Interviewees: Esperanza Woodring (EW:) with Ralph Woodring (RW:)
and Earl (E:)
Interviewers: Bob Edic (BE:) and Karen (K:)
Date: April 17, 1990
BE:[This is an interview with] Ms. Esperanza Woodring on April
17, 1990. What I would like to do first, if you do not
mind, is ask you some questions about your family. We are
trying to trace a tradition here, and we want to make sure
we are talking to somebody that has that tradition in their
EW:Well, I do not know whether I can tell you a whole lot, but I
will try to do my best.
RW:I will say that if you would give her some background on where
you are trying to go for sure as to what you are trying to
get at, it makes a hell of a lot of difference on what kind
of answers you get. If she knows where you are going, it
definitely makes it easier to [answer].
BE:First of all, I am trying to make a kinship chart up [that
shows] how you relate to the Colemans and the Darnas and all
of that [group] and how all of these outer-island people
from Boca Grande, Cayo Costa, [and] down to here [are
EW:The age problem is a blank. I did not keep up with all of
BE:We do not need to know all of that stuff.
EW:Well, the Colemans are related [to me] through marriage. They
married some of my mother's family.
BE:We will start out this way. What was your husband's name?
BE:And what was your maiden name?
BE:Where was your family from?
EW:They are from everywhere. My grandfather came from Canary
Island. My grandmother, I guess, was from Mexico. My dad,
was from Spain, I think. See, in those days the only way
they [could] get from one country to another [was to] stack
up and run away. After they would leave their country, why,
they could not throw them overboard, so they had to take
them wherever they were going.
BE:How many brothers and sisters did you have?
EW:I had seven sisters and five brothers that were alive. One
died. My mother had thirteen children all together. So now
there are only four girls left and one boy. The rest of
them have all passed away. Originally, my grandparents were
all from Cayo Costa.
BE:So Sophie was Louis's mother, [and] that was .
BE:That was your aunt.
EW:Yes. My mother and her were sisters.
BE:What was your mother's name?
BE:And that is how you are related to Richard Coleman?
EW:Yes. See, Richard's mother, Nona, was Aunt Sophie's daughter.
So that made her and I first cousins.
BE:What was your father's name?
BE:Can you trace your father's or your mother's lineage?
EW:No, when I was a kid I did not pay enough attention to that
kind of stuff. When it was too late, I was sorry I did not.
I was born on Cayo Costa. That is where my grandparents
BE:What year was that?
BE:How about Sam? How many brothers and sisters did he have?
EW:Let me see. He had Anna, Carl, Alva, Flora, and Harrison.
[There were] five: two girls and three boys, I guess.
BE:Were they all from Cayo Costa?
EW:Oh, no. Grandpa Woodring came from Pennsylvania. He got
married there, I guess. He used to be a blacksmith. He
went from town to town fixing the wagon wheels and stuff
like that. He was in the Civil War, I guess.
BE:Do you know Sam's father's or mother's name?
EW:Well, the mother was named Anna, and the father was Samuel.
BE:And how many children did you have?
EW:Two ornery sons.
BE:And their names would be?
EW:Ralph Woodring and Preston Woodring. Preston is the oldest.
BE:Do they both live on Sanibel?
EW:Ralph does. Preston just moved away.
BE:Are they involved in the fishing industry or were they?
EW:No. Preston was in the service [for] twenty-five years, and
then he retired and came to Sanibel and used to work at the
water department. Ralph is a shrimper and a sportsman. He
keeps that bait box down there. That is his business.
BE:How many children does Ralph have?
EW:Five: four boys and a girl.
BE:How about Preston?
EW:He has two girls and two boys.
BE:Do all of Ralph's children reside here?
EW:No, they are all scattered around. Two live in Fort Myers and
one is in North Carolina. This one here is in Georgia. And
the girl, Julie, is in Tennessee. So they are scattered all
BE:So would you say everybody from your family, from Manuel and
Rosie on down to Ralph, has been in the fishing business
EW:Yes, more or less.
BE:And mostly right on the barrier islands out here between Cayo
Costa and Sanibel.
EW:My grandfather used to have what they call a fishing camp. He
had one on Captiva and one on Sanibel down there by the
lighthouse. In run season, [as] they used to call it, he
used to have these great big nets. I guess he used to have
about twenty men to pull this huge net. They used to take
the mullet and cut the roe out and salt it and then they
would sell it to Cuba or any place you could find a market.
BE:What was your grandfather's name?
BE:Oh, Taravial Padilla. So Manuel's father was Taravial
EW:No. My grandfather was Taravial Padilla. That was my
BE:Your mother's father. Rosie's. That is right. And Rosie was
EW:Yes. Do not get it mixed up. [laughter]
BE:No. Well, I am going to give you a copy of this when I get
done, and you can go over it and tell me where I mixed it
BE:I am bound to mix it up sometime. See, I have already done
this with Richard Coleman. Taravial's sons were John, Tony,
Bevo, Falo, and Rosie.
EW:And Sophie. Sophie was Richard's grandmother. See, his
mother was Sophie's daughter.
