The evolution of fishing equipment mirrors the advances in society’s technology- from the steam car to the space shuttle. Dr. Gerald Millistein, a south Florida angler shared some of his eighty plus years of experience with me over a daiquiri at the El Floridita bar.
At age six Doc began angling with a hand line off the seawalls of New York City. Over the next eight decades, Doc landed ten pound bonefish and thousand pound marlin. From Patagonia to Siberia, Doc’s fishing tales include a history of tackle refinement, fly, conventional and spin.
I caught up with Doc in Cuba attempting to retrace his last visit to the island in 1955. From 1951–55, Doc fished the north and south shores, first in rowboats, then powered by a five-horse outboard brought via ferry from the U.S
Off the Isle of Pines he waited for the flood of tarpon filing out between mangrove cays by the thousands. Doc had solid fiberglass rods. As he describes, “They were the latest breakthrough, but had no backbone. We had thumb-drag Pflueger reels and linen thread line. Three threads equaled nine pounds breaking strength. We only had one plug – a red and white floating Mirrorlure.”
“We would jump a tarpon and he would throw the lure or break the line, the plug would float free and we retrieved it to use again. We lay down in the bottom of the boat and slept. Hell, I was in my twenties, I could sleep standing up.”
“Off Cayo Romano we had clouds of bonefish,” Doc explained. “We quickly ran out of Joe Brooks jigs.”
“Incredible.” Is how Doc describes the advancements, not only tackle, but technique and knowledge. “We know so much more about the fish’s habits. The ancients knew their patterns, but now, we know where they move and why.”
“And don’t forget the advancements in weather forecasting and satellite imaging. You can check the radar and get tide information off your smart phone as well as keep a fishing log complete with position and pictures.”
Doc fishes his home waters around Stuart Florida in a Hell’s Bay skiff and a 23 foot Pathfinder. Both are examples of progress in boat design and construction. Doc declares. “My skiff floats in 5 inches of water. There’s no need to wade.”
Doc is off to Cat Island this week to fish marlin. Then it’s back to Cuba for a live aboard trip to the Archipielago de Los Jardines de la Reina “Garden of the Queens”- a group of pristine islands on the south side of the island. There he’ll revisit his bonefish and tarpon memories in real time.
He’ll be armed with custom carbon fiber rods, a Calcutta bait caster and Penn spinner, both spooled with braided line and boxes of jigs and plugs.
For flyfishing, G.Lomis tip flex rods, long casting weight-forward line, large arbor smooth drag Tibor reels, a selection of 70 or so flies.
Oh, and wearing spf clothing.
Only the fish haven’t changed, but that’s why he still chases them.