ABOUT Luke Simonds
I was born on February 3, 1981, in Winter Haven, FL. I was blessed with the most amazing parents anyone could hope to have who were great about exposing me and my two brothers to a variety of experiences. Camping and fishing trips soon became my favorites and I developed a deep passion for the outdoors at a very early age.
Me and my brothers (Joe on the left, Daniel in the middle, and me on the right)
Before going into details on my path towards fishing, here’s a summary of my upbringing:
- Loved playing soccer and tennis (during breaks between fishing)
- Joined a traveling soccer team (Winter Haven Kicks) when I was 12-14 and traveled around the state for games against other teams in the league
- When 14, our soccer team traveled to Florence, Italy, for a tournament and we toured the country for a week afterwards
- I grew up playing soccer, tennis, and baseball. Once in high school (Winter Haven Blue Devils shout-out), I played varsity soccer and tennis
- Was about to join older brother, Joe, at Georgia Tech, but then I visited the University of Florida campus and immediately knew that’s where I wanted to be
- Graduated from University of Florida with a Finance degree after 4 awesome years in Gainesville
- Moved to Melbourne, FL, to work for Harris Corporation as a Financial Analyst
- Participated in an Executive Training program at Harris where I lived and worked in the following areas for 6 month stints: Raleigh, NC; London, England; and Rochester, NY.
- After 8 great years at Harris, I ended up leaving in order to go work with my older brother Joe as a recruiter for a company he recently started in the insurance industry.
- We then ended up starting a company together in which we taught financial advisors how to market their businesses online. Here, we realized our passion for teaching and making online training courses.
- After building a successful online marketing business, we decided to bring our two core passions (teaching and fishing) together and started a company we could see ourselves completely enjoying for the rest of our lives… the birth of Salt Strong.
Now for My Addiction to Fishing
Growing up, we lived just a short bike ride away from a bridge that spanned two private lakes which were full bass and bream, and I’d beg my parents to take me down there at any chance I thought they might budge.
It all started with me running along the bank I did my best to catch every single minnow that I could find. Next, I graduated to a snoopy rod with worms dug up from the back yard for bream, and then I got my first cast net and I would throw it until I could no longer hold it.
Every summer, we’d spend a lot of time at Daytona Beach where my grandparents had a condo in addition to weekend day trips to the Gulf coast, and this is when I started to fall in love with the salt water.
Joe and I showing off our catch at Indian Rocks Beach!
At the age of 11, we moved into a house which was on one of the lakes that the bridge I fished as a younger child connected, and I fished more days than not. We soon got a canoe and I begged my dad, mom, and/or Joe every evening to go out there with me… we caught a ton of bass in that canoe and had some amazing days out on the water that I will cherish forever in the ol’green canoe.
Me with a couple bass from the lake.
A few times a year, our family would go over to west coast of FL to a barrier island called Little Gasparilla, which is a small secluded island (only accessible via boat) in between Sarasota and Ft. Myers. We’d stay at a house that a close friend of my dad’s built on one of the canals at the south side of the island, and I’d spend the entire day outside trying to catch fish. If we weren’t out in the boat, I’d be on the dock catching pinfish and mullet with my cast net along the canal.
At 15, my dad brought home a 21ft Release flats boat and I could not been happier. Now, we were able to go on lots of weekend trips around the state to explore the inshore waters all along the Gulf coast from 10,000 Islands at the top of the Everglades up to Tampa Bay.
We started figuring out how to catch snook, redfish, and trout on the flats and back in the mangroves, and my obsession with inshore saltwater fishing began.
Dad and I with a red and some snook at Little Gasparilla Island
Around this time, I got a 12 ft castnet which seemed to weigh about as much as I did (if you think I’m skinny now, just think about me being the same height and 40 pounds lighter). Regardless, I learned to cast it well (heaved pancakes with it) and we were able to catch bait so much quicker.
During the high school and college years, our family went on many weekend trips to Marco Island, Boca Grande, and Tampa Bay and started being able to consistently catch our targeted snook, redfish, and trout… mostly with live bait, which I was always happy net.
While a sophomore in college, my older brother Joe and I hosted a trip to Little Gasparilla Island inviting a couple buddies on a weeklong fishing trip out on the island. We had an absolute blast, so decided to make it an annual trip and I’m pleased to report that it has now lasted 14 years and counting. So far, the largest attendance was over 50, and that was when we were on the island with no car access… so my ferry skills in the middle of the night in that area are now top notch.
