Passing the Torch

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BJ Chard Photo by Louis Cahill

BJ Chard Photo by Louis Cahill

By Louis Cahill

There is nothing more rewarding, for an angler, than teaching their kids to fish.

Well, perhaps watching your son become an accomplished and personable young man and, if you happen to be one of the top flats guides on the planet, seeing that young man follow in your footsteps and take his place on the platform. Yeah, I imagine that’s pretty cool too.

When I first met B.J. Chard he was about half the size of the fish I had just photographed with his dad, Bruce. Just tall enough to lean on, B.J. was groovy little hockey kid with long hair and a stocking cap.  He looked me right in the eye, shook my hand and said, “It’s nice to meet you.” I was immediately struck by what a well behaved and engaging kid he was.

Bruce and I were headed to South Andros on a charter flight out of Fort Lauderdale, when a freak winter storm hit south Florida. It snowed in Homestead that night and our flight was grounded. We took B.J. to see Avatar in the theater. The temperature dropped to 21 degrees that night and there were fish-kills all across south Florida and the Keys. I remember seeing photos of skiffs full of dead bonefish scooped from the surface of some of my favorite flats. It was January of 2010, and the fishery has only now recovered from that night.

DSCF8934Those images seem light years away as I cast to schools of hungry bones from the bow of a Dolphin Superskiff. Everything seems back to normal, except now there is a much younger Bruce Chard on the poling platform. So much about B.J. is different from his father, and yet so much is familiar.

Bruce senior is one of my closest friends and I owe my career in fly fishing, not to mention most of what I know about the sport, to him. He is the hardest working guide I know and a preternatural angler. I have always said that Bruce is like the Rainman. If it has to do with fishing, he knows everything there is to know about it and if it doesn’t, he doesn’t care. I’ve always been a little envious of the angling education B.J. grew up with. It might seem like it was a forgone conclusion that the younger Bruce would eventually guide and it would have been, if not for hockey.

Bruce told me that he and his wife Sara took B.J. to a hockey game while visiting family in Michigan when he was three and he had a stick in his hand every day since. Bruce built him a skate rink from UHMW plastic, under their house in the Keys and Sara drove him to Miami three days a week to play. He was a natural.

The kid from Big Pine Key was a raising star in the hockey world.

By the time he was a teenager he moved to Michigan to play on some of the top amateur teams in the country, including the Honey Baked team, and eventually on to Canada to play. There were scholarship offers and scouts from the NHL and Olympic teams. It seemed that B.J. was a made man in the hockey world but he woke up one morning at 18 and all of the fun was gone. He hung up his skates and went back to the Keys.

“He had a fifteen year career by the time he was eighteen,” Bruce told me. “It was an incredible opportunity, and he’ll always have that accomplishment.”

DSCF8916The focus and work ethic required to excel at that level, in any sport, is an uncommon quality in adults, let alone a young person. Guides are made on the water, from perspiration and grit. B.J. has a lifetime of experience ahead of him, but what he has learned from growing up on a skiff with his dad has served him well. My first day fishing with B.J. proved to be pretty magical, even if started off tough.

With Hurricane Harvey pounding the Texas coast, the weather in the Keys was anyones guess. The two days I fished on Bruce’s boat we were completely socked in. Things were clearing off when B.J. and I went out but the morning session was still challenging. Neither of us really thought it was going to happen, but then something changes. As the tide turned, so did the fishing, and within a couple of hours we’d brought three tarpon and three bonefish to the boat.

I can only imagine how Bruce must have felt when B.J. told him he was ready to guide. To share, not only a business but a life on the water, with your son must be a real gift. A lifetime of stories, of big fish and beautiful water to share. It’s not a bad deal for me either. I’m proud to call both of the captains Chard my friend and I’m pretty proud of that kid in the stocking cap. I’m looking forward to a lot more days on the water with him.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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2 thoughts on “Passing the Torch

  1. That was a nice peek into one of your prized (cherished?) relationships. And, given your own personal history, I’m sure it wasn’t the the easiest one to write or share.

    God. Bless. You.

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