Fly Fishing HOF Inductee Stu Apte

As he’s inducted into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame, Stu Apte will be remembered for the innovations he developed and the 44 records he collected during his years of leaning on a push pole as a guide on the flats of the Florida Keys. Those developments include the Apte Tarpon Fly patterns (one of which was featured on a US postage stamp in 1991), fly rod and reel designs and innovations featuring his name and signature, the Stu Apte Improved Blood Knot, and the “down and dirty” fish-fighting technique.


E-Nation asked the legendary fisherman about his lifelong passion and what he sees for the future of the sport.


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E-NATION: How has fly fishing changed in the 65+ years since you began?


Stu Apte: It has certainly changed. This is true especially for saltwater fly-fishing. We started with gear designed for freshwater trout or salmon fishing. Because of this, we had to grope our way through a maze of tackle, figuring out the most effective knots, how to use it all, and then agree on a set of rules to tell us how well we were doing. Eventually we graduated from the age-old split bamboo rods and rushed into space-age plastics, fiberglass, then graphite and even Kevlar. The fly reels evolved from very simple click drags to extremely sophisticated drags that could require ten pounds of pull. But the basic ingredient remained: the predators’ urge to conjure up a sporting challenge between man and fish, with a bit of grace and a touch of ancient art.


E-NATION: Do you have a favorite place to fish or a favorite story from your career?


Stu Apte: I’ll bet I’ve been asked that at least a thousand times, my favorite place to fish. My answer always remains the same: if I had to pick only one place to fish for the rest of my life and only one fish to fish for with only one way to do it, I would have to say it would be fly fishing for big tarpon on the shallow flats of the Florida Keys. I thank the Good Lord that I don’t have to make that decision because I certainly enjoy all types of fishing with all types of fishing tackle. I spend four or five months of the year in Montana trout fishing, and because of my flying job as a Pan-American pilot, I was able to fish every continent except Antarctica. And I am sure that I do more spin-fishing and bait-casting with a level wind reel than I do fly fishing. I guess I am best known for my fly fishing because of the many world records I’ve set.


E-NATION: Is there a record you hold that you cherish more than the rest?


Stu Apte: I guess I should say that the two longest standing saltwater fly rod world records: a 58-pound dolphin fish (mahi-mahi) caught in 1964 and a 136-pound Pacific sailfish caught in 1965, both using 12-pound tippet, which means it could not break even a fraction of an ounce over 12 pounds when it was tested. But I think the record I was most proud of was the 82 1/2 pound tarpon in 1977 using 6-pound tippet. It was just beat this past year by a couple pounds after standing for more than 34 years.

I had also set fly rod tarpon world records on 12-pound tippet four times, twice in one day, with a 162 3/4 pound tarpon in the morning and a 164-pound tarpon in the afternoon.


E-NATION: What led to the decision of partnering with Evinrude for your Signature Series line of boats from Aeon Marine and Beavertail Skiffs?


Stu Apte: My decision to partner with Evinrude on the Stu Apte Signature Series line of shallow water Beavertail skiffs that I recently produced with Aeon Marine had a lot to do with performance, weight versus thrust, and dependability. The lighter and smaller the boat, the more important the weight to thrust ratio is. The outboard motor is on the transom, which is actually one of the worst places to have a lot of weight if you want to jump out of a hole and get on plane quickly in shallow water. Even more importantly, your skiff sitting flat, rather than weighed down in the rear, makes poling considerably easier. I sincerely believe the Evinrude E-TEC engine has more low-end torque and acceleration and weighs less than any comparable four-stroke engine on the market.


I started using Evinrude engines when I started guiding in the mid-1950s and continued during my heyday of guiding in the early-1960s, when I was on the water for hire more than 330 days a year. It was important that I had the reliability of an engine that would get me across the bays, into the backcountry and back home safely after a long hard day of guiding.


E-NATION: What kind of advantages come from outfitting your boats with an Evinrude motor?


Stu Apte: There is no engine break-in period. No scheduled maintenance for up to 300 hours of use. No mixing oil with the gas which makes for a cleaner emission to the environment. It is the quietest engine I’ve ever had, which makes it easy to hold a conversation while you’re running fast or slow. The fuel injection uses less fuel per mile of running. And they start quickly every time, which can be the difference between catching or losing a record fish that’s taking all of the line from your reel.


E-NATION: Are there still places left that you want to fish but haven’t gotten the chance yet?


Stu Apte: Yes. I have never fished for the golden dorado, probably the hardest fighting freshwater fish anywhere. They are found in parts of Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. I was given the opportunity two different times to do TV shows fishing for the golden dorado but could not go because of some scheduling conflicts.


E-NATION: Is there a record out there that you can’t believe has lasted as long as it has?


Stu Apte: I believe that a world record catch is a benchmark to shoot at, and I have never felt bad about any of my 44 world records occasionally falling. I am surprised, though: my two longest-standing saltwater fly rod records are still standing from 1964 and 1965.


E-Nation: Where do you see the future of fly fishing headed?


Stu Apte: As more people take up the sport of fly fishing in both freshwater and saltwater, I believe the future of fly fishing will be gravitating more towards saltwater, where there is more of a variety to fish for and more areas to fish. And of course, the saltwater fish are bigger and fight harder pound-for-pound than any freshwater game fish.


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Stu Apte will be inducted into the Fly Fishing Hall of Fame at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston Manor, New York, on October 6.