I still have a few guys even older and saltier than me to swap fish tales with. I sure enjoy stirring up those buried memories. Our gear didn’t even compare to today’s, but we had a lot less people and plenty of fish. It’s not about bragging — it’s about how things were, and how it has changed. It always comes back to what are the differences and wondering if and how we can save some things.
Capt. Bobbie Buswell and I talk regularly. He’s about 87 now and can only talk about fishing anymore. Old timers need to talk and understand they are still loved. We talked about how he never liked to anchor while fishing for grouper and snapper. Anchoring took too long and cut his fishing time in half. Even more important, he could set up and motor fish the hot bite, then leave fish there for next trips. He could also get away fast if you tried to steal his spot.
It must have worked pretty well: He had one month he sold about 50,000 pounds of grouper while fishing with charter clients. We used to be able to sell our excess catch back in the day. The charters were cheaper that way, and we had plenty of incentive to catch fish.
I got started big time with king mackerel. There were no limits and selling our excess added tot he bottom line. I was hardcore to land every bite — my boat payments depending on you catching a lot of fish. Clients would take a mess of fresh fish home to eat, and a couple hundred pounds of fish sold at the fish house doubled our payday. Before my day, the pros brought in a thousand pounds or more to sell. The limit was whatever you could carry.
Boats, motors and tackle was pitiful compared to today’s. We ran slow inboard cabin cruisers with big-block V8 gas engines and thru-hull baitwells. Outboard motors were just coming along in the ‘60s. Fiberglass boats blossomed then too.
There was nowhere to buy castnets either. You made them yourself, or had a friend that would do it for you. Try to imagine how many knots are in just the lead line ring of a one-inch square castnet 10 or 12 feet long! Mono was a huge discovery for both lines and nets. The spinning reels were closed-face Zebcos and Mitchell 300s; nothing like today’s. Reel drags were pitiful, if the reel even had a drag system. Tackle today is light years ahead of our gear back then.
Navigation was by time and distance on a compass heading. You were careful and accurate, or you were lost. When LORAN came out we thought it was something; it put us into a football field repeatedly. We had to dial in the two stations and get our readings. While it made it possible to relocate your fishin’ hole, it was the beginning of the end for larger spots. They got fished down, and then you had the spot thieves running up and punching in your hole. GPS came out in the mid ‘80s, but very few of us could afford it back then.
I was talking with Capt. Ray Markham recently about the baits and lures we used to use. Nylon hoop nets were used to catch minnows. You’d lower it down and chum the bait over it, then carefully raise it until you could capture them. It was much easier on the minnows, and they were stronger because we didn’t touch them. We had no pumps, so we drilled holes into the baitwells to get flow.
There were no sabiki rigs either; instead, we used small gold hooks. The first time some kingfish tournament boys showed me sabiki rigs, sometime in the early ‘80s, I ordered a hundred on the spot.
The Flowering Floreo jig had a long flowing skirt, and we used them for everything inside and a lot of kings too. It had nylon hair that lasted longer than the natural bucktail or polar bear hairs with toothy fish. Then we had a killer pompano jig called the Super Dude. A fellow in Venice made them until he passed back in the ‘90s. I still have some, and I cherish them.
We had Captain Action and Reflecto spoons, and they caught tons of fish. Now you can get a replica copy of most anything that swims at every shop, or buy them online and have them shipped to your door.
We didn’t have anything high-tech, but fortunately, we had a lot more fish before our population exploded. They were not as educated either. Catch-and-release fishing must teach them something. Either be smarter or be dinner!
There were fewer people in all of Florida in the ‘60s than are living in just the Tampa Bay area now! Look at a satellite photo of our lights in a night shot to see what I mean. It’s scary to look at how developed our coastlines are. Notice that those population centers are also where we have water quality problems.
Growth is here to stay, but could we also consider sustainability? How many of our problems are from rapid growth without adding to our infrastructure? People add impact to our roads and environments. We are overdeveloped in many areas already, and proposed new construction from North Port to Punta Gorda is huge. Adding up how many are coming will scare you, and all of this is upstream of our fishing waters.
Do we want just memories to share, or can we figure out how to maintain our waters while also bringing in tens and hundreds of thousands more people? We’re at the tipping point. Which way will it go? Speak up or suffer the consequences.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com.