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subfield code a F70-000072 USFLDC DOI0 245 Brant "Dietrich" McManus 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 McManus, Brant7 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/?f70.7
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text Terry Lee Howard (TH): My nameâ€™s Terry Howard. I am here with Dietrich Brant McManus, mostly called Brant McManus. Today is October the 30th, 2018, and we are at his home on South Jenkins Road in Fort Pierce. And to begin, Brand, please stateâ€”Brant, please state your full name.
Brant McManus (BM): Dietrich Brant McManus.
TH: And spell that, please.
BM: D-i-e-t-r-i-c-h B-r-a-n-t M-c-M-a-n-u-s.
TH: Okay. This is for theâ€”I should say, for the Fishing Captains Oral History Project for the University of South Florida Tampa digital library. Do I have your permission to use this interview for publication, books, articles, et cetera, for myself?
BM: You do.
TH: Thank you. And do I have your permission to archive this interview at the University of South Florida Tampa Library digital archives?
BM: You do.
TH: Okay, thank you. When and where were you born?
BM: Fort Pierce, Florida, 1953.
TH: And your birthdate?
BM: December thirty-first.
TH: Nineteen fifty-three?
TH: Okay. Please give a brief or a biography of yourself, and include your first experiences boating, fishing, and commercial or charter fishing in Floridaâ€”biography.
BM: I probably remember going in the river with my dad when I was about 10 years oldâ€”fishing. We fished for the old Baywood Fishery over on causeway drop, on the causeway. I think Charlieâ€™s Seafood was over there. Chuckâ€™s was just a little place; it didnâ€™t hardly exist. Coast guard station wasnâ€™t very big, and the Pelican Yacht Club was there. Other than the barracks that was there during the war, there wasnâ€™t much on South Beach.
TH: The barracks?
BM: Thatâ€™s where they housed the military personnel for World War II training here.
TH: Okay. So this was the South Beach Causeway?
BM: Right. Um-hm.
TH: And what kind of fishing did you do with your father?
BM: We caught mackerel, bluefish, mullet, snappers, spots.
BM: With a net. We net fished.
TH: Okay, gill nets?
BM: Gill net. Um-hm.
TH: Okay. And then, as a child you went with your father. When did you go on your own?
BM: When I was about 12.
TH: What kind of boat did you have?
BM: We had a little 22-foot Bacchus build, cypress plank, tall, little old six-cylinder Ford engine in it. Or we started out with a Gray Marine, and then we went to a little inboard.
TH: You say, â€œwe?â€
BM: Me and my dad.
TH: Okay. And at what point did you get your own boat?
BM: Well, he built us a little boat, me and my brother, about a 16-footer. But, when I graduated from high school, I bought a 20-foot Jersey Skiff from Herman Summerlin. Me and my friend Chris Christopher fished it for about five years.
TH: And you net fished?
BM: Net fished it.
TH: And, like, how long were your nets?
BM: Eh, about 400 yards.
TH: Okay. And you had different nets for different species?
BM: Right. We had pompano net, spot net, and mackerel net.
TH: Can you describe the difference between those nets?
BM: Well, a spot netâ€™s two [and] seven-eighths because thatâ€™sâ€”the law called for it; you couldnâ€™t fish smaller than that.
TH: Two [and] seven-eighths?
BM: Two and seven-eighths stretch mesh.
TH: Thatâ€™s the measurement ofâ€”
BM: That would be, if you stretched the mesh out in to a diamond, it would be two and seven-eighths. And then, we fished a three and a quarter for mackerel and bluefish. And our next net would have been a pompano net, which ranged from four and three-quarter stretch to a five-inch stretch. And theyâ€™re all about 500, 600 yards on the pompano nets.
TH: Okay, and how deep would these nets fish?
BM: Uh, we fished a 65-mesh net at three and a quarter, so whatever the math comes out to. They probably fished 12 feet of water with no problem. The spot nets fished about four feet, and our pompano nets would fish about eight feet, 10 feet, in that range.
TH: So what are the different seasons for these different fish, approximately?
BM: Well, when you fish spots, youâ€™re fishing them in the summer. They are summertime fish. They are riverÂâ€”we fished them in the river because the ocean spots never brought a good price â€™til later on because they have a soft belly from theâ€”I donâ€™t know if itâ€™s what they eat in the ocean or what, but spots were the bread and butter in the summer. We fished some mullet, not a lot. But then weâ€”the mackerel were in from about October to the end of March. And the pompano, the best pompano fishing was right between twenty-fifth of November to the first of January, and then they kind of went their own way. And youâ€™d still fished them, but you didnâ€™t get the big catches.
TH: So what are the migration habits of these fish? Letâ€™s go back to the spots.
BM: Well, the spots areâ€”I donâ€™tâ€”they come from offshore, I think, and they come here in the summertime. That was a fish that was never studied much, but they would just show up in May, and we would start fishing them, and weâ€™d fished them heavy in Novemberâ€”October and Novemberâ€”with the cold fronts. And I would go up to the Banana River and fish them.
BM: Yep, spots. And then, your mackerel and bluefish, they show up in the fall. And, like I said, they last to about March. And the pompano, like I said, we fishedâ€”you could fish them all summer. You wouldnâ€™t catch a lot. If you caught 100 pounds a night, it was good. But the money was good on them, so. And we fished small boats, and expenses were low.
TH: So this would be probably the 1960s and â€™70s?
BM: I started fishing in 1971 up to 1995.
TH: Okay. So why and when and how did you move to Florida? Or how did your family come to Florida? When?
BM: Oh, gosh. Iâ€”
BM: Approximately, letâ€™s see, about 1830, somewhere around there, 1840, up in the Panhandle.
TH: Now, who was that?
BM: That would have been, on my motherâ€™s side, that would have been my great-great-great grandfather.
TH: They lived in the Florida Panhandle?
BM: Yeah, they lived in, uhâ€”letâ€™s see. I just was looking at it. Calhoun County, Florida.
TH: Okay. And then, how did they end up down here in Fort Pierce? How did yourâ€”?
BM: Well, my grandfatherâ€™s sideâ€”they moved from Dooly County, Georgia to Blountstown, Florida. And then they moved to Taylor County, Florida, and then they moved to St. Augustine. And thatâ€™s where my great grandfather was born and his brother. And then they came south. But my motherâ€™s grandmother and great grandmother, their maiden name was Storman. And we traced them to Fort Meade. Thatâ€™s about where we pick them up in this history. And they ran cattle. And they ran cattle withâ€”they had a partner. And my great-greatâ€”wait, great-great grandfather, second removedâ€”weâ€™ll just call him grandfather twoâ€”ran cattle with his partner out Fort Meade, and they migrated to the south. They got south, Iâ€™m assuming, south of Okeechobee Lake. And him and his partner decided to split to find out which had the best cattle grazing. One went to the southwest, and my great grandfather number two went to Miami because they the grass was green, and it was lush and beautiful down there.
TH: A root called what?
BM: Coontie is the bestâ€”I think it is. I had it, gosh, I had it somewhere on here. But, anyways, he ground it down. He had a gristmill down on the Miami River. And so, I guess he put it in barrels, and they loaded it on the steamboats and took it back north. It was used as a starch.
TH: A starch?
BM: A starch, yeah.
TH: For food or forâ€”?
BM: Yeah. Yeah, for food. And I guess they used for a lot of stuffâ€”you know, whatever they do with it. Here, I have thisâ€”anyways, they were down near Arch Creek, or the Arch Bridge in Miami. And the two sisters that ended up marrying the two Keen boys, theyâ€”the father, my great-great grandfather, died. They found him in his boat floating. They think he had a stroke in the heat of summer. So the mother had enough money; she sent the girls north on a pack train with a guide. And they followed a military trail because there wasnâ€™t even a road at that time.
TH: So this was your grandfatherâ€™s widow? They had two daughters?
BM: Yep, yep.
TH: And your great grandâ€”great-great grandfatherâ€™s widow. They had two daughters, and they sent them north because the widow couldnâ€™t afford to keep them or take care of them?
