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subfield code a F70-000032 USFLDC DOI0 245 Robert "Bob" Ferber oral history interviewh [electronic resource] /c interviewed by Mr. Terry Lee Howard.500 Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.1 600 Ferber, Robert7 655 Oral history.localOnline audio.local700 Howard, Terry Lee710 University of South Florida.b Library.Digital Scholarship Services - Digital Collections.Oral History Program.773 t Florida Fishing Captains Oral History Project4 856 u https://digital.lib.usf.edu/?f70.3
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text Terry Lee Howard (TH): Today is October 6th, 2018. I'm here with Robert Ferberâ€”Bob Ferber. We call him Captain Bob Ferber. And weâ€™re atâ€”on Chamberlain Boulevard in Fort Pierce, and he's going to be interviewed for the Fishing Captain Oral History Projectâ€”Florida Fishing Captains Oral History Project for the University of [South Florida] Tampa Library. Now, Iâ€™m going to begin by asking you to please state your full name, Bob.
Robert Ferber (RF): Robert Ferber.
TH: Okay. And do I have your permission to use this interview for publication, books, articles, et cetera?
TH: And do I have your permission to archive this interview at the University of South Florida Tampa Library Digital Archives?
TH: Okay. When were you born and where were you born?
RF: I was born in January 1937, Long Island, New York.
TH: Okay. And how did you end up here? Give me a little background about how you ended up as a commercial fishing captain. And I know you're also a mechanic.
RF: Well, my dad moved [to] upstate New York, and I guess that's where I started fishing because we had a small river out in front of our house [that] we used to swim in. And my dad cut an old maple branch, put a piece of string on it and a bobber andâ€”anyway, Iâ€™d fish all the time up there. Then, in 1947, we picked up and moved to Fort Lauderdale, and I was probablyâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”seven years old when we moved down there. And lived down there until 1954. And I always fished, no matter whereâ€”mainly in the Intercoastal [Waterway] or in the lakes or something. But I always fished.
TH: Did you freshwater fish in Florida?
RF: Yeah, in my younger days I did. But Iâ€”once I started saltwater fishing, I just quit the freshwater fishing. I went into the Air Force in 1954, and myâ€”got stationed in Spokane, Washington. Got married in Spokane, and then I got transferred to North Africa, and I was over there for a year. I came back here and I was stationed down in Homestead Air Force Base for three months, then I volunteered to go to Alaska. And I spent six months up in Alaska on a remote radar site in the middle of the Gulf called Middleton Island, Alaska. And then when I got out, got discharged in Washington state, and I lived in Portland, Oregon for a whileâ€”Spokane. Then I got a hankering to come back to Florida, and came back down here and drove a truck. Run a front-end loader, whatever. And then I went back to Spokane, and I was doing construction work at that timeâ€”building grain elevators. And it was good money.
And, anyway, I bought a house out there in Spokane. And in the winter, everybody just shut down and drug unemployment. Didn't do nothing. And, me, I couldn't sit around not doing nothing so we packed up and came back to Florida, and worked the winter months down here, and then go back to Spokane. Then I went to school under the G.I. Bill for diesel mechanics in Spokane. I'd done that for two years, then I got tired of that and moved to Florida. Got rid of the house, came to Florida, and lived with my folks. They had a house down there. And I got a job driving a truck, running the loader, doing mechanic work. And anyway, more or less stayed doing mechanic and equipment operator and a little bit of everything. But I always, always had a boat. I started saltwater fishing probably in the early â€™60s, when I bought a boat, and I think it took me seven years before I caught my first sailfish. And Iâ€™d watch other people catch them all the time back then. They were pretty plentiful, butâ€”
TH: This was out at Fort Lauderdale?
RF: This is out of Hillsborough Inlet [Park], Pompano Beach.
RF: And I bought a house in Margate in the â€™60s, and I lived there for 30 years. And I always done diesel heavy equipment mechanic, and I'd fish every weekend. And in the summer months, when the kids are out of school, we used to run over to Bimini andâ€”
TH: What kind of boat did you have?
RF: I had like a 23-foot Drummond inboard/outboard. Had a 21-foot T-craft I/O [inboard/outboard]. They were all inboard/outboards. And I did have one outboard, it had a 100-horse Mercury on it. I bought itâ€”bought the motor brand-new and I never had a problem with it. And, I guess, in the â€™80s, a friend of mine that fished with me all the time, he kept talking about all the Kingfish and making this money, â€œNow, thatâ€™s what you ought to do, is buy a kingfish boat.â€
Anyway, I wound up buying a 25-foot Delta that was rigged out for king fishing up here in Fort Pierce. And it had everything you needed on it to king fish commercially. And the guy I bought it off of, he was a salesman for a TV station and he never commercial fished the boat, heâ€”when the fish were running, he'd had somebody else run the boat for him. And he really didn't know nothing about king fishing, so what he told me was nothing. And [I] came up to Fort Pierceâ€”
TH: What year was this?
