By Richard Farino[dropcap]I[/dropcap] first met Captain Harry H. Huelsbeck, or H3 (or more commonly known in my circle of friends as “Hobag”) in 2009 at a Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) event near Annapolis, Maryland where he and a few other die-hard fly junkies were gathered around tying flies for stripers and albacore with a new product called Clear Cure Goo. Clear Cure Goo is an epoxy alternative we mention frequently here on the site. It makes a mockery of the time it takes for your standard 5-minute epoxy to set. After conversing, meeting up, and fishing with Hobag in the years following, I got a chance to understand just how devoted to the fly rod he was, and learned that you can be extremely intense in your fishing and still have a really good time. I even learned about his world record striped bass caught in Virginia, his appearance in the R.A. Beattie film, Bird Chasers (a film about the false albacore run down near Harker’s Island, North Carolina), and saw a few photos from what looked like a killer trip that resulted in his appearance on the cover of the Scott Fly Rod catalog in 2012 – wearing one of those Nacho Libre wrestling masks.
FLM – Capt. Ho, tell me about your years guiding in and around Virginia.
H3 – I part time guided in Virginia for about three years. I ran trips at night, so it didn’t interfere with my day job much. It was never my sole source of income, or a lot of trips, I just told folks to donate the money to a worthy charity. It was a great way to meet folks, cover my expenses, and to learn. I’ve always learned something from anyone I have stepped on a boat with.
FLM – I heard you also earned an IGFA record.
H3 – Caught December 20, 2006: 43-pounds and 12-ounces. We had already had a banner night, and were actually finishing up, and decided to hit one last bridge light before heading in. My buddy Jason was actually first on the bow. There was a nice fish sitting in the light line when we pulled up the first time. He cast, hooked it up, but the fish came unbuttoned shortly into the fight. So we decided to see if lightning would strike twice. We always switch out when someone catches or loses a fish. So I rotated into the angler position, Jason at the wheel, and we pulled back around for another look. Sure enough, there was another fish there. I knew it was a nice fish, but didn’t realize how big until we had it at the boat and Jason turned around and looked at me as the fish came boat side. Yeah, I could tell in his eyes it was a big fish. Then Jay got the fish landed. We kinda sat there for a minute and talked about it. We had caught many fish this size, and always released them. I had prepped everything prior to this fish for catching records. I had sent line samples to IGFA for pre-testing, and was confident that the record would hold. I didn’t want to harvest a big fish for a record (and to eat of course), only to have the line not test out correctly or something else go wrong. I’ve never taken harvesting a big fish lightly, usually only doing so if the fish is gill or gut hooked and knowing that it would not survive.
So, we just enjoyed the moment for what it was, that being the success of combined efforts by a team to reach a goal. It’s definitely a moment that I will never forget. The fish didn’t fit in my cooler. IGFA says the fish can’t be mutilated, or damaged upon weigh in. I wrapped the tail portion that was hanging out of the cooler in garbage bags, but I was worried that cats or a raccoon were going to climb in the truck and tear it up. So I slept on the couch just inside the door, with the cooler just outside, and tossed and turned all night thinking that I could hear something trying to eat that tail hanging out of the cooler. (I’ll try and find a pic of that shit hanging out.)
It was surpassed by Rich Keatley with a 51lb 5oz fish on 12/17/2009, shortly after I had moved back to FL in May 2009.
FLM – You were a feature in R.A. Beattie’s film “Bird Chasers”, a part of his movie Nervous Water. Tell us about your experience being a big movie star.
H3 – I had just met RA. Hell, I hadn’t known the rest of the crew (Seth, Kary, Freddy, Van, and a few others but those were the core) for that long either. I think at that point I may have met Seth and Kary in person once, the rest I was just meeting in person and maybe had some online interaction So what had happened on that trip was my buddy that was set to make the run down to Cape Lookout with me bailed on the trip. I called Seth and let him know we were not going to make it and that I wasn’t going to tow a boat down all alone, etc. and Seth responded just as you would expect – he said, “Fuck that shit, come on alone, we’ll find a place for you to sleep, and a boat for you to ride on!” For the actual filming, we were all hella-hungover. The only food on the boat was a bag of Cheetos, and a bag of awesome homemade beef jerky everybody kept calling on the radio for and stopping by to get a handful out of. There was a few bottles of water and that was about it. RA was throwing up Cheetos over side of the boat. He would pause throwing up, land/release a fish for you, then he would catch a few, he would film a bit, throw up some more Cheetos and we continued on. We had a nice Cheeto chum slick going most of the day. Seth was chewing down beef jerky running the boat like a mad man and hammering albies. Somehow from all that chaos a film came out of all of it. RA just has the “talent.”
FLM – You packed it up and moved down to Pensacola, FL., a place you used to live. What was the transition like?
