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William Thiess oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Terry Howard.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (64 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (38 p.)
Oculina Bank oral history project
Interview conducted August 28, 2010.
Oral history interview with recreational fisherman Bill Thiess. Thiess regularly fishes around the restricted Oculina Bank area and continues to troll over it as trollingis not a prohibited activity there. He is in total support of the area's closure and is particularly concerned with environmental resources. Thiess thinks that closing areas to fishing is a good management tool, more effective than quotas and size limits, since the closed areas give fish a place to breed and grow undisturbed, from which they can go to open areas. He also points out that fishermen are not the only pressure on fish: wastewater and runoff are also major concerns. In this interview, Thiess also discusses his fishing history, the types of fish he catches, and the methods he uses.
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
COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 201, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Terry Howard: Good morning, this is Terry Howard. Today is August 28, 2010. Im at in St. Lucie Village, Florida, conducting an oral history with Bill Thiess, who is the Mayor of St. Lucie Village, Florida, for the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Foundations project with Fort Pierce fishermen on the Oculina Bank HAPC [Habitat Area of Particular Concern]. Welcome, Bill. Please state your name, spell your name, your place of birth, and your date of birth.
William Thiess: Bill, or William, Thiess, T-h-i-e-s-s, middle name Gay, G-a-y. I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, on January 3, 1949.
TH: What brought you to Fort Pierce?
WT: Well, a long way around to that
TH: When did you come to Fort Pierce?
WT: Actually came to Fort Pierce in 1971. At the time, I had dropped out of college and was working construction, and came up here to work on St. Lucie Nuclear Unit 1.
TH: Are you married?
WT: Yes, married to Beverly Thiess Sanders.
TH: How old were you when you got married?
WT: I was twenty-five.
TH: Do you have children?
WT: No children.
TH: How much schooling have you had?
WT: Well, Ive got a bachelors degree in environmental engineering and a masters degree in environmental engineering.
TH: Okay, from what school?
WT: Bachelors wasmost of my undergraduate work was at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute up in Troy, New York. Actually finished up the bachelors degree at Florida Institute of Technology and then went back for a masters at Clemson University. That was, like, 1978.
TH: Okay, what do you do for a living?
WT: Im the director of Fort Pierce Utilitiespublic utility.
TH: What other jobs have you had?
WT: Well, in the professional line, I worked for a consulting outfit in Gainesville called Water and Air Research. We did a lot of
WT: Water and Air Research.
TH: Water and Air Research.
WT: Water and Air Research. Yeah, we did a lot of lake and stream and estuarine studies. We did a lot of pre-impoundment studies for dams up on the Savannah River and a couple other dams in the Southeast. And we did a lot of Department of Defense work, looking at hazardous waste disposal practices. That was part of the installation restoration program where they were going back and cleaning the military bases from all the sins from the thirties [1930s] on up to date.
TH: In the water.
WT: Water and soil.
TH: Soil, okay. Have you worked in the fishing industry?
WT: Never worked, just been strictly recreational.
TH: Do you currently own a boat? What kind and length? Describe your boat.
WT: Yeah, we have a twenty-five foot Dusky, had it since 1993. We get out in it pretty regularly.
TH: Okay, whats it powered with?
WT: Right now, weve got it powered with twin 140 four-stroke Suzukisactually Johnson Suzukis, Jizukis.
TH: Johnson Suzukis?
WT: Theyre Suzukis with a Johnson nameplate on it.
WT: Bombardier wasnt making four-strokes, so they just borrowed the Suzukis.
TH: Okay. Now, Id like to ask you some questions about the Oculina Bank. How familiar are you with the Oculina Bank?
WT: We fish out in that direction pretty regularly. Were probably 90 percent trollers, so, we dont fish much on the bottom; we do it now and then. But we go out there to troll that area because its a pretty productive area for wahoo and dolphin.
TH: Okay. Do you know why was the Oculina Bank designatedwhy was it designated as an area to protect?
WT: Well, that Oculina coral, those peaks out there are massive. I mean, we go over peaks that have a hundred-foot-plus elevation rise. And those corals are very slow going; you know, weve seen the exhibits at the Smithsonian. I can see why you would want to keep any ground tackle or bottom fishing gear off of that because it can do a lot of damage, you know, to those corals. So, yeah, we support the closure for bottom fishing 100 percent.
TH: Is there anything else you can tell me about the Oculina Bank?
WT: No. Like I say, we fish around the edges of it, but we never fish in the out of bounds area on the bottom. And we troll over the top of it, which is strictly legal, because its a good area to fish out there. Theres a lot ofon a calm day you can see the upwelling where the currents hit those big hills. It holds a lot of bait fish, and we do pretty good on the dolphin out there.
TH: What do you think about the closure of the Oculina Bank to anchoring and bottom fishing?
WT: I support it 100 percent. We do a lot of diving, too, and were always very careful to throw our anchor in the sand and dig it in. We go to the Bahamas a lot and, you know, wherever we go we make sure we drop our anchor in the sand. So, any anchoring on coral ought to be strictly prohibited and, I think, enforced by fines.
TH: Has the closure of the Oculina Bank affected your fishing?
WT: Not at all. Like I say, were not much bottom fishermen. We do some, but we have plentyfrom what little we do, we can find plenty of places to fish outside of the closure area.
TH: If anchoring and bottom fishing were allowed in the Oculina Bank, if it was not prohibited, would you fish there?
WT: Bottom fishing?
TH: Yeah, if it were not prohibited.
WT: Well, thats a good question. We might try if it wasnt prohibited, but wed have to assure ourselves wed do it in a way that wouldnt leave any tackle on the bottom.
TH: A lot of the charter boat captains, a lot of the other fishermen that Ive talked to that bottom fish out there, they power fish.
TH: They just hold the boat without anchoring.
WT: Right, and when we fish those areas, usually we fish right inside the eighty longitude line, which is the western edge of the Oculina off-limits area. And we do the same thing. Its really when you find a structure, its much easier to keep the boat on top of it under power than to try to anchor and get set up on it, because
TH: The depth.