RF: Nineteenâ€”probably in the ninetiesâ€”nineteen ninety, I guess. I came up here fishing andâ€”anyway, I got free dockage, free ice at the fish house. And weâ€™d go out fishingâ€”
TH: Which fish house was that?
RF: That was inlet.
RF: And back then, the guys, the old timers that were here, they were catching three to 500 pounds by noon and going home. We'd be out there all day. I might catch a hundred pounds of kingfish, and some dolphin and whatnot. But, anyway, every time I brought the fish in, I figured old Glen at the fish house probably figured I was selling the kingfish somewhere else. But we wereâ€”we just didn't know how to catch them. Had to finallyâ€”Tommy Jones jumped on the boat one day and told us all about how to make sea witches and tie a bug, how much [of] a line to use behind your planers. And, anyway, we were doing everything wrong. I figured, Well, we got all this down pat weâ€™ll be out there withâ€”anyway, the weather turned crappy. And I was still doing mechanic work on my own back in Pompano.
Anyway, I took the boat back down there and they saidâ€”the old saying was, you had to be at Sebastian or Fort Pierce the day after Thanksgiving to start catching kingfish. And my plan was coming back up here after Thanksgiving. But a friend of mine had a charter boat there at Hillsborough Inlet, and I happened to be over there one day and the guy that was buying the boat was out on Islamorada, and he says, â€œThere is all kinds of kingfish down there.â€ He said, â€œWe justâ€”â€ He says, â€œWhen theyâ€™re running, we take them big old garbage cans and just fill them up.â€ And he says, â€œThere is no bad inlets and it donâ€™t get as cold.â€ (RF laughs)
Anyway, he talked me right into going down there. We went down there Christmas dayâ€”put the boat on a trailer and went down there. And I think it was blowing, like, 40. And we got there and couldnâ€™t find the dock. Didnâ€™t know our way around. Finally, we found a marina, and they said it was $75 a month. We went over there and backed the boat in the slip, tied it up, went up there to pay the bill. What they didn't tell us, it was another $75 for electric if you used it or not. (TH laughs) So, anyway, it costs us out $150 a month to tie the boat up, but it was a real nice marina.
TH: About what year was this?
RF: This had to be in the late â€™80s. And, anyway, I fished on and off down there for, I think, five years. Mainly king fished in the winter, dolphin fished in the summer, and grouper fished in the summer, andâ€”
TH: Did you drive down every day orâ€”?
RF: No, I'd sleep on the boat. It was, I think, like 100 miles to Islamorada. And Iâ€™d drive down there and I was tied up in behind Papa Joeâ€™s Restaurant there for probably a year, and then I moved over to the fish house andâ€”Islamorada Fish Companyâ€”and anyway, I stayed there the rest of the time and alwaysâ€”youâ€™ll go down there and everything on that dockâ€”everything was safe. Nobody bothered nothing. And you always caught fish. But then, when my kids got all grown, I told my wife, I said, â€œYou know, we ought to move somewhere. We've been here 30 years in Margate.â€ And she says, â€œWhere do you want to move to?â€ I said, â€œWell, we got to go either 100 miles north or 100 miles south.â€ And I said, â€œDown in Islamorada it's too expensive, so I guess we look up north.â€
Anyway, we came up to Fort Pierce, and put the house on the market and it sold within a month. Came up here and paid cash for my house, moved right in andâ€”anyway, I was at the time building another boat. I had a 24-foot SportCraft that I made into an inboard diesel. And one of my trips up here, I found a wreck offshore and I caught three to five hundred pounds of snowy groupers off of it. But when I first found it, I would take the fish back to Pompano and sell them, because I was going home anyway. And when I moved up here, I'd go out king fishing. And then when everybody would get scattered out, I'd take off and go out to that wreck. It was like 21 miles outside the inlet.
TH: Tell me this, now what year was this?
RF: This wasâ€”well, I moved up here in â€™92, so it had to be like â€™90-â€™91.
TH: Well, did you have to have a license for grouper-snapper in â€™91.
RF: No. No, back then you didn't have to have nothing. And you could sell them to anybody and they didnâ€™tâ€”they didnâ€™t have no tickets or nothing. But I came up here and I started catching them grouper and I wanted $2 a pound form them, that's what I was getting in Pompano. And I went around all the fish houses and nobody wanted to give me anywhere nearâ€”most of them were a buck fifty. So then, somebody said, â€œGo over there to Hudgens. They might buy them.â€ And I found Hudgens over there [in the] back of Riverside Marina. And went in there and talked to Cecil, and he came out and looked at the fish.
TH: Thatâ€™s Cecil Lane?
RF: Cecil Lane. And he says, â€œYeah, Iâ€™ll buy them. How much you want for them?â€ I says, â€œTwo bucks.â€ He says, â€œWell, I have to call Billy down in Palm Beach.â€
TH: Billy Hudgens?
RF: So, he went inside and made a phone call, come back out, said, â€œA dollar eighty-five.â€ So I figured, Well, thatâ€™s close enough. So, I started fishing for Hudgens, and I stayed with them until they went out of business. But the price of the grouperâ€”they got me good. (RF laughs) They said they were going to get the price up. Anyway, one week I went out there and I hit that wreck just about every day. And I can't remember what I had, but I had a bunch of Grouper in there. And I figured I'd get two bucks a pound. Anyway, nobody tells you what you get until you see that check on Friday.
