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Watkins, Maltby Foxworthy,
Fox Watkins oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Terry Lee Howard.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (62 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (42 p.)
Oculina Bank oral history project
Interview conducted March 1, 2010.
Oral history interview with charter boat captain Maltby "Fox" Watkins. Watkins, a native of Fort Pierce, Florida, began fishing at the age of four, learning from family friends and other local fishermen. He mated for several other captains and in 2000 decided to run his own boat. He has also worked in the commercial fishing industry and has had various jobs outside fishing. Oculina Bank is Watkins's favorite fishing spot, and he was very disappointed when it was closed to snapper and grouper in 1994. In Watkins's opinion, closing an area to fishing is a bad way to manage a fishery. He favors quotas to limit the number of fish, but emphasizes that the quotas must be enforced. He is pessimistic about the future of charter fishing businesses in Fort Pierce because of restrictions on what can be caught and kept, but he does not think that the number of fish will decrease. In this interview, Watkins also describes some of his fishing techniques and recounts some memorable fishing stories.
Watkins, Maltby Foxworthy,
Charter boat captains
Charter boat fishing
Fort Pierce (Fla.)
Saint Lucie County (Fla.)
Howard, Terry Lee,
Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Oculina Bank oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Terry Howard: Okay, first question for you. Today is March 1, 2010. Im here with Captain Fox Watkins. Captain, what is your full name?
Maltby Watkins: Maltby Foxworthy Watkins, Jr.
TH: How do you spell that first name?
MW: Theyre all old family last names.
TH: Fox Watkins
TH: Okay. Foxworthy Watkins. When and where were you born?
MW: Fort Pierce, Florida. November 20, 1954.
TH: When did you move to Fort Pierce? Or, you were born here?
MW: Born here.
TH: Yes. Excuse me.
MW: Ill move the chair over here so you can sit down.
TH: What brought your family to Fort Pierce?
MW: My dad was a doctor and he grew up in West Palm [Beach]. After med school, he didnt want to stay in West Palm because Granddaddy was superintendent of schools down there and he kneweverybody knew him growing up. So, he was on his way to De Land to look at a medical practice, stopped here for something, looked at the almanac and saw the income per capita, which was phenomenal. So he ended up getting a private practice here, and he always kidded later that he didnt realize that five families had all the income.
TH: Yeah. Huh. And they were probably the wealthy families.
MW: Right. McCartys, Peacocks, Adams, Carlton.
TH: Right. Are you married?
MW: No, sir.
TH: How old were youokay. Do you have any children?
MW: No, sir.
TH: How much schooling do you have?
MW: College and an RN [Registered Nurse] degree.
TH: Did you graduate from college?
TH: Four year?
TH: Two yearoh, the associates degree. Do you have another job besides charter fishing?
MW: No, I dont.
TH: Do you currently own a boat?
TH: This boat. Whats the name of the boat, and the length and the kind of boat?
MW: Ruby Jean, forty-eight foot. Its a Pace Maker.
TH: Okay. All right. Id like to ask some questions about the Oculina Bank. How familiar are you with the Oculina Bank?
MW: Fairlypretty well familiar with it.
TH: In what way? I mean, you fished itbottom fished it?
MW: Bottom fished it all my lifewell, not all my life, obviously. I mean, we did a lot of bottom fishing there.
TH: And you trolled?
MW: Oh, God, yeah.
TH: What did you catch there?
MW: In trolling? Wahoo, sails. Ive had marlin out there, dolphin. In bottom fishing, of course, plenty of grouper and snapper.
TH: Why was Oculina Bank designated as an area to protect? Do you have anywhats your thinking on that?
MW: I think its misinformed people [who] panic. Its like they alleverybodythey did it to protectsupposedly a survey the first time, and to do a study on the grouper populations, and then they just extended it now indefinitely.
TH: Now, is there a peculiar or particular kind of reef there?
MW: Yeah, the Oculina coral.
TH: Its the Oculina coral. Okay. Is there anything else you can tell me about the Oculina Bank? Why do you know about it?
MW: Its such good fishing. Its a living reef. Its the best bottom fishing in the East Coast of the United States, probably.
TH: What do you think about the closure of the Bank to anchoring and bottom fishing?
MW: With the depth out there, youre not going to anchor anyway. I mean, its 285 feet average, probably. So youre not going to be anchoring out therea normal person isnt. I think bottom fishing should be allowed. If you adhere to the limits, youre not going to do any damage to the reef just drifting or power fishing it.
TH: So most of the time when you do fish it, youre not anchored?
MW: No. Youre power fishing.
TH: You try and hold the boat in one position with your engine and bottom fish that way?
TH: Has the closure of the Bank affected your fishing?
MW: Well, you cant go there. I mean, that wasyou were guaranteed when you went out there. You were going to catch or have shots at plenty of grouper and snapper. You take that away, you took one of mytook the best bottom fishing away from us.
TH: That is the best around off the East Coast?
MW: Oh, gosh, yes. Oh, gosh, yes.
TH: Because of the living reef?
MW: Well, yeah, the living reef, the depth, the
TH: If anchoring and bottom fishing on the Oculina Bank was not permitted, would you fish there? I mean, if anchoring and bottom fishing in the Bank was not permitted, would you fish there? I mean, its not permitted now; do you fish there anyway? (both laugh)
MW: Terry, I dont know you well enough, buddy! Thats, ah (laughs)
TH: Thats all right. (laughs) Overall, how has fishing changed since you began fishing in the Fort Pierce area? Overall, how has fishing changed?
MW: It hasnt changed that much. You certainly see less dolphin than we used to. Sails have made a tremendous comeback. Kingfish, since they put the closure on the high rollers. Kingfish have justmy God, its just as good as it ever was in my life.
TH: Do you still see the black wads they used to talk about, though?
MW: Yeah, I have. I have.
TH: Have you? Recently?
MW: Yeah, but up on the beach.
TH: Now, can you explain the black wads, when I say that?
MW: Just schools of kings. Solid kings.
TH: On your recorder.
