My Biggest Catch
My most memorable gift was given to me by my uncle Manuel. I was only five years old when he arrived from Cuba to live with us until he got on his feet. At only 18 years old, he was already a die-hard fishman. In the 50’s we lived in Ybor City and, in those days, we didn’t have parks or a Boys Club in the area. My parents didn’t drive, so they took the bus to work. My uncle was given an old Nash Rambler from a friend to help us out, and he started working in the shipyard within a month of arriving.
He would work until 2:00 am and go straight to Bayshore Blvd. to tend to his tins (pieces of metal roofing bent to form a half dome) and blue crabs would go under the tins to molt. He would use his Coleman gas lantern and a #12 galvanized tub tied to his waist. Underneath the tins would be either a soft-shell crab (that was dinner) or a shedder crab that was used for bait. The shedder crabs would be put in the crisper bottom of the refrigerator on damp newspaper to be kept alive for a week or more.
During the summer, we would leave Friday for Boca Grande to fish. Since no interstates were available, we had to make the long trip using US41. We had to take the last ferry boat leaving from Placita to Boca Grande, since there were no bridges connecting the mainland to the island. There, we would fish the shoreline from the old phosphate dock, when allowed, for grouper, mangrove snapper, trout, redfish and an occasional goliath grouper.
Within a year, my uncle received an invitation to join the Army (called the draft in those days), but he had lit the fire within me to become a fisherman. Thanks to his patience and time, I spent summers fishing from the old 22nd street bridge, riding my bike every morning with my hand made rod from an old broom stick and casting reel donated from a neighbor. While other kids were getting into trouble, I was too busy thinking of caching the big one.
As I grew older, I wanted to give back, so I started a saltwater fishing school and have graduated over 7,000 adult students since the 80’s. Looking back, I didn’t do as good a job as I should have with my own kids. Now, with all these computer games, it seems like kids are spending too much time indoors in dark rooms. With that said, I decided to do something about it and had my first Free Kid’s Fishing Clinic held at Picnic Park in June. Many sponsors and volunteers (including many captains) donated their time and gave up charters to help the kids. Mayor Jane Castor played a big role in helping me by taking time from her busy schedule to spend time with the kids (Jane is a great angler herself).
Each kid went home with a rod ‘n reel combo, a tote bag with fishing goodies and hopefully, we were able to light that fire for fishing that my uncle did for me. Soon, we could have many future anglers on the water instead of being locked up in a room playing computer games. This would be “my biggest catch” if I were able to get them united with mom or dad on the water sharing some time together.
I am looking forward to doing this again soon, and please feel free to contact me if you can volunteer or donate items to help kids become anglers.
Companies who donated:
Alberto’s AC, Lithobinders Printers, Coastal Angler Magazine, Onshore-Offshore Magazine, Cracker Boy Marine, Family Boating, Stadium Toyota, Lee Fisher Sports, Loadmaster Trailers, OKUMA, Pathfinder Boats, Hubbard’s Marina, Power Pole, Fishing Adventures USA, Hook ‘n Tackle and T.A. Mahoney Co.
Captains who volunteered:
Capt. Sergio Atanes, Capt. Chris Camps, Capt. Craig Lahr, Capt. Eddie Caldwell, Capt. Tony Frankland, Capt. Larry Fritch, Capt. Tom Charlton, Capt. Bucky Goldmans, Capt. Freddy Ortiz, Capt. Micheal Gibbs, Capt. John Rivers, Capt. Drew Echenigue, Lee Murray and Capt. John Griffith.
Special thanks to:
Leiza Fitzgerald of CCA of Florida and Gena Russo of FWC
Good fishing and tight lines.