BE:Now Sophie was married to a Darna and she was married to a
Rodriguez and to Toledo.
EW:[She married] Toledo first. Then he died and she married
Darna, I guess.
BE:Sophie's daughter was Nona?
EW:Yes. That is Richard's mother.
BE:Did you know Arthur Coleman or Walker Coleman?
EW:Oh, yes. They used to come over here to the island and go
rabbit hunting. They killed all kinds of rabbits.
BE:So there was Walker Coleman, Dolly Coleman, Shelly Coleman,
and Orlando Coleman.
EW:And Eugene Coleman.
BE:And Gene Coleman. He died when he was twenty-one years old.
EW:Eugene? No! He is alive. He is a plumber in Punta Gorda.
BE:No, I do not think he could be alive because he would be too
old. This Gene was Nona's age.
EW:Ralph and Gene Coleman and James Coleman used to be real good
friends, were they not?
RW:You are talking about the prior generation.
BE:Yes, I think that is right. That Gene Coleman must have been
named after him by Shelly or Dolly.
EW:That is ahead of me. I guess that was the old lady's husband.
RW:James's daddy was named Gene.
BE:Did you know any of the people that lived on the south side of
Cayo Costa [like] old man Faulkner?
EW:Yes, I knew him, but I do not know his background.
BE:He was a beekeeper, I hear.
EW:Yes, he had bees.
BE:He had three wives.
EW:Yes, more or less.
BE:It is strange that on Cayo Costa (I mean, it is a small
island) Sophie had three husbands on the north side. Of
course, in those days you outlived a lot of husbands. Down
at the other end, old man Faulkner [had three wives]. Now,
he did not fish or anything, did he?
EW:No. He just lived off of what he could get off of the bees.
I guess he had a little garden that he probably grew a few
BE:Well, I think you did a pretty good job [answering my kinship
questions]. You have got one, two, three, four generations
EW:Well, there are five generations in our family now.
BE:So there are five. Ralph's children and Preston's children
are married now?
EW:Yes. Preston's daughter has a son. See, it is me, Preston,
Preston's daughter, and then she has got a son and he has a
son. So I guess there is five. However, we do not ever see
BE:How many grandchildren do you have?
BE:You have nine grandchildren and how many great-grandchildren?
EW:I would have to count. Let me see. How many grandchildren do
you have? [laughter] You do not know? Let me see. Lee
has got two; Julie has got three [and] that is five. Wayne
has got one and Shane has got one [and] that is seven. That
is his grandchildren.
RW:Malia had three, and one is deceased. So that would be a
total of nine living.
BE:Well, it sure looks like you are part of the pioneer fishing
folks from around here.
EW:Well, I will tell you about my grandfather. He used to have a
fishing camp down here near the lighthouse. There used to
be a deep well, and all the fishermen and boatmen that came
along there would go to that well to get water. They had
these wooden barrels [down the sides], and they would rot
and cave in. So somebody would come along and put a new one
in there. Years and years, until they developed that down
there, that well was down there, and they called it Taravial
Well. I could have killed them when they went and filled it
in with sand and dirt. Of course, you know that was an old
well, and there is lots of background to it because that is
what the fishermen depended on [for] their water.
BE:When did Taravial come to Sanibel?
EW:Well, he did not live on Sanibel. He just had his fishing
BE:He lived on Cayo Costa?
EW:Mostly. Or lower Captiva. See, these fish used to come in in
schools, and they would take these huge big nets and rope
BE:Yes. Were they gill nets or seine nets?
BE:Were they stop nets?
EW:No, just seines--a great big heavy, long, and real deep seine.
BE:Were they flax or cotton?
EW:Cotton. Oh, there was no such thing as flax in those days.
BE:Did they not make the stop nets out of flax, or was that
before flax nets?
EW:No. Most of them were cotton, and they took and put them in
tar to preserve them.
BE:Was that so the crabs would not eat through the nets?
EW:They did [anyway] but not quite as bad.
BE:What kind of fish do you think was the most economically
important species to you?
EW:Mullet. Probably they were easier caught in the nets, and I
do not know if there were more of them, but I presume there
BE:Were they caught in the winter when they were spawning?
EW:Yes. It would last about three months out of the year.
BE:So that would be . .
EW:November, December, and January.
BE:What other type of fish did you fish for after the mullet
EW:I do not think they bothered about it. [They] probably
[fished] enough to eat, but I do not think they did [much
fishing]. They probably made what they could in those three
months, and then they survived with whatever they could rake
and scrape out of the water: clams, oysters, and they ate a
lot of fish. Probably [they also hunted] birds, [too], and
maybe they killed a deer once in a while or something like
that. But they survived entirely off of the land.
BE:Nobody pompano fished then?
EW:No, [they] never heard of it.
BE:How about redfish and trout?
EW:I do not think they fooled with those either--at least I know
my grandfather did not. Now, my father did. He had a gill
net. He used to mullet fish in season. Then when the
season was over, he used to catch trout or redfish or
whatever would sell at the market.
