Into the Blue: Tips, tricks and insights from
Steve Rodger and Scott Walker
Last updated: 6/6/2018
Editor: West Marine associate Sharon Halcomb recently caught up to Steve Rodger and Scott Walker, co-hosts of the hit TV series “Into the Blue.” Here, Steve and Scott talk about their beginnings as anglers, big fish, tackle, techniques, epic battles, catch and release, fish stocks, favorite fish to eat and where they like to shop—which naturally is West Marine!
Sharon: How has the success of the show affected your lives?
Steve: With the great success of the show it seems like I get more days when I can go out and actually go fishing with my friends and my family.
Sharon: Can you give us a brief overview of your lives and how you got started in fishing?
Scott: I started with my aunt and uncle out of Ocean City and was on the water every day starting at age 13. I’m a little anal about preparation, but it has paid off for me. Into the Blue has been a great stepping stone for me to get back into competitive fishing.
Sharon: Who gave you guidance when you were younger and starting out in your fishing career?
Scott: I would say it was my father. We fished out of Ocean City, Maryland. We’d tease the fish for miles into shallow water.
Sharon: What kind of fishing really excites you?
Scott: Trolling for white marlin. Been doing it my whole life. I’ve done it in Venezuela, all over the Caribbean, Cancun, Isla Mujeres and the Mid Atlantic from North Carolina, Virginia, to Ocean City, Jersey. I will do it until the day I die. I’ve been doing it since I was 16 years old. I remember my first bite and my last bite and I’m thinking about my next bite.
Steve: Sight casting. Live bait. Artificial bait. Love catching permit. Love sight casting big dolphin that are surfing the waves. Sight casting with live bait or artificial. Love throwing bait to tailing billfish. It could be cobia, it could be barracuda on the flat. Love stalking the fish and presenting the bait and the opportunity, not sitting and waiting to get lucky.
Sharon: Scott, when you go for those big marlin, do you ever use a fighting chair?
First things first. Fishing doesn't really begin until after Steve and Scott catch a load of bait.
Scott: I’m all about stand up. I’ve been in a fighting chair and as a mate for a long time. I know how to work a fighting chair, know how to train someone and how to use one myself. Last year I finally got to catch a 1000 pound bluefin up in Nova Scotia and got to use a chair which is exactly what they are for, conquering a big fish. We do a lot of sight fishing. It’s standup with spinning tackle. We can use conventional, but given our choice, with the great new innovations from Shimano, standup with a spinning rod is about as good as it gets.
Steve: No rail fishing on the East Coast. I’ve never seen anyone rail fish. That seems to be a West Coast thing only.
Sharon: Scott, what is the biggest fish you ever landed?
Scott: Me and my aunt and uncle fought a grand or bigger bluefin for 10 hours.Marlin up to 857, mako shark up to just under 800, some tiger sharks pushing a thousand.
Sharon: Bluefin? You say you got a 1000 pound bluefin? Is that what you said? Up in Nova Scotia?
Scott: Yea, catch and release.
Sharon: How about you, Steve?
Steve: (Takes a sip from his drink) Ummmm, so all my memorable ones . . .I caught a 204 pound yellow fin here in Key West. I speared one with my spear gun, 198 pounds. I have the Key West record dolphin at 72.4 pounds. It was six and one-half feet long.
Sharon: What’s the longest it took you to catch any of those big fish?
Steve: Some of those tunas? Too long! (laughter) As I get older, I’ve learned you gotta pop ’em or stop ’em and put it to ’em. I had a client catch one that was like 190. I think we spent like six hours on that fish. On 50 pound test—and the water was only like 200 feet that we hooked ’em in. But no rail, short standup rod with a belt on and just—they’re not prepared, I'm not prepared, plus me being scared not to lose 'em—I didn't want to put the pressure, that’s the mistake! I didn't want to let the drag go up far enough.
Hors d'oeuvres for the big brutes.
Steve: (Back to previous question) The biggest swordfish I ever caught was 330. So that was a pretty neat fish. Still waiting to get a 500 pounder.
Sharon: You ever have a shark try to take your fish.
Scott: Yep, they’re a nuisance.
Steve: All the time. We have a major problem with sharks. They’re becoming very trained to where they’re following the boat. They’re learning. They’re smart animals. We battle sharks daily. We run from sharks all the time.
Sharon: How did you get your start as fishing celebrities?