TH: Okay. Overall, how has fishing changed since you began fishing in Florida? Do you think its
MW: Maintained. Its cyclical. I mean, itsthis year is the best sailfish year, probably, of my life. Two years ago, there was no sailfish. Id say two, maybe three, but I mean, its justand snook. I mean, Ive grown up fishing this river since I was five. Theres great trout years and theres bad trout years. There may be a three, four-year span of poor trout fishing, and therell be a three or four year span that you go out there and you can catch fifty, sixty in a half a day.
TH: Have you had any experiences with law enforcement within or regarding the Oculina Bank?
TH: No, never bothered you. Do you know anybody who has?
MW: Yeah, I know several people who have been boarded out there, but they didnt get into any trouble. They just were told to leave.
TH: Who boards them?
MW: It was the MWC that boarded them, the boys I know.
TH: Florida Wildlife Commission?
TH: Your fishing history, specifically. What is your earliest memory of fishing and how old were you? This gets into your biographical
MW: Four years old. Dr. David Sims was a dentist here in town, a big bottom fishermanyou know David, dont you?
TH: I know of him, yes.
MW: Yeah. Took me over on surfside by Jaycee Park, took me fishing. I was three or four years old, but I remember we didnt catch anything. I used to go sit on the seawall when I was five over on Thumb Point because we lived over there, moved over there from Binney Drive. Id go sit over there. Mother had a bell shed ring when it was time for me to come home and take my nap.
TH: So who taught you to fish? Different people?
MW: Yeah. Ive been so fortunate. My dad wasnt a big fisherman, but he took me as a little boy over to the seawall all the time. Dr. Sims. Sam Crutchfield was huge in my learning how to fish and stuff. Billy Yates was huge. And then offshore, Ronny Lang, Chip Shafer, Sam Crutchfield, again.
Sam Crutchfield, Billy Yates, and Chip Shafer were also interviewed for the Oculina Bank Oral History Project. The DOIs for their interviews are O6-00032, O6-00024, and O6-00002, respectively.
Ive had some of the best teachers anybody could ever dream of having.
TH: How did you decide to become a charter captain?
MW: I was a mate off and on forever and ever and it just was a natural progression.
TH: Elaborate more on that. I mean, did you just finally decide that you could run the boat as well as some of the captains you worked for?
MW: Yeah, better! (laughs) What mate doesnt think that, though, I mean? Yeah, it was
TH: Did you reach a point where
MW: Id get mad and say, Captain, we werent doing this or they quit doing that. I thought, Hell, I could do better than they are.
TH: When did you start fishing in the Fort Pierce area, age and year? We already talked about that, but could you just mention again?
MW: I started fishing in the river; Id say I was three or four years old, five years old. I remember I got my first cast net. So from then on, I was ready to start going out in the ocean when I was probably twelve.
TH: Did you start fishing commercially before you became a chartergot into the charter industry?
MW: Yes. Oh, God, yeah. I did a few longline trips in the seventies [1970s] but I had a couple different net boats pompano fishing, and fished the river with nets back in the early seventies [1970s].
TH: Tell me about pompano fishing. You hadwhat kind of boat did you have for that?
MW: The old Suncoast; twenty-seven foot Suncoast.
TH: Talk to me as though I dont know anything about fishing.
MW: Okay. (laughs)
TH: Do you understand?
TH: Pompano, tell me about pompano fishing.
MW: These are boats designed really for this. You use trammel nets, which is a three-walled net. You run the beaches at night, youd put a stab netyou put ityoud stretch it out at night, first dark, and then after you hauled that, youd go try to skip the fish. Pompano will, as youre running, come up in your wake and actually skip, and you can hear em with the engine running, hear the slap. And you see that, youd circle them up, run around inside of it and then haul it in.
TH: Were they paying well for
MW: Yeah. Pompano has always the highest paying fish there is. I dont remember what we got back then, but probably like $1.50 or $1.95 a pound, maybe.
TH: You owned your own boat, the Suncoast?
MW: No, that was Hermans.
TH: You were fishing for Herman
Herman Summerlin was also interviewed for the Oculina Bank Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is O6-00031.
TH: How were you related to this person?
MW: Just knew him. He was a Fort Pierce legend. (laughs) He ranhe was big in the
TH: Was this when he had a fish house of his own?
TH: He had boatshe had several boats?
MW: Yeah, he owned several boats, yes.
TH: Where did you go to fish when you began fishing; can you show me on this map? Im supposed to have a map of the Oculina Bank. Well, okay, no, just in Fort Pierce. We dont need a map. Where did you go to fish when you began fishing? Started in the river on the west, around Thumb Point.
MW: Thumb Point, Jaycee Park area, then as I got a little bit older, I got a little boat and go down to Bear Point, Middle Cove
TH: Its your first little boat. What was it like?
MW: A little thirteen foot Wellcraft with a little forty-horse [horsepower engine] on it.
TH: Thats a nice one.
TH: How old were you when you had that?
MW: I was twelve or thirteen.
TH: That was your first boat?
MW: Well, I had a rowboat before that.
MW: Just like a
TH: Wooden or
MW: Yeah, wooden.
TH: You maintained it yourself?
MW: Yeah, I remember Mother teaching me how to row, of all things.
TH: Did your mother fish?
MW: No. But sheI dont know how she knew it, but she knew how to row. Because I remember, again, I really was five, sixI was five years old, six years old and I remember Mother taking me out there. I remember getting so frustrated with the oarlocks, popping them out of the (TH laughs) Its funny how you remember stuff like that. And my first blisters.
TH: For a fishlets go back to pompano, cause she [the researcher] wantsthey want meI would like to get an in-depth description of how you catch the different kinds of fish that youve caught and that you catch now. So on pompano, how long was the fishing trip? Just overnight?
TH: How much was an average trips catch, if you canabout?
MW: You know that, its hard to know. There is no average. Theres nights you didnt get a single damn fish and loaded up on bunker or sharks; and there was nights that youhell, you struckI dunno, we never had 1,000 pounds, but you might get 500, 600 pounds.