After college, I moved over to Melbourne, FL, which is on the Atlantic coast just south of Cocoa. I quickly bought a kayak and a 16 ft Carolina Skiff so I could start exploring local flats. This was the first time I lived closer than an hour drive to saltwater fishing grounds, so I had an absolute blast exploring the new territory that was now so easy to access.
The day before my move away from Florida for a work opportunity (where I lived in North Carolina, London, and New York for 6 month stints), I sold my beloved Carolina Skiff… it was a bitter-sweet moment.
Trout catch in my first boat… Carolina Skiff J-16.
Once I moved back to Melbourne a couple years later, I got an amazing deal on my dream boat… 17ft Maverick HPX-V… so now I had to really start catching good fish to live up to the boat that I found myself owning.
At this point, I finally decided to stop being stubborn, and I switched from my beloved monofilament line to braid because I heard it would allow me to cast further. Also, I put a ton of focus on perfecting the use of soft plastic jerkbaits because I knew they could help me become less reliant on live bait… I bought all sizes, shapes, colors, and hook types to figure out what works best.
It was also then that I began getting more diligent in exploring new areas and strategically planning trips based on tides and weather. After a while, I realized that there were many trends that were consistent for catching redfish, snook, and trout on both coasts of FL.
Pretty soon, I went from hoping to catch at least one snook, redfish, or trout on each trip to being upset if I couldn’t catch at least one of all three on each trip… aka – an inshore slam.
Also, the average size of the fish steadily grew as I got better at assessing a grass flat, mangrove line, or cluster of docks for good fish (finally stopped wasting time in areas that don’t hold feeding fish).
Redfish from Turtle Bay (near Boca Grande)
Armed with this new boat and upward trending fish catching ability, my fishing buddy, Nic, and I decided to team up and join a local inshore fishing tournament series consisting of 8 tournaments that spanned from February until September. Each tournament offered monetary prizes to the following categories for each tournament in addition to the combined total at the end of the series:
- Trout: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd heaviest fish
- Redfish: 1st, 2nd, and 3rd heaviest fish
- Trout + Redfish Slam: Largest combined weight of a team’s trout and redfish
There were typically 40-50 boats in each tournament… so we had about five months to get ready to compete with the best anglers in the area to catch the biggest redfish and trout.
The first tournament was artificial only, and this really scared me because I had previously relied on live bait to get my upper slot redfish and good trout. Although I was most often able to catch trout, but I mostly just caught the 15 to 20 inchers… and I was hearing that anything under 25 inches typically didn’t even stand a chance to place in the tournaments… YIKES!
The last thing I wanted to do was pay money to enter the tournament series only to get humiliated at the dock with a nice boat and no good fish to bring to the scales.
I’m extremely competitive, so I decided that I simply wasn’t gong to let that humiliation happen to me… I got out on the water via foot, kayak, paddleboard, or boat at every chance I possibly could (even before/after work) to find bigger trout.
It was now January, so I’d recruit friends to camp out on the spoil islands with me in the Indian River over the weekends to test new lures and watch how the trout and redfish reacted to changes in tides/weather. At one point, I camped out there by myself (I’ll have to admit that it was a bit creepy so wouldn’t recommend it).
Due to all time on the water and energy spent analyzing trends between trout and redfish behavior across weather/tide fluctuations leading up to that first tournament, the 25 inch trout catches were now becoming fairly consistent and good redfish were often hanging out in those same areas too.
Nice redfish from Banana River (just north of Melbourne) – Sight fishing with a soft-plastic jerk bait.
The First Big Tournament
Our 5:00 am kick off was here and the thrill of driving out into the dark of night on the Indian River for that first tournament was exhilarating. We had our 5 spots strategically picked including the exact order and maximum time allowed for each spot… we certainly had the “without a plan, you plan to fail mentality”!
Right as the sun came up, I caught a 23 inch redfish and was so incredibly relieved that we’d at least not go to the scales empty handed. About an hour later, I caught a 26 inch trout and was completely ecstatic…
No humiliation today!!!
“Now we just need to upgrade the redfish and we may actually have a shot at this.”
After trying all 5 spots, we caught a lot of smaller trout and reds, but nothing better than what we already had. There was about an hour left until weigh-in, and we decided to go back to spot #1 for a long-shot redfish at 1:15 in the afternoon. I heard Nic set the hook and looked down to see an absolute monster trout dart by right next to the boat along with some good sized redfish… and Nic had one of them. All the sudden, I see this monster trout shake his head at the surface and I just tried to stay out of his way and get the net ready. After an awesome fight, we now had a 29 incher in the livewell.