Anyway, I got that checkâ€”$1.50. And that's when I said, â€œI'm not selling you no more Grouper.â€ So, I started selling them over to Pelican Seafood, The Moby and other places. But, anyway, one of the long line boats found my wreck. And every time Iâ€™d go out there, a long line boat would be sitting on top of it. And they finally cleaned it out. Iâ€™d been out there probably ten years now or longer, and one guy said, â€œAll you catch on it now is somebody else's fishing line.â€ (RF laughs) But, anywayâ€”
TH: So, you were king fishing at same time?
RF: Yeah, I was king fishing, and then when the fish quit biting or something, Iâ€™d run off shore. But, anyway, that ended after a while. Mainly just kingfishâ€”anymore. And I was still doing mechanic work. My customers down in Pompano, they would call me up and tell me they got this broke down or that broke down, and I'd run down and work down there two or three days. And one of my customers was building a golf course down there in Port St. Lucie, and he kept me busy. But, anyway, when I finally got that boat going, I started full time king fishing. And then I got into lawn mower repairs at the house, and Iâ€™d done pretty good on that. I didnâ€™tâ€”always had customers that were around. (phone rings)
TH: So, basically, you target kingfish, is that correct?
TH: And bycatchâ€”what bycatches do you have? Fish that you catch along with the kingfish?
RF: Well, mainly barracuda, dolphin, occasional wahoo, cobia. I don't really target them, they just bite the kingfish bait. And then the grouper, that wasâ€”Iâ€™d go offshore fishing for them, butâ€”
TH: How deep of water did you fish for the grouper in?
RF: Four hundred and eighty-five feet.
TH: And you had a bandit reel?
RF: Yeah, an electric bandit reel. And when I first found that wreck down in the Keys, when Iâ€™d grouper fish, Iâ€™d put seven hooks on there because all the grouper I was catching down there were small. Anyway, Iâ€™d drop seven hooks on this wreckâ€”anyway, with theâ€”it never evenâ€”the weight never even hit the bottom. And the reel started jumping up and down, and Iâ€™d put it in gear. And anyway, the wires going to the electric motor was smoking and I had to actually get over there and help crank that thing up. And then when them grouper gets all high in the water, they blow up with air, and then they come up pretty easy. Out of the seven hooks, I had six grouper. Probably the smallest one was 20 pounds.
TH: Oh, my goodness.
RF: And probably the biggest was close to 40 [pounds].
TH: So, you were like the first person to find that particular wreck?
RF: Yeah. Yep. That was what you call a virgin wreck. And all them tilefish boats, they must have run across that thing a million times. But I guess nobody had their recorders on the sea, you know, when they were going out there.
TH: How far off Fort Pierce Inlet was it?
RF: Twenty-one miles.
TH: Okay, whatâ€”
TH: Southeast. And 400 feet of water?
RF: Yeah. Four hundred and eighty-five foot.
RF: But it was good while it lasted. (RF laughs) But, like I say, I havenâ€™t been out there in years. But, once in a while, you catch a grouper trolling, but not very often. The commercial divers more or less cleaned them out in the shallower water. When I first moved to Fort Pierce, you could actually go trolling for grouper on the offshore bar and whatnot. But thatâ€”nobody does that anymore.
TH: You think the diversâ€”
RF: Oh yeah, the divers got them all.
TH: (both talk) Lost the bigâ€”the big grouper?
RF: (both talk) Yeah, divers. They got them. Theyâ€”I've heard stories [of] where they go down there when the water is cold and the fish don't move, and they justâ€”just like a shooting gallery, pop one, pop another one. Theyâ€™re all just kind of stationary in that cold water. There were someâ€”a lot of big catches of grouper, but nowâ€”I think they got most of them. There ainâ€™t much going on in the diving world, I donâ€™t think.
TH: Okay, the procedure you used for king fishing, about how much cableâ€”about the size of paravanes [water kites].
RF: I used anywhere from 20 foot of cable to 80 foot. Mostly it's 20 to say 40, and then behind the paravane I use 60 feet of 100 pound test in the summer. And in the winter, I use 150. Then I useâ€”I put a swivel on the end of that and I use another 15 to 20 foot of either wire or fluorocarbon, and I put a seawitch on it and I use mainly mulletâ€”strip the mullet to getâ€”out of one mullet, you get four baits. And you justâ€”I use a double hook, and it seems like the most popular color on the seawitch is pink and white. But everything changes, sometimes they won't bite that pink and white and you got to go to something else. But the main color is pink, I think. And on the jerk boatâ€”well, I first moved up here in â€™92, they were using 50 turns of wire and now we're usingâ€”
TH: One turn of wire would be three feetâ€”
RF: And now we're using 70 turns, at least that's what Iâ€™m using. Sometimes I put out a little more. But, anyway, it's mainly the pink boat that seems to be the hot item, especially in the winter.
