He put the bounce back on banks
Fly Life Magazine.com / Skip Clement-Steve Kantner / October 21, 2021
NOTE: All photos by Steve Kantner
Steve Kantner—long-time Floridian—“earned his bones” as a walk-in fishing guide. Under the nickname “Landcaptain,” Steve taught a generation of anglers, either in person or through media efforts, secrets to many land-based venues. These include the Everglades. Now, as a writer and editor, he continues his mission via a keyboard. In the following, Flylifemagazine.com interviews this pro angler turned author:
FLM.com: The Everglades? Your old stomping ground? Describe your earliest experience.
Kantner: My stepfather driving me inland to a place locals knew as Andytown. What I remember distinctly? A bar; a gas pump; tanks filled with live wild shiners. This primitive truck stop held forth on the brink of nowhere, at the literal edge of the sawgrass. It’s location? Just south of the intersection of Highways 27 and Route 84, about 25 miles west of Ft. Lauderdale.
Forget Alligator Alley, or look for much additional access north of Highway 41 (the Tamiami Trail). That’s isolation. All you’d hear back then were birds, along with an occasional migrant bus—the latter tooling past on US 27 from Belle Glade or West Miami. Both highways—they had one lane apiece in each direction, were death traps.
Both bordered deep canals. Eventually, the state paid Hollywood resident, the late Bob Kay—the local fly tier who tried to standardize tarpon patterns—to recover drowning victims. Wrecked vehicles would end-up submerged. Bob then strapped on SCUBA gear and recovered the bodies.
I recall I and my Stepdad driving out there during the late 1950’s. That’s when the sawgrass and cattails touched the horizon.
Something else I remember? Fishing at the foot of a spillway.
It’s where I hooked a monster mudfish on a rental cane pole. While the fish got off, I stayed hooked forever. Years later, a friend jumped several tarpon at the spillway that he claimed were 100 pounders. This on a plug and casting tackle. If I remember correctly, the state demolished Andytown when they built the overpass for Interstate 595.
Wait—I DO recall another excursion: a night when both my parents joined me.
I specifically remember us pulling off Route 84 near Melaleuca Isles. The Plantation suburb still sits there—now across the C-12 canal from a major development. Seems we fished from the bridge with live freshwater shrimp, or prawns? The garfish stole ‘em, but who’s complaining? (I did that later)
What sticks in my mind? Going back to our car to fetch a bobber or pre-made mono leader.
Talk about scared! Where we’d parked in the grass at twilight was now dark and spooky. The worst part? I found myself surrounded by snakes: several which were rattling all around me—and close, too! As luck would have it, it took another 40 years for one to tag me.
FLM.com: Your original impression of what you refer to in your “Ultimate Guide” as “The Salt Marsh?”
Kantner: What I referred to is an amorphous expanse of coastal marshland. It’s either under the influence of saltwater tides, or freshwater runoff. My favorite areas? They merge with what skiff anglers call “the backcountry.” Although freshwater species invade this region, the waterways I prefer differ from “true” Everglades creeks and ditches found east of Big Cypress Swamp, or five to 10 miles inland.
FLM.com: Is the marsh hard to access?
Kantner: No. US 41 provides excellent access. I first fished the roadside canal around 1990, when two friends dragged me along. I was already an accomplished fly fisherman— or so I thought. It turned out, however, I’d never contended with such a diverse collection of tiny forage.
It was comparing an arm-wrestling contest to the Battle of Austerlitz. Snook were everywhere. Yet, since I couldn’t figure out what they were gobbling, I went hitless. Big fish on tiny flies? That’s the lure of the salt marsh.
FLM.com: Are tides important?
Kantner: Absolutely! Shallow water game fish all feed according to water movement. Literally millions of years of evolution has taught them that falling water equates to forage—whether it’s swept from a flat, a mangrove tangle or a tidal creek.
Tiny run-outs that enter larger creeks, draining flats, or deep canals all work like conveyor belts in bringing forage to predators. Snook, incidentally, prefer sawgrass banks, while tarpon seek out deeper channels— or shaded areas beneath bankside mangroves.
Speaking of snook, their fusiform shape and flattened abdomens indicate “ambush” predators that follow the bottom in search of prey. In the salt marsh, that prey consists primarily of tiny “hardhead” baitfish. How do they catch it? Look at their under-slung jaws and outsize bucchal cavities:
It’s a dead giveaway that snook sneak-up on targets before sucking them in like slurp guns. That’s why you hear that “pop.” What this means to fishermen is that snook are “one-shot” predators that either grab baits or lures on the first go around— or move on to something else. Hence, you learn to keep your fly in productive water as long as possible, and resist the temptation to lift it away from unseen followers. You figure that anything that follows for several yards without striking is either a school of tiny snook, one or more needlefish, or a gar. And who wants either?
FLM.com: How important is tidal movement?
Kantner: In certain areas—take those surrounded by miles of shallow flats—wind direction takes precedence over celestial movement. In the backcountry, a strong north wind blows water out of the Gulf’s Inner Bays, making for strong falling tides farther inland
FLM.com: What brought you to guiding?
Kantner: After years of being the world’s worst salesman, I threw in the towel. With no employable skills—I was a science major—and no family business, I strapped a canoe to my Honda and ordered business cards. There’s more to the story, but why sweat the details?
I met many nice people in my years of guiding. Near the end, however, I wanted something more-substantial. My final decision?
“What a great country when someone like me can make a living writing fishing stories.”
FLM.com: What’s happened to fishing in the salt marsh?
Kantner: It’s declined substantially. The major reason? Perhaps too few fish to go around—especially in Florida Bay? Add declining water quality and over-harvest. Why do you think the state keeps lowering the limits?
It’s like deer in Pennsylvania: Everyone wants one. But multiply that one—a snook or red in this case—by the number of licensed anglers, and you see why stocks are dwindling. I blame writers like me, as well as “ad-heads.”
On the brighter side? The state has attempted to deflect attention from a handful of “glamor species” by offering prizes and/or recognition with its “Catch a Florida Memory” program.
FLM.com: So how do you see the future?
Kantner: That depends on how state and federal authorities handle our burgeoning water crises.
Envision a ticking time bomb. If these problems aren’t fixed or ameliorated, it’ll be too late to reverse the damage. Naples (Florida) is one long golf course. Plus, many South Florida aquifers depend on water that trickles down from north of Big Lake O.
Need more? We’re still negotiating with Palm Beach and Martin County sugar farmers. Then, there’s now the issue of septic seepage.
FLM.com: As for your aspirations?
Kantner: Publish a collection of stories: some fiction; others factual. All nostalgic. Look for it soon on Facebook at Steve Landcaptain Kantner.