Oh, the Places You’ll Fish!

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By Brenda Shafer

 

While the Chattanooga region has many lakes and rivers for the avid fisherman to explore, sometimes one just needs to get away for a fishing trip with the guys. These local gentlemen’s love of fishing has taken them on adventures far and wide. They’ve come back with friendships formed and strengthened, pictures of their prize catches, and their best fishing stories – but you should believe those at your own risk.

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Mitch and Ed pose with trophy-sized trout at their usual fishing haunt, the South Holston River.
Mitch prepares to fly fish in Patagonia.
Ed holds up a 22-inch-long smallmouth bass, caught from the New River in West Virginia.

Better Together

Ed McIntire and Mitch Jordan have been trout fishing together every Wednesday for over 20 years. “We’re fortunate to have the same day off and both love to fish,” Ed shares. Mitch adds, “The stars lined up with our day off. We bought a drift boat together, and we’re in driving distance of the South Holston River, which rivals many out West. It’s been game on since then.”

Over the years, they’ve traveled to states like Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming in their search for the best trout fisheries. Every fall, they spend a week in Ginger Quill Ranch, fishing on the North Platte River in Wyoming … but the farthest they have trekked is the Chilean Patagonia region.

Ed and Mitch had heard about Patagonia’s Cantauria Beetles and the trophy-sized brown trout they attract. “As fly fishermen, we’re always seeking a good hatch, and we’d heard that Patagonia was known for large beetles,” Mitch explains. “So, we did some research, talked to guys who had already gone, and decided to try it out ourselves.”

Their investigation paid off. “It was quite the trip. The fishing was good,” Mitch recalls. “We stayed in a lodge that provided everything, but really, we were a little disappointed because since it was a guided trip, we had to leave the river in time for dinner. We’re used to fishing until nightfall!”

Whether in Patagonia or back home in Tennessee, Ed and Mitch have had some adventures. “Right after we bought our boat, we took it out on the Hiawassee,” Ed recalls. “Neither of us knew how to row yet, so within five minutes, the boat was stuck. We thought we were going to sink in the middle of the rapid, so we bailed out. Fortunately, we didn’t drown, but decided we needed to figure it out before going back on the Hiawassee.”

Despite the rocky start, they’ve developed a great friendship around fishing. “We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the years, and it’s definitely a blessing to have a shared hobby with a friend,” Ed shares.

Mitch jokes, “I catch a whole lot more fish when I’m with Ed. That’s the only reason I fish with him.”

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Pictured here are 6 of the 12 guys from the 2017 trip: Sam Simmons, John Wiley, Rob Jenkins, Richard Simms, Shawn Butt, and Bryan Affolter, posing with mahi-mahi, cobia, and yellowfin and blackfin tuna.
From their inaugural trip in 2014, Shawn Butt holds an 80-pound tuna, and Erik Almy shows off an 82-pound tuna.

Man vs. Beast

 

Back in 2014, avid fishermen Erik Almy and Shawn Butt decided to cross an item off their bucket list and went chasing tuna off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana. “We were 80 miles offshore and not there more than 10 minutes before we had a 90-pound tuna on the line,” Shawn recalls.

Since then, they’ve gone six times. “We were hooked. Six months later we went on our second trip, and then in another six months, we went on our third trip,” Erik says. “It’s a bucket list trip and bucket list fish for many, but now it’s become a passion for us.”

However, the trip itself is not for everyone. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” Erik shares, as it’s a 24-hour trip on a 32-foot open boat with no galley or bathroom. Designed for hardcore fishermen, the boat takes you approximately 100 miles offshore near oil rigs, where the habitat is ripe for 75- to 100-pound yellowfin tunas who put up a fight.

On each trip, they’ve taken four of their friends and beforehand, warned them to prepare for the fight of their life. “When a tuna is hooked, they dive straight down,” Shawn explains. “I tell them to take their heaviest fishing rod, tie it to a tree stump, and pull for 30 minutes. That’s a taste of it.”

