Clark Smith has worn several hats during his career – from charter boat captain to alligator trapper, claims adjuster, gubernatorial campaign worker and now self-employed lobbyist. But, he’s happiest when he’s got a rod in his hand, the sea beneath his feet and a fish on the line.
A third generation Floridian, and born and bred in Tallahassee, Smith’s grandfather was an avid sports fishermen who split his time between working as an undersheriff and reeling in sailfish off of Broward County.
“My father got me started in salt water fishing,” Smith says. “I was somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7 when he first took me down to Marathon in the Keys and we went out on Capt. Bud Carr’s Gayle C, a twin screw open charter boat, and fished for dolphin and wahoo.”
Smith also enjoyed fresh water fishing.
“My friends and I would head out on a small wood raft on Lake Jackson and catch bass,” he says.
What got him interested in catching big fish was angling for sharks as a teenager off St. Teresa beach, some 20 miles east of east of Apalachicola. “That’s when I really learned how to hold a rod and rig baits,” he says.
Smith attended Florida State University (FSU). While there, he took off for a brief time, worked on the gubernatorial campaign of Gov. Bob Martinez, and met a woman with a film production company based in Jupiter. In Jupiter, he was invited by a friend to work as a mate on a 69-foot Merritt, Fishing Days, and spent five weeks or so aboard the vessel as it traveled to fish in Isla Mujeres and the Yucatan.
During another break from college, Smith spent some time mating for Capt. Brad Durkin aboard the 53-foot Viking, Java. They traveled from Florida to North Carolina and New Jersey fishing for sailfish, white marlin and blue marlin along the way.
“Brad taught me so much about fishing,” he says.
Smith put this informal education to use, just after graduating from FSU with a degree in criminology, by getting his captain’s license. He then set up a charter fishing operation with friend, Captain Dave Proctor, along Florida’s Forgotten Coast or area around Apalachicola. Their boat was called Hook m’ Up and it was a 30-foot Island Hopper.
“Our friendship went back to the days we were both in Cub Scouts together,” Smith says.
He adds, “We’d both work and switch between captain and mate. I was working for the Florida State Senate in the budget analysis section at the time. Every Friday night I’d be packing ice and rigging baits and I’d head back to the capitol late Sunday. Mainly we’d do day trips for grouper and snapper. We didn’t really go for billfish then because the run from there is 75 to 80 miles offshore.”
Smith sold his interest in the boat to Proctor about eight years ago. Since then, he says, “I fish anywhere and anytime I can.”
He’s fished Belize for bonefish and permit, Costa Rica for sailfish and roosterfish, Alaska for king salmon, and the Dominican Republic and Venezuela for marlin. He visited St. Thomas for the first time last summer aboard the 57-foot Dean Johnson, Mr. B II, and fished in the ‘Boy Scout’ or USVI Open/Atlantic Blue Marlin Tournament (ABMT) for blue marlin.
“My best day of fishing was in St. Thomas during the Boy Scout tournament with Rick (Capt. Rick Ogle) and Robbie (Browning),” Smith says. “I don’t remember how many blue marlin we caught, but it was a lot. There was just so many of them behind the boat.”
Smith had not done any serious tournament fishing up until this point and in his words, “it was an unbelievable experience. Rick, Robbie, Robbie’s brother David, and all the guys from Puerto Rico, together we made a pretty cohesive team. Even so, fishing with the guys in St. Thomas was pretty humbling. The first day, at the captain’s meeting, we walked up the dock and there was Capt. Mike Lemon and Capt. O.B. O’Brien. Legends from the pages of Marlin magazine right there in person. It was similar to a football fan coming face to face with Larry Csonka. It was a humbling experience.”
When fishing for blue marlin, Smith says, “The lazy me likes to troll plastic. But, feeding a blue marlin natural bait is so much more fun. Watching the fish eat, turn and run. It’s rewarding. Anyone can hook up on plastic, but it takes a certain feel, and knowledge of when to drop the level on the rod to set a circle hook.”
Smith’s ability to transition between fish species, he says, comes from being able to forget one way of fishing and be open to learning another. “Fishing for sailfish in Isla Mujeres is a different ball game than fishing for blue marlin in St. Thomas. Old school works on some things, new school on others. You just have to be flexible,” he says.
This summer, when work permits, Smith plans to head to Guatemala.
“I’ve never been there before and Rick told me so much about it, about the large number of sailfish, that I really got interested,” he says.
Panama is another place on Smith’s ‘to do’ list.
“Robbie had Mr. B II in Panama for a while and wants to go back. He told me all about the big blue marlin and giant yellow fun tuna, so I’d really like to fish there,” he says.
Closer to home, Smith has a vacation home on Dog Island, just south of Carrabelle. The island is accessible only by boat and Smith uses his 19-foot Hewes for both transportation and fishing for the local cobia and red fish.
“What makes me sad,” he says, “is that some people never see or experience these things. For example, a blue marlin bite into a Spanish mackerel just 10-feet away. It takes effort and making the time and effort, but that’s what makes me passionate about fishing and why if I’m not working, I’m fishing.”