H3 – Sometimes you get to a point in your life where other priorities take over. For me, that priority was the environment my son was going to grow up in. I wanted him to be able to experience the same environment and culture that I grew up in. I won’t lie though, the thought of returning to my home waters in Pensacola with that emerald-green Gulf water, teeming with all them new species to go after on fly, yeah the fishing factored in as well. The opportunity for me and my family to return home came about, and I’ve never doubted that we made the right choice.
FLM – The fishing is obviously a bit different than back in Virginia. How are you enjoying your new fishing experiences?
H3 – So I had in my head that Virginia had been a tough fishery, and that it had prepared me to return to the Gulf waters and that there would be a lot of banner days wearing out some “easy” fish. This is the point where ya gotta laugh at me, because that was the furthest thing from reality.
I was used to the Atlantic semi-diurnal tides (two tides a day), and the diurnal tides of the Gulf of Mexico (one tide a day, and a mix as well) crushed all of my tide senses. It was a huge adjustment for me, just on tides alone. I’ve gotten better on the tides in the Gulf now, but I’m still struggling with the pattern of tide to fish movements, and really nailing down spots and movement patterns, but the fishing has been awesome! King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, black drum, speckled trout, white trout, blitzing albies, schools of bull redfish. One of my favorites has been hitting the bridge here at night for reds just like we did for stripers in Virginia. To find them bull reds running around in the light line of the bridge, and sight casting and watching them run it down and crush it, is awesome. Also, stalking schools of big bull reds along the beach in clear almost pool like water will get you a case of the wobbly knees as well. It’s a diverse fishery, one that I am getting dialed into. I think this year I’ve gotten a bit more confident, and I’m starting to think about putting that guide hat back on.
Tarpon fishing has literally ruined me. I was too proud to hire a guide. Me and some buddies had acquired and exchanged some info on 4 locations that were in a pretty easy road trip distance from Pensacola, so a three year odyssey began. Each trip I took, I learned a little something else that helped. My success rate was zero, but something about seeing each and every one of those tarpon that passed by, you know you’re not just playing with fire, but an atom bomb that is going to explode if you ever set the hook in one. Looking back, I think I earned another piece of the puzzle each trip. Anything from how someone else on the boat cast, how another skiff on the flat posted up, what flies got more reaction, all the mistakes that would haunt me until the “next time”.
Don’t get me wrong, no matter the success rate, they were awesome trips. Spending time on the water with good friends is something you just can’t experience anywhere except on the water. Aside from friends, the other trips I took in this quest were with my dad. He was there roasting in the death heat sun, not to try and catch a tarpon himself, but he was there just showing his support for me as he always has. He was there when I had my first two eats, he was there when I jumped my first, and he was there when I grabbed the lower jaw on my first “in hand”. I will never forget that day, when I hooked into that second atom bomb, and my dad sitting on the poling platform asked “What do you want me to do?” and I said “Nothing, because if you fuck any of this up, I will be pissed at you forever, but if I fuck it up, well it’s just that I fucked it up.” Man, what a fish, what a day, and to have enjoyed it with my dad, well there is just no replacing those kinds of events. So now I have been ruined by the silver king and the quest for more continues.
FLM – You’ve had some pretty epic moments, and some stellar trips. Tell me about your favorite one.
H3 – I would have to say, the trip I caught my first tarpon on definitely stands out as my favorite so far. Really my favorite trips moreover revolve around people more than destination or the fish caught. All of my trips to North Carolina and Louisiana have great memories and friendships. Hell, there were a couple of trips to TieFest in Maryland that were fuckin’ awesome good times. Through fly fishing I’ve met so many awesome people. I feel sometimes like it’s an instant bond between fly anglers that you just don’t get around conventional tackle. It’s that bond of knowing that the other person has the exact same passion you do, just by the lone fact that they are chuckin’ fluff on tight and tasty loops just like you, in search of that “memorable” catch. That, or at least you can assume they are as bat-shit crazy as you are for fly fishing in saltwater to begin with.
FLM – I saw the photo from the Scott catalog. Where’d that come from?
H3 – I’m not even sure who took that photo. It has to be Freddy, Kary, RA, maybe Seth. I’ll dig around though, I’m sure I have some more photos of that outfit and some others.
FLM – What future plans are in store for Captain Hobag?
H3 – My big goal right now, is to dial in the tarpon bite here locally in Pensacola (Florida). They come here in droves along the beach. Herds of them 10, 20, 50, but they are difficult and rare to catch even on live bait. Last year I found them on the bridge at night, and I think I can get it dialed in. I got one eat, and I’m pretty confident on what they are feeding on now, just got to earn the rest of the pieces to the puzzle. This will be for late August in to late October.
I think it’s safe to say that if you have gills and swim in the Gulf of Mexico, you’re probably not safe from the hooks and line of someone I’m proud to call my amigo, Captain Harry Ho. Check out his website for more info or get in touch with him – www.capth3.com