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Van Hubbard: Memories of mackerel, and a trout show with Santa Claus 

July 3, 2024

Somewhere in the intense mid- ‘80s, I took videographer Gary Sullivan tarpon fishing. It was 1985 when I met Gary, aka Sully, when he came along on a trip. He was in the production business and, awed by our exciting, amazing tarpon fishing, said we should make a TV show. This opened a new chapter in my life. 

Imagine a fishing guide and videographer thinking we could do a fishing show! It was insane, but we convinced ourselves we could do it. We didn’t know we couldn’t do it by ourselves, so we plunged all in. It was well shot, educational, not an infomercial, great action fishing, professionally produced – we did everything. Most of the shows even used Sully’s original music. The show stuff was easy. The sales and business part were beyond our capability; thus, it eventually burned us out. 

We produced about 30 shows from the Florida Keys to Tampa Bay, but most were right here around Boca Grande. The outdoor markets wanted national exposure, but we tried to help them understand Florida fishing is all year round. They figured it out later.

Fishing was so good I could tell him to show up on a specific day and we’d shoot one or even two shows, with extra fish footage. Catching fish was the easy part. Editing and selling the sponsorships was the challenge.

We were both naïve. The opportunity was there, and we decided to create a TV show. If we had any clue as to what was involved in selling and marketing television, we would have never dived in. The fishing and shooting, editing and producing the show was easy because we each knew our businesses. Unfortunately, the friend that egged us on and volunteered to be the sales dropped out. How hard could it be? We were young, in our prime and innovators. 

I was living my dream: fishing and successfully guiding in Boca Grande, the Tarpon Capital of the World. I was running as hard as I could and catching lots of trophy fish. Thousands of tarpons were splashing and rocketing among beautiful boats and yachts. Add beautiful ladies and a clear blue waters backdrop, and it was perfect for TV. The action was fast and exciting, with large silver kings doing acrobatic exhibitions. I didn’t understand just how acrobatic tarpon were until Sully showed me slow motion clips of their jumps, twists and contortions. 

We had no sponsorship to start, just flying on a wing and prayers. It was at our own expense. The guests loved it, and everyone enjoyed having documentation. We had no idea where we were going to air it, but we did have our pilot. We charged on and shot several other shows. 

The first episode was a snook show shot in Catfish Creek. Fishing and observing the snook cruising around the boat in the clear tannin waters was great. Lush green mangroves and healthy oyster bars served as backdrops. I chose a good strong tide, and we successfully captured our enthusiasm. Light tackle, live minnow back country at its best.

We did some redfish shows here, with Philip O’Bannon and Betsey Joiner. We did shows in Tampa Bay. We did a trout show with Santa Claus and big yellowmouth speckled trout. We did king mackerel shows and a bluefish show with Margert Adorgen. We even did a blue water trip with big mahi-mahi and a sailfish in the Keys.

We did our own shoots, scripts, soundtrack, original background music, editing, everything – just two of us. Overwhelming, but educational. I got to observe myself from an objective perspective. I was passionate and too intense. I wanted you to catch every bite. I still try hard to catch every fish but am better than before. Try videoing yourself and watching as an objective observer; it’s awakening.

Our first big shoot was the ‘85 World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. We figured the competition and excitement would launch our adventure. It went well with perfect weather, plenty of intense fishing action and exciting weigh ins. The purse was huge then! 

We did the ‘85 and ‘86 World’s Riches plus a Miller’s Tarpon Tide Tournament, all at our own expense. We did a great beach tarpon show around the Boca Pass. We always tried to show folks how to catch fish – not where, not to follow others. Teach them how to develop their own skills.

We managed to buy airtime on Channel 44 out of St. Pete airing in Central and West Florida. It was challenging because many local advertisers’ scope wasn’t large enough. Then we went to Channel 28 Cape Coral, a Fox affiliate, and it was going well. We stumbled into the brand-new Sunshine network and took it statewide. We were verbally sold out on slots, but we suffered a national economic crash and the Iraq war. Before the contracts were signed, we had to regroup. We tried Sarasota cable channel with reruns, but never were able to revive it. 

We burned ourselves out doing so much. I was supporting the show – we edited and narrated, selling slots as we could, all while trying to do enough charters to stay afloat myself. It was an awesome ride, but too much.

Good memories, just so much commitment that I couldn’t thoroughly enjoy it. We had the parts that we understood operating, but not the right assistance and timing. You can’t catch fish if you don’t fish. We had it hooked but this big one got away.