TH: Now you say, you know, when you first got here, you were using shorter lines?
TH: And now you use longer?
TH: Why do you suppose that is?
RF: Probably less fish further behind the boat, you know, get away from the boat. I donâ€™t know. I had old charter captains down there in Hillsborough, they used to come up here to Fort Pierce back in the â€™30s and king fish out a little outboard boats, and he says, â€œHell, thatâ€”this used, like, 20 foot hand line out the back of it and catch all the Kingfish you wanted.â€ Yeah. But they used to make the kingfish bug out of the webbing on aâ€”like a beach chairâ€”that plastic webbing. And he says, â€œYou know, they just put a little bit of that in there, through the eye of the hook and that's all you needed.â€ But everything changes.
Up here, I think, when they dredged that inletâ€”Fort Pierce Inletâ€”they took all the dredging material and just dumped it in close to shore. And after they'd done that, all the divers said that they dived down there and when they hit the reef, you justâ€”make any kind of move and it's just a big fault bank of silt off the reef. It covered all the reefs up. And even thoughâ€”the commercial divers were having hard time finding fish. But it seemed like after that, fishing in the summertime got really bad. Wintertime, it didnâ€™t affect it much becauseâ€”and we always call fish on the offshore stuff, but on the inshore stuff it just made it real bad.
TH: The inshores where they didâ€”dropped all that dredgingâ€”(both talk)
RF: That dredging material, yeah. But theyâ€”
TH: The inshore would be like what footâ€”how many feet of water?
RF: Itâ€™s probablyâ€”I think that first time they dredged it, they were probably like in 30-40 feet. They wereâ€”justâ€”they didn't really have a dump site. Now they got a couple of places out there where they dump it, I guess. But it seemed like after that, the fishing in the summer just went to crap. I know the kingfish boats out of Palm Beachâ€”there was like three or four guys that used to come up here every summer and fish Fort Pierce for kingfish, because there was nothing happening in Palm Beach, in Jupiter. But after that, they quit coming because there was really no fish. The last good year I remember was 2008, and it seemed like after that it just dropped. And I think this summer is probably the best summer we've had since that and then. Butâ€”and it seems like the fish are coming back or theyâ€™re more plentiful.
TH: Now, I talked to another captain a couple of days ago and he talkedâ€”he fished here in the â€™50s and â€™60sâ€”1960s. And he said, there was timesâ€”now this might have beenâ€”you might have come here after this.
TH: This was before theâ€”a lot of nets attacked the big schools of fish. And he said they could put itâ€”they put it in a circle one dayâ€”and they could put it in a circle and just watch the recorder showing fish all around the circle, and not even have to put a buoy or anything. They would drift and the fish would always beâ€”
RF: Right there. (both talk)
TH: â€”solid. Now, have you ever seen them like that? The kingfish like that?
RF: No, not in my time. I've heard stories. There was a fisherman down in Boynton, Yancy, old time fisherman, and he used to fish down off of Key West, and he says they'd be in 150 feet of water and the recorder would show 50 feet. And itâ€™d just be solid Kingfish. He says, â€œItâ€™s just unreal how many Kingfish there was.â€ But he would take the fishery people out, and every fish they caughtâ€”they had a sponge rubber in the bottom of the fish box, and heâ€™d dehook them, they'd grab them, measure them, weigh them, and then release them. And they would pay him the same thing for his release fish as the guys that were keeping them, so he wasnâ€™t losing any money. But, anyway, he says, â€œThere was all kinds of fish down there.â€ It is unbelievable.
TH: Now, that was down there. It was here in Fort Pierce too, later on. And off Sebastian and the Palm Beaches, I assume. So, what do you attribute the change? You say there's fewer fish today, is that correct?
RF: Oh yeah.
TH: And do you attribute theâ€”
RF: Well, the net boats, I thinkâ€”Iâ€™ve seen them net boatsâ€”I used to go camping out at the Sandsprit Park there in Port Salerno, and I'd go out the inlet and there was a net boat there. And, I mean, it just ran that circle net out and Iâ€”when he came in, he was just inches from the waves going over the side of the boat, you know, 40-50 thousand pounds at a time. And I think that's what done it because when I first moved up here in â€™92, on the in-shore bar, a little south of the inlet, 60 feet of waterâ€”the first time I went out there, I marked all this. I thought it was an artificial reef. I marked so much. I asked one of the guys, he says, â€œNo, thatâ€™s just bait youâ€™re marking.â€ And I mean, I never seen so much bait. But then, one year, a net boat went out there and was catching all the bait, mainly goggle eyes. He'd bring in 30 to 40 thousand pounds of goggle eyes and whatever was mixed in with them. And he'd done that all summer one year, and after that, you didn't mark all that bait like I did. So, it's got to be the nets that are cleaning everything out.
TH: So, as a commercial fisherman, you've always been a hook and line commercial fisherman.
RF: Yeah. Yeah. I always either [use] rod and reel or hand lines or whatever. Never net fished.