WT: The depth andyeah, the tide and everything else. I mean, that would be the only way to fish there, I would think.
TH: So, if it were allowed, you might.
WT: Yeah, we might try to do some power drops.
TH: Overall, how has fishing changed since you began fishing in the Fort Pierce area?
WT: Lets see. Id say theres more boats, more people, and I think a lot more fishing pressure on the fish. You have to spend more time to catch the same amount of fish, it seems likeand the fish we chase a lot is dolphin, dorado
WT: Dolphin. Well, down south in Mexico and all, they call them dorado, where we spend a lot of time. But anyway, it seems like theres not as many big fish as there used to be. We used to go out in the peak months of Maylate April, early Mayand always got a lot of big fish. Now seems like theres a lot of smaller fish.
TH: Big wahoo, big
WT: We catch wahoo occasionally. We dont target them a lot, but well catch wahoo on and off throughout the year. Weve caught a lot of over fifty pounds. I think theres so much pressure now thatand the dolphins seem to migrate in the spring, from what I read, from south to north. And I think the fishing pressure south of here in the cities with larger populationsyou know, the Palm Beaches and Lauderdale and Miamitheres so many boats out of there that the fish get hammered so hard on the way up that it puts a pretty good dent in them by the time they make it up this way. Most of the really good fishing for the decent sized fish, the dolphin, is on the east side of the Gulf Stream because not as many boats, you know, make it over to that side.
TH: Do you go over there often?
WT: We dont go over there often. We do go there: we go to the Bahamas and we fish that side. But we dont make day trips from here to the east side that often; theyre very infrequent. Have a lot of friends that do.
TH: Okay. Have you had any experience with law enforcement within or regarding the Oculina Bank?
WT: Ive seen the Fish and Wildlife Service boats near there. They boarded usdiving. We were diving at ninety feet in that area, but well to the side of the Bank. But no, theyve never stopped us on the Bank.
TH: Now, I want to talk about you fishing history specifically. What is your earliest memory of fishing and how old were you?
WT: Well, actually, I distinctly remember the first rod and reel I had.
WT: My parents bought it with the S & H Green Stamps. Do you remember that?
TH: Yes, I do. (laughs)
WT: Yeah. And it was a Hurricane rod and a big Mitchell spinning reel, and I went down to Haulover Inlet in Miami and fished off the sheet pilings on the south side of the inlet and
TH: Is that Government Cut?
WT: No, Haulovers north of Government Cut. Haulovers the little inlet, the northernmost inlet in Miami, right by the Haulover Pier. Its a fairly narrow inlet compared to Government Cut. Its right
TH: Now, did you live down in Miami for a while?
WT: Well, I grew up in West Hollywood, but my father managed hotels on Miami Beach. So we spent a lot of time on Miami Beach.
TH: So, your first rod was a
WT: Hurricane fiberglass spinning rod and a big old Mitchell reel, and I remember fishing off the sheet pile there on
TH: Now, was the Mitchell reel a spinning reel or a cast?
WT: Spinning reel.
WT: Yeah, and I remember catching grunts and a jack or two, and fishing with my old childhood friend there. That day (laughs) still stands out in my mind.
TH: Do you have any idea how old you were?
WT: I was probably thirteen or fourteen.
WT: I remember my mother dropped us off and picked us up.
TH: What did you fish for?
WT: Whatever we could catch, and I think it was mostly grunts and jacks.
TH: Now, whohow did you learn how to fish? Who taught you?
WT: Well, never really had a teacher, just bought some stuff and went out there and gave it a try. But after a while, when we bought our first boatmy family bought our first boat: it was a 1946 Jafco Sea Skiff made in New Jersey.
TH: Jafco. J
WT: J-a-f-c-o. Lapstake hull, the old tumblehome stern, you know
TH: Whats a tumblehome?
WT: Tumblehome, where it goes out like that. When you look at the boat from the stern, its rounded.
TH: Oh, a rounded stern.
TH: From the top down.
WT: Well, from the side, the side will go out like that(gestures)
WT: Its notthey stoppedthey dont use the name in the boat designs but
TH: When you show me that, it doesnt come up on the tape.
WT: (laughs) Yeah, well, its wider at the water line than it is at the
TH: Okay, it tapers in from the water line.
TH: It was a runabout, they used to call them.
WT: Yeah, yeah, a little six cylinder Gray Marine engine. We bought that back inthey bought that probably back in sixty-two , maybe, something like that. So, then we started fishing in the ocean. And of course dear old Dad, he was a novice as well, but he taught me what I knew at that time about fishing offshore. We started trolling, mostly, and fishing for dolphin and drift fishing for kingfish. And back in the sixties [1960s] off Miami in the summertime, youd catch fish just about any time you went out there.
TH: All you wanted.
TH: Huh, cool. Okay, when did you start fishing in Fort Pierce?
WT: I moved here in seventy-one  and got married in seventy-five . You know, in that period from seventy-one  to seventy-five , we did a little bit of fishing off the beach and off the jetty. Wed fish down off the north beach when the mullet run came in and all the action would pick up there, right in the corner of the jetty on the beach side.
TH: Surf fishing.
WT: Yeah, surf fishing. But we bought our first boat, Bev and I did, right after we got married. So, that would have been probably late seventy-five , early seventy-six .
TH: Your first boat was
WT: It was a thirteen-foot Boston Whaler, 1966 edition. Actually, it was a classic. It had factory built in Plexiglas viewing windows in the bottom.
TH: Oh, yeah?
WT: Where you could go to reefs and, you know, pull the cover off and look down on the reef.
TH: Cool. I didnt know that.
WT: Yeah. Actually, Sam Comer still has that boat out west of town.
TH: Sam who?
WT: Sam Comer.
WT: Comer, C-o-m-e-r. Hes one of my regular fishing buddies, and hes still got the oldthe name of that boat was the Blue Mullet.
TH: Blue Mullet. (laughs)
WT: We fished the heck out of that boat. We fished inshore for kingfish a lot and we fished offshore in that boat.
