As a community of anglers and people who love the outdoors, we must stand together to protect the unique places that mean so much to our way of life. The more people who get involved and speak up, the more we can support the advancement of long-term solutions to important water issues. In that spirit, Columbia PFG has partnered with Captains For Clean Water to help restore and protect our water resources.
In the Protect What You Love series, we highlight three heroes for clean water and the Everglades, Captain Chris Wittman, Wesley Locke, and Captain Bear Holeman. We hope to inspire you to join the fight to save the Everglades with Captains For Clean Water and to protect what you love, regardless of the waters you call home.
In 2016, massive discharges from Lake Okeechobee were sent south to the East and West coasts of Florida. These discharges led to massive blue-green algae blooms, rapid drops in salinity in coastal estuaries, and traumatic red tides. When this event halted the fishing season and hurt local businesses, Chris Wittman and Daniel Andrews knew it was time to step up to give everyone in Florida a platform to stand on to protect their coastlines.
The organization that was born, Captains For Clean Water, has made incredible strides to help protect the way of life not only for fishing guides but also for local communities who rely on the beautiful coastlines of Florida for business and tourism.
In partnership with Columbia PFG and Captains For Clean Water, we highlight three individuals impacting the future of the Everglades, Chris Wittman, Wesley Locke, and Bear Holeman. Chris, Wesley, and Bear come from different backgrounds and professions, but all share the same desire: to protect what they love. Join us as we sit down with each of these amazing people we are lucky to call our friends.
Table Of Contents:
Protect What You Love: Wesley Locke
Flylords: Who are you, and where are you from?
Wesley: My name is Wesley Locke; I’m a native of Boca Grande, Florida, known as the “Tarpon Capital of the World”. Growing up with a dad as a tarpon guide, it was not a surprise that the apple did not fall far from the tree. To this day, my life revolves around tarpon whether it is hosting tarpon tournaments out of Boca Grande, competing in tournaments in Islamorada, or fighting to protect tarpon habitat.
Flylords: You say in the piece “The West Coast, and the fish that run these highways shaped me”, can you tell us about what that means to you?
Wesley: I grew up on the SW coast of Florida in Boca Grande and was raised in a loving household with a fly fishing tarpon guide as a father, so the Silver King was always another brother around the table and fishing was our way of life.
Flylords: How did you get involved with Captains For Clean Water?
Wesley: In 2018, Boca Grande got hit with one of the most intense red tide blooms that I’ve ever experienced. I ran the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce at the time, and the harmful nutrient-enhanced algae bloom not only cut off tarpon season at the knees in June (after a large Lake O discharge) but inhibited the island’s/coastlines’ entire flow of business and activity. Nobody wanted to go outside, much less come rent, shop, and eat at our local businesses. That helplessness is a feeling that still haunts us. That bloom lasted a year and a half.
Rather than wait for it to send our community into another deficit, I decided to get involved with Captains For Clean Water to become a part of the solution instead of being an idle part of the problem. Five years later I couldn’t be more proud of Captains’ impact and their dedication to Everglades restoration that aims towards a healthy future for the Everglades National Park and the state of Florida. As a Columbia PFG Athlete, I can’t tell you how much it means to see their platform and voice used to shed light on this impactful environmental cause.
Flylords: What is going to be the biggest factor in making sure we can keep these fisheries alive?
Wesley: Continued public pressure. In our society, even a devastating Hurricane can become last month’s news if you aren’t living in the wake of the storm. So when dealing with a cause that takes time and a political process, the people need to stay informed and diligent when faced with countless hurdles that seek to unravel the Everglades Restoration Plan. We often think, “What difference could I make as one person?” but in this fight, it takes all of us knowing our voice counts in the collective to maintain progress.
Flylords: What was your favorite moment when we were out filming, and you and Christina got to share the boat?
Wesley: Honestly, the whole day was filled with equally special moments. Christina Legutki and I met fishing the Ladies Fly Tarpon Tournament (Islamorada) in 2019 and are both from the West Coast of FL. It was our first tournament, and we were nervous, so we found comfort in our friendship quickly. Since then we’ve only got to spend time together during tournaments and briefly in between, so the opportunity to spend an entire day with her on the boat was long overdue.
Watching her launch the boat, ride out in the morning, and Guide me to Tarpon… was like watching someone settle into their favorite chair. She found her calling in guiding women and encouraging the love of fishing we both share.
Flylords: What Does Protect What You Love Mean to You?
