He is an attorney, fishing captain, board member of Save the Tarpon and avid sportsman whose team, the Elusive Tiger Shad, won this year’s Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament.
He practices civil litigation and sees similarities between his time in court and his time on the water. The similarity comes from a sense of competitiveness, of facing off against an opponent. That’s what pushed him into civil litigation.
He said he wouldn’t have gotten as much time in court in a more paperwork-driven field such as environmental law. Litigation is more – well, that’s harder to pin down. He was tempted to call it adversarial, but the word was too aggressive. Gladiatorial?
“Sure,” he laughed.
It also draws him to the water and after tarpon again and again. Chris grew up fishing, at first on his father’s boat and then by himself.
“I was about 14 when I first got started and I could go out by myself with a fly rod and jump a couple tarpon in the afternoon,” he said. “To me, that was the greatest thing in the world.”
Chris graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in political science before returning to the area and guiding and, though he built a clientele quickly and loved doing it, he said, he didn’t want to let any options go unexplored. He entered law school in 2009 at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, graduating in May 2012.
He became a captain in 2006 and ran charters while he was in law school to help fund his education.
“The semester usually ends at the end of April, so I would pick up tarpon fishing,” he said. “There were times when I was running home during exam periods, running tarpon charters, and then going back and taking law school exams.”
Though he wasn’t a guide, Chris’s father, William Cort, was an enthusiastic fisherman who took Chris fishing on the family boat. Chris’s father also inspired him to pursue a career in law. W. Cort has been an attorney for 35 years, Chris said. Chris has joined his father at Frohlich, Gordon, and Beason in Murdock.
He still guides, using vacation time to get out on the water.
“I’ve guided quite a few charters this year already,” he said. “Actually, this past week I took off Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. I chartered Friday, the fishing tournament Saturday, chartered Sunday and Monday, and went back to work to a trial the next day.”
At 28, he says he is “still learning the ropes and trying to figure it all out.” He is drawn to what he calls a one-in-a-million community, though, referring to the island.
“It’s got a lot of history and tradition, and it’s quaint and it’s quiet,” he said.
Chris said he feels passionately that the history and the tradition of the tarpon fishery needs to be protected, and he has vehemently been doing so.
Chris, Save the Tarpon, and several others have been named as defendants in a suit brought by Silver King Entertainment for civil conspiracy, defamation, and tortious interference with business relationships.
When asked if it was related to the current controversy over tarpon fishing methods and whether he’d taken sides, he didn’t hesitate a moment.
“I’ve absolutely taken a side,” he said. “That’s why I’m involved in the lawsuit. I’m one of the founding members and a board member of Save the Tarpon.”
Chris said he has seen much change since he caught his first tarpon in Boca Grande Pass at the age of 7 with Thomas Lowe (his mother, Tammy, also caught her first tarpon with Lowe). That experience began a love of and fascination with tarpon fishing that is as strong today as ever.
“My parents lived up at the mouth of the Peace River and when I was about 12 I started running a flats boat from the mouth to Boca Grande,” he said. “I always looked up to the live bait guys like Coleman,Futch, Mills and Joiner. I didn’t know a lot of those guys personally but I guess they were my heroes as a young kid.”
He described the process of fishing with live bait – several boats starting ahead of the tide and presenting bait over the course of a drift through the Pass, and then repeating the process – as elegant and organized.
“It’s a very special thing to see,” he said.
Let it suffice to say he doesn’t agree with the methods of jig fishing, but not because it’s a different style.
“I have my own style, too, that’s different from others,” he said.
But the crucial difference, according to Chris, is that other styles can coexist with each other, and the jig style succeeds at the cost of both recreational and professional anglers.
He described the Pass before jig fishing as a place with an informal system of tacit rules based on mutual respect, but said that seems to have changed, which is what inspired him to write the article that has landed him in hot water. Published on the Save the Tarpon website, it discussed some of those changes.
He believes in the importance of preserving the fishery and of the tarpon itself, and echoed the sentiments of many researchers who say that, despite how old the tarpon is, little is known about it and any work on preservation of the species or the fishery requires a more informed position.
That’s why he is one of the guides who supports and works with the researchers at Mote to get tags into tarpon when they’re caught. It’s also why he thought it was important to get involved with the community and fish in live-bait tournaments.
It was in that spirit that he entered the Ladies Day Tarpon Tournament with his team and, though he entered primarily to support the Chamber of Commerce and be involved with the local guides he looked up to, they took first place.
“I had no expectations of winning the tournament,” he said. “These are the world’s best fishing guides we’re fishing against. It was more of an honor to fish next to them.”
How did they pull it off? East of the phosphate docks in a shallow area informally referred to as “the hill,” a “hill tide” occurs when, on a big outgoing tide or on a new or full moon, tarpon push up on the hill and surface as the Pass crabs flush out. It wasn’t widely discussed but for those who knew where and when to find it, it was a striking visual phenomenon that made a strong impression on him, Chris said.
He had been fishing a few days prior to the tournament and realized the bites in the Pass were pretty slow. He also noticed tarpon near the hill and thought that his style might furnish him with an advantage.
“Circumstances that day just kind of worked in our favor,” he said. “The fish were up on the hill. That gave us an opportunity to fish with live crabs up there and we ended up hooking a fish early on. We had the VHF but we didn’t know who else hooked anything.”
Since none of the boats caught more than one, the contest was decided by first release. Chris said they didn’t find out they’d won until they returned that evening for the awards meeting.
“We got back to the dock and didn’t know and thought maybe we’d place on the scoreboard,” he said. “We were totally caught off guard by it.”
Chris and his team, Olivia Britto, Alisha Aratari, Joellen Morris and Mia Ball, and Chuck Jenks, will have their names on a plaque at the Chamber of Commerce alongside legendary names he grew up idolizing. “I knew the bite had been slow for a few days, and rumor had it that nothing is more effective than the elusive Tiger Shad, so I knew if we named our team that, we’d have a better chance of winning,” he said.
Chris enjoys traveling, but mainly to do more fishing. His brother, Will, is a fly fishing guide in Victor, Idaho near the Snake River where, he said, fly fishing for trout is probably his second-favorite thing to do.
He also enjoys free diving and spearfishing for grouper; lobstering in the Keys (a tickle stick is crucial) with his sister, Kaiti; fly fishing in the Bahamas for bonefish; fishing in Alaska for salmon and halibut; and he’s fished for marlin in Panama. Chris has taken trips that have no relation to fishing but didn’t have much to say about them. He went to Europe when he was in high school.
“It was nice,” he said. But being and outdoorsman who is so close to the water, he didn’t find it as memorable as some.
Nothing compares to tarpon fishing, he said. The elegant, orchestrated movements of the boats in the Pass, the visual spectacle of the massive silver bodies jumping, the community of guides and anglers and the challenge of the fight against the fish is what brings him back again and again, and will continue to do so.
“I couldn’t live anywhere else in the world,” he said, “and that has everything to do with the tarpon.”
E-mail (required, but will not display)
Notify me of follow-up comments
Click for a larger view