The Best Fishing Guide Alive

Matthew Hranek
by Monte Burke - Florida - April/May 2011

Steve Huff has spent a lifetime putting clients on the fish of their dreams. And he’s not stopping anytime soon

It’s early morning in Chokoloskee, Florida, and Steve Huff is slowly guiding us away from the dock. The bow of his Hell’s Bay skiff is pointed toward the labyrinth of mangroves and buttonwoods that give shape to the mesmeric Everglades, where Huff spends nearly two hundred days a year. He’s wearing a bandanna that’s patterned with fish scales. It covers his sunburned nose and trimmed cotton-white mustache. His long arms dangle from a wiry, compact body that seems almost simian in its alertness and strength. ¶ Then he guns the engine. As the boat planes quickly and easily, Huff lifts up his bandanna, revealing a wide smile. “Do you feel that?” he yells to me over the engine’s whine. “We’re free.”

Steve Huff is sixty-five. He has been a fishing guide for forty-three of those years, first in the Florida Keys and now in the Everglades City area, where he moved in 1996 with his bright-eyed wife, Patty. Huff’s specialty is fishing the skinny saltwater flats for tarpon, bonefish, permit, and snook, and he has guided his clients into countless world-record fish. Last year he was inducted into the International Game Fish Association’s Hall of Fame, which is the fishing world’s Cooperstown. In his book, A Passion for Tarpon, Andy Mill calls Huff “bar none, the best tarpon guide alive, the best there was and the best there ever will be.” Marshall Cutchin, a former Keys guide and the editor and publisher of the fly fishing website, goes even further, calling him “the best guide who’s ever lived, period.”

This type of talk embarrasses Huff, who prefers to shower accolades on others. “Steve is a really humble guy,” says Sandy Moret, who owns a fly shop in the Keys and has fished with Huff for three decades. For Huff, it’s all pretty simple. “I’m just a fishing guide,” he says. “My job is to make an angler’s dream come true.”

His own dreams are part of the equation, as well. Guiding, at its essence, is a selfless endeavor, geared to the happiness and success of the paying customer, the “dream making.” But for Huff, there is the rush—of being on the water nearly every day and trying to figure out the puzzle presented by the tides, the wind, the clouds, the fish, and the angler’s ability. The climax, that final puzzle piece, is the hooking and landing of the guided angler’s targeted fish. Huff can’t live without that rush.

Huff was born and raised in Miami. When he was ten, his father gave him a spinning rod, the first piece of tackle he’d ever owned. His father left the next day. Huff would neither see nor speak to him again. “He was an alcoholic and a gambler,” Huff says. “He probably died in a ditch somewhere.”