TH: What kind of motor did you have on it?
WT: We had a forty horse[power] Merc [Mercury] with tiller steering. We had a CB radio. The boat hadthose old Whalers had oar locks, and wed carry a set of oars with us. That was our get home insurance. (TH laughs) We had a little compass on there, and we fishedyou remember Don Atkins?
TH: Don Atkins.
WT: Donald Atkins, Bob Atkinss son. Bob used to be mayor of the Village. Don had a building business. His brother Daryl tended bar at Bourgeois forever. But we went outwe built houses together for a while.
TH: You and?
WT: And Don.
WT: Don Atkins. Actually, Sam Comer was on that trip with us, too. The three of usand I was the smallest of the three. Im six foot, 180 pounds. Don, he was about six-five and about 250, and Sams a little than I. Three of us in that little Boston Whaler went offshore on a pretty rough day.
WT: Thirteen-foot Boston Whaler, yeah. (laughs) And we caught a couplewe were kingfishing and dragging strip bait for kingfish, and we caught about a fifty pound sailfish and boated it.
TH: (laughs) No room!
WT: Yeah, we have pictures of it. We took it down to Baywood [Smokehouse] and weighed it and had it smoked. But we caught sailfish out of that boat. We caught dolphin over thirty pounds out of that little thirteen foot Whaler.
TH: Isnt that something. Okay, so you fished for everything, really. Did you snook?
WT: Yeah, we did some snook fishing in the inlet and off the beaches.
TH: How did you fish forwell, lets start with: How did you fish for the sailfish and the kingfish?
WT: We were either dragging shrimp baits or ballyhoo.
TH: Okay, and shrimp baits with a sea witch?
TH: Did you make your own sea witches?
WT: No, we bought them.
TH: Okay. So if you, you know, it saysthe next question is here: When did you start fishing in Fort Pierce? That would be probably when you first got here.
TH: Here on the beach. What did you fish for originally on the beach, was?
WT: Generally it was when the bait was in there. There was snook and occasionally bluefish.
WT: In fact, I remember catching a lot of bluefish off the north jetty in wintertime.
TH: Did you eat the bluefish?
WT: Wed eat them fresh. We wouldnt freeze them.
WT: They dont do too well in the freezer.
TH: So, you fished for a little bit of everything.
TH: Where did you go to fish when you began fishing? Okay, youve already said on the beach. And then, with the thirteen-foot Whaler, you went everywhere.
TH: How far offshore did you go with that thirteen-foot Whaler?
WT: Well, we never had a decent depth finder on the boat. So, we didnt know how deep on the boat
WT: Certainly out of sight of land. So, we were at least
TH: (laughs) Okay, so thats at least ten miles.
TH: Plus. Okay.
WT: Yeah, we fished that boat out of Marathon, too. We fished it far enough offshore we could barely see Sombrero Light looking back toward the north.
TH: Cool. That wasyou traveled that boat down there for
TH: Did you dive from that boat, I guess?
WT: Oh, yeah, we did a lot of diving, mostly free diving back then. We didnt really do much scuba diving back then.
TH: Wouldnt be room for any tanks on there.
WT: No. (laughs)
TH: Did you mostly go fishing in your own boat or boats of others?
WT: Mostly my own boat.
TH: Who did you fish with? Youve already named Sam
WT: Yeah, Sam Comer is a regular. He probably goes with me more than anybody. And probably the one that goes not quite as much, but almost, is Don March.
TH: Don March?
TH: I dont even know these people.
WT: Another one that gets out there fairly regularly, but not nearly as much as those two, is Mike Daly, D-a-l-y.
TH: Just no i.
WT: Just D-a-l-y.
TH: Okay, these are all Fort Pierce residents?
WT: Yeah. And occasionally Paul Senate goes with me. In the Village, Ive had my neighbor Jimmy Clark with me a couple times. Whoever I can get for a crew: just go down the top of the list, see whos available.
TH: During what months of the year do you fish, and for what?
WT: Well, just almost any month. We seem to fishyou know, April and Mays the month we try to get out there a lot because the cobia are out usually in April and even into May, and sometimes on into the winter. But May, historically, has been the dolphin month, and sometimes starting early into April. But it doesnt really matter; if the weathers anything but really bad, well try to fish, you know, at least a couple times a month.
TH: Now, it sounds to me like dolphin is probably yourif theres one fish that you target more frequently than the other. So, you could say youre a dolphin fisherman.
WT: Yeah. Well, we go after kingfish, too. We like to live bait for kingfish cause I like the action, you know. I like theyou know, we go after them with light spinning tackle and live bait, and we usually smoke those and make fish dip. Fresh, well throw them on the grill or something like that. The kingfish and dolphin are probably the two fish we catch the most of.
TH: So then, you talked about April. What about summer months?
WT: Summer months. Well, we get kind of in the doldrums around August. Theres still kingfish around, but sometimes theyre hard to find. We went out a couple weeks ago, and lets see, I think we had oneyou know, it was pretty slim picking. We caught one kingfish, one shark and two bonitas.
TH: Sounds like a day of fishing with me. Thats what I had yesterday: I had two bonitas and a kingfish.
WT: Slim pickings. I prefer to dive in the summer, if the waters clear.
TH: Okay, the waters pretty clear now. How long did a fishing trip last? How long does a fishing trip last, average?
WT: We typically roll out of here at least probably an hour before sun up and run the boat and pick up gas if we need it. We usually launch out of Little Jim Bridge. I like to be breaking the inlet before the sun comes up. So, you know, were out at first light and well come inif its one of those days where were catching nothing all day, we can pretty well take a hint by noon or one oclock and come on in early. If were getting into some fish or into some stuff that looks good, like finding some floating structure, we might stay out till four, five oclock. But typically were out in the water at six-thirty and back in around two-thirty.
TH: How much would you catch on an average trip? Now, this isI know, cause you talk about fishing for everything and all your years of fishing, but can you kind ofan average trip, how much pounds, how many fishgood day, medium day, average day.