BE:Could you catch redfish in the cotton nets, or would they bust
EW:Oh, no. He used to catch a lot of redfish in the nets.
BE:Was there a market for them?
BE:What fish did you eat the most?
EW:Mullet. You can take a fisherman, and he has got all kinds of
fish in his boat. If he is going to eat well once in a
while he might change, but most of the time what do you
think he would take home to eat? Mullet.
BE:You can cook that more different ways and do more with it than
any other fish, do you think?
EW:Well, I would not say that so much. Maybe it is easier to
BE:So would you say that mullet was your favorite fish if you had
a choice of which one to eat?
EW:Well, no, not particularly. I like most any kind but a snook.
I do not like snook.
BE:Do you eat redfish and trout?
BE:Have you fished yourself?
EW:I used to, but I do not anymore.
BE:What kind of fishing did you do?
EW:Well, I used to take fishing parties out, mostly.
BE:You were a fishing guide?
EW:Yes. Well, I used to try to fish, too, in between times. I
used to net fish. I had my own net and boat.
BE:You used a pole skiff?
BE:With a cotton net?
EW:At first. Then we started using flax. Then [we] eventually
[switched to] nylon, and I do not like nylon very much.
BE:Did you hang the nets in?
EW:Oh, yes. Sure. We did all of our own work. [If] you were a
fisherman, you had to know how to do a little bit of
BE:That is for sure. Do you remember anybody tying nets
themselves--not just hanging them in but tying the nets?
EW:You mean hanging them in?
BE:No, tying the nets.
EW:Oh, I used to make cast nets but not gill nets. There is too
much work for those.
BE:Did the netting material come from the Punta Gorda Fishery?
EW:Well, we ordered most of ours from New York from a company.
The name of them was W. A. Auger in New York. I still have
some of their advertisements.
BE:I would like to take a picture of some of those
advertisements. So how many nets did you own to mullet fish
EW:Well, at one time we had some sheds down there that we used to
keep our nets in that we did not use. We would have about
three different sizes. We would have one for trout, one for
the mullet, and we had one for mullet when they were in the
roe season. And then we had one for after they spawned. It
took a smaller mesh. We generally always had three nets.
BE:So in the summertime, what size net would you start off with
EW:About an inch-and-quarter [mesh].
BE:So that is an inch-and-a-quarter stretch. That would be a
three inch net?
EW:Yes, about that. Then when we were going to use it for the
roe season, as they called it when they were spawning, it
would be a larger net. That would be about . Oh, I do
not remember exactly, but it would be a much larger mesh.
BE:Four or four-and-a-quarter-[inch mesh].
EW:The little fish would go through, and we would just catch the
mother mullet, which was an awful thing to do.
BE:Well, the reason we are interested in the nets and everything
is that we have been excavating the old Indian mounds out
here on the keys. We are finding net-making equipment in
the Indian mounds that is 5,000 years old.
EW:Yes, that I cannot believe. I would love to see one of those
BE:Well, we just happened to bring some of the stuff here, and
Karen would be glad to show them to you. We might get some
idea of what the Indians were doing with it.
EW:This guy that used to work for Ralph was telling me about that
stuff, but I did not believe him.
K:What do you think about these for paddles? You know how you
use a paddle to tie the cord around to mend the nets?
K:Do you think these would work for something like that? They
are real old, so they are a little rough on the edges now.
EW:Yes, that is from a bone.
K:Yes, it is from a large sea turtle.
BE:What did you make your paddles out of?
BE:You carved them out of wood?
EW:Yes. The needles, too.
K:We have some wooden ones, too, that are preserved.
K:Yes. But the ones I have here are just bone and shell.
EW:What did you do with all of that paraphernalia that she put in
RW:It is over at the house. I forgot to bring it. I will go get
EW:Have you still got it?
EW:Well, don't you dare let that get away from you.
EW:That is an antique. All that stuff your dad made.
BE:It seems to me that the dimensions of that are the same as the
EW:Let me show you the needles that we used to make. I do not
think I have a meshing board.
BE:These come out. If you put the modern paddles that you get in
a net-making kit right along side of them, they come out to
be a three-inch or three-and-a-half or four or four-and-a-
RW:Four-and-a-quarter is about the max on the standard stuff,
BE:I guess the fish still have the same size heads now as they
had then, so you had to get that right if you were targeting
fish specifically to catch.
K:What do you think about these, Ralph? Do you think they would
K:What about these that are short? Are they long enough to still
be able to [use]?
RW:Yes. [With a] small mesh you do not need as long a board.
K:That is all shell turtle. Is that not pretty?
RW:See, as long as you have got enough room to hold
K:These are made out of the big lightning These are
EW:Now, his dad made that out of red mangrove root.
BE:Somebody has been working there, too.
EW:Well, I was going to make a net for the spring, but I gave up
BE:That would be a nice picture right there.
EW:You can buy them for much cheaper than you can make them
K:How is that for a match? Not bad. What was this made out of?
EW:That is made out of red mangrove root.
BE:Red mangrove. And this looks like a different kind of wood.
I do not know.