“It’s pretty brutal. You’re fighting a fish for an hour or even two, standing up the whole time, using all your physical and mental strength: man against beast,” Erik says. “The experience turns acquaintances into really good friends, but you’re also going to be given a hard time if you hand off the rod. That’s taboo.”

This last trip was especially epic. “We entered a tournament, where we followed shrimp trawlers that were attracting tuna,” Shawn says. “We were basically hand-feeding them the bait and hook.”

“Hand-feeding is exhilarating,” Erik says. “It doesn’t get much better than that.” But according to both Eric and Shawn, every trip has been incredible. “It’s an experience,” Shawn says.

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Pictured here is the 2016 trip: Chad Haney, Rod Haney, Rex Allen, Paul Holliday, Kevin Bryant, Hal Jones, Brian Webb, Ken Pilgrim, Doug Torrance, Chuck Felts, Chuck Quinn, Charles Quinn, Tom Flanagan, Greg Morgan, Todd Queen, Eric Beard, and many more friends not from Chattanooga. “We were only going to get a small group of four or eight or so, and then it just snowballed on us,” Tom laughs. “We booked through Wes Hixon’s Outdoor Adventures & Travel.”

First-class Fishing

 

Casa Vieja Lodge in Puerto San José, Guatemala, is a popular sailfishing resort among many local guys. “The first year I went, in 2016, there were 24 of us, and we caught 330 sailfish in three days,” Tom Flanagan shares. “The next year, 36 of us went, and we took over the lodge. We caught fewer sailfish, only 200, but we got more marlin.”

Dexter White, who’d been in 2014 and 2015, says, “It’s the best billfishing I’ve done. When I took my stepson, Lee Brock, he boated a marlin. Fishermen hunt their whole life for a marlin, and he gets one on his first trip! The fishing there is just unreal.” Chad Haney, who’s been to Casa Vieja seven times, remembers a rare catch. “Our boat got a 350-pound black marlin one year. It was my dad (Rod Haney), Todd Queen, Eric Beard, and me.”

Brian Webb, who went in 2016, remembers the thrill of the catch. “The sea was pretty rough the first day we were out there. Many of us were not feeling so well, but when you hear the fish on and you get up and grab the reel – everyone is cheering, you’re fighting, and you forget how you feel.”

The thrill of the catch is even more exciting when you’re competing – for cash and for bragging rights. Hal Jones was the banker and statistician for the 2016 and 2017 trip. “There was very lively conversation each afternoon as everyone compared their boat’s catch and points,” Hal shares. “It became very competitive!”

The competition fed lots of conversation as they gathered together in the evenings. “My favorite part of the trip is that we all come back to one place in the evening, and everyone can share their experience and tell fishing lies,” Chad laughs. Conveniently, there’s also room for embellishment since not every fish is weighed due to their strict ‘catch and release’ policy. “The fishing was a blast, but the camaraderie was even better!” Tom says.

“We all made new friends and lasting memories,” Hal says. “I’m looking forward to our next trip!”

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Andy Stockett, DeForest Spencer, and Bryan Rudisill show off their catches on the 2016 trip.
Britt Schaffeld captured a beautiful sunset from the 2016 trip.
Keith Holt, Joel Holt, Greg Driscoll, Andy Stockett, Britt Schaffeld, Steve Persinger, and Peter Charman show off their 20+ lbs. catches, from the 2012 trip.

Piece of Paradise

 

Around 28 years ago, DeForest Spencer and Alan Voges went on a fishing trip to the Chandeleur Islands, a 40-mile chain of uninhabited barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico. DeFo has gone back every year since with a group of friends, and Alan has only missed a handful of trips.

But every year they go back, the islands look different. “We’ve seen them shrink over the past 20 years,” says Britt Schaffeld, another regular on the trip. “Each passing hurricane takes a piece.”

“Every year is a new challenge,” says Andy Stockett, who’s gone almost every year. “Two weeks before every trip, I spend time on Google Earth trying to figure out the new topography.”

