Fly-fishing expert Tommy Locke has fished saltwater and freshwater species statewide, including the Keys, since he was 5. He first came to Gasparilla Island in 1965 with his great-uncle and he was a guide before he went to college.
He knew then what he knows now: He was born to be a fishing guide.
After years of primarily fishing for world-record tarpon off the Gulf Coast near Homosassa Springs, Locke moved his guide services south to waters off Gasparilla Island more than a decade ago.
Capt. Tom Locke of Boca Grande
This week he gives his expert opinion on the state of the fishery around Gasparilla Island, the status of the fishing guide economy and what he brings to the table for the Local Captains Forum this Thursday.
QUESTION: Why would someone want to be at the Temptation Restaurant Thursday for the Local Captains Forum?
ANSWER: It's a good time to meet other anglers. And we'll talk about plug fishing, fly fishing and artificial bait.
Capt. Tom Locke at a glance
Birthdate: Feb. 2, 1960
Occupation: Single boat and group fishing charters, casting instruction, tournament guide, seminar presentations and outdoor show and product rep.
Endorsements: Hell's Bay Boatworks, Ram-Lin Custom Trailers, Mercury Motors, St. Croix Rod, Van Staal Reels, Scientific Angler, Moonlighter Pushpoles, Mamoi Fishing Line and Costa del Mar Sunglasses.
Residence: Boca Grande
Family: married 20 years with two sons and two daughters
Discovered Boca Grande: In 1965 fishing with great uncle
Who: Capts. Sandy Melvin, Tommy Locke and Eddie Potter
What: Local Captains' Forum, Q&A session and dinner
When: 6 p.m. Dec. 13
Where: Temptations Restaurant
Cost: $37.50 per person plus tax and gratuity
Contact: 964-2610 for reservations
Q: What do you bring to the table?
A: I know about everything there is to know about fly fishing.
Q: Is Boca Grande a great place for fly fishing?
A: Yes. It's got good clear water and several species to fish for. The fish move a lot so in the wintertime the water get's real clear and it's great for sight fishing. And there's not a lot of places you can sight fish. The fish are tough to catch.
Q: Isn't fly fishing the hardest way to wet a line?
A: Fly fishing is more of a challenging sport. You're competing against the fish and not against everybody you're fishing with. With fly fishing you have to present this little fly to them, sneak it in on them and get them to eat it. You've got to make the fly act like a bait and fool that fish into eating it.
Q: Why make it tougher on yourself by using one of the hardest ways to catch a fish?
A: It's an art form. You're challenging yourself. It becomes the hunt and a challenge.
Q: How do you learn to fly fish?
A: First you have to learn how to cast. That's the easiest part. No. 2, now you have to know your quarry you're going after whether it's a snook or redfish or tarpon. You have to learn the range of where the fish are in these little areas. The important thing is learning how to feed the fish. What's the subtlety? That's another big challenge. Then comes the hook set and fighting the fish. That's a lot easier.
Q: What attracted you to Boca Grande?
A: I was fishing here with my great uncle from 1965 to 1980, right in there. I went away to college and I was already a guide at the time. I came down here quite a bit when I was guiding at Homosassa. I fished the Keys for three years and decided that's not a place to raise a family because there's not a lot for the kids to do. I moved to Port Charlotte in 1991 and here about 13 years ago.
Q: How did this season go for you?
A: My fishing season has been very good. It's been consistent. The weather patterns don't always hold but it's been real good. Especially lately. I've been guiding 35 years and just got a big client base.
Q: Does anybody talk to you about anything besides fishing?
A: Any cocktail party or anything I look in and go "oh, my." But I really enjoy what I do.
Q: Is it the thrill of the catch?
A: I don't really care about fishing as much myself. I still like to go out and throw a line. But I would rather teach people what I've learned over my life. That's what I do. I'm a teaching guide. The more people I can get into fly fishing and get them to understand, once they get the bug, it's all downhill from there.
Q: What's a good gift for a starting angler 15 and under?
A: Generally, they're not really strong enough to handle any rod you'd use in saltwater. There's so many good start-up systems for young people. St. Croix has one out, a complete package, rod, a fly line, everything for $110. Those are good startups.
Q: What can you get for the angler who has everything like you?
A: Oh, no, for me? Too critical. I could fish with anything. I get a lot of people where a guide trip is a Christmas present.
Q: What is your read on the health of the Boca Grande Pass fishery?
A: The ecosystem itself is pretty healthy. There's some grasses I've seen growing in the past five to 10 years that I'm concerned about. There's some algae growing on some of those grasses. But as far as the water quality, what I see is pretty good. There's a little too much pressure, too much running over tops of flats and grasses that pushes fish in places they normally don't go. I mean redfish will generally be out on the flats and a lot of them are back in the creeks because of people running over top of them on the flats. We have some of the healthiest water there is in the country.