“I watched the tarpon open its mouth and my fly disappeared. It’s something you never forget,” Randy Towe recalled tugging and reeling the 120-pound tarpon alongside Hal Chittum’s boat. He held up his catch with pride, his Dodgers t-shirt soaked with sweat; a new dream was discovered.
Growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Randy spent his youth playing baseball, fishing, and wrapping fishing rods. Out of the three, he thought his future lay with baseball, but an injury cut his semi-pro career short. He migrated to the Keys and turned his focus on his two other passions.
In previous Untold Stories, we learned about the little boy who mudfished with his grandfather and a cane pole. The boy who couldn’t afford a quality rod, so he learned to build his own. The teen whose neighbors and mentors took him offshore and backcountry fishing, and the young man who opened a tiny rod shack and became an independent fishing guide.
Through the years, Randy jumped at every opportunity to learn something new about fishing and to figure out how to do it better with a better rod. It was no different when Hal Chittum invited him to go fly fishing.
“I realized real quick that I wasn’t good at fly fishing, which made me more determined than ever. I had a lot of work to do, but I relish that kind of work,” Randy Towe says. When Randy reeled in his first tarpon, he knew he was just getting started. His mind started reeling with ideas for building the best tarpon rod possible. He built, fished, tweaked, rinsed and repeated until his tarpon rods exceeded any other.
His love for fly fishing only grew when Richard Stansczyk, owner of Bud & Mary’s, invited him to go sailfishing in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Randy caught a sailfish on a fly rod fairly quickly, and he was once again hooked on a new fly fishing style. So much so that he started the Fly Billfish Classic with his friend, John Wargo. The tournament took a group of around 20 guys to a new fishing destination every year from 1990-1999.
Randy also participated in many other tournaments, winning the Don Hawley Invitational Fly Tarpon Tournament six times, once with Fred Arbona and five times with Eizo Maruhashi. He was runner-up in the Gold Cup Tarpon Tournament and four times runner-up in The Golden Fly.
All of the guiding, winning, and even losing informed and fine-tuned Randy’s rod-making skills. He expanded his custom rod business and opened Islamorada Fishing Outfitters, a must-visit destination for any fishermen. In addition to admiring the store’s beautiful displays of premium handmade rods, anglers come to pick Randy’s brain and learn from his 50 years of diverse fishing experience.
Islamorada Fishing Outfitters is known for its premier backcountry, offshore, and fly fishing rods. Randy’s 11-weight Tarpon Fly Rod is particularly popular with its innovative design that makes it easier for the average angler to cast while not sacrificing its ability to fight the fish. It’s a great introductory rod as well as a preferred rod of experienced fly fishermen.
“Over time, I figured out how to combine castability and fighting power into one rod. It’s easy to cast, even for beginners, but has the strength to pull in the biggest fish,” Randy explains. “It’s a winning combo that took years to perfect.”
Unlike other custom rod builders, Islamorada Fishing Outfitters has in-store inventory, so customers can buy a premium handmade rod on the spot or have it further customized.
Shop online at IslamoradaFishingOutfitters.com or learn more from Randy Towe’s podcast Untold Stories.
– Jerrica Mah is a writer, Army wife, and freelance book editor who loves to travel vicariously through stories.