TH: And theyre four or five dollars a pound?
MW: No, back
TH: Three dollars?
MW: Three seventy-five. Back then they were $1.75, $2.05 or
TH: Which was good money.
MW: Huge money.
TH: I guess bunkers are the same size as pompano.
MW: And they get in that damn trammel net and just sink it.
TH: And youd spend all nighttheyre not worth
MW: Theyre not worththey werent back then, werent worth anything.
TH: Yes, okay. How many years did you fish for pompano?
MW: Just probably two.
TH: What wereyou remember a transition from going from pompano fishing towhat was your next transition?
MW: Jeez. Well, youd still fish the river when pompanodifferent times, you know, pompanos seasonal. Then fish the river for trout, channel bass, snapper, sheepshead, mullet. It wasnt, you know
TH: Did you use the same net for the sheepshead, the mullet?
MW: No, no, no, no. Different net.
TH: Would you explain?
MW: Its a whole different net. Youd run straightits a stab [net] out there. I want to say two and a quarter, two and three-quarters inI dont even remember the net sizes.
TH: And drift after the mullet?
MW: Yep, but theyre not drift nets, theyre stab nets that have lead enough to holdtheyll stay stationary on the bottom.
TH: Thats what a stab net is?
MW: Yep. It doesnt move, and you put it out and you let it soak for two hours depending on how hot it is. Wintertime, you can let it sit for four or five hours and pull it up and clear it as you pull it. Youll make three or four sets a night.
TH: For mullet?
MW: Sheepshead, mullet, trout, red fish
TH: And youd usenow, I know that youre using different mesh for the row mullet?
TH: As for, then, the silver mullet?
MW: Forin a different mesh, youd havegood God, at least four or five differentnot four or five, three different sized meshes.
TH: Depending on what was
MW: What you were after.
TH: Yeah, what you were targeting. When did you start working as a charter boat captain? How did youwhen did you transition from commercial fishing? So, obviously, you commercial fished for a number of years. This was while you were going to school?
TH: At Indian River State College, or Indian River Community College at that time?
MW: Yes, and Id go back and forth. I would fish, then Id go work somewhere else for a while, a year or two. I farmed, I owned a car lot, I had a marine construction business over in Orlando for a year and a half, that sinkhole in Maitland, Winter Park. Ive beenHerman came over to help me, we did the initialstarted working there. Everything that justevery ten years it seems like I take three years. Not by design, it hadnt been, because looking back, Id take three years and go do something different.
TH: You always gravitated back to fishing.
MW: Id come right back to it.
TH: So, when did you start working in the charter boat industry and stick with it?
MW: Well, really just about ten years ago. When I was going to nursing school I was running boats twenty years ago. Yeah, I mated twenty-five, thirty years ago, would mate. Then about ten years ago, I bought my first boat to charter. I was runningbefore that, ran a boat, private boatnot a private boat but ran a charter boat here
TH: For somebody else owned it. What boat was that?
MW: That was the old Sea Squirt. It was a twenty-nine [foot] Topaz.
TH: Okay. When did you start working as a charter boat captain in the Fort Pierce area? So you just [worked] off and on for years, and then youfinally, it stuck?
MW: Yeah, I said, This is it. After I got out of nursingI went and got my RN license because I had all the prerequisites and it looked like a field that was going to be stable. I did that after I graduated. I worked for not quite two years at that and then just said, Go buy a boat and go fish. This is the only way youre going to be happy.
TH: What do you fish for now and how? Now that youre a charter captain, what do you target mostly and how?
MW: Well, again, thats seasonal. December, January is certainly sails. February, March, April, I mean, kingfish, grouper, snapper was huge this time of the year but theyve closed it down to us now.
TH: Theres no place as good as the Oculina Bank?
MW: Oh, I go out there and get plenty of snapper and grouper in an eighty-five foot width. Last Sunday I said, We have to keep moving because of the damn red snapper.
TH: You kept catching them.
MW: Yeah, its all you could catch. We threw back four or five grouper and we busted off a couple of big ones. So bottom fishing, thats really going to hurt us, cause people are not going to pay me $1200 to go catch triggerfish. And the people last weekend, theyre the ones that said, Lets move. All were going to catch is red snapper. We want something to take home. You know, which is legitimate.
TH: So thats the snapper-grouper ban right now thats really hitting you hard, and a lot of boats hard, I guess, right now. You go for fishing for snapper and grouper. Oculina Bank is probably your number-one best?
MW: Its certainly my favorite spot there was.
TH: That area around there, and then you can come into the ninety, eighty-five and ninety foot [depth] area and catch some; both northeast and then straight east to the inlet, I assume?
MW: Right, and south. It goes on south down almost to the 220 [feet depth]
TH: Two twenty-five [feet deep] off shore is where kingfishon average, how far do you go offshore to fish?
MW: There is no average. My customers ask me that. Fifty percent of them ask me, How far are we gonna go? I tell em, No.
TH: I know, I know that. People ask me that and I always say, Ten to fifteen miles. Thats average. (laughs)
MW: Thats twelve. If I have to give an answer, I say, Twelve.
TH: How do you decide where to fish or where you will fish for a day?
MW: (laughs) Youll appreciate this, but nobody else will. Chip Shafer used to alwaysId ask him, Whyd you go north? Whyd you go south? Whyd you go straight out? And hed always say, Fox, I dont know. You just get out there and you just do it.
TH: You decide at the inlet or do you decide before you leave the dock?
MW: No, theres no way you decide at the dock.
TH: (laughs) Okay.
MW: I thought Chip was being evasive. And then after Ive been running my own boat for a while, one of the customersthey had fished for three days. For two days we went south and the third day, I went north, and all three days we did well. And the guy said, Whyd you go north today? And I said, I dont know, you justyou got out here and you saw it, you went north, and I started laughing. I thought, Damn it, Chip Shafer wasnt lying to me, its just
TH: (laughs) Sometimes I just follow the fleet and I say, I aint following the fleet today, Im going the other direction. Id rather catch fish by myself if I can, but then oftentimes you lose money not following the fleet.
