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CAPT. MARK DRAVO
Mark grew up in waterfront cities along Florida’s east coast and fished a lot with his father and grandfather as a boy.
He also played baseball for travel teams (he was an outfielder) during his school years and later for minor league baseball teams in the 1980s.
Mark loves boating on the waters of the Indian River near Fort Pierce, where he works as a full-time fishing charter captain specializing in jumbo snook, redfish, tarpon and his favorite catch-and-release quarry -- the exceptionally large seatrout, better known as “gator trout.”
Mark enjoys scouting his home waters for fish and the beauty of his outdoor “office,” where manatees, bottlenose dolphin, colorful roseate spoonbills and bait schools are part of the scene.
“If you’re not out here having fun, you’re doing something wrong,” he says. “We’re all boys. We just get older.”
But his dedication to the environment is serious.
When Mark finds plastic bags, drink cups and other discarded items in the Indian River or the ocean, he slows his 22-foot boat down and takes time to pick it up.
“When you’re on the water, you’ve got to respect it,” he says. “It’s just so pretty out here, you hate to see it ruined.”
When he’s not fishing, Mark can be found surfing, hunting wild turkeys or scuba diving for the big lobster he finds off Fort Pierce.
Captain Mark Dravo of Y-B Normal Charters fishes the waters around Fort Pierce on his 22-foot Blue Wave. Call Mark at (772) 519-4632 or check out his catch reports at www.y-bnormalcharters.com.
Mark is so addicted to snook and bass fishing that his boss understands that he might disappear for several hours when the bite is on.
“My boss knows when I tell him my truck broke down at the spillway and it won’t start until low tide… he knows what that means,” Hightower said.
A self-proclaimed “snookaholic,” Mark works as a structural designer specializing in oceanfront homes.
When fishing for snook, he targets big fish exclusively. Mark released nine snook over 25 pounds when conditions were right at spillways in the summer of 2013.
Mark is a regular at spillways from Fort Pierce to Fort Lauderdale and has been known to dazzle others when he walks up, casts perfectly and hooks a big Snook.
Mark’s fishing prowess reflects years of practice and an intimate knowledge of the spots where snook take shelter from the current when the water is flowing. He knows spillway rocks so well he gives them names like Lucille and Betty.
Mark has been fishing for 50 years -- and using Gulfstream Lures’ hand-tied jigs for 30 of those years.
He relies on Gulfstream’s Skimmer Flair Hawks (usually 1.5 or 2 ounces) when casting for jumbo snook at spillways.
Mark has caught more than 500 snook over 40 inches. He said 85 percent of those big snook have been caught on Flair Hawks.
“It’s all about being low and slow with that Flair,” said Hightower, who enjoys sharing his expertise with others to help them become better anglers.
In addition to snook and bass fishing, Mark enjoys playing six-man indoor volleyball. He’s won gold or silver medals in volleyball for the past nine years in the Florida Senior Games.
Mark says fishing gives him a great outlet from his design work at the engineering firm, where pretty much everything can be measured with mathematical precision.“There’s no way you can measure fishing,” Hightower said. “All you can do is reduce the variables.
Whether it’s winter sailfish tournaments or spring tournaments targeting kingfish, dolphin and wahoo, Mark and his fishing partner, Daryl Deka, are often the team to beat in the waters off South Florida.
Mark’s Hard Way team won the 2014 Quest for the Crest by finishing with the most points overall in four winter sailfish release tournaments – something like winning the Masters Tournament in golf, complete with special blazers for the winning team.
Mark and Daryl met tournament fishing, but not on the ocean -- and not as partners.
They fished as opponents in Lake Okeechobee bass tournaments, where they were often the men to beat.
Mark and Daryl took their competition bass fishing skills to the Atlantic Ocean after Deka bought a Contender offshore boat in 2005. They won their first KDW tournament with a kingfish caught by Deka’s wife in 2006 and have been hooked on fishing the big pond ever since.
They fish from each other’s Contender center consoles, often competing against much larger sport fishing yachts with paid captains and crews during winter sailfish tournaments.
What makes the Hard Way team so competitive?
“I’m very observant about everything, and I pay more attention to detail than almost anybody I know,” Mark said.
The owner of Storm Roofing in West Palm Beach, Mark credits his love of fishing to his grandfather, Tom Holley, and his stepfather, Roy Lawson, a lifelong snook fisherman.
Mark and his teammates enjoy dangling live baits from fishing kites, so having fresh bait is key to their success on the ocean.
Mark has been known to miss a few hours of sleep when it’s time to catch goggle-eyes or fresh threadfin herring for an upcoming tournament.
His 31-foot Contender, Hard Way, will hold 390 gallons of water for live bait when he adds the on-deck bait tank.
While catching live baits such as Spanish sardines, cobia have been known to follow the strings of fresh baits to the surface.
When they see cobia, Mark and his teammates cast a Gulfstream Cobia Slayer to them and often add cobia to the catch list while filling live wells with bait. “We keep our Gulfstream jigs handy at all times,” Mark said.
Peter Hinck is such a natural at fishing from kayaks and paddleboards that it’s hard to imagine him fishing from a boat with an engine.
But he does own a 19-foot power skiff that he uses to take friends and family fishing on the waters near his home in Sebastian.
When it comes to fishing from human-powered craft, Peter thinks nothing about targeting sharks from his paddleboard or launching his kayak from the beach at dawn (when the conditions are right) and paddling into the blue water of the Atlantic to fish for kingfish, dolphin, wahoo, snapper, tuna and other ocean species.
Peter grew up fishing on Biscayne Bay, often from homemade skiffs. He started fishing from kayaks after his job at Publix took him to Atlanta, where he escaped the city by fishing for brown trout, walleye and shoal bass on the Chattahoochee River.
Often known as Kayak Pete or Paddleboard Pete, he’s the paddle-fishing instructor at Florida Sportsman Expos throughout the state and serves as the paddleboard fishing consultant for Dragonfly Boat Works in Vero Beach. His “paddle craft” articles appear in Florida Sportsman magazine.
Peter’s instructional paddle-fishing videos can be found on his YouTube Channel, Palm Beach Pete, and on the Gulfstream Lures Facebook page.
In addition to teaching others about paddle fishing methods, Peter fishes competitively in tournaments organized by Extreme Kayak Fishing.
When fishing the waters around Sebastian, Peter has been throwing Gulf Stream Pro Skimmer Jigs rigged with soft-plastic paddle tails made by DOA and Berkley Gulp!
The jig-over-tail combination recently scored him an inshore snook-trout-redfish slam on the North Fork of the Sebastian River.