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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
Interview with Merlon "Dee" Solano and G.D. Howze
This interview was conducted on November 16, 1995 at a Wafflc
ousc in t. Augustine, Florida. Jeff Hall and Caryn Federko
,Fntereviewed Merlon "Dee" Solano and G.B. Howze about the days when
they were fishing.
Caryn: What is it that you do? Do you have your own fishing
De.-e Not anymore.
Car...n. You did, though?
Dee: Crabbing and beach fished a long time with other people,
not by myself. Crabbing is the only thing I'vc ever done on the
Jeff:. When did you stop crabbing?
DeeC: Three years ago.
Caryn:. What got you started in it? Did you decide you liked
it or. .did your family member do it before?
Dec. Nc-.. ,!obody in the family. Everybody wa tell ng me how
good (the fishing) was and I should've know they were lying to
start with. The -river ic just d eadc th at' all. It' like
I <- *- u. dead : hc i _; ,,_ ti *
:th-e fichin., -ou ha.v tc travel with it. You have to g with the
flo,.. You can't stay home.
.C. iL., thin L, the rLiver i4 dcad?
i ched out, pollution.
":... .. a 1 d- -4 0 yoU c n C -' ut a n
S. .. IT donI nrow. don't know Im-uch bo.t that T ,w
" "r t it ut lot of pc,+- ,-i out ,of w,- ^r i-- t .I t
t ,,ht damage c.uld i. t do t-hat'C not done? Just li..ke us, we
.,. . ,* _, ,,, nd c l tL^ h,,,, .^ n r' of 'J l-- -J-,
Jeff- "-ht hap! ned?
C.r'..n: You said you traveled a lot to do the fishing.
.:. The farthest went south is Cape Ca naveral.
.r..nn Do you have -ry fishing mishaps or t ories?
r-,. .... *- -,4I 1
.-ff: I 'm sure you have plenty of fish stories.
D.:. Na. Not really.
Jeff:' Where did you grow up?
................. Here in St. Augustine. Never got enough money to leave.
Jeff: How was your family?
Dc... Daddy was a railroad man. Mom was just a housewife like
all the rest of the locals around here. It was common people.
J.eff:. What did you do for entertainment as a kid?
De._ Everything except rob banks. I started to work when I
was about ten years old.
Caryn: What did you do?
Dec.. Wash dishes.
.ff: That's what my dad did when he wa ten.
Dec: I washed diIhes at a restaurant, Matanza's Cafe on
arlotte street down rin t. Auu:tre
i ICA 1 -4
~`"^''CCCt u~w in -. *Wutf
Jeff .How much did you get paid?
Dec.:_ Ten dollars a wce:k.
.eff: That's not bad.
c. 14t, little over a dollar a day.
Caryn: When you're ten years old, you can buy your bubble sum
with ten dollars.
Dee:. Hey, you can do more than that with ten dollars. That's
when fishing was good, back in those days. That's when a lot of
people made money fishing. A lot of people.
Car.yn: Is that why you decided to try it?
Dee: Oh yeah. I've been out of (crabbing) for three years.
I was in it for about ten years.
C.ay.n... What made you get out of it?
De.: Heart surgery, bypass surgery. That done it. We were
pulling crabs by hand when we first started. I finally made enough
money to build me a winch.
-ff " .. d go high cc ,bool?
.` -.. .... ..t. ...... 1- ,." ~ -
t.e. t Auguctne. Cathedral Parrich, St. Joe.
S-ff-. f -u g ..u what C' i *.- I .'
S... g-raduate. -I was te-r t ; n ,e teacher .
Y- 'r -i, bac 1 g wa',,s now, o .'re 50iri bac"-- c'' er fift'-
Lye N.t quit -fifty year a long time .ag. T.at's when the
b tr .-..: : mad out of wood, (they) wouldn't last.
Cr..Y...... Did th.y have t,_ stain th.:.. Fr.-on, ,hat know, you'
used to tc:.1 .rih.: .ff of Kin: and put them in
S ,, ._ ,,. 4 ,. : .- .- : .' i n h I
it (th.: tra) got swelled up enough to cettic on wts own, it'd fall
", .. l ,d have to build ne traps t en.