BM: Yeah. They worked for the Barnett(??) family. It had the life-saving station, and thatâ€™s where the girls got their education because, at the time they left, there was only 35 white couple in Miami. And so, they worked there, they got their schooling from there, from the Barnetts. And then theyâ€”I want to sayâ€”it doesnâ€™t have a time here of when they left. Gosh, letâ€™s see here. Anyways, the two sisters, my great grandmother sent them off on this wagon train, a small wagon trainâ€”
TH: Heading north?
BM: Heading north along the Military Trail. They followed the slashes in the trees that the military made [on] this trail. Their guideâ€”
TH: During the Seminole Indian Wars?
BM: Right. Their guide went out hunting deer for supper, and a rattlesnake bit him. And they think thatâ€”back then, you know, they didnâ€™t really know. They wrote in here, because this was written at the time, that the shock of him shooting the rifle made the poison go through his system, which, we know today that probably didnâ€™t happen that way. They buried him alongside the trail, and they kept walking. They came toâ€”
TH: So, the two ladies are walking by themselves now?
BM: No, theyâ€™re still with a small group of people. And when they arrived hereâ€”
TH: Here being where?
BM: Well, Fort Pierce wasnâ€™tâ€”Fort Pierce was just Fort Pierce. It wasnâ€™t recognized as aâ€”
BM: â€”as a community. So they arrived at what is called Bluefield now, west of town, and they met the Bill Edison(??) family. And then they went up to St. Lucie.
TH: Thatâ€™s what St. Lucie Village is today.
BM: Right. And I could never understand where Fort Pierce was, but St. Lucie Village was already incorporated. Fort Pierce wasnâ€™t. So they went down, but they went down to Jensen to work for this Captain Richards down inâ€”I guess itâ€™s called Eden, down in that area. And thatâ€™s where they met the two brothers, so the two sisters married the two brothers.
TH: The brothersâ€™ names were?
BM: Jack and John Keen.
BM: Uh-huh. Thatâ€™s the Keen family, soâ€”
TH: They met at Eden, which today is on South Indian River Drive, south of Fort Pierce, between Fort Pierce and Jensen.
BM: Yeah, if itâ€™s a big house that people came from the north, celebrity and stuff, and they stayed there. They got married there. Captain Richardson married them, and then they had quite few children. (BM laughs) But he would be my great-great uncle, my great grandfatherâ€™s brother. He built what was some of the first groves out here, off Angle Road. And he lived there â€™til the day he died. My grandfather was born down on Indian River Drive; they had a pineapple plantation down there. And the deal with the state was, if they could pay the taxes on the property where they were homesteading, they would own the land. Now, the land is down where the courthouse is, on South Indian River Drive. Itâ€™s the big red brick house that, when you come around the curb, you almost hit the gates there. And they grew their pineapples, but what happened was, they had a freeze, which is well documented in Florida.
TH: About what year?
BM: Itâ€™s the year the ship sank up in front of Ocean Grill, and the boiler stuck out there for years and years. It was that freeze. So all of the pineapples froze, and they lost their rights to the land because they couldnâ€™t pay the taxes. So the one uncle or the oneâ€”yeah, my one uncle went and built the groves out here. And my other great grandfather became a carpenter, which my grandfather became a carpenter also. Now, my dadâ€™s side of the family, they came from New York. But that was my Uncle Junior Baylee(??) and my Aunt Margaret. They were the ones that started fishing here in about 1932, â€™30 [or] â€™32. And they fished all the way up to when my uncle died. He was 72. I think he died in â€™73, butâ€”
TH: They were net fishermen?
BM: Yeah. And he king fished also. In fact, Iâ€™ll tell you a little story. Back in the day, king fishing was secondary. You net fished first, king fishing was secondary.
TH: King fishing, like, trolling for kingfish?
BM: Yeah, they trolled for kingfish with tarred hand lines. So they take the nets out of their skiffs, and then they would put a pin board, a backing board, across the boat; they call that a pin board. And they put a dehooker on it, and theyâ€™d run offshore, and theyâ€™d king fish.
TH: What kind of engines did they have?
BM: Back then, I donâ€™t know, Terry. Iâ€”
BM: Palmers, probably, yeah. And then they started putting engines after the war, you know, the eight-cylinders and stuff. I donâ€™t really know the name of them, but my uncleâ€”at the time, there was lots of Swedes that fished here in Fort Pierce and in the area, which I donâ€™t guess thereâ€™s any left now. My uncle told a story that, one morning, they were going king fishing. And they saw a light. And they saw it over the horizon. Itâ€™d go up and down, up and down. And they came up on a boat, and it was this Swede, and he was rowing. He broke down during the day. There was no radios back then. They didnâ€™t have any radios. So heâ€™s rowing, and my uncle saysâ€”I forget what his name wasâ€”he says, â€œOh, weâ€™ll give you a tow in.â€ â€œNope. Made it this far. Iâ€™m going to row the rest of the way.â€ So, he rowed. You know, thatâ€™s just how it was. And then, my uncleâ€™s brother-in-law, Al, he was a character. He took my uncleâ€™s boat, and he took my other uncleâ€”that would have been his brother-in-law and a couple other peopleâ€”Iâ€™m pretty sure four of them was on the boat, and they went offshore, sail fishing.
TH: For food or for recreation?
BM: Recreational. Recreation.
TH: Sail fishing?
BM: Yeah. And so, they took off, and they got out there, and they fished all day. And, back then, they didnâ€™t have the alternators and the modern electrical components that keep your batteries charged and everything like today. So they had a little generator. And he said, when he went to speed up to come in, the motor stalled. Well, the generator didnâ€™t charge the battery all day. So there they were, once again, and no radio. So they drifted in the Gulf Stream for, I think, three days or four days. And a freighter going into Philadelphia picked them up.
TH: About what year would this be?
BM: Oh, I donâ€™t know. You know, I shouldâ€™ve recorded all those dates. No oneâ€™s left alive that knows them now.
TH: But, itâ€™d be before World War II?
BM: I would say yeah. Right before the war. But the freighter picked them up, took them into Philadelphia. So my uncle had to take a train to Philadelphiaâ€”no airplanes then, you knowâ€”go up there, and then they brought the boat back, ran the boat back. It was interesting times because, when you broke down, there wasnâ€™t any radios.
TH: And nobody knew where they were for four days?
BM: Nobody knew where they were.
TH: Did they think they were lost?
BM: Yeah. Yeah because the coast guard, they only had these old, little boats to go out there and look for you. And you didnâ€™t have much back then. When you went fishing, you were, pretty much, you were on your own out there.
TH: Maybe, later on, if you could come up with a date for that, weâ€™ll add it.
BM: Yeah. Iâ€™ll look around. Iâ€™m going to have to say it wasâ€”it would have to be right before the war.
TH: Okay. So your mom moved to Fort Pierce?
BM: Yeah, my mom was born right here in Fort Pierce.
BM: Her whole familyâ€”her sevenâ€”there was seven of them, and they were born right here.
BM: She was born west of town.
TH: Out in the orange groves?
BM: Right. My grandfather was a caretaker in one of the groves out there, and, actually, itâ€™s on Taylor Dairy Road. They just tore the house down a few years ago. And I want to go out there and look for bottles and stuff like that. But they had no electricity. They didnâ€™t have modern convenience. They had piped in water because they had a wellhead in the kitchen, and thatâ€™s where you got your water. Yep. They pumped it, and my brothersâ€”I mean, my uncles, my momâ€™s brothers, they all attended Fort Pierce Elementary [School], the yellow brick school.
TH: On the river?
BM: The one on Delaware Avenue.
BM: And theyâ€™d walk to school.
TH: From out, west of town?
BM: Yeah. Basically, they ran to school because both of them were athletes.
TH: Thatâ€™s several miles.
BM: Thatâ€™s several miles, yeah. Yeah. And the girls, Iâ€™d have to ask my mom; I donâ€™t know if they all walked. But I know that the boys, they ran to school because, like I said, they played football. And in fact, my Uncle Snookie(??), Robert Keen, heâ€™s on the wall down at the sportsman hall of fame, down in the civic center. Yeah, he was a boxer. And he actually fought on the same marquee as Sugar Ray Robinson.
TH: Oh, my goodness. Interesting. Can I use it?
BM: That was after the war. But he said, after the war, it was just hard to get your skills back, and there wasnâ€™t any money. He didnâ€™t make any money back then, so he came back here.
TH: That would be World War II?
BM: Right. Yeah.