TH: Nowâ€”so, the mainâ€”what do you think about theâ€”I was talking with someone the other day about theâ€”just pressure on the fish from recreational fishing as well. If you go to the boat ramp on a weekend, any boat ramp isâ€”(both talk)
RF: Oh yeah.
TH: I mean, it's just hundreds of trucks.
RF: Oh yeah, theyâ€”I remember (RF laughs) back when I was still living in a Margate, we went over to Marco Island andâ€”
TH: Thatâ€™s on the west coast of Florida?
RF: Right. And, anyway, we were grouper fishing. And we went over there, and Iâ€™d leave Margate, like, four in the morning and get over there about six, and thereâ€™d be quite a few boat trailers around. Anyway, when we hit the mouth of the inlet to run off shore for an hourâ€”only be in 40 foot of water. And you stop and you bottom fish with a rod and reel. And if you caught a sand perch or a catfish or something, you wind your lines inâ€”you might move 100 feet [and] try it again. When you caught that first grouperâ€”there were red grouperâ€”you justâ€”that's the only place I ever got tired of catching fish. Because as soon as the bait hit the bottom, you had a fish on it. To smoke a cigarette, drink a beer or eat a sandwich, you had to put your fishing rod down.
And thenâ€”but we used to catch three to five hundred pounds of them small red grouper. Weâ€™d get back to the boat ramp. Weâ€™d just gut them all out, take them to the fish house and sell them. But there was so many recreational boats over there, especiallyâ€”most of them come out of Miami, mainly Cubans, and they wouldn't throw nothing back. I mean, you'd see them cleaning a five-inch grouper. I mean, they didn't throw anything back. But, I mean, there was, you know, that whole field was just lined with boats and trailers.
But then one year, we went over there and the red tide (RF laughs)â€”we got over there at six o'clock and there wasnâ€™t a boat at the boat ramp. I says to my buddy, I says, â€œSomethings wrong.â€ Anyway, this boatâ€™s coming down the river and he pulled in there and, I says, â€œWell, what's going on with the grouper fishing?â€ He says, â€œOh, itâ€™s coming back. I had a buddy of mine that went out the other day, he caught five or six.â€ I says, â€œWhat do you mean five or six?â€ He says, â€œYeah. You know, the red tide cleaned everything out.â€ And, anyway, we never went fishing. We just turned around and went back toâ€”back home. No sense of going out there for five or six fish.
TH: So, red tide, lots of boats and the nets?
RF: Yeah. Yep.
TH: And the combination thereof ofâ€”caused fishing to change over the years in South Florida.
RF: Oh yeah. I mean, there'sâ€”got all kinds of recreational fishermen anymore. And nobodyâ€”theyâ€”whatever they catch, they keep. I don't think they throw anything back.
TH: So, for trolling mostlyâ€”is what you mostly do now. The method that has changedâ€”the one method that has changed, that seems to be the most consistent, is lengthening lines.
RF: Yeah. Yep.
TH: Okay. Have large commercial fish corporations or operations impacted our fishery or your fisheryâ€”king fishery?
RF: Not that I know of. During the nets, they did, yeah. But, I don't think they do now.
TH: Okay. Now, please discuss and describe in detail major weather occurrences you've experienced like storms, lightning, high winds, seas, waterspouts, et cetera. Think of two or three or a couple of the most memorable times you've been on the ocean. I like good sea stories here.
RF: I was, in the winter, fishing out of Sebastianâ€”(both talk)
TH: About what year?
RF: Oh God, it had to be in the â€™90s sometimeâ€”â€™95, something like that, I guess. But the fish are on the high bar and it wasâ€”
TH: The high bar being?
TH: Okay, and about how deep?
RF: Well, I think it was 80-90 feet, but it was 21 miles to the inlet. And the ocean was actually calm, I mean, you could run out there with no problem. Anyway, we got thereâ€”I don't know. There was probably ten or more boats fishingâ€”kingfish boats. And everybody was picking at the fish and I heard this guy on the radio, he says, â€œHoly shit. It got to be blowing 40.â€ And there wasnâ€™t a breeze where we were. And one of the other guys on the radio says, â€œAh, itâ€™s one of them guys up at the Cape.â€ Canaveral, you know. Andâ€”
TH: Which is about how far up?
RF: Itâ€™s probably another 40 miles from where we were.
RF: Anyway, we catch fish atâ€”and when that wind hit us, it was blowing 40. I mean, it didn't come slow. All of a sudden, you'reâ€”all I seen was the wind, and I pulled my outrigger lines in and I just wrapped them around the cleat because they were going to blow right out of the boat. Anyway, I took off and [ran] as hard and as fast as I could.
TH: Youâ€™re 20â€”21 miles out?
RF: Yeah. And, I don't knowâ€”well, I didn't run very far that fast because it got so damn rough. You couldn't run into the sea, it was an offshore breeze. And you couldn't run into it. You had to kind of ride the trough and go over the top of them. Anyway, everybody made it in, but when I wound up inside the lee of the land there, where the wind wasnâ€™t bothering us, I was six miles south of Sebastian Inlet. Anyway, everybody made it inâ€”the charter boats, theâ€”everybody that was out there came in. But that was probably the worst weather I've seen for thatâ€”being that far offshore.
