In the mangroves with kayak charter phenom, Spencer Goodwin
By MIKE HODGE
As we set up the interview, the slender lad with shaggy red hair had one request: Can we do it on the water? Sure. At 7 a.m.? Fort DeSoto? Uuuhh … maybe not.
So a post sunrise compromise was struck. Noon. Lunch. At Billy’s Stonecrab restaurant.
The first thing you need to know about Spencer Goodwin is that conventional rules don’t necessarily apply. He’s a fishing guide. The structure of the 9-to-5 world does not dictate his schedule. He rolls with the height of the tides, the light of the moon and the flow of the wind. If you want to catch fish, you have to adapt to their schedule, which is why Goodwin spent all morning scouting the nearby flats in his kayak.
He could have slept in since he didn’t have a scheduled charter. Interview or not, he felt he needed to do a bit of redfish recon for his next trip. It’s a matter of priorities.
“There are no shortcuts,” Goodwin said. “If you want to catch fish, there’s always people who will take the easy route. Hard work and determination to get it done the right way is always going to be the best way.”
Goodwin, 22, learned the value of extra elbow grease early. He’s been guiding for four years. He started his own business — Tampa Bay Kayak Charters — when he was 18.
He thought about college, but followed passion over pragmatism.
“School, unfortunately, has taken a back burner, not because I’m not interested in it,” Goodwin said. “I’m just more interested in fishing. It may be selfish of me, but I firmly believe in doing what in what you want to do in life. I would much rather be on the water than sitting in a class room.”
His parents were supportive, but naturally skeptical.
“Risk always worries a parent,” Dave Goodwin, Spencer’s father, said. “But Spencer is a very independent-minded young man. He’s going to make his own decisions. He’s going to have his own successes, and he’s going to fall down every now and then and pick himself back up. I’m very supportive of that independence. Go with your own skill, your own talent, your own heart. Chase your dreams.”
Young Goodwin started training to be a guide early. When he was in junior high, he served as a first mate on a local tarpon charter. His work day began at 5:30 a.m.
“He’d get his butt up, I’d drive him, which I was happy to do,” Dave Goodwin said. “If a kid that has that kind of interest, you gotta support him.”
As an apprentice who worked for tips, Goodwin took orders; now he works for himself and has earned a reputation as one of the best light-tackle inshore anglers in the Tampa Bay area. Are there guides more popular? Yes. More experienced? Yes. But it’s fair to say Goodwin’s talent has surpassed his youth.
“He’s got that magic,” said Russ Caipen, president Tampa Bay’s Hardcore Kayak Anglers club. “He’s one of these guys you fish with, you fish the same water and use the same lure. They catch fish and you don’t.”
His cyberspace nickname is Seein’ Red, a bow to his favorite quarry, the redfish.
“There are so many different ways you can target them,” Goodwin said. “They’re always exciting and fun to catch. They fight really hard and you can consistently target them year round. It can be the hottest day of the year or the coldest day of the year and you can pretty well bet that you’re going to find them.
His favorite spot is Fort Desoto Park, an area south of St. Petersburg that features of miles of clear water and lush turtle grass, ideal redfish territory.
“Being close to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s got the best tidal flow in Tampa Bay. It’s got beautiful habitat — flats grass, oyster bars, mangroves. It’s just full of fish. It’s one of those places that can make or break people because they can get frustrated. You have to be able to know how to fish the Fort. It’s not always the most consistent area, but when you do find fish and have productive days, they’re the kind of days that make you want to keep coming back in spite of those tough days.”
Even when you don’t necessarily have to go to work.