MW: Ive done the same. Theres some days that you go out there and theres four of yall heading out and everybodys going north and Im like, You know, Im going to go south. And the majority of the time I do better if I follow them, but then, you do have those days where you nail em and they dont.
TH: You were going back over the months of the year that you fish for the various fish. You want to elaborate again? Lets see, sailfish in the winter, December and November, and the first of January
MW: Thanksgiving till the end of January, the sails; and dolphin are in there, too, and wahoo. Certainly MarchFebruary, March, April, May, predominantly bottom fishing. I mean, you go pull spoons first thing in the morning or strip baits to get your kingfish and then you go anchor up and start bottom fishing. That used to be our
TH: And the kingfish come back pretty strong?
TH: Tell me about your length of a trip. You had half-day charters and full-day charters. Can you describe those?
MW: Its not a half-day, its a three-quarter day, cause youre an hour and a half from the time we leave the dock to where were going to be somewhere to fish. So, you got an hour and a half in and an hour and a half back: you take, thus, three hours. Youre going to have an hour and a half of fishing on a real half-day. So, what you do are called three-quarter days, and we get back in around 1:30, 2:00, versus coming back in at 4:00, 4:30.
TH: How much for a three-quarter day?
MW: Its $800 for a three-quarter day and $1,200 for aor, $850 for a three-quarter, $1,200 for a full day.
TH: This is a tough one, I know, and I understand, believe me. Im just
MW: Yeah, I know
TH: How much is an average trips catch? (laughs)
MW: Enough. (laughs)
TH: Whats a successful trip? How about that?
MW: Honestly, I (inaudible) answer, but the customers are happy. I mean, thats all I care about, that they get off the boat wondering when can they come back. Ive had customers be elated. We caught two dolphin and two kingfish.
TH: Couple bonito. (laughs)
MW: Yeah. I had people last summerit was amazing. Three days in a row, I had different groups, not related. Wed go out on the barge, on that fifty-five foot water, and there was a lot of them all looking for kings and cobia there, and were catching big barracuda just as fast as we can get baits in the water. After like an hour of it, I told the mate, I said, This is B.S. Pull em in and lets go. And I did that three days in a row, three different groups, and all three said, Why are we leaving? (TH laughs) And I said, I want to catch some real fish. They go, My God, Captain, these are huge! What do you want, what are you looking for? And Im thinking like you and I think, I want some real fish. But you forget, these Yankees and Midwesterners, they catch forty pound barracuda, my God, theyve
TH: Ill never forget when I caught my first bonito on a little spinning rod, (laughs) and I thought, My God, this is wonderful!
MW: The first fish I caught in the ocean was a bonito.
TH: Yeah. For how many years have you been a charter boat captain? Ten?
MW: Yeah, Id say ten.
TH: Begin the sixty-minute mark(phone rings)
MW: Thats my phone; theyll leave a message.
TH: Okay, were gonnafinally, I would like to talk about how your fishing has changed over time in regards to the Oculina Bank. Since 1984, several changes have been made in the regulations in the Oculina. Id like to know if any of these regulations affected your fishing and if so, how? Do you know the chronology of the changes on the Oculina Bank?
MW: I just know its closed and they keep extending the closure and expanding it.
TH: Well, it began with dragging. So that didntthat wouldnt affect you. Then anchoring, and you already addressed that. You generally dont anchor in the Oculina Bank.
TH: Now, its just having anythen it was you couldnt have any fish from the Oculina Bank, you couldnt even fish there. So thats when it
MW: Thats when it hit us.
TH: Okay. Let me go over this: Initially closed to trawling and dredging. Here it is, right here. Nineteen eighty-four, several changes were made in the Oculina Bank. Id like to know if any of these regulations affect you. Prior to 1984, the Oculina was initially closed to trawling, dredging, bottom long-lining. Did that affect you?
TH: You didnt long-line. Did this affect your fishing? No. In 1994, Oculina was designated experimental closed area where fishing for and retention of snapper/grouper species was prohibited. Did this
MW: Thats when
TH: Thats when it sunk in?
TH: Yeah. Was your fishing impacted by this regulation? Can you elaborate?
MW: Certainly. We couldnt go doing bottom fishing anymore, and again, thats a tremendous part of my business or every charter boats business.
TH: In 1996, all anchoring was prohibited in the Bank, did this impact you? No. It had alreadythe impact was that you couldnt take grouper [or] snapper. Thats your main, targeted
MW: Thats all youre out there for.
TH: In that area, okay. In 1996, trawling for rock shrimp was prohibited in the area east and north. They extended the area for rock shrimp to incorporate the Oculina Bank. Fishing for a bottom longline, trawl or dredge, was prohibited in the expanded area. Was your fishing impacted by this regulation?
TH: No. Designated marine area that [is] closed to fishing is being used more frequently as a fishery management tool. Let me say thisagain, I want youthis is an important question. The designation of marine areas that are closed to fishing is being used more frequently as a fishing management tool. What do you think about the use of closed areas to fishing compared to other types of management regulations: quotas, closed seasons, ITQs [individual transferrable quotas]?
MW: Yeah, I think closing an area is one of the dumbest things thatyou make people outlaws, for one. If you enforce your regulations, you dont need closures. Thats
TH: Be specific. Enforce what regulations?
MW: Yeah. Youre allowed X amount of grouper or snapper, each different type, then really working and enforcing it.
TH: So quotas
MW: Right, is the answer.
TH: Do quotas work?
MW: If they enforce them. Its like any of the speeding laws. Do they work? Yeah, if you put up radar and you start checking everybody, then people slow down. But because everybody speeds on a certain section of road, you dont close the damn road. Closing it isyou not going to gettheres a thing called growth inhibition factor with fish, and
TH: Growth inhibition?