L,. M a C. -,I L-n h -
C:ff: vju asdr C un own tn C c,
C iah and there was funnel going in the top of them,
Cairyn How big woe you: erak*cing busin ee?
'ce' I justL had 200 trapC P
Di: When I started they was C cents a pound and bait was
"fi-.' cents a pound. This has been years and ycars ago. When I
quit, bait was 22 cents a pound and I think crabs were 40 cents a
pound. I don't know what bait is now, but crab is like 85-90 cents
a pound. It may be more than that this time of year.
J ff Did you make a good living when you started?
Dce:. Yeah. I made a good living when I quit.
Jeff. Did you own your own boat?
".Dee. Oh yeah. At one time I was fishing 140 traps lnd I'd
catch a thousand pounds a day.
Jefff Where did you take the crabs that you caught to sell?
SDc" Metcalf and Keyline seafood.
(paue for chit ,cha:t
"Jeff Other fisherman wer .lin- uc that pol :n bu
c .h c.c ." f. .m i, G .. .ia becaus.., e they do n't ha've the-_. net
^ ^ ~~~,S ZT *J. Thi i ij *r-in W -> -i \ U -.. t- ,* -"
De.e_ .There going to all farm raised stuff anyway. Your
Catfish and your Shrimp. They got artificial crab meat now. It's
low in cholesterol and it's better for you I guess.
Them boys that got their own shrimp boats paid for, can make
a living I guess. You couldn't buy a shrimp boat now and make
anything. I imagine, right now, if you started going into the crab
business with 200 traps, boat, motor, trailer, license, bait and
everything else, I imagine you'd have $15,000-$16,000 tied up.
Jeff: How long would it take to make that all back.
Dec: Damn long time now. You wouldn't make it back in one
Caryn: What stopped you from getting back in the crabbing
business after your heart attack?
Dee. The market.
Car.yn. It 's that bad?
c.: Whn I sot csi ck, I sold everything and didn't have
anything and I uldn't afford to get back in now.
-eff: Hoi'c it changed over the year?
S..i ...... .... c
Le c: Drastic. Dractic change. Clim to nothing. It good,,
when fist started. Everything was good bIack in those days. You
could even go to the beach and ride both wave.
..> ...J !...:. I he n how mC. n;" ,, 1.
Su T t'. ." '-,-' I, '-'. v'oI I.
f o a-; .,-
".ff 'How many hour did you spend out on the water?
Cack in them Uda. not too many. I usually worked on
the hil ba. then. Done that (crabbing) cn the side back then.
"Je- You've had ether jobs? What have you done?
De Ch- imp boat building in boct ards around here .
. ery ; t hin,, i an, I've done e rything.
Jeff- What other kind: of thing: have, you doneZ
Dec: Construction wor .
cff Arc you married?
....... .. C -n married all my life.
TC..._ Icn -, if 's nm e.
Dee- Karen (laughter). Th're men. Th'r mean. All
..... .. .. .. K n a V
.... ar 1an y h.
Caryn. I haven't been mean yet!
De.: Not yet. It h=cn't come out yet. Your fangs aren't
Jeff: When did you get married? How long ago?
Dee: Good God almighty. My oldest child is 40. I've got
grandkids as old as you.
Jeff: How many children do you have?
Deec: You wouldn't believe me if I tell ya.
Dce. You need something stronger than that water! My oldest
daughter is 43 and my baby daughter is 22.
Jeff: How many's in between?
SDee I 've got seven of my own. I raised 2 stepkids and
;aiced my grandkid.
Jeff: Ten total?
Dee: Believe it or not.
Cry.n: Were they involved with your fishing.
D.c. One boy was.
Caryn: Did your wife help you at all?
Jeff: She had to raise those kids!
Dee: You can't work with your wife.
Caryn:. A lot of these people (fisherman) we've been talking
with, they're fishing industries were very family oriented.
Dec. I got raised in a fishing family. We had to scratch out
a living around here the best way we could. That's what it boils
Jeff:. You were able to support a lot of children on your
Dee1 Oh sure. I raised four kids on thirty nine dollars and
ten cent a week and ninety cent social security.
Caryt. Wow. How much would that be nowadays?
PDe Four or five hundred dollars a week. I guess.
C.-ryn Jef That's not bad.