WT: Weve had days where we caught fifty dolphin and took all day to clean em. And then weve, of course, had days where we just come in and hosed the boat down with no fish to clean. I guess if you had to pick an average, maybe a couple or three fish per trip, maybe twenty or thirty pounds of fish per trip on the average, cause theres a lot of pretty lean trips and theres a lot of trips where you just end up throwing everything back, too. We dont keep the real little dolphin or anything like that.
TH: Okay. For how many years have you fished forso, lets see, how many years have you fished for dolphin?
WT: Well, we started with my folks around sixty-two  or sixty-three , so were getting up to forty
TH: Forty or fifty years.
WT: Fifty years, yeah.
TH: So all these fishactually, you fished for all these fish for
WT: Oh, yeah. We used to fish for kingfish a lot, too, off Miami.
WT: Back then we went on the head boats off Miami. Back then you could go for like twelve dollars a day on the head boats. They would drift ballyhoo with maybe a feather, sea witch on em or something like that. That was just the style of fishing for kingfish back then.
TH: Just drift andI never heard of head boats drifting forwell, they do. They drift for kingfish.
WT: They just drift, and theyd drift with rigged ballyhoo and a little sea witch on it, or a jig head with the ballyhoo on it and a trailer hook.
TH: Jig head, you mean like a hook with a feather?
WT: Yeah, a big jig, hook through the head. Yeah, we used to fishwe fished on a boat that specialized in dolphin fishing. That was out of Sunny Isles, Miami, and they would go to the east side of the Gulf Stream off Miami. I can remember being on that boat when I was about fifteen years old, and they caught almost 300 dolphin on that trip.
TH: Wow. Did they have, like, a pool for who caught the most?
WT: They did. We were like fifteen year old kids. So, I think my buddy and I got like five fish. We were happy. But we saw a lot of big fish come in that day.
TH: You still fish today; mostly you fish foryou troll fish for whatever strikes.
WT: Yeah, dolphin
TH: Do you release sail fish today or do you bring them home to smoke them?
WT: We release all the sailfish. Well catch anywhere from six to ten of those a year.
TH: Okay. About how many dolphin do you think you catch a year?
WT: Well, this past year has been pretty slow, one of the slowest ones ever. But usually over the course of the year well catchwho knows, thirty or forty, maybe fifty. Like I say, we caught fifty in one trip, several times, you know, limited out with five licenses. But, you know, thats when you find the big floating log. Yeah, we followed that log all the way up towe were north of Sebastian by the time we pulled off it.
TH: You caught fiftynice?
WT: Yeah, there was a good sizethey were mostly ten, twelve-pound fish.
TH: Wow, thats a lot of action. Where else do you go fishing in the Fort Pierce area now?
WT: Occasionally Ill fish with friends with flash boats back in the river for trout and stuff. I dont do a whole lot of that. I usually go as a guest on their boat.
TH: Like who?
WT: Ive been with Dave Crane. Daves certainly one of the best around at that.
WT: Right. Yeah, hes one ofprobably the best fishermen, one of the best at the inshore fishing in the county, I would say. Another friend of mine I fish with occasionally, Marty Rippe, R-i-p-p-e.
TH: Then R-i
WT: R-i-p-p-e. Yeah, I havent fished with him in a while. Hes been working out of town a lot lately.
TH: Okay. What gear and bait do you use? Lets go back to trolling. Today, when you go out trolling, you use sea witches and ballyhoo or mullet?
WT: Our typical routwell, we rig some swimming mullet sometimes for flat lines and we typically rig ballyhoo with single hook rigs, and I like to fish em naked. The old naked ballyhoo has been a pretty steady performer over the years.
TH: Just a hook and a ballyhoo.
WT: Yeah, just a, you know, single hook up forward
TH: Up forward underneath?
WT: Yeah, underneath, and either with a weight under his chin or without. And sometimes well put some flat head or cup head lures on them like the Alien plastic. They break the water and leave a little bubble trail. Those are pretty productive. And sometimes well just, you know, throw a little rubber skirt under. I like those little Mylar skirts they make now that just add a little bit of color and flash.
TH: Mylar, M-i?
WT: M-y-l-a-r. Mylar skirts.
TH: Okay. And you usually now, mostly, go in your own boat?
WT: Yeah, almost always.
TH: Does your wife go fishing with you? Does she like to fish?
WT: She does a lot. She used to do it a whole lot, but she had a neck injury a while back and thats kind of limited her.
WT: Boat time, lately.
TH: Who do you usually fish with? Youve already named quite a few.
WT: Sam Comer and Don March are the two that go the most, and I think I gave you the next three in line, are on the list there.
TH: We already talked about average catch. For how many years do you fish for all these fish? So mostly now, you still like to go offshore and troll and whatever action you get
WT: Well, I like to bottom fish, but the problem with bottom fishing is you have to have a crew that doesnt mind working a little bit, (laughs) you know? You can go out trolling and take your relatives and whatever. You know, you put the spread out and go. But if youre bottom fishing, you have to have people that want to crank the baits up and do the work, and sometimes its hard to find that crew. But weve got a couple spots out here that have been pretty productive, where weve caught some nice grouper. But I have to have my ace crew (TH laughs) to go do that. We do a lot of
TH: Whos your ace crew?
WT: That would be Sam Comer and Don March, and my brother in-law is starting to go with us too. Thats Sam, another Sam, Sam Shields.
TH: Sam Shields.
WT: Yeah, hell work his butt off. Hes a good crew.
TH: Okay, good. Now, how often do you go offshore fishing?
WT: Well, we used to hit is pretty much every week, but Id saywere in the summertime now; were lucky to hit every other week.
TH: So, how many times a week? You say you used to (inaudible) when you were a little bit younger.
WT: Well, just more commitments these days, more stuff to do. But, you know, Id say we get out a couple times a month now, anyway. And if the fishing good, like if were in May and the dolphin bites good, well go out every weekend.
TH: Are there some months you go fishing more frequently?
WT: Definitely May. May, April if the weather gets nice early, June. Those three months are when
TH: Do you ever go mackerel fishing?
WT: Oh, yeah.