EW:Yes, that is made out of red mangrove. I do not know why [he
used] the red mangrove. I guess [he used it] because he
thought it preserved or kept better.
RW:Well, it is relatively soft when it is green, and then it
hardens up real good so that the twine does not wear on it
after you have made enough of them.
BE:We have not found this yet, have we?
BE:We are looking for the shuttles and stuff, but we have not
found them in the Indian sites or we do not know what we are
looking at yet.
EW:You have not found a needle like this yet?
BE:We have found great big deer-bone pins that could be part of
the needle and the wood has rotted away.
EW:Well, in some cases, instead of doing all of this, they just
take and make something like this on both ends and use that
for a needle. That is what we used for the minnow nets.
You know, they are a real small-mesh [net] like this.
K:Does it have to be long? Could it be a short, squatty pin?
EW:Oh, it could be any size.
K:We do have one of those that is sort of squarish. It has this
part and this part on each end.
EW:Well, that is a needle. That whole thing he is carrying [is
RW:That is a regular shuttle, yes.
EW:[If you are] knitting, like mending clothes or something like
that, it would be about that wide. I remember my
grandmother--of course, I was quite young then--and she used
to say that was what they had to do in her country in her
time. They had these little narrow pieces of wood, and they
were carved like this, and that is what they used to sew the
material with. You know, I guess they would fold it
together and then sort of stitch it.
K:Was that in Spain?
EW:No, my grandmother came from Mexico.
BE:Do you have any of those needles with you?
K:No. I was not allowed to bring the wooden things.
EW:Are they made out of wood?
BE:Do you have any of the bone points?
K:Yes. Could I take a picture of your paddle there?
BE:Do you have enough light there? No, that is perfect.
K:Well, I will show you these other things.
EW:Of course, this is just a small one. Sometimes they make
these things larger to suit whatever you are going to make.
BE:Right. If it is like them, they are in all sizes.
EW:Yes, all sizes. That is right.
RW:The other thing that you probably should consider, too, is
that if you get any amount of time on this stuff at all, you
can do it pretty much freehand and come out so that it is
BE:You mean you can get a calibrated eye from doing it.
RW:Most all of your mending is done with a smaller needle or
smaller shuttle in free hand. You do not use a board when
you are mending either a cast net or a gill net. You just
eyeball it as you go along, and you freehand even in a big
hole. If you had a gill net with a great big hole in it, by
the time you get done with it you may have a few that are a
little bit off, but you do not really notice it once it is
mended up. You do not notice the patch is there unless you
really know what you are looking for.
K:Can you use the shuttle itself as a gauge to some extent?
RW:Well, you could, yes. Generally, it is not the right size.
But as something just to look at, you could not use it as
you were going along, but you could use it to match what you
are trying to do. See, if you are mending, you already have
a mesh on the other side anyway. So all you do when you
pull down is match it up very similar to what the other one
is, and then you tie it.
EW:See, when you start a net you just make loops like that. See
that? Then you just do that like I started this. Then when
you get as far across as you want, then you just slip all of
this off and you start all over again.
BE:Well, it seems like the Calusa Indians had a maritime economy,
and they were food fishermen, too. During mullet run
season, they used gill nets and everything. Our only
problem is [that] out of all the fish bones found in the
Indian mounds, [there are few mullet bones]. The big shell
mounds look like they were eating nothing but shellfish, but
when you analyze them it comes down to only about 10 percent
of what they were eating was actually shellfish, and 70
percent or so was fish. The fish that they ate the most of
was pinfish, pigfish, and catfish. We do not understand
quite how that fits in.
RW:[Those fish are] the easiest to catch.
BE:They are the easiest to catch, and after the easy season (like
run season on things) you could always supplement your diet.
EW:When the mullet were running, they would be the easiest
because they would be in these schools. Now, you are not
going to believe this, but they used to come along the edge
of that beach there, and the porpoise and big fish would be
[in] just schools and schools. My husband Sam used to go
out there with a pitchfork. Now, you are not going to
believe that, [but] he would catch whatever he wanted to eat
the next day with a pitchfork. They would be right up
there. I imagine you could have picked them up with your
hand because they were so close to the beach. You see, they
were running from these other big fish that were on the
outside. Every now and then they would get in there and get
them a mouthful of whatever they wanted, and the poor old
mullet were trying to get away from them. They were right
up [close to the beach], most especially on moonlight
nights. You could just see them, you know.
BE:When they podded up, did they head with their right eye to the
EW:Well, I imagine they headed for any place where they thought
that they could be protected.
BE:When they ran out the pass, did they go out this pass here
when they grouped up?
EW:Oh, yes. Down there at the lighthouse, they used to have a
big, long dock out there. They used to go out there with
snatch hooks. Do you know what a snatch hook is?
BE:Yes. [A snatch hook is generally a large weighted treble
hook. It is dropped in the water and "snatched" quickly in
order that it might snag into a passing fish. Ed.]
EW:[They would] just snatch them. They would tear the poor
mullet up. You would see the roe streaming down. Well,
they stopped that now. You cannot do that anymore. Down
there at Blind Pass, across that bridge, they said it would
be ridiculous the way they would slaughter the poor mullet.