I-._: 'II want to talk about fishing thouh, don't hyou? You
aou. problems. (Larughter
C c *a few year: *:o culd go to the beach with a ca t net
and catch a -truckload of Mullet and we'" d i -m' c tay smoked cm'
nd i'e em' away, gic emr:' away, clean themc and g-n'. -.' m- an. I-
wcs a good thing.
?2ff In the t Augut inc community, did you have get-
t o there or anything like that?
-11 CT F- C P' C 1 c r a
c Jff Anothecert;^lj6 told us that a let of Cecple tend te
f H I ave ,ou ever do that or had that happen to you?
.rc. It: happened to me many a time I'll tell va. I've
-thouht 1f cme ad thing: to do to t-hoc fellows. I never ,
J'ff id you catch them in the act?
c Ko. It+'c d cach- 4thie.f- It t4 kcC + thiLf -
catch a thief Thc-y a o rganizd c one time a nd the- had a m eeti
down there at Tuttl e' (Joe Tuttlc) and that started -i- 1 -
there, accusing one another of stealing traps and all that stuff.
Je.ff. Did you have your own territory where you crabbed?
Deep I didn't go any further than Cape Canaveral and the
river here. I didn't go all over. Some of them go down to the
Everglades. I never went there.
CaLryn Did you have people working for you or did you work by
Dcc: No. Just by myself.
JeffL I have a feeling you have some stories, don't you?
You've gotta have some. Has anything really strange ever happened
D.c. Hell, a.buddy of mine and his helper, a black man, got
drowndcd out there and I thought I run over the black man one day,
but it wasn't him.
Ca.r .. Oh, that sounds like a good story, tell us!
"... You're out for blood!
Carn:. Yeah, these are good ones.
Dee: You want some of those spooky stories! They went out
there and it was blowing about sixty miles an hour (the wind) and
the boat turned over and I don't think he drowned because they
found him in a matter of hours, he was face down. He (buddy of
his) had a bad heart anyways. The black man, he didn't come up for
weeks. My boat hit something, run over something, I just knew it
G.B. Howze enters the restaurant and joins the conversation.
D..e:. Gus! (G.E.) come here, these wonderful people here...
you smoking, you can't smoke in here.
G.B. You can't?
Ii ,f. ; Ic gonna ge me
D e Nope. Didn't you see. the sign. You gonna get me
lklc,, out ;:hf -.
.,C..: That's like you telling me where the water's going.
...- ......... 1i In o i
De": Tell these kids about your fishing days (said to G.B.).
De.- ( -mshing) It did sunk.
.2.. Y- it did sunk. I lost about $20,000 there. It
Srmed toC me like it was like 30 minutes. Had two big motors in
it. A water line came loose in one of them and I didn't know it
and it ,was e.:ttinG (some unidentifiable word) wide open and it just
"filled u .ith water rkiht there.
C.,'. What. like then years? (said to Dee)
Dcc- Yeah. It w.,a ten or twelve year: ago.
Caryn: (Caid to C.D.) H e' (Dee ) cying he doesn't have any-
Zome sto ies.
-rie:. I knoi. he's .gotts have some stories or you've gotta hhve
..- We.'. used to hav.. come ticme: hr fhn W used
to 3o out there a-d stay Tiix, I don't think we ever stayed seven
days, but we stayed six.
Dee: (To G.C.) Tcll them about the time the guy threw all the
grease away and you didn't have anything to cook with.
G.C.: We got on a 35 foot boat down here in St. Augustine and
we were gonna go to Savannah. They had bacon, eggs, and all that
stuff and they had a fifty gallon water tank. They told that guy,
"fill that tank up with water." And the guy messed up and we got
out there about fifty miles and we didn't have no water then. We
went on down cooking you know, stopped and fished and cooked, and
(unidentifiable name) realized we ain't got no grease. "What you
been doing with the grease, you been back there throwing it out the
window?" He was. (Much of this story was cluttered with
background noise, that's why it doesn't make much sense).
De.: I was coming back from erunswick, Georgia in 1977 and we
in 1'77 lived on three small Irish potatoes and no grease:
Car.yn. How long did it take you to get back?
Dec: About 24 hours.
Caryn:_ Do a bunch of fisherman go on trips together?
G.L:--. Oh yeah. We all Swordfishcd here for about 9 years.