TH: And what was he? What did he do in World War II?
BM: Well, he started out as a featherweight boxing champion of the Pacific, and he went with the USO, and theyâ€™d put on the shows for the troops. And then when we went into Europe, Patton needed men. And he was in Pattonâ€™s army. So heâ€”
TH: He was in the army?
BM: Yeah, he rode a tank. He rode in Pattonâ€™s army. He made that 72-hour run.
BM: From the bottom of France, when Patton made that run to free Bastogne, up in that area. Yeah, he went. He made that run, and then he went into Germany. He met the Russians on the Oder River, and thatâ€™s where they had the big celebration. And then, after the cameras were shut off, thatâ€™s when a captain came out and told him, â€œYou donâ€™t fraternize with these people. You donâ€™t speak to them. You donâ€™t wave to them. You donâ€™t talk to them. Weâ€™ll court-martial you.â€ So, he was there for that.
TH: Was onâ€”I mean, when Patton was buried, Astor Summerlinâ€”?
BM: Yeah, he was in the Honor Guard.
TH: At Pattonâ€™s funeral?
BM: And all that history is gone. Thereâ€™s no more.
TH: Okay. That got you to Fort Pierce, pretty much. You grew up [with] all different kinds of fishing. Today, what kind of fish do you mostly target?
BM: King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, and we have a mullet run. Iâ€™ll go do that.
TH: So how do you fish today? I meanâ€”
BM: Well, youâ€”
TH: What happenedâ€”? Describe the chronology of nets and net fishing in Florida. You know, you left off, you were gill netting. So how have you transitioned into what you do today?
BM: Well, in 1994, we had the referendum. Made it a constitutional amendment toâ€”it doesnâ€™t ban nets, but it limits the mesh and the size. So basically, it became a net ban. We have fished three miles offshore.
TH: If you want to use a net, you have to go beyond a three-mile limit?
BM: Yep. Um-hm.
TH: Thatâ€™s Florida waters?
BM: Thatâ€™s Florida waters; itâ€™s nine miles on the west coast, so it basically changed all that. Iâ€™ve just hook and line fished ever since. Now, I cast net mackerel when I go south. And we cast net them andâ€”
TH: Describe that procedure.
BM: Well, weâ€™re allowed 500 square feet, so that averages out to about a three and a quarterâ€”three and a half, 14-foot deep cast net. And we mark them on the machine, and we throw anyâ€”25 feetâ€™s just about reaching the limit because itâ€™s just hard. The net starts closing up, and itâ€”and so, itâ€™sâ€”
TH: Itâ€™s a 14-foot net?
TH: Describe 14-foot, from where to where?
BM: Thatâ€™s from the lead line to where the horn would be. We take the horn out. We put a rope where the horn would be, so it allows the net to open as itâ€”down, and then we pull it in the boat and pick them out andâ€”
TH: The horn? You say the horn. People listening to usâ€”
BM: That would be the plastic piece that most people see on a cast net when they pick one up. But we take the horn off. We donâ€™t put it in. And we run a rope, probably 12 feet long, to the top meshes of the cast net. And then, when we throw it, if you open it good enough (BM laughs)â€”my theory [is] that rope allows the top of the net to open and sink quicker. And then, when you feel fish start tugging on it, you pull up on your rope, and that closes that hornâ€”that would close that rope up, and then that gill off(??), and then weâ€™d pull it in the boat.
TH: As well as closing up the lead line?
BM: Well, the lead line doesnâ€™t close like a purse net would or like a regular cast net because thereâ€™s no tug strings in it. It just pulls together, but the fish are already gilled off in it.
TH: Oh, so itâ€™s like a gill net rather than a cast net?
BM: Yeah, like a gill net.
TH: Works like a gill net.
BM: Yeah. Similar to that, yeah.
TH: I didnâ€™t know that.
BM: But the state, thatâ€™s what they said we could fish, and thatâ€™s what everybodyâ€™s fished andâ€”
TH: So you do that during what time of year, approximately?
BM: The best cast netting is from December into February. And then, when the water warms up down in what we call the Hole, south of Stuart Inletâ€”St. Lucie Inlet. We rod and reel fish then.
TH: In rod and reel fish, do you troll or do you jig?
BM: No, youâ€”thatâ€™s prettyâ€”itâ€™s a pretty crazy fishery now. Everyone uses bait. You throw the bait out on the water, and then you throw a number two or a number three Clark spoon out and reel like a mad man andâ€”
TH: The bait chums theâ€”?
BM: Um-hm. Yep.
TH: Brings the mackerel to you?
TH: And then youâ€”and then youâ€”?
BM: Then theyâ€”
TH: You throw a spoon into the melee orâ€”?
BM: Itâ€™s not always that simple. (BM laughs) Itâ€™s an art. I have a hard time doing it. The young guys, they got it down pat. But, you know, when youâ€™ve always done something all your life, itâ€™s hard to convert over. And that was 20 years ago.
TH: Do you troll for mackerel from time to time?
BM: Oh yeah. Yeah. Iâ€™d rather troll for mackerel than anything else because I do pretty good on them.
TH: Okay. And then you also king fish?
TH: When you can?
TH: How has fishing changed during your time on the water?
BM: Well, I tell you, electronics are a big detriment to fishing.
TH: In what way?
BM: Itâ€™s allowed everybody that never really could fish to figure out how to fish. You know, back when I started fishing, I didnâ€™t have a depth recorder. I didnâ€™t have a radio. We didnâ€™t have LORANs. And we just went out there and did it. Now, you can go to the recreational tackle store and buy a book that has every number of every rock in Florida. You plug it into your GPS on a card, a sim card, and off you go. And then, a little beeper comes on and tells you when youâ€™re over the rock, and then you fish. And itâ€™s really, you know, I think itâ€™s really been a detriment to fishing.
TH: So, thereâ€™s fewer fish because thereâ€™s more people that have access to the best spots, is what youâ€™re saying? Can you elaborate?
BM: (BM sighs) I donâ€™t want to say thereâ€™s fewer fish because, me and you, when weâ€™re king fishing, we donâ€™t if thereâ€™s fish because weâ€™re shut off at 50 head. If we get out there, and itâ€™s eight oâ€™clock in the morning, and you already have 50 head in the boat, what would happen by one oâ€™clock? What would you have? Weâ€™re not reallyâ€”weâ€™re held to 50 head. We really donâ€™t know what could be produced because if you look at the west coast or Daytona, north, those guys have different quotas. And they have different amounts of fish they can catch, and theyâ€™re catching their fish every day. They catch 1,200. In Louisiana, they catch 3,000. Here, weâ€™re held to 50 head. Weâ€™re the only place in Florida, or anywhere that I know of, thatâ€™s held to such a low amount of fish. Seventy-five in the summer, which, you know, in the summer itâ€™s hard to get 75 head. But in the winter, we donâ€™t know what we could catch.
TH: Now, youâ€™re just talking about kingfish?
BM: Iâ€™m talking about king mackerel, yeah.
TH: What about other species? How have they changed? Howâ€™s the population of other species of fish changed? Are there as many mackerel? As manyâ€”?
BM: I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s as many mackerel. And Iâ€™ve heard scientists say itâ€™s because thereâ€™s no pressure on them.
TH: Thereâ€™s not as many mackerel because thereâ€™s notâ€”?
BM: Because they say thereâ€™s not enough pressure on them to push the fish to breed more. I know it sounds farfetched, but Iâ€™ve heard two scientists say this now. And we should be able to walk on the mackerel because thereâ€™s no more heavy net fishing on them. Youâ€™ve got to remember, back in the â€™70s and the â€™80s, there was 50 large mackerel boats. There was 100 small, little boats, either trolling or netting with our small nets. And we were catching them every day. And that was 23 years ago that the net ban was. And thatâ€™sâ€”so I think itâ€™s had a big, bigâ€”I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s happened. But we should have a lot more fish.
TH: Okay. How about recreational pressure?
BM: There isâ€”thereâ€™s a lot pressure. There is a lot of pressure. And the thingâ€”this isâ€”
TH: Compared to when you started fishing?