You know, they would just hook it enough that he would flop
off, and the roe would be scattered all over. No doubt some
of the fish died, I imagine.
BE:Well, if there were that many fish here when you are speaking
of, we think there were just as many or more when the
Indians were here.
BE:But we are having a problem because the mullet bones only
represent about 10 percent of all of the fish bones in the
mounds. They do not understand why we do not find more
EW:Well, maybe they were not as easy to catch as these other
RW:I figure that the women and the kids probably did most of the
fishing, and it certainly would have been easier for them to
catch the smaller stuff--the catfish and pinfish and stuff.
BE:It could have been that what they were eating they could have
[done] like [they do today] on Cayo Costa [and] shipped the
mullet out. When they shipped the mullet out, were their
heads still on? Were they [simply] split [and gutted]?
EW:No, they cut the heads off of them. Sometimes they would
leave the head and just split them right on down and salt
them. But mostly, I think, they cut the heads off.
BE:So the fish would be dried and put on racks?
EW:Well, mostly they would put them down in brine. See, they had
these great big wooden barrels, and they would brine them
down because they keep better that way.
BE:Did they fire them with palmetto fronds before to dry them
out, or were they sun dried?
EW:No, they [would] just salt them and then pack them. They
would take the mullet and salt it real good, and then they
would put them together like this because they would go in
the barrels easier. Then they would ship them out. They
would go down as far as Key West, and then these boats would
pick it up and take them to Cuba or wherever they could get
a market for them, I suppose. In those days it was all
sailboats, you know. There was no such a thing as ice.
BE:Right. The people that bought these fish would just come
around during run season? I mean, after run season did any
Spanish smacks come around to buy the fish?
EW:No. They used to mostly ship their fish from Key West out to
Cuba. There was, I imagine, a special boat to come and pick
them up every so often.
BE:But the only thing they bought was mullet?
EW:Yes. These smacks used to have these great big huge wells in
the middle of the boat, and they used to catch mostly
grouper. They used to go way back out in the Gulf and fish
for red grouper and black grouper.
BE:And that is how they kept them preserved alive so they could
make the trip back to Cuba.
EW:And, of course, if some of the fish died, then they would salt
them and hang them up and cure them. They would sell those
BE:So the Cuban fishery was interested in mainly mullet and
BE:Well, it seems to be that the mullet fishing tradition had to
be learned by the early Spanish and the early pioneers that
came here. The Indians who lived here were Seminoles, and
they did not know how to fish. The Spanish Indians that
were the first here probably had some Calusa mixed in with
them. I have heard that most of the people who actually did
the fishing were the Spanish Indians [and] not the
BE:Do you remember any Indian fishermen at all?
EW:No. That was ahead of my time, I guess.
BE:All of the fishing was done by the people that lived on Cayo
BE:When they hired a fishing team, where did these people come
EW:Well, my grandfather had his own family.
BE:He brought them from the Canary Islands and other places?
EW:No. His son and his son-in-law. Whoever was in the family,
that is the ones that worked. Well, once in a while,
probably, there was a straggler [who was] looking for work.
But they were all local people. I do not think he got any
outsiders. You see, they all mostly lived like a family all
together in these huge palmetto houses. They could not
possibly get outsiders or strangers who they did not know.
They would have to know them on account of having his
daughters and his wife there. I guess they all ate together
and slept in these shacks.
BE:And they lived there all year long? Was there a bigger
population on the island during mullet season?
EW:No. I think he was the only one that I know of. Well, there
might have been another one or two, but they did not have
set fishing camps like he did.
BE:I guess what I do not understand is [how] could they make
enough money in three months to not have to do anything for
EW:Evidently they did because that is what they survived on.
Well, they might have done like I said. You know, they ate
fish and clams and oysters, and they probably had some hogs.
The original hogs on Cayo Costa were from my grandfather.
Really, he was the first one that brought them there. They
had chickens and ducks and stuff like that.
BE:There were deer out there then also?
EW:Well, there might have been a few deer on the island, but if
there were, they would not have killed them.
BE:Did anybody keep the pigs out there, or did they just go and
get a hog when they needed one? I mean, did they pen them
up and feed them?
EW:No, they just let them run wild.
BE:They are still out there.
EW:Yes. I thought they killed them all.
BE:They have been trying, but there is still a whole bunch of
them out there. [interruption] Did you do any hook-and-
EW:Well, once in a while I go out. Not now. I have not been in
a boat in three months.
BE:Well, that is not bad.
EW:Ha! You do not know how I miss it. That is my boat out
there. It is Ralph's boat, but I call it mine. See, all of
that stuff is in his name, so he has to repair it and keep
it up. [laughter]
BE:So that is the reason. These are some fish hooks here we
found in the Indian mounds that the Calusa Indians used.
They made a compound hook by taking the center part out of
the horse conks, mostly, and they would utilize that groove
there with a bone pin. [They would] sort of tie it in
there. This one is kind of big. They would bait that up
and use them either for fishing lures or for fishing hooks.
