Vol 6 No. 5 - October 26, 2005
Stu Apte: a life devoted to fishing - Part
sun staff writer
In December 1964, Texas oil millionaire Ray Smith
flew Stu Apte to Panamas 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
A frequent teacher, Apt instructs a guide in his famous
fish fighting technique.
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Panama remains one of Aptes 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.
Aptes number one destination is the South Island
of New Zealand. And while it was a fish that took him
there in the first place, its 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 anglings
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
thats part of the reason he received the award.
It remains one of his prized possessions.
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 70s, 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 werent 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.
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 wasnt 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 didnt 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
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
After a lifetime of traveling, and experiencing some of
the most spectacular angling destinations in the world,
Apte says that its still the Florida Keys that are
closest to his heart. "Im glad I dont
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."
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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