When Capt. Benny Blanco was a boy, he caught and traded live bait for Rapala® lures, so he could catch more fish. Today, the Florida guide and TV host is still catching fish with Rapalas, while advocating live release and protection of the waters in which sportfish thrive.
“I used to ride my bike down to the canal and throw my cast net for five hours to fill a 5-gallon bucket full of mullet,” recalls Blanco, an award-winning conservationist and tournament-winning fishing guide. “Then I’d take them down to the bait shop and trade for Rapalas, so I could go catch fish.”
Today, Blanco is working hours on end to promote protection of vulnerable, pristine waters across Florida and the world – and the sportfish that swim in them. His platform, which Rapala signed on to sponsor this year, is “Guiding Flow,” the show he hosts on the streaming channel Waypoint TV.
“The show really is about conservation, promoting stewardship and trying to change a culture in the saltwater fishing industry from a catch-and-kill, numbers-related focus, to a culture where we’re more understanding of what our footprint is, less about take, and more about what we’re doing to save places that we love,” Blanco says.
Blanco and his passion for conservation impressed Matt Jensen, Rapala USA’s marketing director.
“The moment I met with him and heard what the concept of the show was, I knew it was exactly what Rapala was looking for,” Jensen recalls. “We share Benny’s passion for conservation, we stress how important it is for us to be behind the efforts of making positive change within our waterways. His mission is on par with ours. So we’re excited about the opportunity to partner with someone that’s on the frontlines of that effort.”
Blanco appreciates the support.
“It’s a win-win relationship for me,” he says. “I go back to my roots and I’ve got the company that I care about speaking up about conservation.”
Rapala took a “huge step” in its conservation effort a few years back with the release of VMC® Coastal Black inline hooks. VMC® is a Rapala® Respected Brand. Replacing treble hooks with inline hooks is a conservation-minded modification for catch-and-release sportsmanship.
“Tarpon is a hugely sought-after gamefish and the lures that we throw for them traditionally would have treble hooks,” Blanco says. “And we did a lot of damage, as an industry, to the fish. I have been giving that input for many years.”
Removing a single inline hook – rather than a treble hook – from the mouth of a big fish like a tarpon puts less stress on the fish, greatly improving its chance of survival upon release. Inline hooks also present less of a danger than do treble hooks to an angler removing them. Rapala consulted numerous saltwater guides and pros when designing VMC’s Coastal Black inline hooks.
“That’s one of the first things they did collectively to make an impact from a conservation standpoint,” Blanco says. “And it did make an impact.
“They created a lure specific for tarpon, with a specific hook designed to work better in the tarpon’s mouth,” he explains. “It made a huge impact in the industry.”
The lure to which Blanco refers is Rapala’s X-Rap Long Cast, which comes in deeper- and shallower-running models. “Those two lures are responsible for the majority of the tarpon catches, when you’re throwing plugs,” he says.
Purple Mackerel is Blanco’s best color pattern in the dark, brackish waters of Everglades National Park, where he guides. “I love the purple, there’s no doubt,” he says. “It works really, really well where I fish.” Anglers fishing on beaches in clear water favor X-Rap Long Cast plugs in the Bone Chartreuse color pattern, he says.
For Blanco, it’s like a dream come true to work with Rapala to catch and release fish responsibly and also conserve the at-risk waters in which they swim.
“Rapala has been a part of my fishing career since it started,” he says. “Ever since I was a kid, Rapala was the biggest, the best; they had the most world records. So it’s really gratifying for them to be joining me in shouting from the rooftops ‘We need to save our waters, protect our estuaries!’”