Also they would tie pins around the middle and use them for
throat gorges. [They would] put some bait on it [and] put
them out there (a whole bunch of them) on a trot line.
There are various pins there. We do not know how they all
fit in. They are certainly not all fish hook parts, but a
lot of them are. It seams like they would use them for
bigger fish like trout or redfish or jacks or sharks or
something like that.
K:This one has got a double groove, one on each end, and they
were used for a large line sinker. What do you think about
EW:Wonderful! I have never seen any of that stuff. See, we have
dug in the mounds over there. I have walked in the mud, but
we never found anything like this.
K:You can take any of those out. Feel the weight on those.
BE:They put a lot of work into that piece of shell. You would
think they would hate to lose it after all that grinding.
EW:That did not mean anything to them. That would be no more
than you going out there and taking a spoon to eat.
BE:[It was] something you had to do if you wanted to eat.
EW:Yes. You have to do all of this stuff to survive [and] to be
able to live.
K:These are all made out of deer bone--that lower leg bone.
EW:That is wonderful.
BE:Where do you think that Taravial learned to mullet fish?
Evidently he did not mullet fish on the Canary Islands.
EW:Oh, no. He was just a young boy when he left there. He
stowed away in one of those big boats and came to Cuba.
From there, I guess he stowed his way on some other boat to
Key West. I think they stayed there for a while. He stayed
there for a while until he got his bearing and then I guess
he met my grandmother. I do not know how she ever got down
there, but I think that is where they got married because my
mother was born, I think she said, in Key West. See, when
you are a kid you do not listen to all of this. It just
goes whisp. Then when it is too late you wished you had
listened to a whole lot of that stuff.
BE:As you get older you do not forget any of it, it seems. They
say: "Oh, I do not know. Not about family."
EW:They ask me a lot of questions and I wonder where did that
K:Where was I? Ms. Esperanza, did you ever use a technique where
you just take a point like this and tie a line in the middle
and just bait it up?
K:We think the Indians were doing that a lot, too.
K:It is just a real simple thing to make. Do you think that
would work? It would act as a toggle. Fish would swallow
the whole thing.
EW:I do not see why not [if you] put a big hunk of bait on there.
K:And it would catch in his throat.
EW:They did not have nothing in the markets. They used to have
to make everything. Well, we did too when we lived on Cayo
Costa. [Do] you know what we used for clothespins?
Palmetto stalks. We would cut them about that long and
split it. Sometimes they would hold; sometimes they would
K:That is a great idea.
EW:Then later, you know, they started making a wood clothespin.
They are about that long and they have got I
have got two or three of those.
BE:When they put the big mullet nets out to catch them roe
mullet, where they fishing on the beach or in the bay?
EW:Well, mostly they would go around these passes. When the fish
would come in, you know, they would have to go pull them in.
In those days, those passes, like Redfish Pass and those
places, were not as wide as they are now. So when the fish
would come in [they had less room to get through the pass].
They did not have not motors. All of that was done by
rowboats. They used to take these boats and bore a hole on
the side of the boats and put wooden pins in there. Then
they would take rope or whatever they had and tie the oar to
the pin to hold the oar so it would not get away. There
would probably be, maybe, four or six people. Each one
would have an oar. I guess you have seen them rowing that
way. Somebody would hold the end of that net, and they
would just make a circle around and haul them to the beach.
BE:Was there more that one boat working together?
EW:No, just one. Well, maybe they had two or three boats, but
the one big boat had this big net in it. [Do] you know how
they pulled the nets out of the boat? They had this great
big thing--I think you would call it a wheel, I suppose. It
was make out of palmetto stalks or wood or whatever they
could find. It was up on the forks like this, see, and then
this thing would roll on these forks. That is the way they
would put the net in to repair it or put it out or anything.
BE:So then when they put it right back up on there they could dry
it right on there.
BE:Did they lime it before they put it on?
EW:I do not think they had lime in those days. If they did, I do
BE:When did they start liming the nets?
EW:Well, I guess my dad had lime for his nets. I do not remember
that he did, but I am pretty sure they started limingg their
BE:Did you dye the nets red?
EW:No. I do not think they even had such a thing as dye then.
No, I guess they used everything naturally just like it was.
BE:Did you do any fishing off of the beaches for mackerel or
pompano or anything?
EW:Later years the Colemans and the Darnas [did]. I guess my dad
had a mackerel net. But they used to go on the outside when
they would be spawning in schools, and they would catch them
in the nets. But I do not think they ever came close enough
to the beach where any man could have caught them.
BE:Did they use their mullet nets to catch mackerel with, or did
they have a special net for mackerel?
EW:Well, I imagine they must have had a special mackerel net.
BE:Would that be a deeper net?
EW:I think so, yes. See, they would go out at night and catch
these mackerel and bluefish, and then the next day they had
to gut all of them--you know, take the insides out of them.
BE:Do you remember when Redfish Pass broke through? I think that
was [during] the 1926 hurricane.
EW:Probably. Ask Earl. Do you remember?
E:That sounds like about the right date. There used to be a
in there, and it washed away.
