Getting back to my roots! What really does that mean? I sometimes wonder if my entire professional fishing career has been just a side-effect of my father’s snook fishing obsession in the 70’s; he used to regularly have me tag along with him as a child to the local piers and bridges at crazy hours of the night just to catch snook. Fortunately, those midnight escapades made a positive impression on me, in spite of my mother’s resistance to let me participate, and the rest I dare say is history.
As a teenager, I remember growing up wade fishing in the Tampa Bay estuary in the late 70’s and 80’s and discovering all the little “out of the way” fishing holes that most anglers back then often overlooked. It seemed like every fishing trip was a Hemingway-like adventure… never knowing what the next cast would yield. Eventually, I swapped my wading boots for a shallow poling skiff and began exploring areas other than my home waters such as Charlotte Harbor, 10K Islands, and Mosquito Lagoon in the 90’s. Now that I’m a little older, I can reflect on those early experiences and can honestly say that they are my true angling roots. Flats fishing seemed so pure to me in those initial years and now it has matured into a full-fledged career and lifestyle. But the journey to get here has left me yearning to re-capture that same sense of excitement and adventure that I possessed in the very beginning.
Over the last year, I’ve been wrestling in my mind with thoughts of how I can take Flats Class to the next level… what’s missing? I was sitting in my tackle room preparing some tarpon leaders for an evening tide and found myself staring at some old trophies and photographs hanging on the walls from days gone by. A thought occurred to me, how do I want myself and Flats Class to be remembered ten years from now? I’ve always had aspirations that Flats Class TV will summon memories for fans similar to those I have when reminiscing about The American Sportsman with Curt Gowdy and Flip Pallot’s acclaimed Walker’s Cay Chronicles. Fulfilling this noble goal for Flats Class will not be easy unless I choose the right path. I believe getting back to my roots and stepping away from the hard-charging commercial side of the industry will give me this opportunity. And in the process help me teach newcomers entering our sport the true sense of flats fishing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve learned a great deal through my tenure as a professional tournament angler and don’t regret the experience at all. It’s a career path that forced me to make personal sacrifices along the way but it’s also tempered me to appreciate what I have accomplished and to greater understand the balance necessary to appeal to a variety of audiences. In the end, the experience of competing at such a high level has given me a better perspective of how we should safeguard many of our environmentally sensitive areas and still promote the sport responsibly. The need for me to chase the tournament trail is waning now because I see fishing in a different manner as I move into another chapter of my angling career. And it seems now more than ever, it’s about the quality of experience I have on the water with others… not how many fish I catch or how much they weigh.
Recently, I spent an afternoon fishing with my friend Todd in the Indian River Lagoon and he poled me down a shoreline that reminded me so much of “Old Florida” and why I’m so drawn to inshore fishing… the native fauna, the wading egrets & herons, waking redfish in ankle deep water, even a listless alligator resting in the shallows. Once again it re-enforced the sentiment that maybe I have focused too much on the fast-paced promotional side of the business and overlooked something very important! In fact, maybe I should concentrate on more than just teaching anglers the “how-to” they expect from Flats Class but also convey more of the essence of shallow water fishing. If my audience felt as emotionally connected to the sport as I do, then promoting conservation & ethics along with sound technique would have a bigger impact on them. I’ve come to realize at this point in my livelihood it’s time to take a new direction and bring myself and FCTV back to its genuine saltwater beginnings and in the process take Flats Class to the next level for its fans.
One of the qualities I am noted for at Flats Class is my belief in the products and tools I use to accomplish my goals. Many of the partners associated with FCTV have enjoyed long-term relationships with us that span over many years. And I attribute most of that brand loyalty to how well I perform with those products both on the show and in the real world. But from time to time, a change is needed to suit a specific need that can better meet our objectives at Flats Class. That’s why after much deliberation and a little encouragement from trusted industry friends… I have decided to join the Hell’s Bay Boatworks family. Hell’s Bay is the one brand that truly stands out from all the rest… they understand the culture, the lifestyle, build the finest shallow water skiffs in the world today, and make the biggest effort in the industry to help protect our inshore resources. Chris & Wendi Peterson, who own HBB, have resurrected the Hell’s Bay Boatworks brand during the most economically challenged period since maybe the “Great Depression” and brought them back to the forefront of the elite light tackle skiff industry once again. In my opinion, that says a lot about the commitment, the passion, and the leadership that is in place at Hell’s Bay Boatworks. Also, the legacy at Hells Bay is legendary with iconic anglers such as Flip Pallot, Lefty Kreh, Jose Wejebe and Andy Mill leading the way. Hopefully, Flats Class TV also can add to the Hell’s Bay legacy similar to these angling greats, through promoting education and conservation in the same fashion our fans have always enjoyed. Yes, partnering with Hells Bay Boatworks is definitely my “dream job” but in a strange way it has given me the unique opportunity to return to my early angling roots and perpetuate my love of the sport to others!
Capt. C.A. Richardson, FLATS CLASS founder and proud owner of a Hell’s Bay “Neptune”