Meet Captain David Mangum, the owner, and operator of Shallow Water Expeditions. The operation is located on the Florida Panhandle, where Dave has been targeting the region’s powerful tarpon and massive reds for the past 40 years with clients. We are excited to add David to our ongoing blog series “Behind the Guides” presented by Costa Sunglasses.
Flylords: Tell us who David Mangum is.
David Mangum: I’m David Mangum, born and raised in Florida and a native to the panhandle of Florida – Lower Alabama, Redneck Riviera. I live up here in Santa Rosa Beach where I have been fishing for tarpon and have for twenty-some-odd years. Most of our tarpon fishing goes on down the way, just over near Apalachicola. I’ll be moving down there before too long, hopefully. I’m very cynical and sarcastic, so it should be able to show through in some of my answers.
Flylords: How many days do you spend on the water per year?
David Mangum: I want to say around 220-240 days a year on the water, depending on hurricanes and just how crappy the weather is. The majority of that is tarpon fishing. Pretty much four months every year, tarpon fishing. That’s what I live and breathe for, I love it. Those are the best days of my year. Also, some of the hardest days of my year, but tarpon fishing is why I’m a guide, I’ve sculpted my life around those fish.
Flylords: What do you look forward to the most about tarpon season?
David Mangum: You know, the beginning of it’s really awesome, and by the end of tarpon season, you’re actually like, what else is going on? But in the beginning, I’m super fired up. It’s still like a little way out, but it’s all I’m thinking about. Having this weather warm-up and that feeling of seeing the first one.
The cool thing about tarpon is it’s always changing. There are spots that the tarpon live and you fish them in. They change here and there, but you know they’ll swim over those spots on parts of the tide, there are all sorts of other aspects of the fish that are always changing. It’s a puzzle and if it were exactly the same every day, it would bore the shit out of you. You have to keep engaged…
Flylords: What’s it like juggling guide life and dad life?
David Mangum: Yeah, that’s tough. Not just guiding, but I spend a lot of time away doing photo work and video work as well. When I am home, I try to really be home and be available for my wife and daughter. Especially my daughter. My wife’s a grown-up, she doesn’t need me. But my daughter especially, she’s 10 and the best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. She trumps everything else ever in my life. She’s awesome, so it’s a tough one to juggle and any guide will tell you that.
You’re on the water, you’re dealing with the clients and entertaining them when you are off the water. That’s probably the hardest part of the job, being a guide and juggling the family life and guide life part of it.
Flylords: When did you start photo and video work?
David Mangum: The work started a long time ago. I really got into photos and videos because I like to create stuff. I also paint and do some stuff artistically. Video and photo work is the same way. It’s kind of a creative outlet. And I’ve used that to promote myself as a fishing guide and my guide service here locally.
I merged into professional photography and videography as well. There was a pretty crazy thing where the cameras became video cameras 10-15 years ago, whatever it was now. When we were guiding and fishing all the time, professionals eventually approached us for our content. So, that merged into shooting some content for outdoor brands. I really enjoy doing that too. It’s just a different thing, a different outlet, to keep engaged and keep my brain active.
Flylords: What’s one of your favorite projects?
David Mangum: I guess my favorite project that I’ve worked on is with my good friend Andy Anderson. It’s a collab funded by Yeti and Orvis, and it’s called “Andy.” Just on him and his photography career. He’s one of the most amazing photographers out there, in my mind.
David Mangum: Yeah, 120 Days, Felt Soul, those guys are friends of mine, and we’ve been planning on a project for a few years before 120 days. It just didn’t line up, they got tangled up with the Patagonia DamNation project, so it kind of got put on the back burner. An opportunity came up with Yeti, and we jumped on that. I mean I was just as excited to hang out with those guys and do some shooting with them as I was to create that project.
It’s a little weird having a project about yourself happen. I mean, I guess from the outside, I probably look like the guy that wants to be highlighted, but I don’t. I don’t really care about it, but it does help our guide service, and there are several other careers and guides that get fed by that vehicle that is our guide service, which I’m really proud of. Helping those families and my buddies. Our guide service is a big family.
Flylords: What is one tip you can give to an aspiring saltwater fishing guide?
David Mangum: So the main thing I’d tell you is if you want respect from your guides that have already been guiding for many years is, do your best to find your own niche. Not just in sports, but the way you do things, and if you try hard to kind of do your own game and create your own game, you’ll be respected because that’s a rarity within the guide world these days. Whether it’s how you fish or where you fish or whatnot, it’s really hard to do these days because it’s just a crowded planet altogether. So if you do that, I think right off the bat you’ll get respect even from people that have been in the game for a long time.
Flylords: What is the most common mistake you see anglers make during tournament season?
David Mangum: Pretty simple. They don’t lead the fish.