But I got hit by lightning out here off of Fort Pierce one year. It was calm and you couldâ€”it was in the summertime. I had my grandson with me. And, anyway, we were catching a few fish and you could see these thunderstorms with the lightning in them, offshore and around. Anyway, I didn't pay much attention to them. Then all of a sudden, wind picked up a little bit and it got kind of cool and, man, it started banging thunder and the lightning was hitting. You could see the lightning hitting the water around the boat.
And I told my grandson, I says, â€œDon't touch nothing. Just sit on that engine box.â€ And I wasnâ€™t even steering the boat, I was just standing there, and all of a sudden, heard this humongous clap of thunder and seen a ball of fire come down the TVâ€”or the radio antennaâ€”and it was just like a ball. It just followed that cable right into the cabin. And when it got in the cabin, I mean, all you could see was smoke. I thought the cabin was on fire. And finally, the smoke cleared out a little bit.
TH: Was the radio in the cabin?
RF: Yeah, radio was in the cabin. Anyways, I grabbed the fire extinguisher and I went in there and Iâ€”no fire, but every piece of electronics I had was fried. I mean, nothing worked. And the motor is still running, so I just headed back in. Had to replace everything on the boat. But, I mean, that lightning was, I mean, just popping all around. It was really close.
TH: Could you smell it?
RF: Not really. I know my grandsonâ€”he said that the hair on the back of his head was standing. (RF laughs) But he was he was pretty scared. The boyâ€”thatâ€”when thatâ€”all that smoke in that cabin was something. You couldn't even see the steering wheel. (RF laughs) But it fried everything. That was probably the worst. But, always, you got caught in them, you know, the little squalls that would run through in the summer. But, here, lately it'sâ€”you know, maybe I havenâ€™t been fishing as much, but I haven't been caught in any bad squalls here lately. But there have been a few that came through. But it'sâ€”you never know. They say the weatherman says it's going to be nice and (RF laughs) turns the crap in a heartbeat.
TH: Okay, the big fish and big fish catch stories. What was the biggest fish you've ever caught orâ€”?
RF: Well, I caught a blue marlin down in the Keys. I think it was already a little over 100 pounds. But, back then, you could sell them.
TH: Were you using a fishing pole?
RF: Yeah. Yeah, we were trolling back then. We were probably dolphin fishing in the summer. And down there, youâ€”the dolphin would school up behind a boat and you just catch five [or] six hundred pounds of them with no problem. But we were trolling back in when the marlinâ€”and anyway, wound upâ€”I think I sold over $75 to some fish dealer there in Miami. They came into the fish house and bought them, butâ€”.
TH: So, let me tellâ€”ask you. If you'd caught that on a hand line, what would have happened?
RF: Well, I probably wouldnâ€™t have caught them. The way they jump around, theyâ€”the rod and reel took the drag on it, so they pull it out.
TH: Thatâ€™s something.
TH; Okay, biggest catch of kingfish?
RF: Oh, I don't know. A fifty head onâ€”I caughtâ€”I donâ€™t know what they weighed. Different weights. Four or five hundred, I imagine. But the biggest kingfishâ€”I was down in Palm Beach, when we were fishing down there in the winter, and I was jerking the bug. Anyway, this fish hit and it was pulling and yanking, and I figured it was a big old amberjack. And then, all of a sudden, the line breaks off the spool and I had to pull this thing in by hand. (RF laughs)
TH: Thatâ€™s a lot of wire.
RF: A lot of wire. I mean, I had wire all over the floor. Anyway, Iâ€™m still thinking, amberjack. A big jack cravalle or something. Anyway, I get him up close to the boatâ€”itâ€™s a big old kingfish. I grab the gap and I stick him and theyâ€”it was 45 pounds. But a big old slop. But it wasâ€”I was in shallow, too. Crazy howâ€”you never know where the hell you're going to catch one.
TH: That's a big fish on a hand line. Youâ€™ve got a pulling wire?
TH: Okay. Next, is strange occurrences you've experienced on the water, like, odd lights, empty boats, rafts, rogue waves? Anything strange?
RF: No, just theâ€”all Cuban rafts that came through out here. Thatâ€™s all.
TH: What years were this? About what time?
RF: When the heck was that? That was in the â€™90â€”
TH: Late eighties, I think?
RF: Yeah. See, I moved up here in â€™92, and there was bunch of them out there.
TH: Did you findâ€”find them with people on them or just theâ€”
RF: No, just the empty rafts. Because weâ€™d leave early in the morning and you had to keep an eye out for them.
TH: They had steel frames.
RF: Oh, there were all kinds ofâ€”all kinds of them. You never know what youâ€™d see. They had inner tubes on them, they had tires on them, theyâ€”(RF laughs) but it was aâ€”youâ€™dâ€”I donâ€™t know. Youâ€™d see two or three of them sometimes going off shore, just drifting by.
TH: Youâ€™d have to watch for them in the dark especially.