TH: You like to catch mackerel?
WT: We got little Clark spoons, yeah. Again, thats another fishtheyre really good if you eat them same day catching, or smoke them, but they dont freeze that well.
TH: Are there some months you rarely or never go out fishing?
WT: Id say that month were least likely to go would bewe fish every month of the year and we rarely ever go a month without fishing, but probably February, you know.
WT: But I can remember February going out and it was eighty degrees, and we got into the cobia and the rays off of the northeast grounds and limited out on cobia. So, you never know.
TH: Its been productive for me in February, often.
TH: Lets see, I think Iveaverage fishing trip. On average, how far do you go offshore, on average?
WT: Well, we dont fish much inside of fifty feet. Our close-in kingfish numbers are in that reef area in fifty, fifty-five feet.
TH: That would be north of 12, 12-A buoy.
WT: Yeah, that whole area north of 12. We dont go out past three hundred a lot unless we want to go out and find the edge of the Stream.
TH: Three hundred feet.
WT: Three hundred feet. So, Id say six to fourteen miles.
TH: Now, most of the dolphin you catch when you go dolphin fishing, is that beyond a hundred foot?
WT: I dont know, weve caught them inweve hit some big ones in sixty foot of water, you know, just
TH: But I mean when youre targeting them, you dont target them in sixty feet, do you?
WT: No. Actually the day we caught them in sixty, we leftit was dark when we passedthere was a nice color change at the sixty feet. We couldnt see it because it was dark when we were going out. We already hadwe had three or four nice fish. We were coming in and we saw one thing, I have still to this day have never seen anything like it. There was two frigatebirds
TH: Two frigatebirds.
WT: Two frigatebirds. They were doing these power dives from like a hundred feet high, and they were coming down and as soon as they got down close to the water, theyd pull out of that dive and theyd shower the flying fish out of the water and run them down in the air and catch them.
TH: Catch them in the air?
WT: Catch them in the air. When we saw that going on, we said, Get the baits back out, man.
TH: (laughs) And you were trolling, you were coming in from fishing.
WT: We were running in. We were coming home. We were running in and we saw this, and we threw the spread back out and we had three big dolphin like (snaps fingers) just like that.
TH: When you say the spread
WT: The trolling spread. We got all the outriggers out and put all the
TH: How many would you troll?
WT: We usually troll five lines.
TH: Five lines?
WT: Doing the outriggers, two flat lines, and then we got one little one that we just (electronic noise) trolling the
TH: Center of the
WT: In the prop wash right behind the teaser.
TH: All right. You already talked about who you fish with. Now, okay, I like the five lines. Ive fished four before, but Ive never fished five. How do you decide where to fish? You know, you say youre going to go fishing next weekend, how would you decide?
WT: Well, we try to talk to someone whos been out there. (phone rings)
TH: You want me to pause it?
TH: Okay, how do you decide where you will fish? Do you hear word of mouth that somethings biting out there?
WT: Yeah, if we can talk to someone whos been out, because the guys who go out every day, they pretty well have the edge because they know from day to day where the bait is and where the fish are. But if we cant talk to somebody, we havewe like to fish around structure. So, well go make a bait stop, either go to the 10-A buoy or get bait along the beach, just a few live baits. And weve got somewe have a lot of numbers where all thetheres a lot of those east-west ledges in that area north of 12.
WT: Which is usually a good area to fish: weve caught a lot of kingfish there and a fair amount of cobia. So, well fish that structure. Well go out maybe to the Amazone, the Amazone wreck; you know, thats east of 12. Weve caught a lot of decent fish around the Muliphen [artificial reef] and occasionally drop for amberjack there if were really bored, because theyre not much good for anything but smoking. Then, we have a lot of reefs marked up north. Theres a barge wreck almost due east of the inlet thats been pretty good for kingfishing.
TH: How deep of water is that?
WT: That ones in sixty feet, fifty-five feet.
TH: Just straight east?
WT: Almost straight east, yeah. Yeah, that onesit says its a barge. It doesnt mark like a barge, but itsthe guy that gave it to me said that its a barge. I dont know if its one. I think its one of the county reefs, because weve seen very few people fishing it. But its a good bait stop, too. Theres bait there, and its been a pretty good kingfish area, too. And out from there, weve
TH: You say structure; youre talking on the bottom?
WT: Reef or wrecks.
TH: Yeah, reefs and wrecks.
WT: Then we got a slew of our dive numbers, you know, on the big offshore bar where you have the big drop. At certain times, that can be a good place for dolphin, kingfish, whatever. Then once we leave that, weif were north, well definitely usually go out there to the Oculina peaks and fish around there, because that can be very productive. It seems to concentrate a lot of bait on top.
TH: When you say you talk to people before you go, who do you talk to? You say its the people that go every day. You call the bait shop or Whites Tackle?
WT: Well, yeah, sometimes Ill call there. They seem to give some fairly generic reports. Ive got friends that are retired that fish a lot during the week, like Jim Huck. Hell fish in
TH: Jim who?
WT: Jim Huck.
TH: How do you spell that name?
TH: Its a fishermans name.
WT: Yeah, Jim used to own that Hucks Country Store out there on Glades Road and Alpha Road.
WT: But now hes just got commercial rental properties and has a lot of time to fish. So yeah, somebody that I know has been out there; or, probably about 90 percent of the time, we just have to make our own game plan. We also have the sea temperature charts we print out from the Internet. We subscribe to theIll think of it. Its not Roffers; its one of the other services; it has the temperature, the chlorophyll charts. Well look and that doesnt usually show a lot of itll at least define the edge of the Gulf Stream very well, so well know where that edge is.
TH: How current are those charts for those
WT: They do several shots a day and, like, if
TH: So, you have like a daily temperature
WT: Oh, yeah, if we go on at night, like if wereif its dark, theyll get their last shot maybe around five or six oclock. So, if were going to fish tomorrow, you know, Id go on after dark tonight and get the last shot, which would be five or six oclock, and itll show the sea temperature and the chlorophyll.
TH: Chlorophyll, the clarity?