Steve: Throughout my career, multiple celebrities would come down to the Keys. I did numerous shows with a lot of celebrities and Jose Wehebe was a good friend of mine. I did maybe a dozen shows with Jose. Great guy, always had time for the people. So Jose and I, we did a lot of fishin’. . . and through that we masterminded a show called the “Mad Fin” Shark Series which was aired on ESPN. Through that I was approached by Tom Roland and Scott to do a show with them.
Scott: I started out at Hawks Key Resort. I was the big dog on the dock.
Sharon: What advice do you have for anglers that want to get into professional fishing?
Steve: I would never discourage it. I would say follow your dreams. I would tell somebody if their passion is to be on the water it’s a great place, it’s very peaceful, it’s soothing, it’s exciting, it’s ever changing, it’s always mesmerizing, so my advice would be if that is your dream and your passion, to go for it.
Scott: (Chimes in) One hundred percent and make it (the dream) happen.
The "dinner bell" is about to ring!
Sharon: Is there a species of fish that you would like to catch, or a place in the world that you would like to fish but never had the opportunity?
Steve: The Ascension Islands. I've seen some videos of 100 pound yellowfin eating out of people’s hands. That seems pretty amazing. Beautiful clear water, I think I would really enjoy seeing big animals like that up close.
Sharon: How about you Scott?
Scott: I just have one fish left. And that’s a black marlin. I'm either going to get it in Panama or somewhere, but probably Panama in the near future. Other than that, Africa or the Azores, chasing the blue marlins around.
Sharon: What’s your preferred tackle and technique for fishing say tuna?
Scott: Live bait.
Steve: We spend the morning catching a load of bait. My day doesn’t begin until we have a load of bait in the well. Sometimes we'll spend three or four hours, with people staring at me thinking, “we’re paying money for this?” But the point is that once we have the bait then we go offshore and we own it. The fun for me is to throw top water lures at tuna that are bustin’ on freebies. That’s my absolute most exciting way to do it.
Steve: (continuing) I took Scott out to a shrimp boat that trawls all night and in the morning throws the by-catch over. There can be 100 to 400 tuna following that boat. We'll pull up to them, and pretty much you can handline ’em, catch ’em on a piece of tee shirt, catch ’em on a fly rod. You can do anything you want with them, because they have spent a month behind that boat just eating. That’s always a neat fishery to take people to—very visual.
Scott: Chunking the shrimp boats is kinda the same technique as when I was up in Nova Scotia. The more bait you can throw over—you’re anchored, you’re not trolling. Before an hour is up you’ve got like 800 pound tuna eating out of your hand. It’s pretty amazing. Definitely the live bait and the chunking versus trolling for tunas.
Sharon: How about yo-yo jigs? Do you ever do that? Dropping it to the bottom and reeling up as fast as you can?
Steve: Is that like a metal jig, like a butterfly jig? Like a “Flat Fall” jig?
Steve: We do. It’s exciting. Believe me, we go yo-yo jigging as soon as we don’t catch the bait!
Sharon: How about rock fishing?
Scott: We have snappers. Red snappers. Mutton snappers and grouper.
Sharon: Do you have a preferred tackle or technique for bottom fish?
Scott: We both fish for the same fish and we both do it differently. I do it with a drifting boat and live bait on the bottom at 200 feet. We hit the spot over and over and keep resetting. Steve sets up with an anchor and chums.
Sharon: For our customers who have never done it, can you describe kite fishing? How you rig for kit fishing and the concept behind it?
Scott: Kite fishing in the Keys is the preferred way to fish verses the traditional way to fish. The kite suspends the bait at the surface of the water with nothing for the pelagic to see. The sailfish, dolphin or tuna can’t see the leader or even the hook because they are at the top of the fish. The leader system is not even in the water. You have a fish struggling at the surface. It’s a dinner bell that rings as loud as any bell you have ever heard rung!
Sharon: Is kite fishing just for professional fishermen or can the average person with a 24' boat do it?
Dual hook-ups on spinning tackle.
Scott: Electric reels are affordable and easy to use and set up with a minimum of knowledge. Kites are about $100. You can do the whole system for under 500 bucks and it will make you a better fisherman. The more you use a kite, the more techniques you can learn.
Sharon: Transitioning to fish stocks. Where you fish the most, have you noticed an increase or decrease in any particular species?
Steve: I think fisheries are something that is always evolving and they are trying to figure it out. The South Atlantic Council has set up an ACL, which is the annual catch limit for commercial and recreational. It has worked really well with red snapper. A lot of people complain about not having the opportunity to fish for them as often as they would like, but from when I was a kid, we went from just a few red snapper to places where you can’t get away from them. People are running from them. (Talking about fish stocks) It is definitely something that can take a hit and bounce back. Mud snapper limits have been bumped down from 10 to 5 fish, which we feel is reasonable. Some things (fish stocks) have taken a lick. The mahi-mahi have taken a lick. There are some long line guys up in South and North Carolina that are getting them before they make their way down our way. But with technology and the way everybody sees what is going on, I think we have a better handle on it. We are definitely moving in the right direction.