A 110-foot boat, which they stay on, takes them out to the islands, where they spend three days wade fishing and using two-man skiffs to explore. “Since it’s not a guided trip, you’re on your own, and every day is an adventure,” DeFo says. “The challenge of figuring it out every year is one of the most meaningful parts of the trip.”

“It’s truly a wild environment,” Britt shares. “Seabirds are screaming at you, and the pelican rookery is incredible. Although redfish and speckled seatrout are the target, you will catch all manner of fish, from flounder to big jacks, even pesky catfish. Occasionally sharks in the shallow water will challenge your catch with a steal, and they rarely lose that one.”

“I think it’s one of those rare places,” Fred Robinson, another regular on the trip, shares. “I have some good memories of days where we literally caught redfish until we were tired of it. And then there were days where you couldn’t buy a fish. But my favorite part is that every evening, whether you caught something or not, you’re tired, sitting on the back of the boat watching the sunset, ribbing each other about catching or not catching fish.”

“Both the fishing and the people keep me going back every year,” Alan shares. “It’s a good group of guys.”

“Anytime you get into a redfish rodeo – where big reds are smashing lures right as they hit the water – it’s memorable,” Andy says. “And then every evening, watching a gorgeous sunset, catching up with the guys – I look forward to this trip every year.”

“This year will be my 20th time on the trip,” shares David Gott. “It’s a piece of paradise. It’s amazing the friendships I have from the trip. You spend time with old friends and meet new people. I love hearing everyone’s stories and experiences.”

 

There are 12 spots available every year, and several spots turn over each year. Bill Hall, Fred Watson, Pat Conroy, Joe Haley, Hal Weeks, Reed McCandless, Joe Persinger, Jimmy Ballard, Pat Graham, Bernie Heggeman, William Pryor Glascock, and more have attended previous years.

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Will Jones holds a prized mahi-mahi.
The 2017 crew who placed 2nd: John “Thunder” Thornton, Mate Chris Bucalo, Clarke Taylor, and Will Jones (not pictured, Captain Jeff Pezone).
(l-r) Will Jones, First Mate Ben Davis (holding wahoo), Dan Moore, Bradley Banks, and Mate Derrick Milo show off their catch. Bradley reeled in the heaviest wahoo (32 lbs.) of the 45th Annual Gold Cup in 2016.

Prized Competition

 

“It’s the kind of trip you remember,” shares Clarke Taylor about the sailfishing tournament he participated in with Will Jones. Will, along with the Reel Janie, his 75-foot Merritt custom sportfish, has entered the Sailfish Club of Florida’s Gold Cup tournament six times, beginning in 2013. Founded in 1972, this invitation-only tournament tests the skills of experienced anglers catching and releasing sailfish off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida.

Twenty-five boats compete over four days: three fishing and one day of rest. “You have to decide which day you rest, whether you’ll use live or dead bait, where you’ll sail, and more,” Will describes. “So, you have to strategize based on weather conditions, etc. – the strategy and challenge of it is part of the fun.”

“The more work you put in, the more special it is,” says Dan Moore, who participated with Will in 2016. “All the work that goes into this tournament, I found it extremely fun and rewarding. It was my first time offshore fishing, and learning to finesse the kites was awesome. When everything clicked, it made all the work worth it.”

“The sportsmanship is one of my favorite parts,” Will shares. “The competition is very serious, but it’s on the honor system. At the end of each day, you get together with everyone in the tournament and get to hear what ledge they went to and how they did. You get to meet a lot of people and hear a lot of stories. The camaraderie makes it an exceptional experience.”

In 2017, Will’s team placed 2nd in the “Live Bait” section of the tournament. Clarke and John “Thunder” Thornton participated that year. “We broke a record by catching 30 sailfish in three days,” Clarke remembers. “However, another boat then broke our record and caught 35. We did get the biggest mahi-mahi though.” “It’s normal to catch around eight sailfish in three days,” Will adds. “So it was an incredible trip.”

“I’ll never forget coming in to harbor after a spectacular day of fishing, and I turned around to see a sailfish free jump out of the water,” Dan recalls. “It was a cool ending to the day and to a once-in-a-lifetime trip.” SG

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