The only problem with that final catch is that trout got gut-hooked, and there is a ½ lb deduction if your fish can’t swim away after getting weighed. We had the livewell pumping new water in there and kept it as cool as possible to help it survive.
So we get to the weigh-in and heard that a 7.12 lb trout was the biggest fish to make it to the scale… so we’re now really pumped because we knew ours could possibly beat it. We waited until the last second possible to weigh it so it could get more energy, and it topped the scale at 7.61 lbs… the biggest fish of the 40+ boat tournament!!!
However, it was too weak to swim off so that .5 lb deduction put us out of the top spot by just 0.01 lbs… a complete heart-breaker about the loss of 1st place and the loss of that big trout (we gave it to a family at the weigh-in so it at least supported them for a nice dinner or two).
Heartbreaking loss of 1st place in first tournament… 0.01 lbs away!
Regardless of the loss, the fact that two weekend warriors who didn’t even grow up there successfully competed with the top addicts in the area was an enormous victory for us.
Rest of the Tournament Series (Year 1)
From the fun we had in the first tournament (along with the fact that neither of us wanted to get up even earlier to catch live bait before the tournaments) we decided to stick with artificial only to test our skills against the others who mostly used live mullet, pinfish, and/or croakers for bait.
Throughout the remaining tournaments, we stuck with the same strategy using artificial lures 100% of the time, and we still consistently brought in respectable redfish and nice trout in 24-27 inch range that were either on the leader board or at least close to it.
2nd place trout released from weigh-in… caught on soft plastic bullfrog:)
At the end, we finished in 3rd place overall for the trout division and 4th in the overall redfish + trout weight across all boats for the entire series… what a great feeling that was to finally have a recipe for consistent success that didn’t require having to waste time catching live bait and scrubbing all the mud off the boat after throwing the castnet!
Awards ceremony after Florida Flatsfishing Association series (2011) – 100% Artificial Lures Used
Note: Had that first trout been able to swim off allowing us to not get the .5 lb deduction, we would’ve placed 3rd overall and won some really awesome paintings in addition to more money.
The Next Tournament Series (Year 2)
After getting so close to the top with using only artificial lures, we thought that adding some live bait to the mix would help us bring in bigger fish to move up the leader board.
Best of all, snook were coming back from a hard freeze so they were going to be included in the tournaments that were held when snook season was open, so we were really pumped to now have three species to target.
What was most shocking in year 2 is that the amount of fish that we caught when we focused on live bait fishing (mullet, pogies, croakers, pinfish, etc.) significantly decreased compared to the first year. And although the average size of each fish was higher when using live bait, we still ended up in the same position compared to the others.
We ended up in third place for the most weight of trout overall once again…
End of Season Awards Ceremony – 3rd Place Overall Trout
And second place for snook… all of which were caught on artificial lures.
End of Season Awards Ceremony – 2nd Place Overall Snook
Best of all, we won the final invite-only tournament in which the winner of the highest total weight of their slam was the winner… what an awesome way to fishing off the final series before I moved across the state to Tampa!
Year 2 Conclusion… the experiment solidified my belief that live bait is not needed to have consistent fish catching results. Although live bait fishing is easier, it certainly brings limitations to those of us who don’t have many chances to get out on the water in a given month and need to be able to find fish without wasting time catching and maintaining live bait.
Since Those First 2 Tournament Series
After all that time studying the water, analyzing trends, and testing new lures, my inshore fishing is now 100% artificial unless I’m taking someone out who is brand new to fishing.
Most importantly, my time fishing with my dad, other family, and close friends has been able to significantly increase given the fact that fishing trips no longer have to be a full day… no more getting up extra early to catch bait, and no more long hours scrubbing the boat to clean the mess made by the cast net throwing. Best of all, we’re catching more snook, redfish, and big trout than ever before.
The techniques and planning strategies learned from the obsessive dedication before/during the tournament series have improved considerably, and the best part is that they have been proven time and time again to work on both coasts… and I’ll be happy to share all the secrets I’ve learned with you from this website.
My dream for SaltStrong.com is for it to be an educational, yet fun, platform that helps families and friends get more enjoyment from their time out on the water by being able to catch more fish in less time.
Salt Strong is designed to allow fishing enthusiasts eager to improve your results to learn the best techniques and strategies for catching your target species from the convenience of home during nights/weekends. This way, when time clears up to get out on the water, you’re armed with the best strategy for maximum success… and you’ll 100% own that success.
If you’re not yet a Salt Strong member, be sure to join because we’ll be thrilled to show you the tips and tricks that we’ve found help us catch more fish in less time.
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