Vol 6 No. 5 - October 26, 2005

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

Panama
In December 1964, Texas oil millionaire Ray Smith flew Stu Apte to Panama’s Pinas’ Bay to a club that Smith had built a year earlier. He named it the Club de Pesca Panama, predecessor of the present day Tropic Star Lodge. During that trip, Apte caught his first Pacific sailfish on a fly. This was the first Pacific sailfish ever caught on a fly and the second sailfish of any species caught on a fly. The first Atlantic sailfish was landed by J. Lee Cutty just two months before.

During the trip, Apte also caught a world record 58-pound dolphin on 12-pound tippet. It remains the longest standing, saltwater fly rod record. On a subsequent trip in 1965, he landed a world record, 136-pound Pacific sailfish.

A frequent teacher, Apt instructs a guide in his famous fish fighting technique.
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS

Panama remains one of Apte’s favorite destinations, and when he is there, he stays at the Tropic Star Lodge. The best time to target marlin is late December through early March. The months of April and May tend to be the best for sailfish and are a time when the Pacific is calmer and more enjoyable to fish.

New Zealand
Apte’s number one destination is the South Island of New Zealand. And while it was a fish that took him there in the first place, it’s the people and the scenery that keeps him coming back.

The lure of New Zealand is the huge brown trout that inhabit the clear streams on the south end of the island. These trout can be sight fished, making them one of fly angling’s greatest challenges. New Zealand reminds Apte of America in the 1950s, noting that the people are warm and helpful and there is magnificent scenery like the American Rockies. South Island even has a glacier on Mt. Cook where you can ski year-round.

Apte visited New Zealand in 1969, ’70 and ‘71 and wrote about his adventures in Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, and Sports Afield. He professes to have been a neophyte at trout fishing, having first fished in Montana in 1962. Apte remembers it as being a place where just about anyone could catch what they called a two-figure trout, that is a trout over 10 pounds.

He was invited by the New Zealand government to visit both islands. In return, he was asked to conduct a weekly newspaper interview. According to Apte, the best time of the year to fish the streams and rivers of the South Island is December through early March, their seasons being the reverse of ours. He considers the Mataura River (his favorite) on the South Island as the best dry fly fishing destination in the world.

According to Apte, "The stretch of the Mataura River that ran between the town of Gore and Mataura had a hatch and fish rise that the locals called the evening rise on the Mataura. The river was in my mind the greatest brown trout dry-fly stream in the world, when I fished it back in 1969-1970. I had one brown trout on a No. 16 dry-fly that was close to 20 pounds."

During one of his visits, Apte was awarded the Tom Gilmore Memorial Trophy, given annually to an American angler who exhibits high standards of sportsmanship, conservation, fishing skills and streamside manner. During his newspaper interviews, he blasted the mayors of the town of Gore and Mataura about pollution in the river. Apte thinks that’s part of the reason he received the award. It remains one of his prized possessions.

Australia
According to Apte, the best place in the world to fly fish for big fish is Australia. The area around Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef holds the fabled black marlin, a fish that grows in excess of one thousand pounds. In the early 70’s, Apte visited the reef for 14 days, staying on a mother ship, and fishing aboard the 43 foot "Sea Baby." In two weeks, Apte managed only two half-hour stints with a rod, because he was busy shooting 8000 feet of film for a video assignment. The trip was still a success, as he managed to film his host, note angler and past IGFA Chairman Mike Levitt, catching his first one thousand pound marlin. He also shot a cover and did a feature story for Sports Afield Magazine.

The second time he fished for marlin he had a fly rod and was on camera. It was early September, a time when the fish were supposed to be smaller, but the weather rough. As luck would have it, the weather was calm and the only fish they raised in four days was an 800 pound monster. "I cast to him," relates Apte, "but it was like casting to Moby Dick." Anglers who want a shot at monster black marlin should book their trip for late October through November.

While black marlin may be king on the Great Barrier Reef, there are many other species to entice the angler, including wahoo, narrow barred mackerel (known as the razor gang,) that exceed 90 pounds, and tuna. On subsequent trips, Apte has split his time fishing from a mother ship for marlin, and exploring the ribbon reefs of Lizard Island.

During his second trip when the marlin weren’t cooperating, his host Jack Erskin took Apte to northern Queensland where they fished for barramundi. The barramundi looks similar to a big snook and fights like a linesider with an attitude. They camped in tents, braving crocodiles and deadly snakes while catching fish to 16 pounds.

Apte will be traveling back to Australia soon for a return engagement with barramundi in northern Queensland. He will be exploring a new area with his old friend Jack Erskin where they are reportedly catching barramundi up to 60 pounds. Since his largest is just 16 pounds, this is just the sort of challenge that Apte relishes.

Alaska
Apte made his first trip to Alaska in August of 1969 as a guest of Wing Consolidated Airlines. He actually found the fishing to be too easy and worked to handicap himself to make it more challenging. During his month long stay, he fished the whole state and caught every species of salmon on a tarpon fly. He also bested every species on a dry fly. "I had to work at it," he relates, "but the fishing was so great I needed the challenge." As if that wasn’t challenge enough, he landed King Salmon well over 50 pounds in the swift rivers on a nine weight outfit. He also found the rainbow trout fishing to be spectacular. Because he had such a full experience, and found the fishing so easy, he didn’t return for 20 years. His two favorite lodges were the Kulik Lodge and Brooks Lodge on the Brooks River. Both lodges are situated in the Katmai National Park northwest of Anchorage.

Apte returned to Alaska in 2002 with his wife Jeannine and fished the Mission Lodge in Bristol Bay. In July of 2003 Apte returned to Alaska and fished the Mission Lodge again, taking advantage of the float planes that flew anglers to the best locations, depending on what was biting. Although there is a lot of fly out from all different lodges, he calls Mission his favorite. He suggests that Alaska may be fished as early as late June through late September.

After a lifetime of traveling, and experiencing some of the most spectacular angling destinations in the world, Apte says that it’s still the Florida Keys that are closest to his heart. "I’m glad I don’t have to choose", he says, "but if I only had one place to fish, one way to fish, and one fish to pursue it would be tarpon, on the fly, in the Florida Keys."

Links:
Parismina Lodge, Costa Rica: www.riop.com
Casa Mar Lodge, Costa Rica: www.casamarlodge.com
Golfito Sailfish Rancho: Costa Rica www.golfitosailfish.com
Tropic Star Lodge: Panama www.tropicstar.com
Kulik Lodge: Alaska www.katmailand.com/kulik
Brooks Lake Lodge: Alaska www.brookslake.com
Lizard Island: Australia www.lizardisland-australia

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