TH: Okay, how about rescues? Sinkings, near sinkings, inlet tragedies, collisions, other calamities that youâ€”?
RF: I was down in Sandsprit there. We used to go there when it was a campground andâ€”
TH: That would be at Hobe Sound?
RF: No, Port Salerno.
TH: Port Salerno. Okay.
RF: And Iâ€™d always bring the boat with me. And, anyway, there was a big ground sea so we really couldn't get off shore, but you couldn't fish outside the inlet. And, anyway, me and a buddy of mine, were out there and weâ€™d seen thisâ€”I donâ€™t know. It had to be like a 16-foot aluminum boat. These guys were fishing. And my buddy seen them and, he said, â€œLook at them crazy guys out there in that little boat.â€ And the next thing you know, one of them ground seas come over and the boat went up and over andâ€”hear they're in the water. (RF laughs)
TH: How far away were they?
RF: They wereâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”five hundred yards, maybe. And anyway, I turned around and we went out there, and waited till the swells laid down a little bit, and run out there to where they were at and grab them, pull them in the waterâ€”out of the water and put them in the boat. There [were] two guys there. And the boat was still floating. And they wanted to save the boat. So, my buddy, he jumped in and put a rope on it. And, anyway, we tied a rope to it and pulled the boat in andâ€”
TH: In the through theâ€”(both talk)
TH: â€”St. Lucie Inlet.
RF: Yeah and they wound upâ€”they didâ€”they lost all their fishing poles andâ€”they had lost everything that was on the boat naturally. Andâ€”
TH: So, did you have to pull in the boat in upside down?
RF: No, whoâ€”heâ€”when he went in the water, he flipped it up. Pulled the plug out of it, so when we towed it the water came out. But he got back to the boat ramp and they had put inâ€”over there, on one of the bridges there. In other words, they didn't put in at the Sansprit. So, I carried him over to where their truck was, and he says, â€œLook, I'll come back later on. I'm going to bring you something.â€ (RF laughs) Anyway, he came backâ€”I don't knowâ€”later on in the afternoon, and he brought me like three big old steaks. (RF laughs) Yeah. Anyway, he was still thanking me for pulling them out of the water. But that's probably the only rescue I've done.
TH: Thatâ€™s kind of cool.
RF: It was aâ€”I mean, that was way back. I forget again what year it was. But, other than that, I ainâ€™tâ€” I've seen some boats burn up, but people are already off of them. There was one big old sport fisherman that had a big tuna tower on it, and that was outside of Hillsborough Inlet. And that thing was on fire and that tuna tower, it just kept melting, just, like, the lace would go down this way, then the other side and go down. And it just kept getting smaller and smaller. Finally, it just went down to nothing. But the boat was lost atâ€”gutted, you know.
TH: All right. Anything else?
RF: Nothing I can think of offhand.
TH: You want to tell me about the time you quit drinking beer?
RF: Oh. Yeah, Iâ€” a friend of mine, he had quit drinking, andâ€”anyway, I saidâ€”and I always used to have a case of beer on the boat. And I was down in the keys, and I had one out, grouper fishing. And anyway, I was coming back in, I hadâ€”I don't knowâ€”I had a couple hundred pounds, I guess, of fish on the boat. And they had put all the new bridges in. All the bridges were in and supposedly they were supposed to knock all the pilings that the old bridges are on out. And I'm coming down that channel and Iâ€™m running pretty good. And, I mean, I hit one of them submerged pilings, I guess, because there was nothingâ€”it wasnâ€™t shallow water. I was inside the channel.
And man, it shut the engine off. I thought the whole bottom of the boat was tore up. And it driftedâ€”kept me going under the bridge, so when I got on the other side of the bridge, the tide was going out. So, I [threw] my anchor to keep me from banging into the pilings on the bridge, then I run back there and started pulling up hatches. Because I figured the noise that thing madeâ€”I had to be taking on water. And everything was dry. Nothing, you know. And anyway, I called the fish house and he said he'd come get me.
Anyway, before he [came] and got me, I sat there for, I think, three hours. And I had a case of beer on that boat andâ€”anyway, he finally came up there and he says, â€œI bet you ainâ€™t got that case of beer anymore.â€ I says, â€œI ain't touched the first one. Itâ€™s never been opened.â€ And I didn'tâ€”anyway, I had the boat hauled out and wiped out the rudder, the shaft, theâ€”everything. Had to put in everything new. But that was one of those things. You never know what you're going to hit. (RF laughs)
TH: Speaking of beer, you ever seen any bales, drugs, alcohol, or people smuggling stories?
RF: Oh yeah.
TH: Any that you can tell me with no names or anything?
