Novelist Zane Grey Promoted Fishing in the Florida Keys

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Zane Grey with his brother at Long Key in 1916 from FSA rc14130

Novelist Zane Grey (1872 – 1939) was a very popular writer of adventure novels often set in the American West. Novels like Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) brought him much wealth and fame, especially as his many stories were made into over 100 films.

He and his brother discovered the Florida Keys by chance in 1910 when they were on their way to Mexico for tarpon fishing. They learned that Mexico was experiencing a yellow fever epidemic and so diverted their trip to a small fishing village, Long Key, which developer Henry Flagler had built in the Florida Keys.

The fishing camp, consisting of a three-story wooden hotel and several cottages, was on the ocean side, while the docks were on the bay side—with a tunnel under the roadbed connecting the two sides.
Zane Grey used the fishing camp as a quiet place to write such novels as Wild Horse Mesa (1928) and Code of the West (1934). In his article, “Gulf Stream Fishing,” in his Tales of Fishes (1919), he wrote about how he used light-tackle gear to catch kingfish and sailfish off Long Key.

He popularized big-game fishing by his columns in the Outdoor Life magazine and by his founding of the Long Key Fishing Club, which he served as president of from 1917 to 1920. He became well known for catching huge sailfish. A nearby Zane Grey Creek keeps his memory alive in the Keys.

Although he once commented that “the sea, from which all life springs, has been equally with the desert my teacher and religion,” he was never able to write a great sea novel. But his column writing about Florida fishing attracted countless other anglers, not only to the Keys, but also to the offshore Gulf Stream, where he loved to fish. Grey’s son claimed that his father spent an average of 300 days a year fishing in Florida and elsewhere.

Grey also popularized fishing in California, Nova Scotia, Australia, and New Zealand. Although a 1935 hurricane destroyed the Long Key Fishing Club and destroyed Flagler’s Overseas Railroad to Key West, a historic plaque at Long Key memorialized Grey’s visits there.

Zane Grey would be just one of many anglers who discovered the riches of Florida waters and whose writings attracted thousands of other fishermen to the present day.
Kevin McCarthy, the editor of “The Book Lover’s Guide to Florida” (Pineapple Press, 1992), can be reached at kevinkadin@yahoo.com.

A Short History of Boats

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013


“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Kenneth Grahame (1859 – 1932)

What are we to make of this love affair mankind has with vessels that transport us to and fro across the world’s waterways? Since as early as the Mesolithic age (10,000 to 5,000 BC) the human race has been drawn to bodies of water for both sustenance and serenity, and has, in the process, devised countless variations of watercraft designed to either float or plane them atop these waters. Whether propelled by human power, sails or motors, boats and boating is a way of life that has been embraced by every civilization, in every era, that has lived astride or had access to waterways since the middle of the Stone Age.

The earliest boats for which we have archaeological evidence are logboats, or dugouts—hollowed out tree trunks propelled by crude paddles dating back to the Mesolithic age. A seaworthy vessel constructed from reeds and tar from around this same time period has also been recovered in the Middle East. Aside from their use as a means to hunt and gather varied species of fish, since ancient times boats have served as a viable and economical means of transport for everything from commerce to warfare. The Mesopotamian rivers of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates were host to a vast transportation network from 300 BC onwards. The Phoenicians—thought to be the greatest of the ancient world seafarers—advanced the art of boat building to include sailing vessels and warships that commanded the Mediterranean, but which were, eventually, supplanted by Bronze Age advances in ship construction made by the Greeks and, later, the Romans. In the East, boats made commerce viable in the Indus Valley Civilization and in its trade route connections with Mesopotamia.

When one looks at all the technological advances and materials available in boats today, it is almost difficult to fathom that, up until the mid 19th century, vessels were almost exclusively constructed from natural materials. Even the first boats built with either iron or steel frames were planked by wood. During the 1930s, boats and ships constructed with steel from frame to plating were gradually replacing many, if not most, of the world’s wooden boats used for industrial purposes—including fishing fleets. By the 1960s a new material comprised of glass-reinforced plastic, or fiberglass (Fibre Reinforced Plastic, or FRP boats) became the standard for boat construction—especially those designed for recreational use. Today, advances in FRP construction includes composites made from KevlarTM, or other similar advances in the design and manufacture of plastics.