WT: The chlorophyll is just the chlorophyll content in the water, and it pretty well defines the edge of the Stream because that water is relatively chlorophyll free, doesnt have a lot of chlorophyll in it. Its just, you know, clearer, warmer water.
TH: What is chlorophyll?
WT: Well, chlorophyll is an indication of phytoplankton.
TH: Okay, interesting.
WT: Or algae or whatever. Mostly what I think theyre measuring is chlorophyll produced by phytoplankton.
TH: Okay, lets see. On average, how farwhat was your last fishing trip? Tell me about your last fishing trip. Was that the one where you didnt catch very much?
WT: Two weeks ago, when we were mostlywe did a little live baiting and a little trolling. Like I said, one kingfish, one shark, two bonitas.
TH: Okay. Finally, Id 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 of the Oculina Bank. Id like to know if any of these regulations affected your fishing, and if so, how? The Oculina Bank was initially closed to trawling, dredging, and bottom longlining in 1984. Did this affect your fishing?
WT: No, not at all.
TH: In 1994, ten years later, the Oculina Bank was designated as an experimental closed area where fishing for and retention of snapper/grouper species was prohibited. Snapper/grouper fishing boats were also prohibited from anchoring. Was your fishing impacted by this regulation?
WT: No, cause we never did any of that anyway.
TH: Then, in 1996, all anchoring was prohibited within the Oculina Bank. Did this impact your fishing, and if so, how?
WT: No, we wouldnteven if we fished today, we wouldnt anchor in that deeper water.
TH: In 1996, trawling for rock shrimp was prohibited in the area to the east and north of the designated Oculina Bank, and in 1998, this area was incorporated into the Oculina Bank HAPC. Fishing with a bottom longline, trawl, or dredge was prohibited in this expanded area, as was anchoring by any vessel. Was your fishing impacted by this regulation?
WT: No. But I certainly support limiting the trawlers and that kind of thing. Just from what Ive read, they can be fairly destructive on the bottom habitat, not to mention the by-catch and everything else.
TH: Trawl, dredges, okay. The designation of marine areas that are closed to fishing is being used more frequently as a fishery management tool. What do you think about the use of closed areas to fishing compared to other types of management regulations such as quotas, closed seasons, trip limits, et cetera?
WT: I think its a good idea. Actually, I was involved in the development of the National Marine Sanctuary in the Keys.
TH: Oh, yeah?
WT: Yeah, our company did the engineering part that looked at the wastewater practices. But we were involved in all that. We went to all the meetings, and of course, they ended up with lots of exclusion zones that they kind of scattered around.
TH: Exclusion zones?
WT: Excluding all kinds of fishing. And then theres a lot of those down by the [Dry] Tortugas, and it makes a lotand theyre marked. I think most of them are marked with buoys. So, if you see the big yellow buoys, you know youre not supposed to fish in there. Now all the GPS software also has that included in there. I think they work a lot better than the quotas and all that, because the quotas and all that, youre depending on people to be basically honest and tell you the right story, okay? Whether its recreational fishermen or commercial fishermenI mean, we have a lot of those both of those groups that are very honest and do the right thing, you know. My neighbor back here, Tommy Jones
Thomas Jones is an interviewee for the Oculina Bank Oral History Project. The DOI for his interview is O6-00012.
, hes a probably a little more educated than a lot of the commercial fishermen around here, but hes always been a by-the-book kind of guy, not somebody thatd go pilfer the resource.
But if youre relying on the integrity of the takers to protect the resource, I think thatsin todays world, with the numbers of people we have out there, I dont think thatll work. But if you have exclusion zones where if youre in that zone and youre fishing, youre arrested, that seems to be a more positive approach, a more foolproof approach. And Ive been in some of those exclusion zones, and weve dove in, like, the Looe Key Sanctuary. Looe Key is off Ramrod Key, a really beautiful reef down there in the lower Keys. You can go down there, and of course you cant take any spearguns or anything, but you can just go look. But its a beautiful reef(clears throat) Excuse me. Its not torn up and you can seeyou can dive down there and you can see yellowtail like this swimming by
TH: Hes holding his hands three feet apart.
WT: Well, yeah.
WT: Yeah, good big yellowtail that just swim by, and you never see that on any of the reefs where you can spearfish. So, it gives the fish a place where they can hang out (laughs) and not get pilfered. And the grouper will come right up and look at you, so, you know. Those areas, if theyre big enough toand you got to havestrike a balance because you dont want all the areas off limits, cause recreational fishings big for the economy of the state. But if you have certain good-sized areas where the fish can propagate and breed and everything else, I think its a pretty good plan. If they closedif you had more closure areas, I dont think it would hurt the fishing; it might even help it, because those fish that breed and grow to a good size in that area might migrate to other areas and, you know, be caught somewhere else. (phone rings) Im all for those. I think its a pretty good management tool. (phone rings)
TH: Okay, how about the enforcement of it? Is it
WT: Well, thats the problem. I know back when the Oculina Bank first went off limits, there was almost no enforcement. I talked to guys that fished there a lot, and the guys I talked to are pretty much law abiding citizens. Theyll fish west of that eighty-degree longitude line. But they say theyve seen charter captains over there, you know, theyll be just a few hundred yards west of the eighty line and theyll see charter captains fishing out of bounds on a pretty regular basis. You know, theyre out to make a living and theyre trying to put fish in the boat for their charter, but still, you know, thats
TH: And theyre bottom fishing, theyre trolling.
WT: Theyre bottom fishing, right. So, there was no enforcement at first, and now theres some boats out thereI had a friend of mine that got stopped by the Coast Guard out there. So, I dont know what theyre doing about enforcing thebut it is federal waters. I dont know if thats part of their mission. But if you have those zones, you need some enforcement, and whether its from the air, you got to have some boats in the water, too. So, thats an expense.
TH: Follow up on this. If you were managing the fisheriesthis is another wide open question. If you were managing all the fisheries, what do you think the fairest, most equitable means of managing fisheries are? Again: quotas, trip limits, closed areasyou probably like those.
