I still don’t know how he did it. How did my dad ever find the time to work an incredible number of hours managing and growing his business so successfully that he was able to retire at age 34, but still manage to introduce us kids to the outdoors?
Of course, part of his ability to do all these things was due to the support of his wife. Mom was not raised so much in the outdoors, but she did a put up with a lot and kept the household functioning for us in spite of onslaughts of mud, fish slime and feathers.
But still, dad spent more time with us than would seem plausible. We fished, hunted, camped out, traveled and enjoyed wonderful family vacations just about every year. Dad, mom, my two sisters and I often found ourselves collecting deer and elk sheds in Wyoming or visiting amazing parks like Yellowstone and Glacier in the U.S. and Banff in Canada.
And there was fishing. Always lots of fishing, some of it in our home state of Missouri or in nearby Arkansas, but a lot of it further afield in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Washington or even Canada. A few of these fishing trips were guided, but only a very few. Our trips were mostly do-it-yourself affairs.
We had a 1960s-vintage 18-horse pull-start Evinrude and a portable six-gallon fuel tank that we would lug around with us. On lots of the lakes that we visited in those days, there were marinas at which you could rent a boat. Naturally the rental rate was higher if the boat had a motor — so we’d bring our own, clamp it onto the transom of the rental, and off we’d go in search of bass, trout, walleye or whatever that lake offered.
We hunted, too. When I was too small to go afield with the men, I was limited to working with the bird dogs during off-season training, and helping pluck ducks and clean quail, doves and rabbits when the guys got home. (I’m not sure whether my “help” netted out as a plus or a minus.)
I can remember my first actual duck trip, sitting in the freezing cold blind with dad after rowing a jonboat through a marsh in the pre-dawn gloom. Then there was the first time I got to go along on a quail hunt, though I was given only a BB gun that first trip — mostly so I’d have something to carry, I suppose.
A big “first” was the first time he gave me permission to take one of the bird dogs myself to go quail hunting. He set me up with an even-tempered female German shorthair that tended to hunt close — but still, it was a lot of responsibility, and I took it very seriously. My memory of the details of that hunt from 45 years ago are a bit hazy, but I know that there was snow on the ground, I did bring home at least a few quail, and that I did not lose or shoot the dog.
When he moved our family from a Kansas City suburb to a lakefront home out in the country, I thought it was heaven — but I was mistaken. It was a few years later (in 1975) when he relocated us again to a little town called Punta Gorda that I really found heaven.
Our hunting time dwindled after the move to Florida, but the explosion in our fishing more than made up for that. We had all kinds of fish and fishing to discover together, and we did as much as possible. We tried pretty much everything on the water that you could do.
We dug clams in Placida and picked oysters in Turtle Bay. We caught everything that swam in Charlotte Harbor and most of what lived in the Gulf. Then we started spending time each summer in the Keys, where we’d catch lobster and chase ocean fish such as mahi and blackfin tuna that we couldn’t catch in Punta Gorda. Those were fun times.
We did some small-scale commercial fishing, but most of it was recreational until I went off to college. That’s when a bored dad started a fishing guide business, kind of by accident.
Six or eight years later, Dad brought me into his new Punta Gorda business, which by then had grown to include excursion boats too. For a few years, he mentored me in all things business until it was time to cut me loose to run it on my own. It was much like that day when he’d given me a bird dog to take hunting: Something he’d raised and trained himself, but which he judged I would be able to handle.
Now dad is 80-some years old, and I have been forced to recognize that this huge figure in my life is merely human. Health issues, including a recent major surgery, have slowed him down a bit. But he’s still going, enjoying things outdoors as best he can at his beautiful home in the North Carolina mountains. I hope to be able to be doing as much as his age. He’s an inspiration. But then, he’s been an inspiration to me for a very long time. Thanks, Dad, and Happy Father’s Day.
Let’s go fishing!
Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.