GHM: What’s the toughest fish you ever caught and why?
MS: One of the toughest fish I ever caught was a 53-pound, 6-ounce yellowfin (Allison) tuna in Bermuda from an anchored boat on a 10-weight fly rod. Until then, no one ever talked about dead drifting a fly in a chum slick. I figured it out in desperation when the tuna kept refusing my offering. The battle raged for over an hour and the fish totally stripped all the line off the reel right down to the knot on the arbor twice.
BD: We filmed a television show in Destin, Florida, and I managed to catch two 10-pound sheepshead during that taping. What is amazing to me is how light those fish bite. You really have to concentrate to catch ‘em. We titled that show “Light Biters, Big Fighters.” You have to focus or you’ll miss a sheepshead bite. They are the toughest little fish I’ve ever tried to catch. But then again, any fish can be tough at certain times.
GHM: Who is your favorite fishing partner?
MS: My father was my favorite fishing partner. He helped me catch my first fish when I was three years old and instilled in me a love for the sport. Dad was patient and understanding as I learned to fish and kept taking me with him whenever he could. In the process, not only did he teach me to fish, but proved to me that fishing embodied skill rather than luck.
BD: My grand-daddy got me interested in fishing. He taught me a lot in those early days, sitting on the creek bank beside him in middle Tennessee. He’d tell me how to read the currents, the transitional zones, and eddy waters, what fish do. He was the most instrumental of all in getting me started in this great sport.
GHM: What is your biggest like or dislike about fishing tournaments?
MS: In my mind, fishing always encompassed a personal challenge between the fish and me. The ultimate experience focuses on making a fish eat that you can see. Then, it’s a one-on-one game. My only tournament experience has been in celebrity events for charity, yet it became obvious that tournaments tend to bring out some of the worst traits in people if they feel they have a chance to win.
BD: Tournaments opened a lot of doors for me. They helped me become a better fisherman. I learned to fish different types of water and was introduced to many different techniques. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t spent those 14 years competing in tournaments. But towards the end, my anxiety level was so high and I was going so hard, traveling all over, that I finally gave them up.
GHM: If you only had one lure or fly to use the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
MS: If I were limited to one lure for the rest of my life, it would be a white, lead-headed bucktail jig. To me, this is the universal lure and I have taken more species on it than I can count, from bonefish to sailfish. I may or may not hang a plastic worm on the bucktail’s hook. The bucktail is completely versatile and can be fished from the surface to the bottom with equal success.
BD: My go-to bait under any adverse conditions would be a 3/8-ounce black spinnerbait with a No. 5 silver Colorado blade. Why? That weight and blade size is the most universal. Black holds its identit better than any other color in a variety of conditions. The silver finish on the blade reflects better than any rainbow color. And a Colorado blade has more water resistance and tremendous vibration, so you can work it slower and effectively throughout the water column.
GHM: Where is the most challenging place you ever fished?
MS: Several situations come to mind for my most challenging trip. But I would have to pick one in particular with a captain out of Tumaco, Columbia, in the Pacific. We were fishing aboard his 52-foot boat powered by twin Ford six-cylinder tractor engines. I had fished with this captain before off Costa Rica and he was impressive. In Columbia, however, he had discovered drugs along with his deckhand. We had one meal a day and were “lost” for two days. Finally, faced with torrential rains, we decided to go in at night. The captain and mate were both sound asleep below and I brought the boat in from 35 miles offshore in driving rain with whole mahogany trees floating in the water. Finally, we made it into the harbor and anchored. An Indian picked me up in a true dugout canoe and raced for shore with me paddling in the bow. If you’ve never been in a dugout, it’s a ride you’ll never forget.
BD: Any place you fish can be a challenge and that’s the truth. The sport itself is a challenge. I don’t care how determined you are. When you compete against Mother Nature and her creatures, you’re not going to win every time. There will be days you’re on top and days you lose. And that’s where the real challenge comes in.
GHM: What is the biggest issue facing fisheries?
MS: There are actually two major issues facing sport fishing. The first centers on getting young people involved in it. The youth of today spend more time playing video games and chasing other pursuits than they do thinking of outdoor recreation and going fishing. We need to find a way to encourage more young people to become fishermen. At the same time, it’s imperative to protect and manage fish stocks on a worldwide basis. Without fish to catch, few people will take up the sport and those already committed may look for alternative avocations.
BD: Our river systems, the tributaries, and ox-bow lakes are absolutely infested with Asian carp and these invasive fish keep spreading. They have no predation other than catfish and cormorants, and they occupy so much available water they’re displacing our native fish. It’s ruining our freshwater fishing and the situation is only going to get worse until something is done about it.