The title of his TV show pretty well sums up the lifestyle of captain Ray Van Horn — Gypsy Angler.
The program — which may feature the show’s creator/host chasing redfish in Louisiana, trout in Montana, or tarpon in Chokoloskee — will enter its third season beginning in January on the Sportsman’s Channel and Fox SunSports.
“It’s basically about my lifestyle as a traveling fisherman living the RV lifestyle,” said Van Horn, 62. “And, by the way, we go to a lot of cool places and catch a lot of fish.”
When he’s not motoring in his monster RV or fishing somewhere exotic in his tricked-out Ranger bay boat, Van Horn calls Chokoloskee on Florida’s remote southwest coast home base. That’s where he parks his mobile headquarters and launches his boat.
Van Horn guided anglers in Tampa Bay for 26 years before getting fed up with the noisy traffic above him on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. He also skippered a successful team in the Professional Tarpon Tournament Series in southwest Florida’s Boca Grande Pass before he decided that style of combat fishing was too unsavory. For the past seven years, he has relished the peace, quiet and unexploited fishing grounds of the northern reaches of Everglades National Park.
“How can you not love the Everglades?” he asked rhetorically.
Of all the sport fishing Van Horn has done all around the United States, he said his favorite is sight-fishing for tarpon on fly rod in his home waters from February through April.
“The water is more turbid, and you can get close to them and use 80- to 100-pound leader,” he said. “Most of them, you’re poling along and they’re laid up in the water column. It’s just a matter of getting the boat positioned right. Usually, the fight’s over pretty quick because they’re only in two to three feet of water.”
And, he said, fishing conditions are great the rest of the year, too.
“In the wintertime, the wind can blow 40 knots out of the northeast and you can always find a lee to fly fish,” he said.
In summer and early fall, he guides charter customers to snook, redfish and sea trout.
On a recent outing to Highland Beach, located about halfway between Chokoloskee and Flamingo, Van Horn and a customer caught and released several trout, snook and jacks on artificial lures.
Using an olive-green soft jerkbait, Van Horn’s customer caught and released a cooperative snook while sight-fishing on the flats. The snook had been harassing a school of mullet and after they scattered, it nestled into the muddy bottom facing the incoming tide, waiting for more potential victims.
The customer made a couple errant casts of the jerkbait that the snook didn’t see. On the third cast, the snook lunged at the bait, but didn’t eat it and went right back to its post on the flat. On the angler’s fourth cast, the fish pounced on the lure, made a few lively jumps and finally was brought to the boat to be released.
“He wanted to get caught!” Van Horn laughed. “Probably a social media freak.”
With more than 30 years of professional fishing experience, the guide isn’t afraid to mix things up. He said he has often had success using freshwater techniques in saltwater.
For example, he once released 13 redfish while flipping a bass jig with a crawdad trailer. And during tournaments, he and whoever his partner happens to be will employ a topwater plug to locate and catch reds in the shallows — another bass-fishing tactic.
Van Horn says he’s willing to go pretty much anywhere to check out the fishing possibilities.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “If they had fish on the moon, I’d have to take a look at that.”