RF: Down in the Keys, when I was tied up in there, behind Papa Joe's, there was these young guys that wereâ€”one guy was living on a boat. And, anyway, they were selling marijuana and cocaine. And Iâ€™d go over to the boat and thereâ€™d be three or four in there just doing lines of coke. â€œCome on, you want some.â€ â€œNot me, boy.â€ Anyway, I never, never touch the stuff, but I went out on morning andâ€”to go fishingâ€”and I heard the Coast Guard on there, or the Marine Patrol. The Coast Guard gets the water. And he called the station, he says, â€œYou better call Marine Patrol and any law enforcement that can come out here, because there is bales floating from Key Largo all the way to Marathon.â€ And there was. I mean, weâ€™d just see a line of them. I donâ€™t know how many there was. But boy, they had them stacked up. But I've seen just bales out there floating by themselves a lot of times. But it wasâ€”
TH: What years did youâ€”
RF: That was in the â€™80s, down there in the Keys, mainly, when I'd seen all of them. Down there off of Pompano. But, up here, Iâ€™ve never seen anything. But I donâ€™t know any of theâ€”most of them. I had a friend of mine that was into that real heavy. He told meâ€”he used to be a mechanic. And in nineâ€”before I moved up here, back in the â€™80s, when the drugs were really wham bam. And back then he bought a Go-fast boat, and he'd run out there and meet the big ship, unload it, and then run it in. He bought a brand-new Lincoln Continental, back then, forâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”$20,000 cash money or something like that, heâ€™d told me. And like he said, you have to know what dealer to go to when spending that kind of cash.
But they gave him a job. He got in I guess pretty, pretty good with themâ€”drug runners. They gave him a job taking a movie star, down there on Miami Beach. He'd go pick her up in his new car, you know, Continental, and take her to the movie set and hang aroundâ€”take her back to the hotel. They'd give him a check, you know, incomeâ€”heâ€™d show income. And then one day, he got greedy, I guess. He started peddling stuff on his own, and he said he wasâ€”made a delivery out in Davie, Florida [at] two o'clock in the morning. Heâ€”coming backâ€”and he pulled into this 7-Eleven to buy a pack of cigarettes. (RF laughs) He says, when he come out of that 7-Eleven, he says, there was DEA and cops all pointing machine guns at him. (RF laughs) He says they got him for selling and this and that. Anyway, they put him in jail. Then the next time I seen himâ€”I don't know how long it was. A couple of years? He was following his Go-fast boat down the street and he yelled at me thatâ€”he was having a mechanic give it a tune up, so you go back to work, and then he disappeared.
RD: Never seen himâ€”never seen him again or heard from him. They either got rid of him or he got lost somewhere.
TH: Okay. Two more questions and weâ€™ll wrap this up. Humorous, funny stories that you've heard or experienced on the water?
RF: I guess the funniest is at the boat ramps. A guy backs hisâ€”had aâ€”it was a Lincoln Town Car, a big one. He backed down the ramp, got out, and I guess it jumped out of park or somethingâ€”boat, trailer, and everything went right in the [water]â€”and the carâ€”I donâ€™t knowâ€”floated. And the boat ramp was, like, north and south, and the canal was east and west. And that car floated out there and you could see it sitting right on the bottom, headed east and west. And the guy is standing there scratching his head. That wasâ€”
TH: So, kind of clogged up theâ€”
RF: The ramp, yeah. Yeah. Then theyâ€”it took him a while to figure out how to get out there. They called a wrecker, but then had to have a diver to go down there. (RF Laughs)
TH: Hook it up.
RF: It was interesting. But that's where most of thoseâ€”we go to the boat ramp and watch people. You see all kinds of stuff.
TH: Anything else you wish to share about life as a fishing captain in Florida? Have you enjoyed it?
RF: Oh yeah. Like I say, I started to fish with aâ€”just a piece of string and a bobber on an old maple stick up in New York. And when I was a kid Iâ€”up there, where we lived, the people would come up there for vacation. And these guys would have this big old tackle box and all these fancy rods, and I'd go in there with my little old maple stick and I'd be pulling these bass out. (TH laughs) And these guysâ€”as soon as I leave a spot, they'd be right there. But they never caught nothing. I hadâ€”I was using, I guess, what youâ€™d call live bait becauseâ€”
RF: Yeah, I could have used themâ€”
RF: No, I forget what we called them. Dobsons, I think, we called them. Youâ€™d go in the river, or in the creek up there, and you put a piece of screen in front of your feet and you lift up these rocks. And the flow of water would wash these things off and they'd get on that stream, then you pick them up and put them in your bucket. They had pitchers on the front of them. And, I mean, the bass just loved them, boy. I mean, Iâ€™d go out there and throw that thing in and (RF laughs)â€”our house, itâ€™s set right up there on the hill and you could look out at the pond there. And I'd go up there and sure enoughâ€”oh, as soon as I left that spot, an old Yankee would be right over there and boy, heâ€™d try to catch them. Butâ€”and we went up there on vacation, and I was still a kid, and went fishing in the same spot. Anyway, I caught an eel. First time I ever caughtâ€”I thought it was a snake. But I left him on the hook. I wouldnâ€™t even take him off the hook. And I carried him home and my dad looked at itâ€”â€œThatâ€™s an eel and theyâ€™re good eating.â€ Anyway, he says, â€œWhereâ€™d you catch him?â€ I told him. He says, â€œI didnâ€™t know there was eels in there.â€ It was a big one. A nice fat one. (RF laughs)