Who Is Captain Mike Anderson?
Mike Anderson, now known affectionately as “Captain Mike” all over Florida and much of the Southeastern U.S. thanks to two widely-listened-to radio programs and the highly-rated “Reel Animals” television show, did not intend to become an outdoors media star.
Mike grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, just minutes from Lake Winnebago. His dad worked for Mercury Marine, and one of his uncles was a pro-walleye world champion in four consecutive years–Mike was hooked on fishing from the time he was big enough to walk. But he hated speaking in public.
Like a lot of boys growing up in the 70’s, he loved ball sports more than anything else with the possible exception of walleye fishing in the many lakes around his home. And at 6’5″, Mike had the height and the skills to make him a particularly good basketball player, ranked as a Top-100 high school star in the five state area. One thing he didn’t have was a whole lot of muscle–he weighed 195 pounds, which distributed across his big frame made him lanky rather than stout. College was not in the cards–Mike spent too much time on the court and on the lake rather than studying.
“I went in the Air Force and was sent to a base in Germany where they had really great inter-service basketball competition,” Mike recalls. “But I was playing against guys that were 25 years old and they had the muscle I didn’t. That got me started on becoming a gym rat, and that stuck with me the rest of my life.”
Pumping all that iron has had quite an impact. Anderson these days looks like a recently-retired NFL tight end; he weighs over 280, with barely an ounce of fat anywhere.
He was transferred to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa for the final years of his hitch, and it was there that he began to learn there were other fish than walleye in the waters of the world. He also met his wife, Beth–a lovely lady behind the bar at Hooter’s Restaurant.
“After we were married, we went to the beach every weekend. Beth would soak up some sun and I’d wade the beach fishing. I learned to throw a castnet and how to rig for saltwater fish and how to tell a redfish from a snook and I really got the saltwater bug.”
He opened a business, Anderson Screens, mostly installing screen rooms, and soon had enough money for a boat. He also heard of a new organization that was starting up a redfish tournament circuit–combining fishing with competition seemed a natural, and he jumped in.
A few years later, Mike had become good enough to charter for hire–he got his captain’s license and became an inshore guide in his spare time. He also got back to sports, playing softball on a team sponsored by Tadpole’s Restaurant. The restaurant regularly sent food to sports/talk host Chris Thomas at the 620 WDAE studio in Tampa, and Mike, being the ball sports fanatic that he was, listened to Chris religiously. One of his goals became to take Chris–who regularly talked about fishing–on a trip on Tampa Bay.
One night, Brad James, program director for WDAE, ate at Tadpoles and Mike happened to be there. They met and talked fishing for an hour, and James took a liking to the young giant. And, it so happened, he was looking for a second fishing show, due to the great success of Captain Mel Berman’s Saturday morning show on sister station 970 WFLA. He asked Mike to consider giving it a try.
“Three weeks later I was at a Buc’s game and down by the pirate ship stood Brad James,” recalls Captain Mike. “I went over for a chat, and before I left, he had made a solid offer–I’d go on the air the following Sunday morning!”
Mike and long-time fishing friend and mentor Captain Billy Nobles teamed to get the show rolling, and it was soon a success, leading before long to the founding of the “Reel Animals” television show with Channel 8 in Tampa.
In February, 2010, the beloved “Voice of Tampa Bay,” Mel Berman, passed away during surgery. Mike was called on to fill the seat on that first Saturday morning, fielding dozens of calls from mourning fans. He’s been behind the microphone both Saturdays and Sundays ever since.
This year, he’s taken ownership of the television show and hired a new, highly-skilled production team that is taking the visuals to a new level.
“We’ve got drones, we’ve got underwater cameras, we get shots of skyrocketing kings, jumping tarpon–it’s really a great production now thanks to these young guys,” says Mike.
As Captain Mike has evolved into the new role of being the biggest fishing media personality in the Bay area–in more ways than one–he’s also realized how important it is to promote conservation among his thousands of fans.
“Life goes by really fast–I’m 49, and I’m talking to the next generation of anglers and the one after that already. It’s really important for all of us to do our part to keep our waters clean and our fish populations healthy, not only for the fun of fishing but just because it makes Florida a better place to live,” says Anderson. “I’m looking forward to this year’s Reel Animals Expo, in particular, to give me a chance to meet as many of those younger anglers as possible in person.”