By Larry Chesney
(reprinted with permission from Sporting Classics Magazine) (The staff at RiversandFeathes.com are glad to have Larry as part of our editorial staff. He was former editor of Sporting Classics Magazine)
Interview September 14, 2019, Busy. Too busy to fish you might think. But it’s always on the schedule. Whether he’s helping with relief efforts in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian, or creating his own brand of rum, Flip will find a wet to wet a line or get in the woods with his longbow.
LC: You mentioned you were involved in relief efforts In the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian. How’s that going?
Flip: It’s been pretty nonstop since things calmed down enough to get over there. Land boats, land planes, and pretty much non-stop evacuating people, moving them to Nassau and The States…It’s so incredibly bad there, it’s unimaginable.
I have so many friends and business associates there that I’ve had so for so many years, it’s just something I can’t ignore.
I spend each summer in Wyoming and Idaho. I usually go out there in June or the very early part of July and stay there until after the first week of archery season for elk and mule deer. So I hunt there that first week of September and then drive home to Florida. My wife will fly out in mid-August and we fish together. Then she flies back before hunting season starts. I drive back after that week of hunting.
But this year it was all interrupted by the hurricane. We were out west fishing. I was supposed to elk hunt. Then, when we began to see how nasty the storm was becoming, we figured we’d better get home, board up, take care of our animals…so we wound up in a race trying to beat the storm by a day or day and a half so that we could get our shutters put up. Everyone thought that it was going to be a whole lot worse than it was. It turned out just to be messy.
So our fishing was interrupted by a week or so. Although it was a great summer. Some of the best water conditions we’ve had out west in many years. They had tons of snow last winter, so it was still melting, there was snow still on the mountains when I was out there just a couple of weeks ago.
Summers for me are usually hosted trips. Usually, I take a couple of groups, up to a dozen people each, to the Bahamas where we stay at Abaco, The Black Fly, and Deepwater Cay Lodge. I usually take one group to Texas for redfish, sometimes groups to Bermuda, sometimes Costa Rica…it just depends on the year. I try to mix it up so the people that come back aren’t getting bored with the same trips all the time.
So I’m still really active with hosted trips. Some people come with me frequently. Some new people come in through social media where I try to keep an active presence.
Michigan, Alaska, Patagonia were filming destinations as opposed to group destinations. It’s hard to find group destinations, at least for the guys that travel with me. They really don’t want double occupancy, for instance. They want to have their own rooms. It has to be a destination where I can strike a deal with the lodge. So, there are a lot of considerations when I choose a destination. It has to be really good fishing, and accommodations, and food, so it can’t just be anywhere.
Are you planning to bring back “Walker’s Cay Chronicles?”
Well, I don’t know about that. I’m watching with great interest to see what’s happening with Walker’s Cay. As you may have heard, it was purchased recently by a guy who intends was to restore it, but he was interrupted by this hurricane. But his plans are to have the marina and some accommodations finished next year. So, there is a chance that Walker’s will become either a destination where I can take people, or perhaps more than that. If there’s interest in seeing The Chronicles” again. I think there’s an audience that might appreciate it. And I would be inclined to do it again if it could be done with the same quality as the original. That’s not easy in today’s television world. But I’d be into it.
Did I hear that you’re narrating a football show?
Recently, I’m involved in an eight-part series about the Southeastern Football Conference. It’s an unlikely venue, but there I am. I still do a little writing and personal appearances from time to time. I still do consulting in the outdoor industry. And I try to be as active in conservation as I possibly can. Particularly in regard to Florida’s water issues. I’ve heard a lot about conservation efforts in the Mosquito Lagoon.
That’s a beautiful area with monstrous water problems. It’s very complicated, very difficult to deal with. But we hope that there’s a way but we’re not at all sure. It’s a critical mass at this point. If something’s not done in the short term, we’ll probably lose a lot of Florida’s really pristine water resources, including the Everglades.
