Stories From Afield • Updated Wed, May 31, 2023
If you’re lucky, you may know a handful of guides who are true, die-hard denizens of the outdoors. It seems whether they’re hunting or fishing, these folks consistently put themselves in the right place to find success in their pursuits — maybe scouring the flats in search of head-wakes or waiting on that first flight of teal to buzz the decoys at shooting light. One man who falls squarely within this category of outdoorsmen is third-generation light tackle fishing guide and obsessive waterfowler Tommy Koulouris, who runs his guiding operation out of Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Photo Credit: @bpurvis23 and @jake_latendresse
Part of Tommy's business also revolves around guiding for waterfowl, but the season is much shorter. While Tommy cherishes his time both on the boat and in the blind, he realizes that understanding his personal motivations for being outside is crucial to prioritizing his own free time during the duck hunting season — and giving his clients the most enriching experiences.
Over the years, Tommy's realized that, while skiff time and hunting time usually happen in different settings, the spaces they occupy in his own mind aren’t all that disparate. “Sure, there’s distinction as it relates to species or pursuit when it comes to hunting versus fishing, but in the end, it’s all hunting. I’m always hunting for a specific scenario where the fish or game is going to congregate, feed, and let their guard down. I guess at the end of the day, I would say I’m more of a hunter at heart because of the way I fish.”
It’s true — sight fishing and hunting both attract folks who love the intensity of visual pursuits, and the challenge of constant situational awareness. Tommy uses this to his advantage — to help him do his job and put his clients in the best position for success. “On the water, I’m always hunting for a pattern — a pocket of water on a certain wind direction, a situation where I feel a fish is most likely to eat a fly. That’s the whole game for me with fishing: finding them in a scenario where the feeding mechanism is engaged. Once that switch is flipped in a fish’s mind, it all comes down to presenting the fly.”
Throughout his time ‘hunting’ for both fish and fowl, duck hunting has played a critical role in cementing Tommy’s own personal relationships in life. “Duck hunting has a way of drawing extremely like-minded folks together,” he acknowledges. “A lot of lifetime memories and bonds are forged standing in a marsh.” Tommy was first introduced to waterfowling at a young age by his grandfather — a family tie that helped set the stage for a lifelong obsession. He recalls how his grandpa and his friends were trailblazers in their Florida hunting community. “When I was a kid, he would tell me stories and show me pictures of his wing-shooting adventures around the world — to Mexico, Argentina, Canada, the North Platte River Valley out West. I can’t recall an exact story that really piqued my interest. It was really more the collection of experiences and the passion that he had when he talked about duck hunting that really drew me into it.”
Tommy’s goal as a guide is to help people along their journey to discovering their own outdoor passions; this holds true for both his hunting and fishing clients. “Guiding puts you and your client into this very personal space that’s only found standing waist-deep in the marsh or baking on the deck of a skiff for ten hours. Watching my clients come full circle is extremely rewarding — going from barely being able to cast a fly ten feet to absolutely crushing it on a day with lots of shots at fish. That’s extremely rewarding. On the hunting side of things, I love watching someone’s reaction when you call and put a group of birds in their lap, they swing around, and the client shoots a trophy bird they’ve been pursuing. That’s rewarding too.”
Tommy thinks of his own role a bit differently depending on whether he is guiding for fish or waterfowl, but feels that the sweetest moments in both cases are usually the hardest-earned. “With ducks, you need to help your client stay hidden and take decent shots, and that’s about it. With fishing, the client needs to be organized and proficient in their casting, while also understanding how to present the fly at the right time. Ultimately, it’s always on them to seal the deal when the moment comes.” Each trip, Tommy does everything he can to help facilitate success for his clients depending on the situation. Generally though, he knows he is always hunting for that ‘point of no return’ — when the dice have been rolled, the fish or birds have fully committed to the trap that’s been laid, and the client takes the reins. “When I can line up a shot perfectly with the conditions, and the fish rushes the fly, or the birds start back-peddling over the decoys — that moment is why I do it. That’s when I feel I’ve done my job.”
Reflecting on one’s own introduction and draw to the sport can certainly help anyone make the most of their time outdoors. Personal motivation can be hard to fully distill, but the very beginning is usually a good place to start the search. “I remember my very first experience waterfowl hunting,” recounts Tommy. “I jump-shot a couple of mallards on a creek in Western Nebraska at about age ten with my cousins. The sounds and colors of those drakes are burned into my mind forever.” Even after countless hours calling and working ducks over spreads, that moment is there to stay for Tommy, and perhaps holds the ‘why’ factor behind his life outside. When asked to choose one dream trip — hunting or fishing — his vision was pretty precise: “Oh man! That is a tough question to narrow down. But I’d have to say hunting mallards over small water, looking at a snow-capped mountain range with my cousins and best friends.” Specific? Sure, but maybe not all that surprising.
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