MW: Inhibition factor. Like, you put a goldfish in a bowl this big, hes going to stay this big. You put him in a five-gallon bowl and you keep him in there for two years, he doesnt grow. You put him in a larger bowl, he will grow. Its a scientific fact; its not a theory of mine. But, couple that with the fact that a certain habitat will only support X number of fish. Theres not enough food, not enough everything thatthe root structure, the little outcroppings and stuff. So those fish are going to be there. Youre not going to get ten times the fish for closing it for twenty years. Its not going to happen. Its not, it cannot. Its physically impossible. You can take a new tug and sink it, go out there in a week and theres grouper on it. The habitats what they need to do, and do the quotas.
TH: What do you mean, do the habitat. Just, uh?
MW: Put more habitat out there. I mean, and
TH: Create more naturalI mean, more man-made reefs.
MW: Right. If you want to increase the number of fish, bottom fish, put more habitat.
TH: Do you think that the fishing that you do affects that Oculina reef? When you didsay you could catch fish grouper and snapper out there, would the fishing that you do harm the reef?
TH: All right.
MW: Absolutely not.
TH: Thinking aheadwell, anything else you want to say about the regulations before we move on, because I think this is the key of the wholeyour opinion on how, and how best to regulate fishing. You dontdo you believe that there should be no regulations at all?
MW: No, no, no. You gotta have regulations. Im all for that.
MW: Im all for that. You cant have wholesale slaughter going on, I mean, that willwe proved that with the high-roller net boats wiping out the kingfish here. You can deplete a species, but if youll enforceput decent quotas and manage those, everything will work, its gonna go fine.
TH: As far as fairness, you think that quotas are the most fair approach to managing fisheries?
TH: I dont want to put words in your mouth. (laughs)
MW: No, but thats the only way to do it.
TH: For example, for the kingfish, after the commercial harvest has reached has reached a certain number, they shut off the area. So, thats a quota. But its not athe area closure doesnt come until a certain quota is met.
MW: Right. I dont know how they come up with their numbers.
TH: (laughs) Lottery.
MW: I think you got a lot of people making these rules, quotas, and closures that have no earthly idea on what is really going on.
TH: Would an example begive me an example in the grouper or snapper as youI think you just mentionedalluded to it earlier.
MW: Theres more red snapper out here right here today than Ive seen probably in my lifetime, and yet theyve closed it because theyre concerned about the species being overfished. Theres more grouperthe divers Ive talked to, and the fishermen, and the fishing Ive done here in the last month. My God, theres morethe grouper, I dont think Ive ever seen them as thick as they are. And yet, these people making these laws are saying that theyre in danger and theyre gettingwere overfishing them. They have no idea. When the scientists from the state came down here to talk to Glenn [Cameron] and myself a little bit over a year ago teaching us how to vent
MW: The red snapper. When you catch them from down deep, you know, their air bladderthey cant go back down. So you gotta take aI use an IV syringe, and you go in right by the
MW: Caudal fin there, and poke it in, and air comes out and the fish go right back down. But he told us, and I believe this, he said, The genuine red snappers physiology is so fragile. You bring one up in sixty, seventy feet even, he is gonna80 percent of those are gonna die. Even if you vent them, they will die. They told the state, Lower the size. They were down there asking us, How many short red snapper do you catch to get your legal ones? Some days, hell, well catch fifteen, twenty shorts to every one legal one. So then he says, Well, youre killing 80 percent of those you throw back. And they told the state, Lower the size limit to sixteen inches. Youd only keep two per person. In essence, youd be saving hundreds of thousands of fish.
TH: Yeah, you figure every charter boat, every sport boat
MW: Right. So they close it. They dont take that into consideration. The easiest thing to do, rather, is just close the damn thing. And what I heard this weekend, theyre fixin to close red snapper for eighty-five years. They got a bill in and processed to close red snapper for eighty-five years on the East Coast.
TH: Thinking ahead, what do you think fishing in Fort Pierce will be like in ten years? This is really an important question.
MW: Yeah. Well, first of all, I think charter businesses wont be alive in ten years, because theres nothing you can keep and catch. I think the fishing will be the same in ten years as it is today. I dont see the kingfish beingI mean, I see kingfish just as plentiful now as they were five years ago, ten years ago. I see sailfish just as good, grouper, snapper. Theresother than the pollution, and dumping Lake Okeechobee does a lot of harm.
TH: How so?
MW: It causes fish kills. I remember
TH: What do you see when they drain Lake Okeechobee that changes?
MW: (laughs) You can go out there to 100 feet of water and youre in fresh water. You see hyacinths floating. That means that everything thats out there is either runoffyou just took away all that habitat area, and I see floating fish dead. Ive seen grouper; Ive seen snapperdead.
TH: How does it affect the river right out here? What do you see?
MW: It shuts it down. This is supposedly a brackish river. The fish arethats what theyre accustomed to. Snooks the only one that can manage the fresh water.
TH: And mullet.
MW: And mullet. When they do those dumps, the trout are nonexistent.
TH: How about the clarity, clarity of water?
MW: Its being able to see top to bottom out here on the river, to being able to see six inches at best.
TH: When theyre not drainingI noticed last year there was a drought, and during that period, what did you see in the river?
MW: Oh, saw it like it was when I was a kid. You had clear water, you had mullet jumping everywhere, you had snook galore. Youd go out there and catcha buddy of mine fly fishes every day in front of his house. Hed go out there and catch alljust trout, pompano, snook, redfish, ladyfish
TH: A lot of these are the lower fish in the food chain.
MW: Come right on up. And the sea grass gets killed when they do the dumps. And everybody talks about all this crap saving the sea. Theyre worrying about the docks and theyre worrying about this, that and the other for sea grass. You dumped the lake; you killed all the sea grass. It doesnt matter what you all do: you screwed it.
TH: So youd say, probably, if theres one thing thats adversely affecting
MW: The river, theres no question; the paramount issue is dumping that damn lake into my river.
TH: All right. Now we have, we startedwe have a few minutes left, and Im gonna ask you a couple questions that are not on here. Im trying to think if theres anything weve missed. Anchoring, you dont really anchor. You motor into the
MW: Right. You power fish it.