It’s a grassroots battle that we’ve fought for a long time without any help from the state government. But things changed this past year when a governor who is concerned was elected. He has provided a lot of impetus and a lot of interest in the water problems, so we’re hopeful that at the state level, we’ll get for the first time in many decades, some help from the government itself. It remains to be seen, but he’s made some wonderful promises and seems to be a man of his word. We’re hopeful that it turns out to be that way, but there are a number of grassroots organizations that have really, for the first time ever, been vocal enough to really draw attention to the problems. And I think it’s probably got a lot to do with timing. This is the first time that social media has become a real tool in fighting these kinds of battles. And so, I’m affiliated with a couple or three of those organizations and there are always opportunities to speak to groups around the state. And there are always political meetings at every level of government.
And I have some sort of a social media presence myself. So, I am extremely active.
It sounds as if you have to squeeze your hunting and fishing in between a lot of other activities.
One of the great things is that no matter where we are, we have internet, and we have cellular service, and we have laptop computers, so there always seems to be a time in the day to get something done.
I was born, and grew up, in South Florida. Homestead. Lived there until 1992, when we were visited then by Hurricane Andrew, which turned out to be a terribly strong hurricane, and we lost our home, and boats, and trucks, and a lifetime of photography in the Everglades. We virtually lost everything. Our home blew down in a matter of about 45 minutes, with us in it.
So shortly after the hurricane, we moved up to central Florida where we’ve been since then. We built a home in the woods and we’ve lived here for almost 30 years now. So we’re pretty well ensconced right here, and this is probably where the finish line will be, I guess.
How far are you from the water?
I’m probably ten minutes from the Indian River Lagoon and the Mosquito Lagoon. And if I go to the west, probably also ten minutes from the St. John’s River marsh where I spend a great deal of time hunting and fishing, so I’m perfectly located between everywhere that I need to be, at least in Florida. I’m in striking distance of everything.
You were an owner of Hell’s Bay Boats at one time. What are some of the products you’re involved in now?
I still do a lot of work with Hell’s Bay in terms of marketing and design. I just designed a skiff for them called the Eldora, which they’re just coming out with now. As a matter of fact, they’re in the middle of building one for me, and it should be ready any time. So, I still have a presence with Hell’s Bay, and they’re very nearby so I can spend plenty of time there. Probably twenty minutes away.
You’ve had the opportunity to fish with some interesting characters. Lefty Kreh for instance.
(Laughs)Well, I fished with Lefty for over fifty years. We started out as neighbors and very quickly became friends. And then quickly, very much more than friends. Lefty was probably one of the greatest influences on my life. Not only in angling, but most of the life lessons I ever learned, I learned from Lefty. He was very close with my wife as well, and there has been a huge void since his departure three years ago. But I was lucky. I grew up in South Florida and it was, arguably the crucible of saltwater light tackle angling. And certainly, Saltwater Fly fishing. So many of the people who pioneered it were in place, and I was in my formative years. The fishing community was small then, so I knew virtually everyone who was at the pioneering level of these activities. People like Lefty, and Stu Apte, and Chico Fernandez, so were the people I grew up with and fished with, for a whole lifetime. So just by the good fortune of when and where I was born and grew up, I was there when so many things were invented. And so many places were pioneered. So many techniques were developed. As I look back, I realized that just by accident I had the privilege of being in a situation where nobody else, no matter how smart they are, how talented they are, or how privileged they are, can do the things I did because they’re not available to do anymore. The resources don’t exist, the pioneering has been done, so I was just lucky to have been there during all of that.
When I was fourteen, you were able to get your own driver’s license if you operated farm equipment. And my family farmed, so I was able to have my own truck and work and completely mobile.
14-year-olds were different back then. A 14-year-old today is still a child. A 16-year-old in my time was fully a man. So being fully mobile at 14 and living in South Florida, with Biscayne Bay on one side and the Everglades on the other side, we were able to fish everywhere. It’s hard to even think about it now because the resources are so diminished. Back then, everything was the natural world in south Florida. When I grew up, greater Miami was 80,000 people. Now it’s 12 million people are something like that? (six million actually, but who’s counting.)