When it comes to tarpon fishing, I’d say that the biggest mistake or the hardest thing for folks that don’t see it a lot, see the fish moving through the water, is seeing the angles. How much to lead, how much to cross, those kinds of things. How fast the fish is moving. The most common mistake.
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about the DRAGON TAIL FLY and how you came up with the fly.
David Mangum: Yeah, super simple. I was at Michael’s craft store. My daughter loves going there. She’s always begging me to take her, so we were there looking at the toy section. I saw it, and I had seen it before, I remember it from being a kid. It was called a Squirmle. It’s this long piece of material, has a piece of monofilament tied to its nose, and it has little googly eyes on it. I bought a couple thinking I’m gonna lash this to a hook and see what it does in the water. Sure enough, lash it to a hook, put it in the water and it’s just incredible. It’s synthetic, so it moves in the water relatively well for its size. It’s not an easy thing to cast, but for its size this thing is incredible in the water and really cool.
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about why you like chasing redfish.
David Mangum: It’s the only thing to chase this time of year for my profession. I would rather chase tarpon 365, but that’s the only game in town so, yeah I like chasing redfish. It’s challenging, it’s hunting. All of this game, saltwater fly fishing is hunting, and that’s why I like it. You know I always say that we are still cavemen. That part of our brain’s still up there and that desire to hunt is just within us. That’s why folks like to fish or play sports or whatnot. It’s all just left-over pieces of the caveman, I believe in their brain. I’m definitely a caveman. I wanna hunt.
Flylords: How were you able to get those insane shots for the Bulls on Top video, especially when you’re guiding 220 days out of the year?
David Mangum: I obtained that footage while I was guiding and just changed my style a little bit. Let’s say you see the fish, I would have my camera set up ready to rock, and I would prep a little bit. I’d move my boat to give my caster the right shot. Then start rolling and tell him to shoot. All my clients were totally down with that.
In today’s social media, everybody loves having a video clip or a photo, so clients are really cool about it. It’s just a way of me not being too crazy excited before I see the fish. All right, I’m going to take a second, get my camera rolling, find them in the viewfinder, press record and just get the bite. But here’s the one thing about that… So many people want to get the cool bite or whatever, but they’re just too chummed up to catch the fish. You’ve got to not want to catch the fish or not give a shit about catching the fish if you want the shot, you’ve got to be able to put the rod down.
Flylords: What are your favorite pair of shades for your fishery and why?
David Mangum: I’m definitely I’m a huge fan of the Costa Del Mar glasses. Spectacular clarity, 580 lenses is what I use, and the Blackfin is my frame. Kind of wraps around and keeps it really dark. I like to make a little cave with my sun mask, my glasses, and my hat. I want it to be as dark around my eyes as possible. Helps me see out there. The Green Mirror Copper are my favorite lenses.
Flylords: How do you react if somebody burns you or cuts you off on the flat?
David Mangum: I’m not going to freak out and wig out or whatever, but I am going to go and let them know that what happened was unacceptable, it was bullshit, in hopes of them not doing it the next time. I always address it. Always.
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about Shallow Water Expeditions.
David Mangum: Jack Foley is the newest guide at Shallow Water, but he’s been here for almost five years now. He is getting really good, really fast. He’s a young kid from my neighborhood that I just saw had that… crazy about fishing and being on the water. He was on the water more than he wasn’t, so we started talking and here he is.
I’ve had the company for many years. A group of us, I think there are nine of us now. Some of them are bay fishing guides that have bay boats and they’ll take mom, dad, and the kids fishing, but every single one of the guides is very familiar with fly fishing and can fly fish well.
We’re based out here on the panhandle and fish between Destin and Panama City and we are the largest guide service in this area. We’re pretty serious about it.
Flylords: What your biggest tarpon you’ve ever landed?
David Mangum: The biggest tarpon I’ve ever landed in my career happened last summer. It was 215 lbs, 80 & 3/4” long by 45” girth.
Flylords: How long did it take to land that?
David Mangum: It took about 25 minutes. The fish jumped itself out. Kind of the perfect storm happened, you know. The fly got in the top of the mouth, kind of down inside the mouth, and the fish just freaked out. He had it in hand in 25 minutes, which is amazing. I’ve hooked another few fish that size and one of them I fought for 4.5 hours and never showed any signs, but it didn’t jump very much. She jumped herself out and we grabbed her. It’s my career fish. I just wanted one super confirmed 200-pounder in my career, now I wanna catch the albino tarpon and I’ll be happy. I’ll die a happy man.
Flylords: Has anyone ever caught one (Albino Tarpon)?
David Mangum: I don’t know how many there are, but there is only a few I believe. People have caught several. There’s piebald, which means it’s kind of a mix between albino and normal coloration and then there’s the albino, I have some cool videos of it.