Car. n.- You gotta tell some fishing stories or something while
you're on these boats, right?
Dcee (To G.E.) Tell em' how much money you made on our
C_.B... None. (Laughter).
Dee: That didn't take long!
Caryn: (To C.B.) You didn't even need to think about that!
G.E.. I caught 896 pounds of fish in about an hour and forty-
five minutes. No, it was 496 pounds. It was supposed to have been
800 and something dollars. I didn't get 35 cents.
Dee: He worked for his son.
G.E.:... Yeah. I'm working for him now too. I've been welding
**_.- i-;- -- n*, for hi 1 J -
1or him now. i've beeIn welding for him ._ day today and he came
by and slapped me on the shoulder and said, "I'll give you
Ca....y.... (To C._.) How did y;ou get started fishing? Was it a
family thin; for you?
G...: Yeah, it was a family thing, me and my son. We got
off shor boats and just started fishing. Couldn't get nobody to
work on them (boats) because they'd o out there and get stoned.
I- L,;r -C I I-
(Laughter). Some boats would come by and they'd sell the fish to
the inste d of binging them to The Hill. It was a mess.
C.aryn: You get a lot of unreliable people?
G : I'm telling you. I've been fishing thick r ivr out here
-; ^ / 0 c ^ ^L- -,, ,4- r.-/^ ... .... .
Cary.n. Jhat 's your opinioonon how the ri.er and fichins
"industry h::vc chanced since you've been here?
C.... Well, the fish is gone. The pollution and them old
"h..!- nets and stuff have killed the river. It's killed millions of
pounds f ish. It's like them shrimp boats out there, they go out
there and catch :500-.OO pounds of fish and put them up there on the
dec and hey d, and they' kick them overboard. But they say
:-s go to eat, so the other fish eat them.
.ff. LIWhat doa you think of the net ban?
C... _E..- I'm cherishing it. I cherish it. I hope they ban it
all! It's nothing but a mess. Take them people who get out there
and put out a net and put a ship on each end and pull in the roller
net. They catch everything. They kill ever thing.
They even turn th rocks over and get the snails out
from underneath them.
G.e.: Yes sir. They get the Crawfish. Everything.
"Dc-.e The doodads and everything!
G.EB.: I wish they'd ban it good.
D.ee We'd go out there shark fishing and get three or four
sharks in that net and they'd come up to you and say, "Hello!"
That's not very big, four or six foot.
Cary.. A Chark is very scary to me.
Dee: Then you'd kind shoo them towards the end of it (net)
and thIy'd gt out around it.
JeffL Have you ever been bitten.
Dcc. Nope. The only one I've seen bitten by a shark is a
damn crazy fisherman and an insane shrimper.
G.E.. I've seen some of them (sharks) out there that could
just about swallow you and not even bite.
Ca.r.yn. (To G.B.) What kind of fishing did you do? He (Dee)
said he did crabbing.
G._E. Mostly we just done offshore fishing. Also in this
river I Catfished for about two years. Back then, you couldn't get
but 35 cent a pound for them.
Jeff..: Do a lot of people eat Catfish?
G.E.: Oh yeah. Couldn't make no money, but you could make a
C.aryn. Where did you sell them (Catfish)? Did you sell them
to local rectaurants?
Ch .?.. No, the fich! house down the;o and "the cra house bouJgh
them. We'd gct about 100--150 pounds every other day and dress them
and all and go down there and sell them.
ray.1n How much did you get for them?
G.C.: About 2 -40 cents a found.
a- ow much do they go for now?
S ven in t-he s-re.-.. (To Dee) What's Catfish in the
St r.,;* C ,w .
SDc.. 3.89 at Winn Dixie, fillets.
... hos fish we were catching offshore fishing, we were
tting t, dollar two and a half, for Snarper W were gett n
and scr.'cn dollars. We were bringing in 2,000 pounds at one
.. ... +- I .,. .. v .'ou a c -h ck. T 1,n~
_t, t arn oi 1-und and ice th m and then hip: thor ur .- irt and _
'-" ..... .....ind of fish did you catch out there?
C.. All -indc. napper.
d C- nappe Gr ouper, M ackcr e.
Cho -ol t- ouper .
