Thursday, September 16, 2021

Interview: Cody Rubner
By James Hamilton

From living in Maine and touring the United States on the college bass fishing circuit, to poling a skiff across Florida flats on the hunt for tarpon, Cody Rubner has already lived an action-packed angling life in his 20-some years on the planet. Originally from Massachusetts, Rubner is always searching for unique fisheries and new experiences. Currently based in Florida, Rubner splits time between sharing the beautiful Florida coast with anglers, and prospecting for new fish to catch and new stories to tell.

Can you tell us a bit about your journey as an angler, from bass tournaments to guiding in Florida and working as an industry professional?

My love for fishing and the outdoors was founded at a young age. I grew up on Cape Cod, Mass., and would wait for my father to get home from work on weekdays so we could sprint to the bait shop before it closed, and get to the nearest beach to catch schoolie striped bass. Fast-forward 15 years and I began attending the University of Maine, to get my degree in marine biology. While there, I founded the UMaine Fishing Club and Bass team. We traveled the country for three years fishing the FLW Collegiate Tournament Series. Maine has some incredible fisheries that I believe deserve more recognition. Within a two-hour drive from the campus in Orono, Maine, you could fish for stripers in the surf, native brook trout in remote streams, giant northern pike in lake and river systems, landlocked salmon in crystal clear water, or indulge in some world-class smallmouth bass fishing.

           I left New England in 2017 and moved down to northeast Florida, to start working for the brand marketing team at Costa Sunglasses. I was extremely fortunate to work with and learn from some of the best anglers in the country on a day-to-day basis. It was incredible to experience a wide variety of backgrounds, lifestyles and fisheries in such a short window. I remember a one-month stretch in 2018 when I fished for cutthroat in Montana, migratory tarpon in the Florida Keys and spring-run striped bass in Massachusetts.

            I recently left the Costa team to work independently. I’ve completed all the requirements for my captains license and plan to start guiding out of my new Hells Bay Waterman. I’m an avid supporter of the water quality movement in Florida and I support Captains for Clean Water. I want to use my personal platform to promote stewardship of our natural resources. Nothing would make me happier, day-to-day, than having the opportunity to inspire the next generation of anglers who can join the movement to appreciate, respect, and protect our fisheries and their habitats. You do that by immersing people in a new environment, educating them on what’s happening around them, and putting a smile on their faces when they land a trophy fish.

When and how did you first catch the fly-fishing bug?

Towards the tail end of my college career. There were definitely a few missed hooksets, flies in trees, and vulgarities echoing in the woods as I transitioned away from the drop-back, full-body bass hookset and into more technical, finesse techniques. My progression was pretty standard. Caught the tying bug; realized my freshwater fly skills didn’t mean much of anything in the salt; refined my game over the years by being humbled by some well-educated fish. Nowadays I spend my days trying to slow-strip a black and purple streamer in front of as many tarpon as I can, and my nights thinking about that roosterfish I missed in the surf this past summer.

              I’ve always prided myself on being able to fish across all disciplines and environments. To be able to effectively operate a driftboat out West, a bass boat on tournament day, or on the flats down south is not something a lot of people can do. That’s because effective tactics in one of those scenarios are often contradictory to the most appropriate for the next. That being said, everything is a tad more satisfying if landed on some feathers.

All-time favorite species to catch?

My preferred target changes by the season. But, if I had to choose one fish to chase for the rest of my life it would definitely be tarpon. The gamesmanship of tarpon angling is addicting. The level of detail and nuance required is insane, relative to how big those fish get.

          My love for tarpon is all based in respect. We’re so focused on what photos we get of our fish, that we don’t take enough time to soak up its details, and appreciate that the fish in your hands may have been on this planet twice as long as you. I hope we all can become a bit more responsible for our role in taking care of them and releasing them properly.

First destination you want to travel to once the world returns to normal?

Vamos a Baja! I spent a week in La Ribera in Baja, Mexico, this past year chasing roosterfish from the beach with captain Brandon Cyr, captain Jared Cyr, and captain Nick Labadie. It was arguably the most fun week of my short time on this planet. The full-body cardio workout you get while sprinting down the beach, throwing backhand casts with an 11-weight, straight into the crashing surf, is absolutely exhilarating. The first follow I had that week, from a little two-to three-pounder at most, shot my heart rate on my Garmin watch up to 138bpm. The experience was action-packed and I have wild memories—running from a pit bull on the beach in an ATV, catching snapper and mahi from the Sea of Cortez, and even having a lit-up striped marlin slashing at a giant Game Changer fly, while fishing offshore one day.

            I ended up landing the first roosterfish of the trip, but it was on spin during an offshore morning guide trip. I chased one pair of roosters about a half-mile nonstop on our second to last day, and on about the twentieth cast, the larger of the duo came right up into the surf-line, wedging her 15-to 20-pound body in about a foot of water, where she lightly mouthed my mullet fly, almost like a carp eat. I was so surprised that my brain and body went into overload and I missed the set. That little 10-second experience has replayed in my head for over a year now and will be the reason I book those flights as soon as the world has settled down.

Is there an angler who you view as a role model, or someone whom you most look up to in the sport?

When you travel around the world and back with people, you become extremely close very quickly. Captain Mike Holliday, out of Stuart, Florida, has been a great mentor to me in recent years, whether that meant tapping into his decades of knowledge as a premium inshore fishing guide, or as a role model for someone who has navigated our industry for decades. I’ve always been in awe of the fishing guides who seem to have a spiritual connection to their fishery—knowing where things will be, when they’ll be there, and exactly how they’ll act—the type  of guide who seems like they can call their shot on any given cast, while being extremely humble in their approach and respect for their fishery. (Holliday) has always been this way during our times on the water. I aspire to have the same respect from our industry as he does, in the marketing boardroom, through a conservation movement, and on the water. The world needs more authentic people who have a heart of gold, don’t wager their ego against their performance on the water, and always do the right thing.

Is there anything you’d like to share with younger anglers who might be interested in following in your footsteps?

There are a lot of wrong ways to try to make it in the fishing industry. Those wrong ways can be alluring—followers, likes, and pro-staff titles. As an upcoming marketer who makes his living around these topics, it may sound contradictory to critique them. The truth is, social media is a tool. Industry relationships are incredibly valuable, and having a large following can be insanely powerful. But just like any tool, how it’s used determines its value. I want to inspire the next generation of anglers to make smart “cool.” Let’s glorify anglers who inspire others through positivity, who promote conservation, and who truly practice what they preach. My favorite quote will always be, “It’s a long road to wisdom and a short road to being ignored.”