I met Hal Chittum when I was about 14years old. Out fishing with my cousin near a place called the Sandy Key Basin, I didn’t know that the guy was going to have an impact on sport fishing as I grew into the world of being a guide in the Florida Keys. We were just 2 kids out in a Boston Whaler doing what kids did best; fishing for whatever we caught wherever we could catch it. We didn’t actually know the name of the Basin until the guy told us.
Although we didn’t know him personally, we did know he was a “Fishing Guide” and word ‘on the street’ was that he was one of the best. I remember him poling over to us that day and asking us if we were guides. When we told him — a bit shyly — that we weren’t, he told us that we had better get out of there, because it was patrolled by Park Rangers and if we were found in there we would get tickets; you had to be a guide to fish there. It wasn’t until later I realized it was an ingenious way to chase two passionate kids out of a superb spot to catch tarpon on a flyrod.
Years later, after a successful stint at his retail stores (HT Chittum & Co.), Hal, a fisherman by the name of Flip Pallot, and a friend named Chris Morejohn founded Hell’s Bay Boats. Flip and I had fished together for years, and I agreed to film a few TV shows with them. When I first had heard of the three of them building boats, I knew it would be a good one; I had heard of Chris’ building skills, and the many hours I had spent on the water with Flip indicated the quality we could expect. I was right. At that point I wasn’t friends with Hal. Yet.
After visiting their plant and cutting a deal, I became the 3rd guide in the Florida Keys to fish a Whipray 16. Looking back, in fact, it was the day I bought the boat the a long friendship began between me and Hal.
I spend a lot of time fishing with clients, and I had some ideas for what would make the boat better. Many — not all, but many — of those ideas made it into the design; among them a Center Console. I had a ‘SuperSkiff’ with the cooler located underneath the console and a backrest for my clients. Afer a year of bugging them they incorporated the concept, and it looks like it’s still there in Hell’s Bay’s products.
I enjoyed a long professional relationship with Hells Bay, and, in fact, still have a lot of friends working there; but when Hal departed and told me he was starting a new boat company, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. He continued to ‘talk’ to me about it, and about six months after I first the finished product I had a chance to fish it here in Islamorada. The experience was like going to look at a black lab puppy. For the dog lovers among you, I’m sure you know the feeling. You don’t just look at the dog; you start picking names.
Hal just delivered my new skiff, & I look forward to many great times on the water in it. you can find out more about the boats at www.chittumskiffs.com.