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Dabbling in waterfowl: Capt. Honson Lau

Our ongoing conversation with fishing guides who’ve found a love for waterfowl has revealed that camaraderie is one of the central draws to the sport, even if some find their hunting cohorts earlier in life than others. For Miami-based inshore fishing guide and self-described duck nut Honson Lau, the allure of both hunting and fishing has long been the culture of storytelling and community, as well as the personal growth he experienced as he honed his skills in both sports.

c/o Honson Lau

c/o Honson Lau

“It was like being exposed to this whole new culture,” says Honson, reflecting on his childhood in the heart of Miami, pre-social media — when the rod and gun store was the main arena for swapping stories and learning about what people were seeing on the water and in the marsh. “After school, I always hung out at the local tackle shop to hear all the old-timers talk about their experiences fishing and hunting. It brought so much life to the sport and is a big part of why I’ve always felt so naturally drawn to fishing and hunting.”

Although these hobbies might not seem like obvious choices for a big-city kid like Honson — who did not grow up in an outdoorsy family — he attributes his love for exploring different cultures to his urban upbringing. He developed a passion for food during his youth in the Miami melting pot, where he was exposed to all sorts of different cuisines. During his college years, Honson’s favorite TV show was Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” with its culturally immersive approach to discovering new places and people through food. Honson believes Bourdain was one of his biggest influences as a young kid — right alongside fishing personalities like Flip Pallot, Tim Mahaffey, Andy Mill, and the late, great Jose Wejebe. Like with both food and fishing, cultural immersion was a large part of the draw to waterfowling for Honson. “If you’re going to spend time in the Everglades, why not do it duck hunting?,” he asks. “It’s part of really understanding the place in a different way — chest-deep and surrounded by gators.” It didn’t take long for Honson to develop a love for the waterfowl of South Florida, with blue-winged teal sitting atop the list as his favorite quarry. “They fly fast, they taste good, they’re easy to clean, and readily available,” he says. “Now, I’ll admit I fish on a much more technical level than hunt, but there’s just something about it. And there’s nothing like seeing a flight of teal work your decoys.”

Honson alway felt an attraction to the sport of waterfowling, although his deep-dive started less than a decade ago when he was invited on his very first duck hunt by two close friends. “I got the bug after that first hunt and the rest is history,” he explains, reminiscing about nights spent scouring the internet for shotgun maintenance tips. He remembers wrapping his shiny black shotgun in camo — all before even really knowing what he was in for. “I had never even worn waders before my first hunt,” he admits. But rather than intimidate, this newness and ‘trial by fire’ approach were what ultimately made his successes in the marsh so rewarding. Honson believes that “we as humans are creatures who love to learn, and there’s no greater reward than becoming well-versed in a topic.” From Honson’s perspective, education plays a crucial role in personal development — in hunting, fishing, and beyond. While everyone starts out as a novice, Honson sees a natural and necessary progression from student to teacher, guided to guide. This has motivated him in his own outdoor career to maximize his understanding of the target species and natural resources he relies on. “Some things are up to natural cycles and weather patterns,” he explains. “For instance, this year was a banner duck-hunting year in our area because of the cold fronts we had. Over the years, we’ve seen similar fluctuations with the redfish populations in Florida Bay. Habitat loss and water quality are also big influencing factors that we need to stay in tune with as well.” Pressure from other anglers is another big force, Honson admits. “Fishing near an urban area like Miami means a lot of our fish are more pressured than they would be elsewhere. I’m often showing clients how to adjust their retrieve or their cast to fish to more pressured fish. So this stuff is important to understand both in the short-term, so you can succeed each day, and in the long-term, in order to properly manage these resources.”

Like all great guides, Honson is a student-turned-teacher and he loves watching a client grow in the sport. “It’s the most rewarding part,” he says. “Once you feel you have a great handle on your skillset as a fisherman or hunter, you aim to pass along what you have learned to the next generation that deserves it. I enjoy the watching my anglers develop their cast, presentation, and overall approach to technical fishing.  Some of the best moments start with guiding your angler to their first shot at a tailing permit or bonefish, watching their reaction, and then talking them through the presentation.  Or the look on your angler’s face when they stick their first adult tarpon and feel a hundred pounds of silver glory go airborne.”

Thinking back to his childhood, Honson remembers being given a choice on his 12th birthday. “My dad said I could choose between a Remington 20-gauge 1100 youth shotgun, or this shiny, new Old Florida No. 55 large-arbor fly reel with a 9-weight GL3 Classic fly rod.  It was such a tough choice, but I went with the fly rod. Sure, I spend a lot more time fishing, probably because of where I grew up, but I love both fishing and hunting.  I would consider myself more of a hunter only because my style of technical fishing is more similar to hunting than going out with a bobber and a cane pole.”  But ultimately, declaring an affinity for one activity over the other may not really matter. “It’s actually hard for me to make a distinction between hunting and fishing when you boil it down.  I feel like growing up, lots of people just did both and you were just considered an outdoorsman.”

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