Dee; .Pink Onapper.
GC ........ Poies, Angel Fish, Trigger Fish, Black Eass.
.Jff. Are they still out there or they gone too?
C.E,: Well, they're slack. They gone a ban on these, you
can't even catch no Red Eass. (To Dee) How many can you have,
Dee: I think so. The commercial fisherman can have more than
that, but you have to have an endangered species license. Which
last year, if you want you license for this year, you gotta show
$5,000 worth the fish last year to get it for this year.
C..a.ryn And that seems kind of stupid that you have to catch
an endangered species, you have to be a commercial fisherman.
G.B.: I had a 30 foot boat out there and I went all the way
to Tallahassce to see if I could get an endangered species license
for the boat, where I could take friends out ya know, maybe four or
five people, go out there and spend the night or day or something
*---_____ ____________________________________Q i _
and fish and enjoy ourselves.
Jeff- Did you used to catch Redfish in the river?
cG.E..-.... Red Bass, yeah, in the salt water. I have caught a few
in the river. They mostly stay in salty water.
Calryn. What kind of laws on fishing do they have that affect
G.B.: They don't now because I don't fish. I just quit. I
go down there and maybe take my reel and rod and just fish for a
couple of hours or something to pass time. I don't Trout fish
Car.y.n:. Why is that?
G.B.: The water's polluted. I seen the time where you could
go out there with two fishing poles and you couldn't use both of
them because one of them would have a fish before you could get the
other one baited. Cut now, you've got to fish 2 hours without
get tin a fish.
(chit chat about our project).
C .... The> put those old hook nets out in the river and
sometimes ther- wouldn't fish it. They would get 400-500 pounds of
fish and they'd all float to the top and b dad. Somebody put it
-out there and didn't fi r t ad bcue i gant the
... ...c cause ii' against the
S2ff: (To C.D.) Do you have any children?
..... Yeah. That I sired?
-T I a *
S.. c ihat. ou gvrmn a4
f .f' '- -
C O' H e 's U C O- a. rt ?
Dec- ints his fingers.
S Points his fingers and says, "do this, do that."
J He whas a suit ad tie
GC....... Nothing, hdont er no sit nd tie
(c-t chat about thenow haernet hen dand st
G....... Points his fingers and says, "do this, do that."
J-ffr He wears a suit and tie?
.......:.. No, he don't wear no suit and tie.
(chit chat about the government and stuff)
Dee. Tell these kids about fishing, they don't want to know
G._.:. I don't know nothing. All I know is that you throw a
thing in there and if it sinks, you pull it.
Dee:. The biggest thrill I've ever had out there is getting
the net hung in the wheel and having to dive overboard to try to
get it back. You'd be surprised how dark it is in that water.
G.B.: You see all kinds of boogers under there, can't ya.
.... You're telling me. You see all kinds of things.
Jeff" Ha've you ever seen any...
Dee: Sea Monsters!?
Caryn: Some people have told us stories about that.
Dee.: ig old Seahorses!! (Laughter)
C.ryn: What about superstitions? A lot of people have
superstitions about not taking their boats out on Fridays or things
like that. Do you guys have any superstitions?
G.E.: Never been superstitious about that.
Jeff" (To G.E.) How did you get started fishing? Did you
take one of your family's boats out?
G.--.'-1 My son bought a boat, I came down there. He got a boat
and started fishing up north and I came down there and wanted me to
go with him so I started fishing with him. Then we got another
boat and we got another boat. Wound up getting rid of all of them
except one, we fished it about 3 years, somewhere along there.
Jeff: Where up north did you go?
C.... was up in Cebastin and I .
yo,.minz -, -outh .Zae. t all up their .
TJeff: What did you do up there?
...?: I was working for the Tay1or company, building
7Jeff Tr7ct.or trailers or mobile homes?
S C... Trctor trailers talkc about other companies he worked-
for. but garbled cut by background noie).
(Chit chat about the waitress and other people and fishing
G.E.: Ya'll married? (referring to Jeff & Caryn)
Caryn: No (laughing hysterically).
C.r n Tha..nks .
.. ...To C':. Yg got a rin3 in your rocket? We'll mary cm'
T.: I kcP one in c: se I want to get married!
