Fishing the Everglades in the Sixties
Recreation in the Sixties
Living in the southernmost city in the USA provided easy access to some of the area's best fishing places, including Big Pine Key, Sugarloaf Key and Islamorada where we often launched our boat.
Friday night before our Saturday outing, we'd pack the fishing poles, life jackets and safety gear safely into the bow of the boat along with the rubber anchor, then, check our tackle boxes to be sure we there was an adequate supply of leaders, sinkers, lures and hooks.
Memories of those days return with the smell of diesel gasoline and the salty brine of the ocean's spray.
Three Proud Fishermen with a Redfish
Getting an Early Start
The morning would start at four am with the smell of fresh brewed coffee perking in Aunt Jessie's tiny kitchen. On the counter, tall thermoses waited to be filled with the steaming liquid, one prepared black, for Uncle Forrest. A second six-cup thermos, with cream and sugar added, was for the rest of us.
Aunt Jessie would prepare fried chicken, sizzled to perfection in her cast iron skillet the night before. The pieces, neatly wrapped in foil, were tucked into the picnic basket along with slices of homemade pound cake, boiled eggs, oatmeal cookies, dill pickles and other goodies from her pantry.
Uncle Forrest and Aunt Jessie
Secret Fishing Spots
Uncle Forrest ran one of the largest paper routes for The Miami Herald. His vast memory included the names and addresses of thousands of customers. In the circles of management at The Herald, he was highly regarded for knowing the best fishing holes in the mysterious Florida Everglades.
Many weekends, the newspaper executives chartered a fishing trip on his boat, footing the bill for fuel and bait. If we were visiting from the Keys, my Dad, brother and I would be invited along.
Aunt Jessie's Pound Cake
Don's Bait and Tackle
On the way to the Everglades, we stopped at Don's Bait and Tackle and filled up the gas tanks for the boat. Uncle Forrest was a regular, which ensured that the largest, zippiest shrimp found their way into our bait buckets. Within the green-encrusted walls of the bait vaults, thousands of live shrimp swam freely. The odor of brine filled the air as we scooped up dozens of shrimp for the day. We'd load the coolers with crushed ice and canned sodas and pick out a candy bar to enjoy later.
Dawn would be peeking over the horizon by the time we''d launch the boat at the Flamingo dock in the Everglades National Park. Once on board, someone would move the boat trailer from the launching area and we'd set out on the high seas.
Uncle Forrest motored slowly through the No Wake Zone, using the time to apply a heavy coat of red lipstick as protection from the blistering, tropical sun. He made no attempt to stay within lip lines which gave him a distinctive, if odd appearance.
At the point where he turned his ball cap around with the bill toward the back, it was time to grab hold of something solid if we wanted to remain on board. As the throttle went all the way forward, we'd soar to top speed under the power of twin Mercury outboard motors.
Packing the Lunch
In The Zone
The boat slowed to a creeping crawl as we inched closer to the lone group of mangroves. The mosquitoes that found this place first made a strong play defending their territory. The noise of slapping and swatting in the boat would surely drive any fish out of the area.
Uncle Forrest calmly baited his hook and without regard to the biting insects, he cast a perfect arc into the still water near the bank. Moments later, a fish struck. With practiced skill, he reeled a nice sized snapper into the boat, at which point, we grabbed for our fishing poles and headed to the bait bucket, no further thought to the horde of blighting buggers. We were in the zone.
My job was to capture the live shrimp from the aerated bait buckets and hand the bait to those who were fishing. They would skewer the wiggly creature on their hooks weighted with a lead sinker to carry it to the bottom. Baited lines in place on the bottom, it wasn't long before a series of small tugs would bend the poles as fish took off with the bait. That began the battle of an arduous struggle with nature and survival of the fittest.
At The Dock
The day would always yield an ice chest filled to overflowing with their salt water catch of Snook, snapper, reds, grouper, yellow tails and grunts. Catfish and barracuda never made it into the boat. Instead, they met their demise at the hull keeping their dangerously sharp and poisonous appendages out of harms way.
We'd pull into the dock near dusk with sunburned heads, necks and arms, our throats parched from tasting the mist of the ocean's spray. Once the boat was loaded onto the trailer, we'd choose our pick of the catch from where the fish rested on ice in the cooler. The men, who sharpened their knives on whit stones, would begin gutting the fish, tossing aside the waste to the squawking horde of sea gulls at the dock.
On the way home, listening to music on the AM radio, singing and reliving highlights from the day, we made the hour's journey back to Aunt Jessie's, towing the boat behind the 1959 Rambler.
The Florida Keys
First sighted by Spanish adventurers on May 15th 1513, the Florida Keys were named Los Martires (The Martyrs) - a name which was to prove prophetic over the next few centuries.
Selling the Excess Catch
Once home, Uncle Forrest backed the trailer down the long, gravel driveway where lines of people would form following his return. News traveled fast in the small community of South Miami.
We'd unload the coolers, while he pulled the old weight scale out of the battered wood barn, held upright by decades of clutter and debris. Its musty depths housed an array of spiders and slithering creatures disturbed now by the search.
The sale of fish would start with the first customer in line pointing out his favorite fish. Uncle Forrest would toss it onto the wobbly scale and announce the weight to the waiting buyer. The price, never more than couple of dollars, defrayed the expenses of the day's adventure.
How To Do the Florida Keys
A Fish in Every Pan
As evening turned into night, Aunt Jessie would retrieve the choice fillets we'd set aside for our family, destined for a fish fry in the near future. While neighbors inched ever closer to the diminishing supply of fresh caught fish we would drift one by one to the house to shower and head for our sleeping bags on the terrazzo floor of their Florida room.
Uncle Forrest always made sure that everyone left with a nice fish to cook whether they had enough money with them or not. Beneath the booming voice and smear of lipstick under a sunburned nose, a generous spirit and the kind heart of a true fisherman rested.
Still Fishing After all those Years
© 2011 Peg Cole