BM: Oh, my god. When I was a kid, and you went out on the river, like I said, if you broke down, it was a long walk home. There was nobody out there. There was no recreational boats on every inch of ground out there. Itâ€™s a lot of pressure. You figure how many people are out, just go to the boat ramps and look at the amount of boats that leave there every day. And we have aâ€”
TH: And they all have electronics? (phone rings)
TH: Weâ€™re back with Brant McManus, and heâ€™s going to try and put some dates with the stories that he told during our first session, and then weâ€™ll move on.
BM: So, my great-great grandfather, John Storman, left Fort Meade in 1874 with a partner by the name of John Collier. They split somewhere down around south of Lake Okeechobee. And my great-great grandfather, John Storman, went to Miami. And, there, his cattle died because the pH factor in the grass was too high.
TH: And Collier?
BM: Collier became Collier County. (BM laughs) We made the wrong turn.
TH: (BM laughs) Okay.
BM: So, he went toâ€”he had to do something. There was no way home back then.
TH: And he lost all his cattle?
BM: He lost all the cattle, so he started grinding a starch called coontie that the Indians had ground. And I imagine the starch was loaded on the steamboats and sold north into the state or further north, however far it went. Somewhere around, Iâ€™m going to say 1880, around in that area, he died.
TH: That was 1879.
BM: Iâ€™m sorry. Eighteen seventy-nine, he died. He was found floating in his boat. They think he had a sun stroke, fell, and hit his head. So that left the children and my great-great grandmother down there with no income, so my great-great grandmother sent the two sisters north to Fort Pierceâ€”well, St. Lucie Village; Fort Pierce wasnâ€™t existing then. And they came up here in 1885. They walked the military trail with a little pack train. Their guide was actually killed on the trail by a rattlesnake. And they came up here, and they met a few people and a few families they knew. And then, they went to work for Captain Richards down in Eden, at the Eden House. (cellphone rings) And, in 1887, my great-great grandmother married one of the brothers of the Keen family. In fact, the two Keen brothers married the two sisters. That was my momâ€™s side of the family, and thatâ€™s what brought them here.
TH: Your brother is Michael McManus?
BM: Michael. Yeah.
BM: So, weâ€™re the ones that fish. The rest of the family, my younger brother was a firefighter, a fireman. And my sister works for the hospital in Sebastian. And they basically just got other jobs.
TH: Okay, that brings us back toâ€”we talked about fishing and the different kinds of fishing youâ€™ve done. And, today, you mostly either cast net for mackerel or troll for mackerel?
TH: And sometimes you cast net for mullet?
TH: Okay. Have you noticed changes in the fish populations in fisheries, during your time on the water?
BM: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Big decline.
TH: Big decline in the amount of fish?
BM: Yeah, I wouldâ€”I think our pelagic fish are probablyâ€”they do better because they travel.
TH: (both talk) The pelagic being?
BM: They travel up and down the coast. Theyâ€™reâ€”theyâ€”theyâ€”
TH: That would be theâ€”?
BM: Mackerels and the bluefish.
TH: Okay. What do you see as the specific causes for these changes? You say thereâ€™s fewer fish.
BM: Thereâ€™s just, flat out, too many people in Florida and too much fishing pressure. Thereâ€™s very few commercial fishermen, really. Compared to what it was 30 years ago, thereâ€™s not that many commercial fishermen. The kingfish fleet is really small. Thereâ€™s, what, maybe 12 boats on the given day out here? When I was a kid, this is no exaggeration, there was 200 kingfish boats fishing. We had Treasure Coast co-op fisheries that was formed by the fishermen in the early â€™70s. They had a huge gill net, small boat fleet. And they had a huge hook and line kingfish fleet that, I would say, there had to be 100 kingfish boats unloaded there. And in the afternoon, in the winter, when the season was full on, they would be unloading from one in the afternoon â€™til one in the morning. Boats would be lined up in a line.
TH: Now, thatâ€™s just one fish house?
BM: Thatâ€™s just one fish house.
TH: About how many fish houses were thereâ€”?
BM: Well, there wasâ€”
TH: â€”working when you wereâ€”?
BM: There was Hudgens(??), Inlet Fisheries, and Steve Loweâ€™s place which is Charlieâ€™s Seafood. Those were the four main fish houses that bought the kingfish and the mackerels. Oh, there was Triple M; they bought mackerel and kingfish too.
TH: Before that there was Summerlinâ€™s?
BM: Yeah. At one time, there was probably 10 big fish houses here.
TH: Okay. Now, what environmental, man-made factors do you see as the greatest threat to fish?
BM: Itâ€™s the taking of the water from the fish. That continually filling in of proprieties and marinas and more impact from people coming to Florida. Everybodyâ€™s a fisherman now. And everybodyâ€™s an expert because, like I said, electronics. It may not make you an expert and a great catcher every time, but it sure evens the odds.
TH: So, fishing methods have changed. You already spoke about the nets and the net ban.
TH: Today, they can still use short shots of net?
TH: None at all? In Florida waters?
BM: (both talk) None at all. You canâ€™t use any gill net or entanglement net in Florida waters. You can use a seine, but it can only be 500 square feet.
TH: Thatâ€™s very small.
BM: Thatâ€™s not very much. And itâ€™s a two-inch mesh and it wonâ€™tâ€”it doesnâ€™tâ€”it just catches little fish. So it, in my opinion, isnâ€™t detrimental. It was wrong.
TH: Have large commercial fishing corporations or operations impacted your fishery?
BM: Well, the recreational fishery says theyâ€™re recreation. But when you go to these South Atlantic fishery meetings and the Florida fisheries meetings, theyâ€™re all recreational. But then again, they start speaking about how much money they make, how much they generate, so that makes them commercial. So Iâ€™d say they are a large commercial operation that has hurt the Florida commercial fishermen.
TH: Please discuss and describe in detail major weather occurrences youâ€™ve experienced on the water: storms, lightning storms, high winds, seas, water spouts, anything that comes to mind.
BM: Oh, letâ€™s see. Iâ€™ve been struck by lightning twice.
TH: Can you be more descriptive?
BM: I was running up the river one day, in the summertime. I had a tower on my boat that I used; thatâ€™s what I stood on, and I used it to spot fish. And I thought I was running from the storm but I actually wasnâ€™t, and I reachedâ€”I was going to get down off the tower because it was lightning bad. When I reached the gear shift, the lightning struck by the boat, ran up the underwater gear, ran up the shift table, and the sparks actually came out and hit me in the hand. Another time, I was trout fishingâ€”
TH: Now, this was a summer squall?
BM: This was a summer squall. Another time, I was trout fishing down on the west shore, south of townâ€”
TH: West shore of the Indian River Lagoon?
BM: Indian River, right. And I saw the storm coming, but I didnâ€™t want to quit because I was catching trout as fast as I could put a bait on and throw it out there.
TH: So, you were hook and lining trout?
BM: Hook and line trout fishing, right.
BM: So I went underneath this guyâ€™s boat dock. It was a brand new boat dock. And I was standing there, and I usually went barefooted when I was trout fishing. Iâ€™d take my shoes off when I got in the boat. But today, I wore my fishing boots. So Iâ€™m standing there in about an inch of water in my little 14-foot trout boat, and lightning hit the dock. I guess it ran down the ground wire that he had on the dock.
TH: Now, this was on the west shore?
BM: Itâ€™s on the west shore, and I was underâ€”
TH: Would this be around Thumb Point?
BM: No, itâ€™d be down aroundâ€”just south of White City. Just south of White City dock. Uh, just south of Midway Road.
BM: In fact, it was probably a quarter mile south of Midway Road. And it hit the dock. And I guess it ran down the ground wire. It came out the key switch, which was located by my leg, and I saw spark come out, hit me in the leg. My back went into a spasm like you wouldnâ€™t believe. And whatâ€™s funny is, the little Johnson I had on there was really running bad. Itâ€™s like the stator or something was going bad. After that, that motor run like a champ. (BM laughs) I donâ€™t know if it got a new charge in it or what, but I never had a minuteâ€™s problem with the engine after that.
TH: What kind of engine what is?
BM: It was a 1974 Johnson because myâ€”
TH: What horsepower?
BM: Twenty-five because my Mercury that was newer was in the shop getting worked on. And I borrowed this guyâ€™s old motor and put it on there. And it was running bad. But after that, it run perfect. (BM laughs) I never had a minuteâ€™s problem.