WT: I think its a combination of everything. You have toI think you have to have slots or length limits. Like the fish that we fish for the most, dolphin, I think ten is a pretty generous quota. I would have no problem going to five and, you know, right now its a twenty-inch limit. That could even go up a little to twenty-four or twenty-two or something like that. In the old days when you would go out there and bailed dolphin all day longten fish per person is a pretty good thing, but back then there was maybe a couple thousand boats from here to Miami. Now, theres probably a couple hundred thousand boats, you know? Its just the numbers areand theres more every year.
TH: Just the pressure.
WT: Just more fishing pressure. So, you know, the limits need to be reasonable. You need to be able toyou should be able to go out and catch enough to, you know, have some dinner, but you dont need to fill the freezer and feed the whole neighborhood. You know, ten per person, you got four people in a boat, you dont really need to bring back forty dolphin. So, you know, a combination of a good slot lengthI went to a lot of those meetings when they were talking about changing the snook regulations, and those were some heated, heated public meetings. They had some in the school house here and down at the county commission chambers.
TH: Now, who had those meetings?
WT: That was the Fish and Wildlife Service was running those. You know, theres some science behind that, and of course all the fishermen were questioning the science. You know, who knows? Theres some people with some college education that are trying to figure some of this stuff out, and youre never going to make everybody happy. But I think it needs to be a combination of reasonable bag and length limits, some exclusion zones, and some enforcement. You got to get everybody. Everybody has to be treated fairly, too. You cant just hammer the recreational fishermen and give the commercial fishermen a free license to do everything, too, and that goes to the commercial divers.
I mean, the commercial divers can go out there and powerhead grouper all day long. And when the grouperI think this year was the first year they took the gags out for like four, five months, something like that. And the first few months after theyre back in, the commercial divers are out there powerheading every fish on the reef, because you could dive before that and there was grouper everywhere. They could pretty well clean out a reef area in a very short amount of time. Theyre very good at it. So, Im not sure theon the one hand, I think that powerheading is too efficient, because they can kill all the grouper. On the other hand, they probablyif youre shafting the fish, youre going to get fewer fish and you might have more that you hurt and dont catch, too. So, theres probably two sides to that argument. But it just doesnt seem fair to thelooking at the whole resource and who should be able to catch grouper, that the commercial guys go out and powerhead every grouper on the reef, and then the charter guy takes his guy out there and hes lucky to catch a legal grouper if the spots been dove on the last couplefew times.
TH: Youre saying that sometimes the regulations are more fair to one group than the other than they should be?
WT: Youre never going to make everybody happy.
TH: As equitable as possible across the board to all the different groups.
WT: Yeah, but thats a pretty hard road to go down, because somebodys always going to be complaining that theyre getting the short end of the stick. But, you know, the more peopleI mean, look at how the populations grown in Florida in the last twenty, thirty years, and its apparently going nowhere but up. So, its going to be more and more pressure on the resource, and theyre going to have to squeeze it down tighter and tighter.
TH: Thinking ahead to the futurenow, one thing you havent mentioned: theres a lot of pressure on the fish from fishermen. Are there other pressures on the coastal lagoon and fish that you havent mentioned?
WT: Oh, yeah.
TH: And being an engineer, an environmental engineer
WT: Yeah, Ive seenI grew up in South Florida in the early fifties [1950s], and Ive been in the water all my life. My father was a UDT back in the old days; he was in the UDT, in the Underwater Demolition Team, back before they had scuba gear. So, that kinda dates him, you know.
TH: Was he involved in World War II?
WT: No. He was in the late forties [1940s]. So, he was in, like, towards the end of the Korean War.
WT: Yeah, he still volunteers at the UDT Seal Museum. So, we were in the water all the time. We started diving when we were like ten, or probably eight years old. Back then, we went to the Keys. We started going to the Keys when I was probably ten or twelve. Back then, the water quality was just so superior to what it is now. Theres a difference. People go to the Keys now and they say, Oh, how beautiful this is.
When I was going to a lot of those meetings where we were working up the marine sanctuary plans for the Keys, and our mission in that was wastewater, I stayed at the same place where we used to vacation when I was a kid. I took my snorkeling gear just for grins and took a little underwater camera. They had these little islands that we used to go around. And the big thing in the Keys was there was no wastewater treatment. Probably there was something like six thousand cesspools. You know, they werent even legitimate septic tanks. And that kind of stuff has fouled that water so badly, theres no comparison between the way it was in 1955 and the way it was in 1990 when we were doing that work. We used to dive around these little islands right off this little resort we stayed at, and the water was crystal clear. I remember spearing grouper there that were legal size grouper up under the rocks and we used to get lobsters there
TH: Three feet long grouper?
WT: Well, yeah, no. (laughs) When I was a kid, they might have seemed that long, but you know, decent-sized gag grouper. And we used to catch lobsters all around, and the water was crystal clear, and there was no algae or anything like that. I swam out there from our resort to those little islands, and they were totally choked top to bottom with filamentous green algae. You couldnt even get up close to the island. I mean, it looked like a sewage lagoon.
TH: Now, this was when?
WT: This was in the late nineties [1990s], when we were working on the wastewater master plan for Monroe County. So, in that time, in that whole area therethat was near the highway patrol station in Marathon there was a community right there that was almost all on cesspools. So, you just have all those nutrients and stuff going out, and it has totally fouled the water. Even in the bigger cities down south, I mean, there wastheres still some ocean outfalls, I think, but most of them are going to deep well injection now. The water clarity here, I mean, its different today than it was in 1971 when I moved up here. You used to be able to go out to Pepper Park on any day in the summer and just see right to the bottom. Now, it has to be very calm.
TH: But again, theres another factor. You havent mentioned runoff and the releases from Okeechobee.
WT: Oh, yeah, thats huge. I mean, that brings in the nutrients and the turbidity that doesnt let the sunlight down. And the corals, there used to be a lot more live corals on the reef off of Pepper Park. You see very few now and all that, you know, because thats all the nursery habitat where things get started. So, that
TH: Thats right out here, too.