Throughout the ages—regardless of the materials used for the construction of vessels, the means of propulsion have also advanced from the earliest types which utilized human power, such as poling, paddling and rowing, to the use of simple to extensive arrays of sails to harness the power of the wind. With the advent of steam as a means of generating power, motor powered propellers transformed commerce, human transport and warfare by vastly increasing both the speed and capacity of vessels throughout the modern world. The internal combustion engine and both inboard and outboard motors fueled by diesel, gasoline and heavy fuel oil eventually supplanted steam power. Today water jets and air fans are used to propel the ever-growing and popular personal watercraft and airboats that are available to consumers.

Common to boaters of all ages was, and still is, the necessity to navigate from one destination to another whether it is up or down a river, across a lake, or circum-navigating an ocean. The earliest navigators stayed close to shore and utilized piloting, the sighting by human eye of landmarks and particular characteristics of land masses, to get from place to place. This method was soon expanded to include celestial means of dead reckoning navigation that is still is use today, along with the use of such tools as the compass and the astrolabe. With the figurative fixing of longitude and latitude on the world’s surface, mariners were able to utilize maps in conjunction with their various tools to determine their position and course more accurately. Twentieth-century advances in navigation methods included the gyroscopic compass, radar, and Loran, or hyperbolic navigation system. Today, of course, modern boaters have only to access their GPS (Global Positioning System) to pinpoint, via satellite, precisely where they are and exactly where they’re headed.

Throughout the history of the advances of the world’s many and varied types of vessels, the spirit that drives us to enjoy boats and boating, whether for fishing or just a quit day’s escape from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, has ever remained the same: a man, a woman compelled by some instinctual, perhaps primitive urge to leave this land we were born to and venture out there, on the water.

How Florida Indians Fished a Thousand Years Ago

Friday, March 1st, 2013

By Kevin McCarthy


This will be the first regular or occasional article about fishing and boating in our state. It will not deal with the latest fishing reports or how to tie a fail-safe fishing lure or how to choose the best fishing boat. Other writers will handle such issues far better than I could.

Instead my columns will have more general topics of interest to a wide readership. For example, Florida’s Other Fishers (about the birds, gators, otters, and creatures that also “fish” our waters), How Scientists Are Trying to Keep Out Invasive Species Like Pythons and Foreign Fish, How Officials Determined that the Everglades Is Actually a River, How a Famous Novelist (Zane Grey) Fished in the Florida Keys, How a Famous Inventor (Thomas Edison) Used to Charter a Special Boat for Fishing, etc. My articles will be more historical in nature and will alternate between fishing and boating.

But first: the story of how Native Americans caught fish a thousand or more years ago. The Caloosahatchee River runs today about 67 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf of Mexico just west of Fort Myers. It did not originally connect with Lake Okeechobee, but engineers built a canal in the late 19th century to join the two bodies of water and enable boats to go from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf through two rivers and a series of locks.

After passing Fort Myers, the river narrows at Shell point, but then widens considerably into San Carlos Bay. Swampy land extends back on both sides of the mouth of the river. A narrow strip of land on the north side of the river near its mouth is called Sword Point, a place where Native Americans lived a thousand years ago.

Archaeologists working with the Florida Department of State’s Public Lands Archaeology Program have mapped and examined hundreds of sites in the area, including Charlotte Harbor. Although the exposed Sword Point has been subject to many storms, archaeologists have discovered the underwater remains of a fish weir or impoundment, consisting of an enclosure of oyster shells in two arms that extend from the land into the deep water of the bay.
Remote sensors have detected what may be a line of stakes in the lagoon sediment. The Indians may have used the stakes to secure netting that could have trapped fish as the tide receded. (See the photo here of an ancient fish weir used by Florida Indians.) The Calusa Indians who lived in the area must have captured many of the fish passing through those waters. Not an easy way to catch fish, but an effective one.
Let me end this first piece with an appropriate proverb from my ancestors, the Irish: “May the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it. ”

Kevin McCarthy, the author of Caloosahatchee River Guidebook (Pineapple Press, 2012), can be reached at kevinkadin@yahoo.com.

Self Propelled

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Kayaks were originally developed by the Eskimos over 4,000 years ago. For the most part, they were used to hunt on inland lakes, rivers and coastal waterways.

The word kayak means “man’s boat” or “hunter’s boat” due to the fact that they were always personally made by the man who would use it. These Native Americans would stretch sealskins, sewn by their wives, over a wooden or whalebone frame. They made their vessel waterproof by sealing it with a special skin jacket called a Tuilik that was laced into it. (more…)

A LOOK BACK: The History of Tackle

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

historyBy Mark Sosin

You won’t believe what you are about to read. The history of fishing tackle, as we know it today, traces its roots well beyond the most vivid imagination. An ancient hook was discovered somewhere between 16,000 to 23,000 years ago made out of shell. Fish gorges have been found that date back at least 9,000 years. A gorge was pointed on either end with a narrow spot in the middle to which the line was tied and was the forerunner of today’s fishhook.