Wesley: In life, you have two choices: 1) Let “life” happen to you or 2) Make sure “you” happen to life. I choose the 2nd option. If you love something, whether it be a person, activity, career, or place, I believe that you should expel all your energy making it feel loved, protected, and heard. So, to me, protecting what you love is a mindset and a lifestyle where you give as much as you take – honestly, we should all give a little more if we are able.
Protect What You Love: Chris Wittman
Flylords: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Captain Chris Wittman: Where do I start? I am a Southwest Florida native, growing up on Sanibel Island off the coast of Fort Meyers. Growing up on an island, my life has always revolved around water, whether I was on it, around it, or under it.
In 1999 I decided I wanted to share that passion I had for the water with others. This led to me becoming a fishing guide that year, guiding mostly the waters off of Fort Meyers. When I wasn’t guiding, I spent almost all of my time in the Everglades or the Keys fishing and scuba diving.
Then in 2016, Daniel Andrews and I co-founded Captains For Clean Water. In 2017 I quit my guiding job and started working on Captains For Clean Water full time.
Flylords: What made you hang up your guiding hat?
Chris: I had just come back from filming the first year of an outdoor show in 2015. I remember all my friends in the Keys were telling me about this massive seagrass die-off that was causing the fishery to collapse. This was something that hit home for me because I spent so much time down in the Keys when I wasn’t guiding out of Southwest Florida.
Then in 2016, we had massive discharges from Lake O to the East and West coasts which led to massive blue-green algae blooms, red tide, and killed off a lot of the seagrass and oyster bars around Sanibel. Not only was this water mismanagement impacting our fishery and the fishing business, but also hotels, restaurants, and other local businesses at the peak of tourist season. This was when we decided something had to be done. We didn’t know what role we had to play there, but we knew we needed to do something.
We realized that we had an opportunity to get others like ourselves involved in the effort to save our way of life, and it wasn’t long before we had to make the decision to walk away from our guiding careers to focus all our effort on saving our fishery. This wasn’t an easy decision, but it was a decision that could leave an impact that would outlive Daniel and Myself.
Flylords: You say in the video “The Everglades isn’t just a famed fishery, its waters have created passion, a career, a purpose”. What does that mean to you?
Chris: The Everglades shaped me into the person I am today and provided the foundation for a successful career. As I said earlier, the Everglades is one of the places I chose to spend most of my free time exploring when I wasn’t working. Because of this, I feel it is my responsibility to do everything I can to help save the Everglades.
I am not the only person that feels this way which is why Captains for Clean Water provides a platform for more people to join and fight. My job now is to give them something to plug into without having to give up their guiding job or business. Everyone has a sphere of influence and some guides have made this part of their daily routine similar to what they have been doing for their clients for years. Some guides have figured out how to make the biggest impact in the movement and have plugged this into their daily routine by educating everyone around them and setting the example of how to support conservation issues that are important to you. It is more than putting a sticker on your truck and paying a $35 membership fee.
Flylords: What do partnerships like the one with Columbia PFG enable Captains For Clean Water to do?
Chris: The key to CFCW’s impact in the effort to save the Everglades is bringing new people into the effort through education and providing an opportunity for them to use their voice. Partnerships with industry leaders like Columbia PFG add significant volume to our voice, and by utilizing their platforms as an extension of Captains For Clean Water we are able to reach millions of new people and bring them into the movement to save the glades!
Flylords: We have to hear the story about the fishing day and the tarpon you caught when we were out filming with you. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Chris: Any day spent fishing the Everglades comes with the possibility of an experience that will be remembered forever. The day we were out filming was absolutely one of those days. Feeding flies to 100+ pound tarpon in inches of water… it’s not something you will ever forget once you experience it. I used to spend over 200 days a year sight fishing Tarpon but now those days are few, and far between. The majority of my time is spent fighting to ensure those opportunities exist in the future.
Flylords: What Does Protect What You Love Mean to You?
Chris: It means we can’t sit back and watch the slow death of a national treasure like the Everglades, and hope that someone else will save it. No one is going to fight harder to protect places like the Everglades than the ones who love those places. It’s simple, I love the Everglades and will do everything I can to save it.
Thank you to Chris for spending a day out on the water with us and showing us why you are so passionate about protecting what you love. Stay tuned as this page will be updating with more incredible individuals standing up for the Everglades.
Get involved in the fight for the Everglades with Captains For Clean Water, CLICK HERE. To learn more about Columbia PFG, CLICK HERE.
This article is part of a paid partnership with Columbia Sportswear Company. This partnership does not change any of the views expressed by the Flylords team expressed in this article.