BE:Do you know Bill Hunter?
E:Yes, I know Bill Hunter. He lives over at
BE:I do not know. He lives on Boca Grande now. He used to fish
Redfish Pass a lot, though. He says he is the first one
that caught redfish out of Redfish Pass, but Bill might just
EW:Well, it is possible.
E:You know what? At the that that was
in there, and lots of people used to go in there and
catch redfish and trout. That was a big fishing place
before that big pass washed out.
BE:Before it washed out?
E:All of that in there, all of [those] flats in there, used to be
a place for redfish and all kinds of fish. You would just
go in there and it out and all. Of course, it was
the wrong time to fish. The fish were in the pass along the
outside. You would catch them out there, and after they
came in, they would sit there on the reef on the coming-in
tide and then you would catch fish on the inside. You did
not go outside.
BE:Did you fish for silver mullet at all, or did they [fish for
them] on Cayo Costa?
EW:Yes, they used to but not as much as they did for the others.
I guess they probably did not have as good a sale for
those. But they did not fool with those [silver mullet] to
salt them or anything. They were too small.
BE:Did you do any crabbing at all [for] blue crab?
BE:[How about] stone crab? Did you eat them when you caught them
in the net?
EW:Oh, yes. We ate a lot of them. [laughter] When we moved
from Cayo Costa to Dunedin, I used to go crabbing for stone
crabs. When the tide was low, we would have the hook. We
would go to the mouth of them and hook them up, and we would
go peddle them and sell them.
K:Ms. Esperanza, did you ever, by accident, get any of the diving
ducks in your net?
BE:Cormorants or mergansers?
EW:Well, we never got them in the net. We caught them with a
hook when we was trout fishing.
RW:We used to catch them hell divers in the net.
EW:Yes, we used to catch hell divers in the net.
BE:What is a hell diver?
EW:It is a little form of a duck.
RW:No, it is not the It is the breed.
EW:I will tell you what I did catch one time. A cormorant had a
clam stuck on his bill. He could not get loose from it, and
it drowned. I guess he saw the clam was open, you know, and
he went in there to get the clam, and the clam just clamped
down on him. He had not been dead too long. Then another
time we found a cormorant with a trout about that long. He
tried to swallow it, and he could not get it up and he could
not get it down, and he drowned.
BE:They use them for fishing in the Orient. They put a ring
around their neck, tie them up, and let them go down and get
a fish. [Then they] shake it out of him [and] put him back
EW:And the one that comes in and does not have a fish, gets a
paddling and they throw him back overboard. I saw a movie
of that. It was so interesting to watch.
K:I always wondered if the Calusa ever did that with the
cormorant. There is no way of knowing.
BE:Well, with all of the small fish, too. So you think the most
important areas for fishing on Cayo Costa were the passes?
EW:For mullet in mullet season I am sure that that was true.
BE:And how about out in the harbor?
EW:Well, I think they used to have to have a beach or something
to back them up because they had to haul those fish up.
See, those mullet did not gill in the net at all. It was a
small-mesh net, so they just roped them in like a blanket or
BE:It was a stop net?
EW:No, [it was] a seine.
BE:What is the difference between a seine and a stop net?
EW:Well, they use stop nets to go along the edge like on that
island over there. Ask Earl. He used to use stop nets.
They used to tar them to preserve them so the fish would not
stick to them, I guess.
BE:So they were great big long nets.
E:Yes. They were only about thirty deep and run along
EW:They are not that deep because they did not use those in deep
E:They run them along the reefs or long.
BE:So you would close off a whole bay or something.
E:No, the beach.
EW:No, like an island. They used the island like a background.
See that island over there? Well, when the tide is low, all
of that goes dry in there underneath those mangroves and
BE:So you set the stop net on the high tide and then pull it up
[on the low tide]?
E:You pull the seine around them holes, see. That tide will go
out, and these fish will come down to that hole.
EW:See, there are little dips in the ground, and there would be a
little puddles of water.
E:You would have a bank net, see.
EW:They would get in there with a dip net or a cast net.
E:You had what you would call a bank net. You pull your bank net
up, pull your seine over on it, then you put the fish in the
bank net. You clean the seine out. Then you haul your fish
out and dump them on the boat.
BE:Did you discard the fish you did not want--the trash fish?
E:We did not have any, hardly. The and stuff like that,
WE:Golly, we used to catch a lot of sting rays. Do not tell me
[any thing different].
E:Sting rays is all. But what I mean is they would die. One of
these was just like
BE:How many pounds of fish could you get in a stop net?
E:It is surprising. I would hate to say how many you would get.
E:Oh, yes. Donald he came to
one time. He hauled them to the fish market, and
they told him not to bring more fish in. They had too many
fish. So he had to cut them loose. I do not how many he
EW:Sometimes you did not catch anything.
BE:Did you catch a lot of sawfish?
EW:Not a lot. Sometimes you would catch the little ones.
E:We used to get a few of them. Recently we do not catch any no
more. We used to get them up about like that.
BE:Do you think there were more blue crabs back then than there
E:Yes, I know it.