WT: Oh, yeah, and the inlet, too.
TH: In the Indian River Lagoon.
WT: And I can remember a while back where they had this outfit out of the Carolinas that was like a combine that would just vacuum out the Sargassum weed. They were using it for filler for animal feed, and they finally stopped that, but they were doing that for years. And thats like, to me, like running a combine through the Everglades wetlands, because thats where, you know, because everything
TH: Sargassus [sic].
WT: Everythings out there. Weve been out there in, like, August, after most of the sea turtles have hatched, and you can pull up to those big Sargassum masses and therell be little turtles all over the top of that thing. And these guys were justthey had these, like, combine boats, and they were just scooping up all that stuff and hauling tens of thousands of tons of it back up to North Carolina for filler for animal feed. I mean, they finally stopped it, but that went on from like the seventies [1970s] up till into the nineties [1990s] somewhere. So, yeah, its not just the fishing, its everything. And a lot of it just has to do with the exploding population in Florida.
TH: Okay, thinking ahead to the future, what do you think fishing in Fort Pierce will be like in ten years?
WT: Well, I think youre going to have to get online every morning before you go and check what the recentwhat the new regulations are. Thats where I go to print them out, because they do change fairly regularly. You used to buy a copy and throw in your boat for a year and youre good. Now they change so frequently that you have to consult it pretty regularly.
TH: So, you consult the computer.
WT: Yeah. So, you know, personally I dont go out to catch a whole bunch of fish. When we go to the Bahamas, we catch enough to eat while were there. We dont care about bringing back a bunch. If we catch enoughwe spearfish there, mostly, but we get enough hogfish and nice mutton snapper, too, and crank up the boat grill and eat a nice little dinner every night, and thats all we care about. Same here: we only get enough to have a fish once or twice a week, maybe, and thats all I care about. So, I dont care about the big limits. If I can go out and catch two or three dolphin on a day, Im happy for as I can be. Or a couple kingfishyou know, I dont really care about filling the box up.
TH: So in ten years, once again
WT: If I can catch my two or three dolphin, Ill be happy. But I think the limits are going to get tighter and tighter, and probably the slots will get smaller and everything else. Its going to have to, because youre going to get so much fishing pressure. If you dont do that, youre going to wipe out the resource or get it off balance.
WT: And hopefully theyll get the Everglades thing straightened out and get that water sheet flowing down south, because thatsespecially in the Stuart areaI mean, it affects up here, but it really affects the Stuart area. And
TH: Do you know that they took some of the pressure off Stuart by re-routing some of the water to Taylor Creek, recently?
WT: I heard that they were going to do that.
TH: Theyve done it.
WT: They did it? Yeah. Well, they need to sheet flow it south. I mean, thats the only long term answer.
TH: To the Everglades.
WT: Right, yeah, because the Everglades can use the nutrients and assimilate all that. Itll do good down there, but out here in the ocean it wasnt meant to
TH: In the Indian River Lagoon?
TH: Can you quickly describe the Indian River Lagoon and the inlet and the clarity and, I guess, turbidity of the water during a time of drought, compared to during a time of heavy rains and heavy runoff?
WT: Yeah, I love droughts. (laughs)
WT: Because the waters clear. I mean, you know
TH: The water here is almost is clear as the Bahamas and the Keys certain times a year.
WT: It really gets nicer in the drought. I mean, the rivers clear. The incoming tide right out here in front of the Villageyou can see the bottom all the way across the river in a drought. So the drought, its not good for wetlands and stuff, but theyre pretty resilient. They can come back. Its good for water sales and utility business, but it really is goodI think it gives the reefs a break and gives the lagoon a break and the water clears up.
TH: Badly needed break.
WT: Yeah, and it probably looksif you look at, like, Conchy Joes [Restaurant], they got all those pictures on the wall in there. But back a long time ago, way before I think there was releases coming through the locks from OkeechobeeI dont even know if that canal was dug back then; probably wasnt. But it looked like the Bahamas. It was just clear blue-green water and you wouldnt believe it was the same place. So, that needs to stop, and they need to rearrange the plumbing of the whole Everglades and get that back the way it was and quit those discharges. I think thatll help things immensely.
TH: Okay, any other insights on the next ten years, in ten years, what you see? Because youve fished a lot, you probably know as much about this river and the ocean and this area as anybody.
WT: Well, the biggest problem is going to be solving the Everglades problem. That had a lot of momentum going at one time, until we started spending all our money on other things, like two wars over in the Middle East and all that. But there wasand the money, it looks like it was in place to do the whole thing at one point, and now it looks like its going to come out in small buckets, you know, a little bit at a time. So, I think fundings going to be the big issue, because theres a lot of land purchases. Theres a lot of impoundment areas that have to be built and all that. So, its a matter of priorities over the next ten years; its what you are going to spend the money on? I think thats pretty important. Ive neverI wouldnt even attempt to look at what the national budget is, but if I could personally go and take the money out of certain things and put it over there, I think it could be done. I think were wasting money on a lot of things that are way less important than that. But if we can elect people thatll get up there and fight for it and get the money going in that direction, thats whats its gonna take, get our legislators moving.
TH: Strong environmental.
WT: Yeah, and thats not a pork project. Its something that has to be done. Wenot you and I, but us peoplescrewed it up, the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers and all, in the name of development, and now its time to fix it. And theyreI think the common thinking is staring to get in line with that kind of thought. I mean, theyve done a lot to the Kissimmee River, putting back the flow into the old oxbows. We did a lot of that work back when I was with that company in Gainesville. We did the original modeling of the Kissimmee River and redirecting the flows and all that. Some of thats been accomplished and thats probably helping the lake out some, but its not the total solution. I think that would be the single biggest change they could make, probably, that would help the fishing and the fisheries and in the lagoon and the near shore waters is to get all that going that way. We got a lot here to work on locally with, you know, what were putting in it.
TH: Taylor Creek?
WT: Yeah, all that. I mean, everybodys got a hand in it, the agricultural people. Everybodys got to do their best effort and get on board with it and not fight it.