Slow Fishing: Bill Schaadt and Air-Cooled Outboard History

Johnson Single-Cylinder Outboard

Johnson two-cylinder Model A-25 Outboard, originally designed as a helper motor for bicycles.

The first and only time I ever met legendary West-coast steelhead fisherman Bill Schaadt was on the west side of Loggerhead Basin in the Lower Florida Keys.  My client and I were poling very slowly, looking for laid-up tarpon, and at around 10AM we heard the sounds of a small motor approaching from Cudjoe Bay.

Eventually a tall man in a little metal skiff arrived outside the bar we were fishing.  He shut down his motor–an antique two-cylinder Johnson, from what I could tell–and stood up.  Only then did I realize he wasn’t wearing any clothes.  He broke out his fly rod and began peering over the edge of the cut.  Somehow it was obvious that he knew what he was doing.

The combination of images was too much to bear.  I poled over to talking range.  “Howdy,” I said. “Howdy,” he said back.

“That’s quite a set-up you have there. Where are you from?”

“California.”

“Where did you get that boat and motor?”

“I drove here with it on the top of my car.”

“That’s a good spot you’re in right there.”

“I hope so.”

“What’s your name?”

“Bill Schaadt.”

“Pleasure to meet you, Bill.  I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Pleasure to meet you too.”

That was it.   We had fishing to do and he did too.

Two years later Bill died of lung cancer.  I hadn’t known he was sick when I saw him there in Loggerhead Basin.  Obviously he had fishing on his mind until the very end.

A couple of things stick with me from that day.  One, Bill was fishing in just the right place –it was the best fishing in the lower Keys all week.  And he got there with a tiny motor that was decades old.

It still reminds me that the best fishing is often fishing that involves what is now properly labeled “slow,” as in slow food and slow gardening.  When I finally realized that my own fish-finding senses were better tuned if I was not in a hurry, I began catching a lot more fish.

Bill Schaadt drove across the entire country to fish a single spot at the bottom of the Florida Keys.  There’s no doubt in my mind that he knew what he was doing, and why.