Captain Rick Grassett made a hobby into a career that has cast him as a local fishing phenom
By Ned Steele
The waters around Siesta Key swarm with redfish, sea trout, tarpon and innumerable other denizens of the sea. If you’re a serious angler eager to know where to find them, what makes them tick and, most importantly how to coax them onto your line, the man you need to meet is Captain Rick Grassett.
Captain Rick, as his clients call him, has led fishing enthusiasts through these waters for 33 years. He has seen – and caught – it all. Fishing-supply company Orvis has even honored him as Outfitter of the Year.
Countless anglers, including a U.S. Supreme Court justice, have signed up for six-hour charters in his boat, the 17-foot Snook Fin Addict, or for the occasional exotic expedition to locations like Belize, the Bahamas and Venezuela. If, as he says, his clients are “students of fishing,” Grassett is a professor with a PhD.
Grassett specializes in the most challenging angling techniques in the forms of fly and lure fishing, which he also teaches in group classes. If you thought fly fishing is solely for bucolic Montana rivers, you’d be wrong. It is popular in these parts, and heavily catch-and-release.
“He is humble, polite, very patient and an excellent teacher,” said Aledia Tush, the longtime owner of Grassett’s base of operations, CB’s Saltwater Outfitters. “He takes care of people. He’s a pro.”
And his knowledge is encyclopedic. Consider his monthly fishing column in this newspaper (page 40). It is a veritable treasure trove of information.
For example, did you know that tripletail can be found around crab trap floats and channel markers? That you should follow diving or hovering terns if you’re out for bluefish and mackerel? Or that there’s great fishing in the shallow waters surrounding the Key away from the Gulf?
He is skilled at providing such advice without making it feel like criticism, says angler Keith McClintock, a Grassett client for more than 20 years: “He works a little harder to make sure you have a good time. He deserves every plaudit you can give him,” McClintock said.
How did Grassett become the fisherman’s fisherman? This sea tale starts in a seafaring Delaware town off the Chesapeake Bay, where his dad was an avid recreational angler. Young Rick had a rod and reel in his hands at age 3.
At 26 years old – motivated by “divorce and unemployment,” he recalled – Grassett moved to Florida although “I knew nothing about fishing in Florida.”
Addicted to the sport, he was determined to learn. For eight years, while working full time in marketing, he studied articles, joined fishing clubs, and spent days off on the water. Then he was ready to reach for his dream: earning a living as a fishing guide.
Still in his day job, he started as a night fishing guide. “I saw it as paying for my habit,” he said with a laugh. Business grew, and soon he crossed paths with Tush and CB’s. She saw his talent, and in 1989 offered him a full-time job as a guide and instructor.
Remarried with two small children, he took the leap and quit the day job. “I was scared to death,” he recalls. “But Aledia felt there was enough business in the shop that I’d have no trouble making it.”
She was right, and the rest is history. Word of his skill spread, even reaching U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The late jurist told him, “Call me Nino” and hired him for a two-day charter pursuing sea trout, bluefish, pompano, and Spanish mackerel. His Honor was “very patient,” Grassett recalled, and successful.
Grassett is also active in conservation efforts. “I’ve always felt that conservation and teaching is an important part of what I do,” he said. “Our resources aren’t infinite and there are many factors that affect our fisheries and water quality from red tide to toxic spills and intentional releases, freezes, increasing fishing pressure and habitat loss and degradation.”
He has long served in various roles including board member with the Coastal Conservation Association, a leading fishery conservation group. He has held similar posts for the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers organization, which supports local conservation activities and promotes fly fishing. He’s helped run Sarasota Sportfishing Anglers Club, fly fishing tournaments.
The biggest fish a Captain Rick client ever caught? A 150-pound tarpon. Experienced clients often reel in big ones weighing 90 to 100 pounds.
As for that prototypical tale anglers love to tell, the one about the big one that got away? That’s the one story Grassett doesn’t have, or won’t tell.
If he or his client gets one on the line, it’s coming in.