TH: So you were underneath a dock?
TH: And the docks are higher there because the shore lineâ€™s much higher.
BM: Well, it was actuallyâ€”it was a boat house.
TH: Oh, a boat house?
BM: Yeah, a boat house.
TH: Okay, and it hit the dock, came down into your boat, but you werenâ€™t attached to the dock?
BM: No, I was, at the time, was not holding on to it. The boat was just resting in between the pilings and thatâ€™s when it hit. And the sparks flew out, and it went right in my leg. It left a little burn mark and my back spasmed [sic] up. It hurt for about a month after that. And then, Iâ€™ve been in some storms in the ocean when were sword fishing and seen the lighting strike, I mean, right on the boat. In fact, George Kaul, who I fished withâ€”we were partnersâ€”we were in his boat with his brother David. And we got in a summer squall out in the middle of the Gulf Stream. And that lightning was hitting everywhere. And when it did, George says, â€œWell, somebody better go below, in case we get struck by lightning.â€ I said, â€œOkay. Iâ€™ll see you later.â€ (BM laughs) I went down because, you know, they were up top. And I went down there in case we did get hit, one of us would be down below and maybe in safe place. But, yeah, weâ€™ve hadâ€”we went through lots of lightning storms. I went through the Storm of the Century in â€™93. Thatâ€™s when we had that big freezeâ€”if you remember, Terryâ€”when everything froze.
TH: (both talk) Um-hm.
BM: Yeah, we weâ€™re fishing in that. That was quite something.
TH: Nineteen ninety-three?
BM: Yeah, March of â€™93. Itâ€™s called the Storm of the Century and it froze deep into Florida.
TH: (both talk) Was it a winter storm?
BM: No, it was in March. It froze deep into Florida. I donâ€™t know if you remember or not.
TH: I do.
BM: But I had a big catch of bluefish that day. And I had two brothers on the boat with me, Rodney Blackâ€™s brothers. And they were moaning and crying and whining. They didnâ€™tâ€”they were river fishermen. They just fished in a lagoon. They didnâ€™t like going in the ocean. So we went out early that morning. It was blowing hard southeast, big southeast swell. And we went back in, and we just kind of hung around in the river, waiting around. And my friend Gene Hayes came out, and he says, â€œI think itâ€™s going to calm down. Letâ€™s go.â€ Soâ€”
TH: Thatâ€™s in another boat?
BM: Yeah, he was in his boat. So we went north and we go up off of Vero Cove(??).
TH: In the ocean?
BM: In the ocean. And we run a feeler, run out about 50 yards of net. And the bluefish started hitting it. So we set our net and we made one set. And we started picking it up. And I standing on my tower, so I could see pretty far to the west. And I see the green, rolling cloudsâ€”the worst thing you want to see when youâ€™re on the waterâ€”and the lightning. So we got the net in the boat and we went to the shore, as close as we could get because the wind was coming out of the west, threw the anchor, and we rode the storm out. We picked the bluefish out, so I said, â€œWell, thatâ€™s pretty good. I think the storm is gone.â€ So, we run the net out again, just a straight set. And Bubba Brown was up on his boat, and Gene Hayes and a couple of other boats where there. So we run the net out and we started picking it up. And the reason I had two guys on the boat with me is because I had broke my hand with a drill a couple weeks before that and I had to have the two brothers on the boat with me. And we were picking it up and I could see it coming again.
TH: The storm?
BM: The storm. We got it in the boat just in time and I got as close to the beach as I could. And that tower, with the lightningâ€”I guess what they call St. Elmoâ€™s fireâ€”that tower was a ball of fire. So I stood on the ice box and I jump up and the turn the steering wheel every now and then. And those two had on life jackets. They were huddled up likeâ€”I mean, they wereâ€”they didnâ€™t like it. And they were [saying], We canâ€™t go in the inlet; we canâ€™t go in the inlet; you canâ€™t steer the boat like that. And I said, â€œWell, then, you steer the boat.â€ And my wife was calling me on the radio, making sure we were okay and everything. And Gene says, Gene Hayes, he says, â€œWeâ€™ll be alright.â€
TH: You had radios?
BM: Yeah. â€œWeâ€™ll be okay. Itâ€™s going to alright.â€ And Iâ€™m thinking, boy, I donâ€™t know about this one. (BM laughs) But we made it to the dock, in the front passed andâ€”
TH: How was the inlet?
BM: Slick calm. Because the front passed by the time we got there. And it was flood tide. So we got in, got the boat on the trailer, went to the fish houseâ€”my dadâ€™s fish house we owned on 25th Street, west of town. We had a seafood market there, for 30 years, and a fish house. And the next morning, everything was frozen over. So we had those bluefish set on the truck outside our fish market for three days because the east coast of the United States was frozen. No trucks were running. The snow was terrible. But that was one of the biggest storms I got in. That was a bad storm.
TH: Hmm. Okay, lightning, high winds, seas, anyâ€”?
BM: Oh, yeah. Me and George went through a couple of them. One day, I think they were close to 20 foot in the Gulf Stream. In fact, we had a boat, a 45-foot Thompson trawler, sink right next to us. And our other friend on his boat, Bobby Sea(??), picked up the guys. They were in the engine box. It was a big engine box because they had a V-12 diesel in it, and that was their life boat. They got in that and that boat sunk quick. It was a bad day. It was rough. In fact, thatâ€™s the day we caught our biggest swordfish ever. I think it dressed 533 pounds. Thatâ€™s dress weight, so it probably was close to 600. I would say it was 600.
TH: Is that the one you had trouble getting into the stern of the boat.
BM: Yeah. Took us about an hour to get it in the boat. And George was wanting to cut it off. He kept saying, â€œLetâ€™s just go. Letâ€™s just cut it.â€ And I said, â€œOne more chance. One more time. Letâ€™s do it.â€
TH: So, it was big seas, high seas?
BM: Oh yeah, high seas. The boat spun around, stern to the seas, and that fish floated. He was a floater. But he just so big and long thatâ€”I mightâ€™ve weighed 150, George mightâ€™ve weighed 160, and you got a 10-foot fish out there. And you get his head in the doorway, in the tuna door, thereâ€™s still 400 pounds hanging out. So we went and we hooked him up to the reel, to the hydraulic reel, tried to pull him through the door. And, at the last minute, a big sea came and floated him through the deal(??).
TH: The door on the back of the stern?
BM: Yeah. Yeah, and we got him in the boat. But, I tell you, we were so beat up after that. It took us about two days to get the boat back in shape. But we caught fish. We had a good day that day.
TH: You were long lining swordfishâ€”
BM: Swordfish, yeah. (both talk)
TH: â€”out the Gulf Stream.
BM: Right. Yeah.
TH: And why did a lot of the kingfish boats, the kingfish captains, begin to long line the swordfish?
BM: Lucrative. Lucrative. Good money. We got 265 back in 1978.
TH: And it justâ€”it was a new industry.
BM: It was a new fishery.
TH: New fishery.
BM: The first swordfish I ever saw caught in Fort Pierce was by Billy Minuet(??). He was tile fishing and he caught one. And the guy I started sword fishing with, who was one of the first people to swordfish here, Leland Curry, he rigged up that year to sword fish because everyone was thinking, well, maybe we can go out there and catch them. And he rigged up the first time, and it didnâ€™t work out good. And then, I went with him the next year and we caught swordfish. We only had a 31-foot boat, and we killed the swordfish. In fact, he bought a new boat, a 51-foot Niles(??), the next year. And I sword fished a little bit for him, but then I got off. Itâ€™s just, went back to doing something else.
TH: Did you ever get any water spouts? Get hit by a water spout?
TH: Okay. Memorable big fish. You talked about the 600-pound swordfish. Your biggest fish and biggest catches?
BM: I guess about 10,000, but I always fished a small boat and smaller nets. I had 10,000 mackerel one day.
TH: In one day?
BM: One set.
TH: One set.
BM: With a 74-year-old man that smokes cigarettes.
TH: Who was it?
