I found another Challenger hull and had it built up by Dan Groves, who did custom boat construction in South Miami, and bought my second Mercury outboard and trailer from Bob Hewes. Bob was always kind to us young fisherfolk and found ways to make it possible for us to purchase what we needed.
The skiffs not only were tarpon skiffs, but also often found themselves in bonefish and redfish depths as well as offshore in the Gulf and Atlantic seeing amberjack, cobia, grouper and sailfish coming over the gunwales, and although we each had our own skiff, we fished together a great deal of the time.
The phenomenon of fishing clubs entered our lives during those years. I became a founding member of the Miami Sportfishing Club with headquarters in the southwest section of Dade County. Lots of the fishing that we did was offshore but my heart was captivated by the shallows. Fellow club members Ralph Delph and Joe Robinson were of the same mind and the three of us spent lots of days exploring the lower Keys for tarpon country.
One morning, Joe and I made the early morning drive from Miami to Sugarloaf Key. We put out north to some banks near the open Gulf of Mexico where early in the year tarpon were given to lurk. We found them laid up by the hundreds along a single bank and enjoyed the better part of the day fishing them one at a time. The tide turned, the tarpon floated out into the Gulf, and it was over for us — the best tarpon day — ever.
We swore an oath never to reveal the location of the spot to anyone. Then, we re-swore the oath — never, no one! The very next week I went back to the spot with John Emery — never, no one!
When we approached the bank, I could see at a distance that another skiff was there. Impossible! It was Joe Robinson with Ralph Delph — never, no one! I recognized Joe’s little aluminum skiff, and at the same time, they recognized mine. Once we’d poled up onto the bank, Joe had slipped a bandana over Ralph’s eyes and was poling Ralph, blindfolded, down the bank. “I didn’t show him anything! He has no idea where he is!” Joe hollered through their combined laughter, and to this very day, we all refer to the spot as Blindfold Bank — I’d love to tell you where it is, but you know — never, no one!
Stu Apte’s name was known to me as he was an early pioneer of fly-fishing for tarpon. He lived and guided out of his home on Little Torch Key. His home could be spotted from the road and we would stop early in the morning and watch him and his anglers load up and leave the dock. It was the most flagrant form of hero worship. I noticed his cap, his khaki fishing slacks and shirt, even his shoes.
I had never met Stu, and wouldn’t for some years, and when I finally did, it had nothing to do with tarpon fishing. I hadn’t known, but Stu was a shotgun pointer, and a very good one at that. Ralph and I very seriously hunted marsh hens in Florida City and ducks in the Everglades west of the 20 mile bend at the L-67 canal. Ralph had met Stu and invited him to duck hunt with us. I found myself side by each with my hero, chest deep in a duck marsh, peering not over tarpon tails, but duck decoys! There was no talk of tides, fly patterns or casting technique, just the whistling of ringbill wings over the spread of decoys.