Sharon: Anything to add Scott?
Scott: With the advent of circle hook fishing, fishing for sailfish in the Florida Keys in the 35 years I have been here is as good today if not better. As a charter boat captain who has been on the docks for 25 years, the yellowtail snapper have always been here, and even with commercial fishing and the ten fish limit, I have never seen that stock of fish go up or down. Groupers disappeared, but they are back. The regulations of one per person are strong. The Nassau grouper has pretty much disappeared from the Florida Keys. But red grouper and black grouper are back in fair, I would almost say good numbers. Swordfishing. After a long line ban in the Florida Keys, 20 years later now we have one of the top fisheries in the world. 15 years ago, swordfish were extinct in our eyes, and now we can catch them almost any day we want to. I’d say regulations are working and in the 30 years I have been working in the Keys fisheries, I’ve seen a wonderful balance of everything.
Usage of circle hooks greatly increases the chance that released fish will survive.
Sharon: Do you have any tips on how to best handle a fish to ensure its survival when you release it?
Scott: Don't take ’em out of the water. The science is there. I understand both sides of the case. Light tackle records are great, but the longer you fight the fish, the more exhausted it’s going to be. Catch ’em quick and use the appropriate tackle for the size fish you are after. And if it’s a billfish, get ’em alongside and hang over them rather than taking them out of the water. Scott and I don’t take them out of the water for Into the Blue. I would never condemn anybody for popping them out of the water quickly, ’cause in the 70s and 80s I caught tens of thousands of ’em and the ones I released where I wrote, “probably died” on the certificate were caught two or three years later. They’re tougher than you think.
Steve: Take your time releasing them. Definitely run a lot of water through the fish. Make sure he is ready. You want to make sure the fish has had a chance to get some oxygen back in ’em. Some people are a little bit quick to turn the fish loose. If you notice the fish is really run down and beat up, you want to help ’em along and maybe drag ’em behind the boat for a while to make sure he gets that oxygen through the gills.
Sharon: What’s your favorite fish to eat and favorite way to cook it? Or I should say prepare, since you don’t always have to cook them.
Steve: So raw, my favorite sashimi is cero mackerel. I do like hamachi, which is your yellowtail.
Sharon: What kind of mackerel is that?
Steve: Cero mackerel, c-e-r-o. That is the one I like here. It is the best sashimi in my mind that there is. The second would be the hamachi, which is your west coast fish, the yellowtail. Those two are my favorite raw fish. When it comes to something I really enjoy, it’s some pan fried grouper. Yellow edge grouper, some scamp grouper, black grouper. Just a little bit of olive oil, maybe some panko, just in the pan; not deep fried. Have that with some rice and beans and the family is pretty happy!
At the end of the day, the fillets go skin down on the grill. Brushed with a little butter and garlic, they are sooooooo good. Yea buddy!
Scott: Raw first. My favorite would be wahoo, of course the tunas. Mangrove or yellowtail snapper, mud snapper cooked on the grill. Skin down, brushed with butter or garlic. Serve it hot. I blanket a lot of fish as well, but my go-to is grilled fish with a little butter and garlic.
Sharon: It’s lunchtime here and you are making me hungry!
Sharon: Do you shop at West Marine?
Steve: Yep, that’s where we shop. That’s the place to walk in and get exactly what you need. It’s all there. It’s a one-stop-shop. (talking about the store where he shops.) When maintenance day comes around, you can’t be ordering stuff you don't have online, and West Marine is going to have it. Whether it’s a screw, a bolt, a nut, oils, rope, line, anchors, electronics.
Sharon: Which store do you normally go to? Which location?
Steve: We’ll usually use the Stock Island one—just because it’s closer to the marina. But we also use the one downtown as well.
Sharon: Do the people who work in the Stock Island store seem knowledgeable?
Steve: Yep, they do. But I don’t rely on anybody to tell me anything. I just need you to tell me where it’s at.
Sharon: How about you Scott? Where do you go?
Scott: We only have one. It’s in Marathon by Seven Mile Bridge. I’m a Port Supply (West Marine Pro) card holder. So I get great prices. They always have what I need. They have had many of the same employees for 10 years. There is a new face every now and then, but there is always a familiar face, and that is the important thing.