BM: Oh, it was Raymond, Raymond Black. And halfway through he gave out because we had a power roller that assists you to get the net back. But, in Palm Beach County, where we were at, you couldnâ€™t use power rollers. So we had to pick it up by hand, over the side. And about halfway, he says, â€œIâ€™m done.â€ I said, â€œWell, Raymond, youâ€™re not done. Relax a minute. Get your breath. And weâ€™ll go back.â€ So he fired a cigarette up. (BM laughs) And he laid there a while and then he got back up. And we started pulling it again, I tell you, it was hard pull because mackerel, when they get in the net, they die, they donâ€™t keep swimming. Theyâ€™re dead weight. They donâ€™t come to the boat swimming for you; they die. Thereâ€™s 10,000 pounds hanging there, dead, in the water. Youâ€™ve got to pick it off the bottom. So then some guy came along and got on the boat and gave us a hand. But that was one of my biggest days.
TH: About what year was that?
BM: Nineteen ninety-five. January of 1995 because that was the year of the net ban.
TH: Down in Palm Beach?
BM: Yep. And, once again, 1995 is one of the biggest fishing years I ever had, with the least amount of net because we kept going to these fisheries meetings. And we were always conceding time to these people, hoping that we wouldnâ€™t get this net ban put on us. So we were down to 600 yards of net, hour soak time. And that actually was one my biggest years on pompano, in the summer, that year. So we were catching good fish.
TH: It had to be before 1994 because that was theâ€”
BM: The referendum was in 1994. When Lawton Chiles was running for governor, it was on that [ballot] when we voted on that. It was November ninth. They voted for the net ban. It was enacted in July of â€™95.
BM: That was our last time to fish.
TH: That was the end of net fishing in Florida, pretty much?
BM: Yeah because I went fishing the night before that. I went fishing, and we could fish up to midnight. And I sat out there about an hour, and I said, â€œThe hell with it. Iâ€™m just going in.â€ You know, â€œItâ€™s over.â€
TH: That was an emotional time for a lot ofâ€”
BM: It was an emotionalâ€”it still is with me. I still have a lot of animosity towards people because we were catching fish. We were heavily regulated. Everything we used, net-wise, had a mesh regulation, a time regulation, a length regulation, a depth regulation. Everything was regulated. And to say that we were just pirates out there fishing, it was wrong. Well, I didnâ€™tâ€”so, in 1995, after July, I bought crab traps. I bought 100 crab traps, and I got my crab license. I started crabbing. I did really good. I didnâ€™t do good at first because, crabbers, they donâ€™t tell you anything. Theyâ€™re very territorial. So I had good traps, but I had the wrong bait wells. I didnâ€™t understand that when you put fresh bunkers, menhaden, in your bait well, you have to have a small mesh, smaller than the crab trap, because all the picker fish go in there. Two hours later, youâ€™ve got nothing but bones in your trap. Youâ€™re not catching the crabs. So I changed that around. I really did good. But that year that I wasâ€”
TH: Where did you set your traps? In St. Lucie County?
BM: St. Lucie to Indian River County. And I fished in Martin County, but basically, I started fishing right, just northâ€”my best fishing was north of Linkport(??) becauseâ€”
TH: The Harbor Branch?
BM: Right. Harbor Branch, yeah. The crabs, south of there, there was too much salt, the water. And, the saltier the crab, the quicker heâ€™ll die because the saltâ€™s in his lungs, and when you put him in his crate, even though you keep him moist, the salt gets on their lungs and kills them. So the brackish water is what you wanted. You had to have that perfect mix of fresh and salt water, which you did up there. But at that time I started, the grass was really thick in the river. In fact, it was so thick that I had a hard time placing my crab traps because you want to run your line. You want to try to keep in a sand hole or on the edge of the grass. But, from â€™95 to about 2000, the grass was just unbelievable, and then it started dying off. And I donâ€™t knowâ€”well, Iâ€™m blaming it on development. Golf courses, thereâ€™s just too many. Thereâ€™s just so many golf courses on the river and they pump the nitrogen and the fertilizers on those golf courses.
BM: â€”antibiotics. And I got this information from a guy who, at Harbor Branch, is a biologist up there. Heâ€™s the one that asked me the question one day, he says, â€œHow many people [who] live in Florida, do you think, take cancer drugs?â€ And I said, â€œI donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t. What are you talking about?â€ He says, â€œOur sewage systems donâ€™t break it down.â€ He said, â€œIt goes into the water.â€ He says, â€œIf it will kill a cancer cell, donâ€™t you think it will kill a fish, tiny fish fry?â€ I never thought about that, but after I talked to him a while, it made sense. Itâ€™s not broken down, which youâ€™ve read in the news and heard how estrogen shows up in the drinking water, out of birth control, because it breaks down. Re-treated water goes into the ground and now itâ€™s showing up in our drinking water.
TH: Too many people.
BM: Too many people. And I guess thereâ€™s nothing you can do about it.
TH: Okay. Strange occurrences that youâ€™ve experienced on the water, like odd lights, empty boats, rafts, rogue waves? (BM laughs)
BM: Eh, well, yeah. Letâ€™s see, I would say it was about 1983, â€™84. We were blue fishing during the daytime, gill netting blue fishâ€”
TH: Gill netting.
BM: â€”up towards Vero. But we would leave the dock about one in the morning, and weâ€™d go up on the reef, and weâ€™d run out  or 500 yards of pompano net for what we call a daylight set. You know, we might catch 100 pounds; we might catch 50. But it set the tone for day, and it got us started. So, we set our net and we threw the anchor in the boat; the stern swung around to the east. And itâ€™s about four-thirty in the morning. And, all of a sudden, the sky lit up. Iâ€™m talking lit up. And then, we seen it come out of the water, the missile, and then we saw the warheads come out. It was a ballistic test, ballistic missile test from a submarine.
TH: Where were you?
BM: We were right off about Pepper Park. But we were laying in the bunk, in the boat, you know. Chris is in one bunk and Iâ€™m in the other, and weâ€™re just looking out the cabin door, and all of a sudden, the whole ocean lights up. Iâ€™m going, â€œOh boy, I think this is the end.â€ And a friend of mine that fishedâ€”Terry, you know himâ€”Bryan Goth, goes, â€œWell, for all you boys that donâ€™t believe in God, I think youâ€™re going to change your mind real quick, now. Arenâ€™t you?â€ I told Chris, I said, â€œOh man, this is not good.â€ But it was a test missile. But we talk about scaring two people to death. I think it scared everybody to death that saw it, butâ€”
TH: How far offshore do you suppose theyâ€”? Was it a submarine?
BM: Yeah, he came off theâ€”the missile came up from the horizon, so he was probably 20 miles out or so. Quite fascinating when I watched it, but, for a minute there, I was going, â€œOh boy.â€ But it was a test deal. But I never, never saw too much crazy stuff.
TH: Nothing that you couldnâ€™t explain?
TH: Any rogue waves? George talked about a rogue wave one day andâ€”
BM: (both talk) No.
TH: â€”just out of the blue, a six-footer came through.
BM: No. Never had anything like that. Unless I got too close to the beach, and then they were all rogue (BM laughs) because they were looking to roll you over.
TH: Okay, rescues, sinkings, near-sinkings, inlet tragedies, collisions, other calamities?
BM: Yeah, I rescued Astor Summerlin one day. Astor just always fished by himself. He had about, I think he had a little, 17-foot Suncoast boat that he was catching roe mullet. And he was out on the end of the jetties out there, off the end of the jetty, on the south jetty. And the wind was blowing hard out of the south and the tide was coming in. So it was ripping. And a bunch of roe mullet came up and he threw. And I saw him throw, but I didnâ€™t pay any attention. I was about 200 yards from him. I was southwest of him, headed in towards the beach. And I turned around and I saw leaning over the side of the boat. And I was thinking, Oh, he mustâ€™ve fell down. But then I looked again, and he was holding on for all he was worth. Now, he was an old man at the time. And so, I just floored it, got up on a slide, ran into the side of his boat, you know, smashed right into it. But I grabbed him, and I got myâ€”had my knife out, and I cut the rope on the cast net. And, poor old man, he was all red. I thought he was going to die of a heart attack then. And he says, â€œIf you hadnâ€™t come, I was giving up.â€
TH: So, he had hisâ€”
BM: He was hung in the rocks.
TH: His net was hung in the rocks, and he had a noose, like, aroundâ€”
BM: Yep. And fishing around that tide border, as many times as heâ€™s done it, he shouldâ€™ve put a big loop in the net. But Iâ€™ll tell you something else about that loop. It doesnâ€™t work. But he got hung, and he was drowning.