TH: Thats called motoring into the tides?
TH: I guess if theres anything Ishe wanted to know exactly how you fish for the different species. Maybe I should touch on that again, and then I want towere well inside of an hour. I have a couple of other questions that are off the charts. First islets go back tofor bottom fishing. You fishwhen youre fishing for snapper or grouper, what do you use for poles, rigs, leads
MW: This one right here.
TH: Its gotta be oral. (laughs)
MW: Yeah, Im sorry. Yeah, if were deep, we use drop-lead like that. Its the tear-shaped lead.
TH: Tear-shaped. Its about a, what? Eight ounce?
MW: No, thats a twenty-ounce.
MW: On a three-way swivel. You got your main line attached to one of the ends of the swivel; you got your sinker attached to another.
TH: How farhow long a line on the sinker?
MW: The sinkers just eight inches, six inches.
TH: Then how long a leader line to the hooks?
MW: Six to eight feet.
TH: What sizecircle hooks, I guess?
MW: I use circle hooks [for] bottom fishing. Grouper or amberjack fishing, Ill use a fourteen. If Im snapper fishing, Ill use a six or an eight, maybe even.
TH: You generallydo you anchor at ninety-foot or do you still try and
MW: Ninety foot, we anchor.
TH: You anchor.
TH: Then you try and anchor on a ledge?
MW: Yeah, on a ledge, just outside the ledge.
TH: You try and anchor off the ledge.
MW: Just outside of it.
TH: Okay. And then trolling, do you troll pretty much the same for wahoo, kingfish, sailfish?
MW: Its just dolphin, itswell, yes and no. Sails and dolphin, I want to use mono leaders.
MW: Cause theyre leader-shy. Theyll see that wire, I promise you.
TH: How long a leader?
MW: Six foot.
TH: Six-foot leader. Do you use primarily ballyhoo?
MW: Yes. I use a lot of strip baits, also, other than sails. Sails, I use ballyhoo, thats it.
TH: And strip baits? Mullet?
TH: Mullet strips. Two hooks?
MW: Bonita strips.
TH: Behind a sea witch?
MW: Sea witch or an islander.
TH: An islander. Would that be an islander over there?
MW: No, thats a cobia jig. An islander is just a type of skirt with a chrome-looking head on it.
TH: Okay. Once again, you just use mono for sailfish and
TH: Dolphin. And for wahoo and kingfish?
TH: Wire leader. Because of?
MW: The teeth; theyre toothy critters.
TH: Very sharp teeth, okay. I shouldnt talk
MW: No, no. Im not good at this. (laughs)
TH: What I want to ask, since were well under our hour, I believe, is: Tell me a big fish story. (laughs) Or just any story that comes to mind. Just slip one in here.
MW: Oh, Lord, Im going blank. Out here recently, that guy from Dubai [United Arab Emirates], he was over here to buy a boat and several people told him he needed to go out with me. The first two times that he was over here, I was booked the days he could go, and this past October, middle of October, he came down. We wenthe chartered a boat by himself. Hed never reallythis guy is thirty-five years old, hes worked eighteen-hour days for the last twenty years, finally sold his business: hes retired. He wants to learn how to fish.
TH: At thirty-five?
MW: Yeah. Yeah, he called me this morning at four [am]. Hes got a fifty-five foot I take care of for him now, here, and hes leaving here because the fishings so good here, hes ready to fly his family over here five or six times a year for two weeks at a time
TH: From Dubai?
MW: From Dubai. Yeah, thats what I (laughs) You gotta know Nick. I took him out there and then went on one of the wrecks. I justactually, the week before, we had gotten a thirty-two pound grouper on that wreck, and some others, but that was the big one. Took Nick out there, and make fires down blue runner.
TH: What now? You
MW: Blue runner.
MW: Yeah. Oh, yeah, thats the best. Grouper love em, and theyre the best AJ baits there areamberjack. And we fired it down on the [USS] Muliphen.
TH: The Muliphen?
MW: Its a shipwreck [artificial reef] out here.
TH: Oh, okay.
MW: Artificialand the rod just (makes sound effect) and the mate got it up off the bottom and handed the rod over to Nick
TH: Was it grouper?
MW: Yeah, a thirty-five pond copper-belly. And he thought, My God! Youd think the guy had never fished before. Pulled a thirty-five pound and had a tag in it, which I had never seen a grouper tagged before. I guess the Marine Patrol gave him the tag. And I told the guy, I said, I really want toId like to know more about this fish. And he came back and told me it was tagged thirteen years earlier, 350 miles north of here.
TH: Good Lord.
MW: And he would never tell me. I said, Well, how big was it when it was tagged? And thats very important to me to know, cause I
TH: Thirteen years, how much did he grow?
MW: Was he a two-pound fish and they tagged him? Was he a twenty-pound fish? Do they all talk aboutthey all talk about how slow grouper and jewfish grow.
MW: So, that was this guy.
TH: Sorry. Lets turn it over. Stop right here.
MW: We certainly have proven that jewfish grow a whole lot faster that theyve said they did. So, I think they intentionally wont tell peoplelet me slide this (moves recorder). But anyway, then we caught some amberjack. But Nick lovedhes sold on this area for fishing because of that experience.
TH: But you never did find out that it wouldntwhy wouldnt theyI still dont understand why they wont tell you how big the fish was when it was tagged?
MW: They kept saying theyd get back with me; theyll get back with me.
TH: You know who to contact?
MW: Every time I see the guy. He said, Well, they havent given me the information. They keep telling me theyre going to sent it to me.
TH: ThatsIm very curious about that.
MW: I think its intentional. I really do.
MW: Because that probably was a three-pound fish that in thirteen years becamecause they try to say grouper will grow a pound a year.
TH: So, youre thinking maybe it grew faster?
MW: Im sure they do, based on what I see with the jewfish.
TH: Jewfish are just aits just a type of grouper.
MW: Right. Its the largeits the alpha grouper, and their growth rate is phenomenal.