Fish Amongst History in Charleston, S.C.

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

charleston_JuneBy: Capt. Tommy Samuels

Charleston, S.C., is a world-class historic destination, one that also features excellent offshore fishing in June.

The city was founded in 1670 as Charles Town on the Ashley River. Twenty years later the settlement had grown to 1200 residents and moved from the river to the peninsula, where it has remained. As you probably know, the Civil War began in Charleston on April 12, 1861, when shots were fired upon Fort Sumter in the Charleston Harbor. The city still maintains an incredible historic district, with many homes and buildings predating the Civil War.

But enough of the history lesson—you’re reading this column to learn about the great angling opportunities this city has to offer.

Many visitors don’t realize that Charleston is an incredible fishing destination, and June marks the return of consistently good numbers of billfish, dolphin and wahoo offshore. There are quite a few who brave the mid-spring weather patterns to get a jump on the season in May, but the calmer weather and warmer waters of June are when fishing really heats up off the South Carolina coast.

What does prime fishing season have to offer? How about the possibility of a billfish slam? The warm waters off South Carolina from Myrtle Beach to Hilton Head routinely produce blue marlin, white marlin and sailfish. Most of the larger pelagics are caught in deep water 35 miles or more off the coast, but there are occasional surprises, with one sailfish caught last June just seven miles off Folly Beach. I lost count of the number of billfish caught, photographed and released last June, but a quick review of one local fishing forum had over 50 separate billfish reports, with sailfish topping the list, closely followed by blue marlin.

Dolphin are also frequent catches for those who would rather eat fish than take pictures. As with the billfish, the action starts in May and continues through June. The truly good news is that these fish move much closer to shore in June, with some quality fish being caught inside the ledge in less than 100-foot depths. There were countless “slinger” dolphin, hundreds of “gaffers,” and a good many “smokers,” with the largest one that I recall being a little bit less than 60 pounds. The average size bull dolphin last year came in at a whopping 29 pounds. That, my friends, is a lot of fish tacos.

Set your sights on Charleston, S.C., for your next vacation, and combine outstanding fishing with an opportunity to see history dating back to the 18th century.

Taking On Tradition

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

takingtraditionBy: Mark Sosin

Anglers tend to wallow in tradition while resisting change. Few anglers question the so-called tackle standards or even think about a more practical approach. More than a half-century ago, a group of highly skilled young anglers in South Florida successfully battled big fish on light tackle. To do this, they began to make important modifications to rods and reels and developed a system of knots that proved as strong as the breaking strength of the unknotted line.

Reels of that era required smoother drags, and that was accomplished by enlarging the drag area, making drag washers out of different materials and lubricating them properly. The knot system they pioneered is in common use today, starting with the Bimini Twist, originally an offshore knot that was converted to light tackle use.

Rods underwent major changes that incorporated a blank that ran through the reel seat all the way down to the butt cap. At the same time, the length of the butt (the area behind the reel seat) was dramatically reduced and the foregrip was smaller. With the shorter butt and foregrip, the angler benefits from the total transfer of power in the blank from tip to butt. A short butt also moves the reel closer to your body so you can keep your elbows at your side and don’t have to reach forward for the reel handle when fighting a fish. You can lock your arms against your body and use your legs and torso to set the hook and battle the fish. The short butt eases the strain on your shoulder, back and arm muscles that occurs during a lengthy battle, and it reduces fatigue. When you have to reach forward with your arms extended for a length of time, it becomes painful. Yet, it’s impossible to convince the typical angler that anything other than the rods he or she sees in the marketplace have any value.

If my rods with their shorter butts were placed in a rack with an assortment of standard rods, most anglers would shake their heads, absolutely certain that the rod builder didn’t know what he was doing, and pass them up. Even my stand-up offshore conventional rods have short butts. Until you try one, you can’t appreciate the difference in a lengthy battle. And, you can cast a short butt rod with two hands as well as any rod with a longer butt.

Matched to line of the proper breaking strength, the rod blanks are designed with adequate power to pressure even the toughest fish. Unlike the rods with a “store action” that whip from side to side when moved back and forth by a customer, the blanks pioneered by those young men so long ago are relatively stiff and offer resistance to any type of pressure.

A skilled angler can make any reel or line work in a given situation, but there is no compromise with a rod. It either does the job or it doesn’t. Choose your rods carefully and make sure they will do what you want them to do.