The legacy of a great fisherman

Published 4:56 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

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It would be easy to say that as soon as he learned to walk, a boy named Stu Apt, met the sea which became love at first sight which was followed by marriage and living happily ever after.

Perhaps it would be more precise to suggest that before he attended his first day of school, Stu fell in love with fishing and lived a charmed life with the seas. In any event, you get the notion that he was born to fish. He would become a pace-setter, collecting 44 records, earning Hall of Fame recognition; fishing and interacting with luminaries such as Ernest Hemmingway, President Harry Truman, Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, Curt Gowdy, the host of American Sportsman and General Norman Schwarzkopf, among others. 

This versatile man — he was a Navy fighter pilot and a Pan Am captain for over 30 years in the airline’s heyday — is one of the greatest fishermen known to man, one who still holds a couple of world records as he continues to fish. 

“I’ve been blessed to enjoy good upper body strength as I have gotten older, which means I can fish while sitting down,” he said from his home on Plantation Drive, where he designs fly fishing rods and signs two books he has written: “My life in Fishing,” and “Of Winds and Tides.”

Reading those two books gives one a feel for the extraordinary life of this singular sportsman. You learn that he never took any chances in the cockpit even challenging a superior about taking a short cut with a certain flight plan. You enjoy his recall of fishing the world and a romance or two. Stu’s first memory of fishing came about when he was less than five years old. He took a straight pin, turned the pointed end into a hook and attached it to some thread from his mother’s sewing machine. While he threw the fish back, his first exposure to catch and release, the story had a not-so-happy ending. His unamused neighbor took Stu to his mother who was also unamused. 

“I won’t tell you what happened next,” he chuckled, but the subsequent punishment wasn’t a deterrent to his fishing career. 

He would evolve from gold fish ponds to the oceans which were easily accessible for him owing to geography — the Florida Keys — and Pan Am — the world. He has fished on every continent except Antarctica. There is an art to enjoying fishing to the fullest, he explains. Learning to fight fish the right way brings about a sense of accomplishment and incomparable fulfillment, he says. As he approaches his 90th birthday in May, he has plans for a fishing outing in Cuba which where pristine fishing waters remain.

 “They have protected their fishing grounds admirably,” Stu says. “The fishing there is as good as it was years ago in the Keys.”

Jimmy Johnson, the NFL coach and current network TV analyst is as much of a fishing aficionado as Stu Apte, also chose to make Islamorada his permanent home. When Stu was inducted into the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, he reminded those in attendance, “That the monetary things we leave behind in life are mostly not important in the basic scheme of things, but our legacy is extremely important. This honor that is being bestowed upon me is most certainly the type of legacy that I could hope for.”

An accomplished fisherman, who has enjoyed epic highlights, he is not without humility. The door leading into his house has a reverberating and enduring message: “A fisherman lives here with the best catch of his life.”