-.. Oh my God'
Jeff" (To Dec-) I thought you were married! Where's 'our
_CC- I -- tbc c r n a r e% o r
..... been married for..
.. ...... years .
Dee; No, longer than that. 43 years.
(chit chat while Dee talks to the Waitress)
Jf..ff. (To G.E.) When did you retire?
C. ..:.... '86 .
J..ff.. What do you do in your spare time now?
C,...._.: Nothing. Chase women.
De. He uses "chase" loosely!
Jeff. (To G.B.) Did you make a good living fishing back
C...... ...L Yeah, when I was Swordfishing, yeah.
/ D Vc: We were up there crabbing out of (garbled) creek one
n time and it was kind of rough, ground swells. Do you know what
ground swells ar-? That's swells out there that don't break.
(chit chat with waitress)
Like I said, my son was working with me and we had a 4 inch rail on
the boat and the boat was sideways in the river, and that sucker
fell overboard and never got his shoes wet before he was back in
the boat. He went right back in the boat! That's what you call
scared. I looked up and snickered. He said, "that ain't funny
worth a damn."
Ca.ry.n Yes it is.
Dee. Then he went to laughing about it. We used to crab out
there and it was so cold that water would come back and hit you on
the ears and freeze right there. You had to break it off the
eyebrow. It was rough, rough, rough.
Jeff: Did you ever get hurt?
Dec. No. I've been all cut up on land, on the hill, I done
that (points to scar on hand) with a bansaw back in '.
c -. t... sa r nnf Loh
.. ... .... .... Je ff.. ....h
Dee: I don't have any fantatic yarns to tell va.
Jcff:. Usually, fantastic yarns are lies anyway.
C- .... o-4
.: Yeh, ya wa nn m tae one up for u ?!
.,..:. You used t. c:t t-e other with all these fisherman in
.t. Augustine a l.ong time agc, did the ever have any gd
a,.nCa! 1i -" -
De..... No., because like anybody else when you go home, you
don't ;ant. to tal. :bout that damn job, you w nt to leave it there.
I went rto. Key W.st on t shrimp boat one time and I ac-ed the good
Lord to help me get back to dry land and I'd nee..r go bock to se
=1:in. This wns in 194?
There's none of them, those, Sea Dragons and all that stuff
"They don't have none of that, all that spoo stuff.
Carn; Have you be-en out during any big storms?
Dce.' C.t caught in a tornado one time of tthe inlet here. It
blowed bad for about 30 minutes. Me and another local got caught
out there. He had a double rigged boat and he was headed out, all
he done was sit right there. I had my rig up and trying to beat it
in the inlet, all I did was circle.
Jeff- Have you discovered where the best fishing is? Is
there any particular spot?
Dee:. No... No... No... There ain't no honey holes. You
heard about this fresh water spring off of Marineland down here?
The artesian one?
car..... .&.....& Jeff. No .
Dee: Where the artesian comes to and dumps out into the
ocean. I don't know about now, but it used to boil up n low tide.
you could go there and get fresh water. At times, there was a lot
of Red Snapper, about 30 years ago,p and they'd bunch up around
C.AT n __N___________.__i a
there and we'd catch them. We'd catch them in a fresh water pool.
A certain time of year or certain moon, I don't know what draws
them in there.
Folks used to come in there (docks) loaded with everything, but not
anymore. They'd shrimp all day and all night at that fish dock.
Jeff: What do you think is going to happen now? Is it all
going to die?
Dee: Yeah, the fishing is, oh yeah. They're all going to
pond fishing, man-raised stuff. They've got a few Catfish ponds
Jeff: Do you eat a lot of fish or do you like hamburgers
Dee. No, not no hamburgers, not anymore. You go up there and
lIt them take that saw to your chest you'd quit eating hamburgers
too. ca lot of Mullet around here, we've been catching a lot
-C kA L
,Df ,Mul; Ct off It- C act.
ff So you still fish a lot?
.. Not really. It' just getting to where I can throw a
J:ff' You had bypass surgery three years ago?
De: It'll be three years in January.
f .... L- t
Dee: Darn, I'm sorry I couldn't help you.
cff. Yeah., .ou ha.v..e. I think it's been interesting.
Caryn: Ycah. I guccs this will be all then.
Jeff. Yeah, thanks a lot.