TH: But howâ€”? He wasnâ€™t in theâ€”? Was he in the water?
BM: No, he was down. He was, somehow, he was hanging on to that boat. But his face was already going in the water. You know, I probablyâ€”
TH: And he could not untie himself? He couldnâ€™tâ€”
BM: He couldnâ€™t get loose.
TH: â€”couldnâ€™t reach anything?
BM: No. And Iâ€™ll tell you, the same thing happened to me down in St. Lucie Inlet. And thereâ€™s three rivers [that] empty there, basically. You have the north forkâ€”
TH: Of the St. Lucie River?
BM: Right. And the south fork and then you have the Indian River Lagoon. They all converge and go out that inlet. Well, this is kind of what saved me. A week prior to that, I donâ€™t know if Junior Harden told you about his grandson.
TH: (both talk) He did tell me.
BM: Okay. And they were going to drown. They went overboard, too, you know. And I guess he told you that, didnâ€™t he?
TH: Told me about you. He didnâ€™t tell about his son.
BM: Oh, yeah. But his son and them went over, but they tried to fight it. They tried to stay above the water and you canâ€™t. That current comes out thereâ€”
TH: Theyâ€™re out of the boat?
BM: Theyâ€™re out of the boat, hung in the rocks, with a net around their hand. So that day, I had been cast netting mackerel and I said, â€œWell, Iâ€™m not going to get into this problem.â€ And I tied a big loop, but I had aâ€”I tied a bowl in it. So I had a pretty good-sized knot in the end of theâ€”you know, where I made my tie up.
TH: For you hand?
BM: Right. So I went back. I was coming in and I seen a mullet jump in the heavy tide water. And I rode over this mark and there was a big red ball of mullet. I said, â€œOh man.â€ So, I had a little 10-and-a-half-foot net I use for catching mullet, but it was leaded real heavy. So I turned around and I came back. And the wind is blowing hard out of the west, and I got back on them, and I threw. Well, I shouldâ€™ve picked it up right away, but [I thought] No, Iâ€™m going to let it go to the bottom a little more; I know itâ€™s sand here. Well, I got on a rock or something. And thatâ€™s when I had my other 24-foot Morgan, and I had a pilothouse built over the engine box. Well, I was on the port side of the boat. My controls were up in the wheelhouse on the starboard side. So, the net hung and the boat turned sideways. And Iâ€™m tryingâ€”Iâ€™ve got my knees locked under the gunnel, and Iâ€™m hanging on as tight as I can. Well, you just canâ€™t hold a [4,000] or 5,000-pound boat in the wind, in the tide, sideways. And it popped me out like a cork. Over the side I went and I just happened to remember what Ray Allen had told me, Juniorâ€™s son, â€œDonâ€™t try to fight it.â€ And I didnâ€™t. I grabbed the rope and I pulled as hard as I could, straight to the bottom. And I got it slack enough, and I popped back up.
TH: Slack enough to get off your arm?
BM: Off my wrist, yeah. But it made a big indentation between my index finger and my thumb. It dug in that hard. And I got back up, you know, and I popped up. And my boat was floating away. But I donâ€™t like getting in the water.
TH: And you had slickers on?
BM: I had everything on. I didnâ€™t even lose my sunglasses. (BM laughs)
TH: But you had boots and slickers on?
BM: Boots and slickers.
TH: And do theyâ€”? Does that weigh you down?
BM: No. Itâ€™s hard to go down with them on. Air gets trapped in your boots and then it gets in your slickers, the air. It was hard to go down. But, once I popped back up, I swam to my boat, and I had a big exhaust on it, like your big, 5-inch exhaust. I stuck my foot in there and I climbed up over in the gunnel. And Iâ€™m going, â€œPhew. Man, what a way to go.â€ And Junior happened to come by, and he says, â€œOh my god.â€ You know how he talks, â€œI thought you were gone.â€ (BM laughs) I was soaking wet. I was mad, lost my cast net. But thatâ€™s one of the times. And then I rescuedâ€”Ray Black had a heart attack one day. And I wasâ€”we were spot fishing down the river, and he was in his little boat, and I was in my 22-foot Morgan I had. And I had my wife with me. And I called him on the radio, and I said, â€œRay, how you doing? You getting any, finding any fish?â€ And he says, â€œOh, Iâ€™m not doing too good. Iâ€™m not feeling too good. I think somethings wrong.â€ So, you know, fishermen, you know how it is.
BM: â€”my first wife, yeah.
TH: First aid training?
BM: Yeah, she had all that. And so, she got on the boat with him, and I towed his boat to shore, and I called the marine patrol. And McPherson, Tom McPherson, he came over there. And we went to the shore, and the fire department came down to Hermanâ€™s Bay. And it was, you know, they backed up the van up to the water, and they got out. And Ray was a prettyâ€”he wasnâ€™tâ€”he was a lean guy, but he was over six foot. And, man, you just donâ€™t realize how heavy people are. So me and the firefighters and Tom, we had to get in the water to get him off the side of the boat to get him in the thing. But we got him ashore and got him to the hospital. He did have a heart attack.
TH: Did he surviveâ€”?
BM: Oh, yeah, yeah. He survived, yeah. But he had a heart attack there, I guess thatâ€™s about the rescues I did. And, of course, Iâ€™ve pulled people in, towed people in and stuff, when they broke down.
TH: From the ocean?
BM: Um-hm. And river, yeah. They always want to be towed in at the end of the day, when youâ€™re wanting to go home. (both laugh) Why is it every single time?
TH: Okay. Collisions, other calamities? Do you want to talk about sinking in the inlet with Les?
BM: Oh yeah. Les, yeah. His transmission went out. Tide was going out, and the wind was blowing about 20 out of the south, andâ€”
TH: Youâ€™d heard that they were catching fish offshore?
BM: Yeah. I said, â€œLes, maybe weâ€™d better throw the anchor.â€ [He says] â€œNo. Coast guardâ€™s right there. Weâ€™ll be all right.â€
TH: The coast guard was right there?
BM: Yeah, right there. They were in a training session, training to save your life. So we continue to blow out the inlet, or be drug [sic] out the inlet by the tide. But the wind was blowing so hard, it blew us over to edge of the jetties.
TH: The south jetâ€”the north jetties?
BM: North jetty. And there was a little bit of a sand hill(??) there, and the bow of boat hit it, but the tide swung us around, and stern hung on the sand. Now, we were fine. So the coast guard came over there, and they threw us a header line(??). It was polypropylene line with a sand bag on it. Well, Les wrapped it around the bow stem, the Samson post, and he says, â€œPull us. Just pull us.â€ The guy says, â€œOh, no, sir. You have to wrap the main halyard around your Samson post before you tow usâ€”or before we tow you.â€ Â I said, â€œNo, just pull us. Weâ€™ve only got to go 10 feet. Weâ€™ll be fine. Itâ€™s 10 feet of water right here. Just pull us off.â€ Their rope came untied. The yellow polypropylene that went to their main halyard came untied. And we swung around again, and we justâ€”and at that time, I saw the first wave coming. And I was thinking, this isnâ€™t going to be good; this is going to hurt bad. And it did. It hit us. And the power of water, you know, Terry, water doesnâ€™t compress. And when hit us, it knocked us both down in the boat. Water came in the boat, and I was thinking, well we made it through that one. The second one that hit us; we were a little lower in the water. And then, the ice box went flying to the other side of the boat.
TH: Were you on a sand bar there?
BM: Yeah. But it was, on that sand bar, but it was eight [or] 10 feet on the on the side of the boat, on the stern of the boat. But when it hit us the third time, that wasâ€”everything went flying, and you just canâ€™t imagine how many ropes and cables and pieces of wood and everything getsâ€”this is how people drown in boat rollovers: the ropes and the gear. Where it comes from, I donâ€™t know. But we had a mess.
TH: Anchor lines?
BM: And we sunk right there. But it was aâ€”it was a bad day.
TH: I know. He had just got that boat allâ€”
BM: He had just bought that boat.
TH: And he had just started fishing it.
BM: Now, I guess you were out fishing that day, werenâ€™t you?
TH: No, I was on the dock.
