Connected to the fish

Hilton Head Island resident Raz Reid has made a second career out of fly fishing

No matter how often the question arises, Raz Reid has a tough time answering.
Why fly fishing?
Reid always enjoyed fishing, but it wasn't until he first held a fly rod on a trout safari in Australia in the late 1970s that it became a passion. Even after years of landing world-record catches on fly, Reid had difficulty describing what drew him to that particular niche.

That changed on one trip to Alaska, where a woman approached and asked Reid to help her husband with his fly casting. The husband, it turned out, was Cleveland Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund, an avid fly fisherman despite being blind.
"He was good at it, really good," Reid recalls. "I asked him why he fly fishes, why not some other type of fishing?"
The answer proved to be the one Reid could never find.
"Nothing has the feel of fly fishing, from the cast, to the working the fly, to fighting the fish," Reid said. "You can really feel what's going on. You're a little more connected to the fish."
Reid would know as well as anyone. The Greenville native and Hilton Head Island resident has made a second career out of fly fishing. A two-time All-America tennis player at the University of Miami who had a five-year run on the pro tour in the 1970s, Reid works as a sales representative for Sage, peddling the tools of the trade.
And as good as he was on the court — he climbed as high as No. 74 in the world rankings — he has proven to be even better with a rod in his hand than a racquet. Reid has held 20 different world records at one time or another, seven of which are still standing.
Reid estimates he has held somewhere around 20 different world records at one time or another, eight of which are still standing.
The sport has taken him around the world — from hunting peacock bass and golden dorado in South America to hooking sailfish in Panama, from trout safaris in northern Australia to landing a world-record Dolly Varden above the Arctic Circle in Alaska — but he remains mesmerized by the fishery right here at home.
"We have the greatest place in the world right here at Hilton Head to get into it," he says. "We've got the saltwater going on, but we've also got the golf course ponds with great bass fishing. … You haven't lived until you throw a popper on the ponds and have a bass come up and hit it on the surface."
Reid actually played a role in popularizing fly fishing in the area. He and noted Hilton Head fishing captain Fuzzy Davis got a call one winter from Jimmy Reese — another local captain who was working at Hudson's Seafood House at the time — letting them know schools of redfish were sitting in the shallow water in the Intracoastal Waterway.
"That's how the fly fishing for those guys really got started," Reid recalls. "It just has grown from there. Now it's a tremendous fishery we have all year round for the redfish here."
Fly fishermen in the Lowcountry can also land cobia in the spring and jack crevalle in the summer, and with all the inland lagoons and backwater rivers and marshes, there's no shortage of water to explore with fly rod in hand.
Although he doesn't do any guide work, folks often ask Reid to teach them the art of fly fishing, and he is always happy to oblige. It isn't as difficult as it looks, he insists, especially for someone who has experience as an angler.
"The technology now in rods and reels and fly rods has been so tremendous that it has made it a lot easier," Reid says. "Everything is a little more specific. If somebody gets the right equipment and just the slightest bit of practice, they'll have no problem."
Reid's next expedition will be to Venice, La., to hunt for yellowfin tuna and redfish in the Mississippi River Delta, but nothing beats fishing in his own backyard.
"It's real exciting for me to see the growth of fly fishing along the coast and here in Hilton Head," Reid says. "There's a bunch of guides now with flats boats doing some really great stuff, finding new areas to fish. You could fish the rest of your life around here and never fish the whole thing out."
And Reid might do just that.