Williams’ guide. Among a lifetime of guiding memories, two of his favorites include poling Joe Brooks, his mentor and saltwater pioneer, to his world record tarpon (148.5 pounds) on the fly in May, 1961 and guiding former President Harry Truman and his wife, Bess.

In addition to guiding, Apte has been instrumental in designing numerous boats. His first, the Fibercraft, conceived in 1960, is still being used as a mold for hulls today. He helped originate many of Mako Marine’s designs, worked on the Hughes Bonefisher and totally designed and named the ActionCraft Flatsmaster. Recently, he completed a design for the first shallow water backcountry boat for Scout Boats, the Costa 170.

The list of awards and distinctions that he has received in his career are numerous. Some of the highlights include: a 1971 induction into the Fishing Hall of Fame; his Stu Apte Tarpon Fly featured on a United States postage stamp; the prestigious Ted Williams Award in 2003; as well as more than 44 world records he has held in 50 years of fishing.

Stu Apte has fished every continent in the world except Antarctica. In more than 40 years, he has explored and helped to develop some of the preeminent fishing destinations in the world. Through his memories and personal experiences, he shares his top destinations.

Montana
Apte was introduced to Montana’s blue ribbon trout streams by his friend and mentor, Joe Brooks. Brooks was the fishing expert for the American Sportsman Series and had rented a home in Livingston. Brooks insisted that Apte would like fly fishing for trout, but Stu’s reply was always, “If I want to cast a fly to a fish, it won’t be a piddling trout.” Apte was already adept at subduing large tarpon on the fly.

Then he finally made it there on his honeymoon in 1962, fishing Nelson Spring Creek with Brooks. The trout were rising, but Apte, using his standard double haul, put them down with every cast. Suddenly, he understood that trout fishing could be very challenging and required a certain finesse. A motivated Apte was a quick study, and soon he was fooling selective trout in Nelson, Armstrong and Depuy’s Spring Creek.

Later, in the 1970s, Apte did a two-part article for Sports Afield titled “A Trouting Odyssey.” He was given a Winnebago to use and traveled all over Montana for two months, experiencing the best the state had to offer.

The lure of Montana continues to pull him back. In late June and July of 2004, Apte will return to fish his favorite river, the Missouri, near Wolf Creek and the town of Craig in west central Montana. He also counts Georgetown Lake as one of his top travel destinations. Located in southwestern Montana, the lake provides excellent rainbow trout fishing. Apte enjoys pursuing rising trout from a float tube. He travels with his Winnebago “Itasta,” and finds the well-maintained forestry campground at Georgetown Lake a perfect place to stay. Best of all, the rainbows are big and challenging.

Costa Rica
In 1965, Apte traveled to Costa Rica where he became the first American to fly fish the Caribbean side of the country. His host for the visit was Carlos Barrentas, who owned the only tackle shop in the country. Barrentas, who had heard of Apte’s reputation as a guide in the Keys, flew him to San Jose and then to an area on the Parismina River. They landed on the beach and fished from a traditional native dugout with a small outboard motor they had brought on the plane. Barrentas wanted to know if the fishing was good enough to open a lodge. “I thought I had died and gone to heaven,” says Apte. “You could have almost walked across the backs of the tarpon in some of the lagoons.” Apte gave Carlos the nod, and Barrentas built what is now the famous Parismina Tarpon Rancho Lodge.

A few years later, Carlos again asked him to come back and try another location farther to the north. They made the trip, experienced terrific fishing and the Casa Mar Lodge was born at the mouth of the Rio Colorado.

While he was on the Caribbean side, Barrentas told him about the fantastic fishing for sailfish and marlin on the West coast. When he returned in 1968 to an area known as Playa De Coco on the Pacific side, he believes he may have been the first Gringo to fish the billfish of the area.

Today, Apte regularly returns to Costa Rica. These days it’s the billfish in the fertile waters of southern Costa Rica that attract him. His destination of choice is the Golfito Sailfish Rancho in the Golfo Dulce on the Pacific. He organizes a group which he takes there during the months of January and February. He considers these months to be prime time to fly fish for billfish.

Next week: Travel the world with Apte as he fishes Panama, New Zealand, Australia and Alaska.

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