TH: Have you ever caught one?
MW: Oh, hell
TH: Giant? Goliath? How big?
MW: Oh, God, Ive caught them at a good 250, 350 pounds.
TH: Oh, yeah? Were they legal for
MW: Oh, we used tohell, we killed the hell out of em back in the seventies [1970s]. We speared em, power headed em. We used to get, I think it was a nickel a pound over at Baywood .
TH: Five cents a pound?
MW: Yeah. But you get a six-foot
TH: You didnt tell me about this. This is when you were younger?
TH: You would shootyoud power head thewhere was this, in the river?
MW: Southno, southeast wreck, out in the ocean.
TH: Southeast wreck.
MW: Yeah. Well, southeasta lot of thewed see em on the reefs, um
TH: But thats just good grouper meat, isnt it?
MW: Its grainy at that size. You gotta really take it and cut the fillets and really cut em down thin. But hell, its notthe cheeks are great. You get those big 600, 800 pounders, theres a wedge of meat like this in the cheek. Its a cone shape.
TH: Like a fillet?
MW: Oh, God, its justthats good eatin, still. But the little ones we catch in the river, the twenty to forty pounders, just like eating any other grouper. We got athis summer, coming down here, he was 350 this year; we got one that hangs out at the cleaning table.
TH: Oh, yeah?
MW: Mm-hm. And actually theresthe big one is three feet and then hes a good hundred pounds bigger that I am. His tail is like this. (demonstrates)
TH: Can he come up where the tourists can see him?
MW: Oh, yeah. Its funny, cause I told my people this year that Ill be cleaning fish; catfish are dried up, you know, when youre throwing scraps in? And all of a sudden the catfish look like Hoss Cartwright had showed up and was herding cattle. They just haul ass. As fast as they can go on the surface and deep, theyre heading to the north. And the first couple times that it happened I said, That jewfish is back! [Person says], What are you talking about? I said, Theres a jewfish that lives here in the summertime, springtime, and hell eat em. Then a couple days later, Im throwingthrew a piece in and (makes sound effect) up he came and grabbed it.
TH: (laughs) Cool. Cool.
MW: And theres another 150 and about seventy-five that were with him a fair amount of the year, this past summer.
TH: Did you ever see any in the river?
MW: Oh, God, yes.
TH: When you were growing up?
MW: Oh, yeah. There was an old boiler down there by Pelican Island
TH: Pelican Island?
MW: Thats what I call that first island north of North Bridge called Pelican Roost. And it was right on the edge of the channel there where the dropand its right after Jaws came out, and I was diving with a lawyer named John Sherrard. And all of a sudden, Sherrard just (makes sound effect) was gone! I look around up underneath the boiler, whats left of it: its about 125, 150 pound jewfish. Sherrard saw that, he thought it was Jaws and was gonna eat his ass. (both laugh)
TH: All right. Well, I have got tolets see, I could go on for some more questions. Let me mark two more. We started at 7:20; we have about five minutes left. Any stories that come to mind that you thinkyou know
MW: Unusual stuff: I had some guy whos a charter captain up in the New England area and his wife, this spring, and we were out there in the 242 on the offshore bar. Got a live-bail, slow-trolling kings, and caught a twelve-pound genuine red [fish]. And we were onlywe had that one down
MW: Yeah, forty feet, maybe. And they kept saying, What is it? You know, when we were fighting it, and I said, Ill be damned, I have no idea. Its not a king, its not running, its not a I fish with some of the SK boys. Were out on the barge, their boat had
TH: SKA, the kingfish tournament?
MW: The Southern Kingfish Association. They had a tournament here and their boat had broken down, so they had hired me for two days. And, of course, they were know-it-alls and made it clear that they knew more than I did up front. Were out there, I said, Theres a bunch of cobia up on surface at the bar. I ran down, grabbed a live bait, threw out there. I wanted a cobia, and I saw six or eight cobia, no question. I threw the bait out there to them on the surface, no nothing. It gets eaten immediately, and forty some-odd pound cobiagrouper, gag grouper on the surface
TH: With cobia?
MW: With the cobia.
TH: (laughs) Ive never heard of such a thing.
MW: Never thought Id see it. I have no ideait wasnt a thermocline, it wasntbut he obviously was right there on the surface, cause he got it before the cobia could.
TH: So once again, now, weve put the closure of the grouper/snapperreally, your business isdoes it hurt your business?
MW: Oh, yeah. Oh, God, yeah. Why would you go?
TH: Yeah, for bottom fishing.
MW: Yeah. I had a guythis has been two or three weeks agothat came down here, wanted a boat for a bottom fishing trip, and I said, You understand we cant keep any grouper or snapper? And he says, Yeah, I know about the limits. I said, No, you dont understand, we can keep none of these. And he said, Well, thats ridiculous. Why would I go? I said, Thats what Im trying to tell you. And so he said, Thanks for telling me up front, and he didnt go.
TH: How about sea bass?
MW: (laughs) You ever clean those little rascals?
TH: I heard theres some bigger ones out there.
MW: Well, yeah, yeah. (laughs)
TH: Its like cleaning a triggerfish. Or its worse?
MW: No, no, no. Id rather clean twenty sea bass than two triggerfish. You fillet it and skin it for hours to get two pounds of meat. Yes, theyre great eating. But again, are you gonna pay me $1,200 to go out there and catch pan fish?
TH: Gotcha. Could you catch a sailfish right now at this time of year?
MW: You can catch sail any time of the year, but not in the numbers.
TH: One other question: When I first came here years ago, I saw posters at the museum and books, and I havent seen in a while, but Fort Pierce used to be called the fishing capital of the world.
MW: Of the world.
TH: Whats the origin of that? What do you about that?
MW: I dont know anything, other than when I was a kid
TH: You grew up here.