What’s become of Florida is tragic. Nobody took care of anything along the way. So, back to what I mentioned earlier, nobody can do the things in Florida that I was able to do. Or the people that I grew up with were able to do at that time.
I imagine you have plenty of stories about fishing with some interesting folks.
I guess there are hundreds until someone asks you to recall one. But one story that comes to mind is about Lefty, who was a very early hero of mine. I never idolized football players or baseball players, but Lefty was always very special in my eyes. And at one point there came the opportunity for me to take him fishing for the very first time. And I knew that he was a great fly fisher, and I took him to the Everglades to fish for redfish, at an old fishing village called Flamingo. We launched my little aluminum boat there and ran about 20 minutes to a bite, in the mainland which was very, very shallow and where I knew there were redfish. I poled Lefty back up in there. He brought a fly rod with him but no other tackle. He didn’t even bring flies because he hadn’t been red fishing. So I had flies for him to use.
He also brought a plastic box with his camera equipment in it. It was a big bulky box so it didn’t fit well into the boat and it was in the way, and aggravating, but it was Lefty’s so it was okay. As I poled into the bite, I noticed twenty or thirty flamingos and they were walking in the shallow water, maybe six inches deep, and they were side by each other as they walked, and they were flapping their wings, but not flying. Just walking and flapping. They were actually scaring up shrimp and catching them in their beaks as they walked. And all around their feet were tailing redfish just following them, getting the shrimp that the flamingos missed. I got so excited when I saw this and I pointed it out to Lefty. So, I started poling furiously to keep up with them so that we could get some casts in among the flamingos to catch some redfish. As we got almost into casting range, Lefty put his rod down, opened his camera box, and laid down on the bow of the boat. He had, it was the first one I’d ever seen, a gunstock attached to his camera. He had a long 400-millimeter lens, they were huge back then, the lens probably weighed 20 pounds. He took one of the boat cushions and laid it on the bow of the boat, then rested the lens on that, and directed me to pole toward the flamingos so that he could get pictures of the redfish tailing at their feet. He had absolutely no interest in catching those fish. He only wanted to photograph them. And so it was shocking to me that somebody would rather take pictures of these things than fish for them. And what it was, was really a wonderful life lesson about priorities. And he taught me that without saying a word. It was a wonderful photograph that I had with me until Hurricane Andrew and we lost it in that storm.
It sounds like you have very little time to squeeze anything else in. Any other future ventures you’re working on?
Quite by accident a few years ago, a couple of friends and I got into the rum business. We were just sitting around a campfire in the Bahamas one night. This was just after George Clooney had sold his tequila company for two billion dollars. Or maybe one billion. Ahh, what’s the difference. (laugh) And his end of the deal was 200 million. We were sitting there drinking rum, and somebody said, ‘man, we should go in the rum business. Start a rum company, and sell it for a million, and that’ll be that.’
So, there was a very bright young man who wasn’t doing much at the time, so we said, ‘hey, why don’t you find out what we need to do to go into the rum business.’ Well, he took it very seriously and he went home and in a short time found out exactly how much it would cost, and what the requirements were governmentally, and developing the product, and labels– he really did his homework. He came back to us six or eight months later with all the answers. We got very, very lucky. We discovered an elderly, super-talented Cuban master distiller who was responsible for distilling some of the most prominent rums in the history of rum.
And the guy just kinda took a liking to us and agreed to build some rums for us. And we went ahead and did the bottle and the label and over the course of two years, brought this rum to market. We’ve just very recently secured probably the largest distributor in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean to handle the product. So, we’re on the shelves in Florida right now, and very soon Georgia, Texas, North and South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, and so on, and Canada. It’s called Frigate Reserve Rum. Like the Frigate bird, which is the logo of the company. These are not blended. They are totally aged, reserve rums.
You can learn more at www.frigatereserverum.com