BM: It was rough, but they were catching the limits. I mean, killing them, and we went. And then everybody said, Turn around, itâ€™s too rough.
TH: Okay. Drug, alcohol, people-smuggling stories youâ€™ve heard or experienced? No names. Anything you want to share?
BM: Oh yeah. Back in the â€™70s and â€™80s, it was the heyday around here. It was. I think everybody that owned a boat, at one time or another, had some kind of involvement in it, in one way or the other. Alcohol and drug useâ€”
TH: Alcohol would have been way before our time, the smuggling of alcohol, for the most part.
BM: Yeah, there was some people that made money, back here, back in the day, running. Theyâ€™d pick up from offshore and run it in, rum runners, pick up the alcohol.
TH: That was way back though.
BM: That was way back, but they had fast boats, you know.
TH: Did you hearâ€”know any stories about that from your family?
BM: No. My uncle never messed with that. It just wasnâ€™t his deal. But that was in the â€™20s.
TH: Yeah, thatâ€™s what I said. Itâ€™d be someone way before your time or my time. (both talk)
BM: Yeah, no. Yeah, my uncle wasnâ€™t fishing here then. They didnâ€™t come â€™til 1930, butâ€”
TH: You ever see any bales of marijuana orâ€”? (BM laughs)
BM: Of course. Everybody has, I think. Yeah, Iâ€™ve seen them.
TH: Barges of bales? Boatloads of bales?
BM: (both talking) Barges of bales. Boatloads of bales. Lines of bales.
TH: Out in the ocean?
BM: Yeah. Bales washing up on the beach.
TH: Where they dropped them off from airplanes?
BM: Yeah, a lot of times, though, when they were loading them, theyâ€™d fall off the side of the ship and stuff. And yeah, the airplanes would drop them. The guys didnâ€™t find them all. Yeah, thereâ€™s some guys that madeâ€”yeah, they made some pretty good money, I guess. Wouldnâ€™t have put up with the aggravation of it.
TH: Okay. Nothing in, no specific stories you want to share?
BM: No. (BM laughs) Better let sleeping dogs lie.
TH: Humorous, funny stories youâ€™ve heard or experienced on the water? Anything that comes to mind?
BM: You know, I canâ€™t think right now. I know thereâ€™s some funny ones around. But, at the moment, I canâ€™t think of it. Itâ€™s just drawing a blank on it at the moment.
TH: When I leave, youâ€™ll think of it.
BM: Iâ€™ll think of one.
TH: So, in general, your life as a fishing captain in Florida, can you sum it up? Has it been good to you? Do you enjoy it?
TH: Youâ€™ve built a lot of boats. You know, youâ€™re a little bit of a boat builder and a fisherman, whatâ€”?
BM: Yeah. Yeah, well Iâ€™m building a new one now. I donâ€™t have much sense, I think. (BM laughs) Yeah, I built two boats in the past couple of years.
TH: Have you enjoyed fishing? Thatâ€™s, I guess, my question.
BM: Yeah, I enjoyed it. Itâ€™sâ€”
BM: Because itâ€™s what other people canâ€™t do. Itâ€™s a challenge. And it is a challenge. Itâ€™s not physical to me; itâ€™s mental. When youâ€™re not catching, the gears are turning. (BM laughs) And youâ€™re always thinking, oh boy, Iâ€™ve been out here an hour. I wonder how much gas I burned or how much fuel has gone down the drain. Then, all of a sudden, youâ€™re riding along, and all three lines pop up, and then all three lines pop. And thereâ€™s the porpoise, or a shark, or a big kingfish bites it off. Or you drag up a giant wahoo, the only wahoo youâ€™ve ever caught in your life, and he falls of the back of the boat. Iâ€™ve never caught one. Never. Have you? Youâ€™ve caught them. Iâ€™ve never caught a wahoo. I had one, one day, and he was a monster. And I had him up to the boat, and he twisted the wire and (makes clinking sound) there he went. I think the biggest kingfish I ever caught was 35 pounds, never anything bigger.
TH: Well, thatâ€™s all the bad. What about the good?
BM: Oh yeah, Iâ€™ve had some good catches. Itâ€™s always good when you go out there, and everybody goes by you, and you just know the 10-minute reef is going to produce. And by nine oâ€™clock, you say, â€œOkay guys, Iâ€™ll see you later.â€ Because that was a humorous story. To me, it was humorous. To them, it wasnâ€™t. I went out there one day, and I was trying to catch mullet for bait. And George, Tommy Jones, Billy Bairdâ€”I donâ€™t know if you were out that day or notâ€”and a bunch of others, they went on offshore. And of course, George started whining first. There was nothing being caught, and then Tommy Jones, heâ€™s happy, as usual, at nothing being caught. And so, I said, â€œOh, I guess Iâ€™m going to go anyways.â€ So, I went out to the 10-minute reef and Iâ€”
TH: Which is right off the inlet?
BM: Right off the inlet. Ten minutes used to be the standard running time for the old sea skiffs, and thatâ€™s how they judge where theyâ€™re out on the reef, by 10 minutes. So I got out there, and still remember. And I caught a couple of ribbon fish, and they were marking like kingfish in the water. I caught a couple ribbon fish, and I said, â€œEh. Shoot, Iâ€™ll go on out.â€ And I got out right, right through north of the sea buoy, and all three lines came up, and it was kingfish. And so, I rebaited, and I threw them back in the water, and I got another hit on the inside line, and it bit it off. So I tied a spoon on it. Soon as I threw that spoon outâ€”bamâ€”he hit it. So I pulled the other two inâ€”they had fish on themâ€”but I caught them off, put spoons on, took the middle line, put it away, and I called George. I remember, I said, â€œGeorge, I got 17.â€ You know George, â€œOh sure. I just came through there. Thereâ€™s nothing there.â€ And I called him back about 30 minutes later; I said, â€œGeorge, I got 30 head.â€ [He says], â€œI donâ€™t believe that.â€ About 40 minutes later, I call back; I says, â€œItâ€™s nine oâ€™clock, Iâ€™m going in, yaâ€™ll. See you later.â€ I had my limit right there.
TH: And it was a 50 head limit?
BM: Fifty head. I mean, I got there, probably, I would say, seven-thirty. I was done by nine. And it was a good day because some of those fish were 14-pounders, 12 or 14-pound fish. And then, they came in there later on. And, yeah, I think they caught their limits later on that day. But itâ€™s always good when you get out there andâ€”I had your boat one day. I was fishing your boat, and there was a big ground sea, and it was in July. And I went offshore; I just kept wandering offshore. I was downâ€”I was south of east, and the whole fleet was down there. I just kept going offshore. And I got in about 140 feet of water, and I caught a kingfish. And I just put it in a circle, and they started biting. And I told Steve Lowe, and [he says], â€œOh yeah, sure. Well, yeah.â€ Okay. They never came out â€™til later on. And I had a good catch there. Didnâ€™t catch that 75 head limit, but I probably had 45 head, I think. And, yeah, when you beat the good guys, thatâ€™s when it feels good. Now, when it comes to trolling mackerel, Iâ€™m pretty hot on them. In fact, I got the heelâ€”George on beat me trolling mackerel on jumbos, and thatâ€™s because he had another guy on the boat with him. He had 1,400 one day, all total. That was jumbos, and large, and medium. But I had 865 by myself one day, 660-some-odd were jumbos.
TH: Was thatâ€”whose boat?
BM: My little Morgan, my 22-footer. They just lovedâ€”fish just love to bite behind that boat, for some reason. And it had tunnel in it. But Tommy McHale, who was a real good fisherman, he used to call it the Stealth Boat. Heâ€™d say, â€œWell, here comes the Stealth Boat.â€ You know, because they just would bite for someâ€”I donâ€™t know what it was about that tunnel. I donâ€™t know if it put a certain vibration in the waterâ€”
TH: Tunnel drive.
BM: But fish bit good behind it. Yeah, there were some funny days out there and good days, you know. And fishing was good, but then, you could get really aggravated at times. The weather can beat you down. You know, you get up with all the great plans of going out, and itâ€™s slick calm in the river, and you hit the mouth of the inlet, and thereâ€™s a 20-mile-hour east wind. It gets aggravating at times, but Iâ€™ve had a good life. Iâ€™ve see a lot of things.