Walter Hamm has plenty of fish tales. The Sarasota architect competes in-and wins-amateur fishing tournaments all over Florida. But there's a catch. Unlike the majority of salt-water fishing hobbyists, Hamm won't use live bait. He's strictly a fly fisherman.
Hamm, a Plant City native and graduate of the University of Florida School of Architecture, grew up fishing. "We had a cabin on Lake Kissimmee and on weekends we went there to fish for large-mouth bass," he says. "Then I moved to Sarasota 12 years ago and learned salt-water fishing. But when we went fishing with shrimp, I'd catch all the junk."
So Hamm started making artificial flies that resemble shrimp or bait fish. "It's probably the most difficult way to catch salt-water fish, but it's also the most challenging," he says. "When most people try to catch lots of fish, I'm happy catching one big one."
Hamm won the Sarasota Coastal Conservation Association tournament fly fishing division last year by reeling in some big redfish and trout. And late last year he won the Gasparilla Invitational Fly Fishing Tournament on Boca Grande with two redfish that were 26 3/4 inches long, just under the maximum allowed size of 27 inches. He recently returned from Belize, where he caught a 30-pound permit, a fish that's related to the jack family. "It's very strong and wily, very difficult to catch."
Hamm also fishes the invitation-only Don Hawley charity tarpon tournament in Islamorada every year. The five-day tournament is limited to just 25 of the top fly-fishing anglers in the world; last year skier Andy Mills and Rick Murphy, host of the nationally syndicated TV show Sportsman's Adventure, participated. "The goal is to catch as many tarpon over four feet as possible. The average is 60 to 80 pounds," Hamm says. "There are just two of you on the boat, you and your guide, and you are exhausted when it's over."
If you can't find Hamm in his trophy and photo-filled office (he's particularly fond of a photo of a 10-pound trout he caught in Sarasota Bay), you might catch him out on the waters of north Sarasota Bay in the skiff that he won in a fishing tournament. Hint to wannabe's: try the Buttonwood area of Longboat Key or the Ringling flat behind the museum.