MW: But we are. I have customers ask me all the time, If you could go anywhere in the world and fish, where would you go? And I tell em all, I say, I can go anywhere in the world. I have no familyI mean, I have a brother and sister but they dont livethey live in Washington and down in Miami. So I have nothing to hold me to Fort Pierce, and Ive got a floating home. I could be in the Bahamas, I could be in Maine, I could be in Mexico. Year round, fishing is better out of here than it is anywhere Ive ever heard of or seen. But theyre ruining that. It used to be cause youwhen one thing stops here, something else starts; where everywhere else, it peaks and then its just flat.
TH: On fish, youre talking fisheries?
TH: But here?
MW: They just go through the year. January: sails, dolphin, wahoo. February: cobia, grouper, kingfish, snapper ,and some sails. March: kingfish, grouper, snapper. March, April, May: the same thing, and the dolphin come in. May: the mangrove snappers really get going, and the grouper are still here, and the kingfish are here, and the dolphin are here, and the sailfishings pretty good. That goes through to August. Then in August, the tarpon show up. August and September, I got tarpon fishing. Dan Dierdorf, the football announcer, used to fish with me a lot and he said Fort Pierce is the best kept secret fishing-wise hed ever seen in his life. Larry Csonka emails me, wants to come down here and fish. He and I hooked through another customer. And then in October, October 15, the dolphins start showing again. Snapper fishings good in October. So youve got in November
TH: How do you fishokay, go ahead.
MW: November, youve got the snapper, dolphin, kings, cobia; and then youre back to December, which is dolphin and sails.
TH: How do you catch the bigI see em going up the coast, these 600, 800 pound tarpon. Can you
MW: Not 600 or 800.
TH: I mean, these are huge. How big are they?
MW: Two, 250 [pounds].
MW: But theyre eight and nine foot.
MW: Oh, yeah. That rod right therell do it, that first rod.
TH: Itll turn em? You can actually be able to turn around with em?
MW: When I say, Turn em, you gonna chase em. You gonna chase em.
TH: Can you get em worn down?
MW: Oh, yeah. Weve caught em in the inlet here.
TH: Huh, thats cool. How do you catchwhat do you use for a lure for
MW: Well, Id ratherI dont use a lure for tarpon. Big ones, actually, you can use a mullet or a bunker. You take a mullet, big mullet, and rip him in half. Dont use a knife. Im talking about grab both and twist and rip and break: rip it in half. One of the halves is the one thatyoull see that group rolling down the beach, and you cast out ahead of em. Let that sink down to the bottom, and tarpon will eat that faster than theyll eat anything alive. Split-tailed mullet. They did a big article
TH: Where youll cut the
MW: You cut the back, right behind the head; you cut the backbone out and split the tail, both sides, pull that out. Was developedI wasnt alive, so I dont know, but supposedlyI dont know if it was Captain Hagan or Captain [Pug] Eargle. But that was made; he came up with that to fish the inlet here for tarpon. Because like on the outgoing tideI dont know if youve ever seen on the water, but they justmy God, hes just, I mean
TH: The mullet?
MW: Yeah, the split-tail. He justhes alive. And you take an eight-ounce egg sinker, drop it down, put a twelve foot liter on it so that fish is coming up with the current a little bit and hes back there just (demonstrates). And they used to catchtheres pictures all around town of George Archer, Sam Crutchfield, Sonny Koblegaurd, catching eight foot tarpon.
TH: They gotta be from a boat, though.
MW: Oh, yeah. Oh, God, yeah! Well, Ive hooked em. When I lived over on the inlet, I hooked one one night and (makes sound effect) bam! And that was cute, you know? Next! (both laugh)
TH: That was my experience with tarpon. I was inmy back is a sixteen-foot bass boat and I was out there chasing with my girlfriendshes my wife now. I threw a spoon out in front of em and finally got one and I said, Yeah, I got one! And (makes sound effect) pop! (both laugh)
MW: Yeah, that was fun.
TH: I think I gothe took all the line. I had another pole and the same thing happened, and that was my tarpon fishing experience.
MW: Would you turn these off? (referring to recorder) I gotta tell you a cute story about [Beannie] Backus.
Albert E. Bean or Beannie Backus (1906-1990), was an American artist famous for his vivid Florida landscapes.
TH: All right, Im gonna shut everything off, and lets see.
TH: Talk to me about amberjacks.
MW: Well, with the closure of grouper and snapper, the only thing you have left is amberjack.
TH: You troll for those, dont you?
MW: No, no. You bottom fish. Oh, yeah.
TH: Big amberjacks, the big ones?
MW: Oh, yeah. Thats for use, again, the bottom rig with the twenty-eight ounce lead and the twelve or fourteen circle-hook and a live blue runner.
TH: Theyre good sport fish, but what are they good for other than that?
MW: They actuallyand again, Ill prove it to you, but theyre great smoked. The favorite fish to smoke is amberjack. And my mothers old cookbooks from the forties [1940s] and fifties [1950s], a lot of the fish recipes will say, Take two pounds of grouper or amberjack. That top loin, you take it outyou got a forty, fifty, sixty pound fish, thats a hell of a lot of meat right there. But you take that and finger it and go up here and have em fry it: you wont know that difference in that grouper.
TH: You say, Top loin. Be more specific.
MW: From the backbone up. Take from the backbone; make a cut right down the backbone lengthwise.
TH: On the top, the top side of the fish?
MW: Right, and then fillet that. You know, cut that right that out like you would a normal fillet. And theyre very wormy, but the worms are in thefrom the
MW: Back third of the fish.
MW: The other reason you dont fillet them completely is if the customers see the worms, they aint gonna eat any of the meat. (laughs)
TH: Its a little extra protein.
MW: Thats what I try to tell em. The thingreal quick, the thing theyre gonna do is put so much pressure on the amberjack. Thats what my worry is, that then itll come back and then in another six months or a year, theyll want to close amberjack. But youre only allowed one per person now as it is, which is fine, but now the guys with commercial licenses, the divers, will be out there spearing amberjack. And that, I dont agree with. They do more harm than we ever thought of doing.
TH: The divers.
TH: We didnt even talk about that.
MW: Oh, thats a sore subject for me. Ill tell you another cute story, after the things off.