MW: Tell us a little bit about your connection to Florida’s Nature Coast and inland to your hometown of Chiefland, FL.
Gray: Both sides of my family settled outside of Chiefland, FL in the early 1800s and just never left. Why would we?! It's one of Florida's last pristine places, yet to be overtaken by developers. When I was growing up there really wasn't much of anything else to do for fun except fishing or hunting. It all came naturally.
MW: A common thread we’ve discussed with you in the past is how our parents’ were anglers and outdoorsman, but none of them were fly fisherman. How did you get into fly fishing, especially for tarpon?
Gray: When my family first came to Florida, I can only imagine they had to fish and hunt for survival. And while that changed for us over the years, we still seem to have a deep drive to do it as if our lives still depend on it. My immediate family definitely didn't fly fish; there was not "wasting time" fishing for fish you don't want to eat and there was definitely no catch and release! To this day, my dad still shakes his head and rolls his eyes when I release a redfish. In his words, "if the fish is big enough to eat the bait, then it's big enough to keep."
I enjoyed that mentality growing up. I learned a ton and we had plenty of fun. But, like most things, the more you do something, the more you learn to care and the more your outlook changes. Over time, I picked up fly fishing as a way to enjoy my fishery in a way that helped preserve it and find new challenges. Eventually, I was introduced to tarpon fishing by one of the original and famous tarpon guides, Steve Kilpatrick. He additionally introduced me to bow hunting. I owe much of my career to Steve Kilpatrick, but often times I don't know whether to thank him or cuss him out for introducing me to these two sports!!
Captains Steve Kilpatrick and Gray Drummond on a midday tarpon lunch break.
MW: What made you want to pursue a career as a full-time guide? Additionally, how did that bring about Florida Outdoor Experience (FOE) as its own entity with multiple guides under you, both in fishing and hunting pursuits?
Gray: During college, I would often bring a few fraternity brothers home with me. Most of them grew up in cities and never had the opportunity to experience the outdoors that I had. I'd find myself spending most of my time putting them out in stands, tying their leaders, etcetera. And I realized I was essentially guiding these guys. And the surprising thing to me was how much enjoyment I was getting out of watching them get to experience what I've already had the opportunity to enjoy so much.
I've always been most interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff. It's more fun to me to be a part of making something happen than just pulling the trigger, so to speak. When I turkey hunt, I could care less about being behind the gun (anyone can pull a trigger), my thrill is calling that tom in for the shot.
All that being said, 10 years ago I decided to start Florida Outdoor Experience. Over the years, I've been fortunate enough to meet and become good friends with plenty of likeminded individuals. Many of those folks have become guides at FOE. Most importantly, I not only wanted FOE to be a recognized destination for outdoorsman, but also a launching board for guides who one day might want to pursue their own endeavors. I consider our group a bortherhood.
MW: You’ve managed to create one of the most successful guiding outfits in America. What is it like balancing your time between hunting seasons, tarpon season, and all the little behind the scenes pieces that make it so successful?
Gray: Funny enough, I get asked that questions a lot. The short answer: it's easy! As soon as one's coming to a close, I'm ready for it to be over and get on to the next season. I get bored easily so I'm always on the move. I'll just sleep when I die!
MW: Do you have any plans or ambitions for FOE, or just more of the same great service you’re currently providing?
Gray: What I can say is that I do have some plans for expanding on it, especially on the fishing side. It's still in its infancy right now, but hold on to your hat because it's going to be big.
MW: What about you personally? Now that tarpon season is coming to a close for you, are there any big plans or trips in coming up?
Gray: After back to back seasons with Osceola turkey hunting and tarpon fishing I usually have a few months before I turn my focus to deer season. This is when I try to spend as much time as possible with my two daughters. We love to surf together and will usually find somewhere along Florida's east coast where there's some swell. And of course, I try to slip away to the keys and spend some time on the front end of a friend's skiff.
MW: What’s one of your favorites memories/stories as a guide?
Gray: Honestly, asking about my favorite memory as a guide is like asking me about my favorite song... there's just too many! Normally, I try to think of my favorite most recent memory.
When the MW crew came down this season, Logan said to me on the way out in the morning, "man, of all the things on my bucket list, a Homasassa tarpon is probably number one." What I heard was, "hey Gray, don't screw this one up!" A couple hours later we got that bucket list tarpon checked off and, man, was that incredible. It's my drug of choice. Plus, we got it all on film [real, photofilm]. I'm still pumped about it.
MW: A bit of a trick question… in a perfect world, where you could do either pursuit 24/7/365, would you spend all your time as a turkey hunter or as a tarpon fisherman?
Gray: That's a tricky question and I'm just going to give you a tricky answer. It probably depends on what time of year you ask me this question... If you ask me in early spring, I'll tell you there's no better place than the Florida woods. But, by the end of April in the mid-90°F heat, I'm sick of it! That's what I love about this job and life, I'm never forced to pick one.
MW: As a long time, well-respected pro, do you have any tipsfor aspiring guides in the fishing or hunting space?
We've been extremely humbled by Gray's response to our products that he's had the opportunity to try out so far. Between constructive criticisms and, to our great pleasure, major stoke, Gray's been an instrumental help to how we'll be curating our future product lines.
In the meantime, find a few of Gray's favorite items for hot summer days on the tarpon flats below:
"Hands down the Wetland Hoodie and the Waterfront Shorts are my favorite go-tos when on the water..."
"Most fishing shirts advertise that they wick sweat away while keeping you cool. The Wetland is one of the only ones that actually does. It's hands down the best fishing shirt for me in regards to looks and performance I have ever worn."
"My other go-to item is the Waterfront Short. Whether I'm surfing at the beach or guiding on the water, I'm wearing these. Plus they are versatile enough to wear out when needed."