EW:I do not know if there was any more, but, boy, there were
plenty of them.
BE:They caused you a lot of work, did they?
EW:Oh! Sometimes they would get in your net, and they would chew
it up. They would not just cut around them, you know. They
would just reach all around. Oh, [it was] some mess! I was
fishing with Jake Darna, [and] he had a fish lighter down
there they were living in. We used to go fishing together.
It tickled me because he always wanted to get the catching
size, you know.
EW:He said, "How could that happen?" [laughter] I said, "Well,
good luck happens to me once and a while you know." I
laughed. I got a big kick out of that. So it took him two
days to mend his net so he could go back fishing.
BE:Did you fish any of the little creeks?
EW:Oh, no. We used to go in there and cast net the creeks.
BE:With a cast net, like Sister's Creek?
EW:I never fished in that country. Most of my fishing has been
in this part of the world. We used to go in these creeks
and wait for the mullet to come in. They would go inside to
go feeding. We would stand on one side, and they would go
in there and we would cast net them. Ralph used to do that
BE:Is where big black mullet come from--the ten-pounders?
EW:Well, I never caught one that weighed ten pounds. That is a
fish story. [laughter] Did you [ever catch one that big]?
BE:I know Louis went up in Sister's Creek one night and every
mullet he had was over nine pounds. There were about twelve
of them in the box. One was twelve pounds.
EW:I will bet you he got way back there in one of them back bays
that has been there a hundred years.
RW:I have never seen one that big.
BE:We had it mounted.
EW:James Coleman used to tell us about those big mullet.
RW:He talked about back in the sand flats in some of that land-
locked area back there that they got that big.
E:You take that right up there, that bowl of sand, they hauled it
one time they tell me. They twenty-five- or forty-pound
mullet out of there.
BE:That is kind of big mullet--thirty-five or forty pounds.
E:I have been told that by the older people.
EW:That is a fish story. I do not believe that.
E:They went in there and hauled it, and they got thirty-five or
forty great big mullet.
EW:I know that some of these places that are land-locked [might
have some big ones].
BE:They get trapped in there. There is not many of them in those
RW:There cannot be. They cannot survive.
EW:They figure [that those fish got in there when] a bird had
caught a mullet that had the roe in it or something, and
[the fish] dropped the roe in that [land-locked pool of
water]. Maybe [it was[ a fish hawk or something like that.
BE:Do you ever catch any sharks in your nets?
EW:Not now. We used to.
BE:What kind were they? Bonnetheads?
EW:I image they were black tipped sharks. They have the black
tip on the tail and fin.
BE:Do you eat shark?
EW:Not yet! [laughter] [I eat neither] catfish nor shark.
BE:Why do you figure that nobody eats a shark? I mean, I guess
they do now.
EW:Oh, yes. You can go into any market and buy shark now, even
the restaurants have got them.
RW:James is crazy about it.
BE:I know Alfonso [Darna] told me one time they cooked up an old
shark and grilled it up and gave it to [his brother] Louis
[Darna] and told him that it was good. They did not tell
him what it was. Louis found out it was a shark, and he
still has not taken a fish from Fonso since then.
And catfish too? You have never eaten a catfish or a stingray?
EW:No armadillo, no frog legs, no rattlesnakes, no catfish, no
sharks, and no stingray . yet, I said!
BE:How about pinfish and pigfish, and some of the little fish?
EW:I have eaten a lot of those.
K:Some are pretty tasty. I have had those. Grunts and pinfish.
EW:I have eaten a lot of pinfish.
RW:Tell him how you used to catch the pinfish with a washpot.
EW:Yes. When we lived in Dunedin on Haily's Key, my Dad used to
go grouper fishing. He used to be fishing a net spread out
over the water, and when we cleaned fish there would be all
kinds of those pin fish come there, you know. I do not know
why we did not try to get some kind of line, but my mother
had a big pot like this that she used to cook all kinds of
stuff. Everything that was in the kitchen she would put in
the pot and make a stew or soup out of it. So we took this
pot and mashed up a lot of fiddler crabs and put down there,
and the pinfish would go in there, and we would put the lid
on them. We did not scale them. We just took the guts out
of them and put them in a big pan and put them in the oven
and that is what we ate. We thought they were delicious,
and we had a lot of fun doing it. She would say, "All I
have to say is 'clean [up] your mess. Do not leave no
EW:What is this sailor's choice? Is that a pigfish?
RW:No. Well, there are a number of fish they call a sailor's
choice. Some people call pinfish a sailor's choice. There
is another fish that has a spot on its tail that they call a
sailor's choice, and I think that is a true sailor's choice.
Also, other fish that we have around here that we call a
perch some people call [that] a sailor's choice too. So I
think that name has been attached to a number of different
fish. But the true sailor's choice, I think, is the one
with the spot.
EW:And it is wider than a pinfish.
BE:Do you think that is a good-eating fish?
BE:Sailor's choice, I mean that spot, seems to be preferred. I
have seen a lot of fishermen who instead of bringing them to
the fishhouse still throw them aside for themselves.
K:There is a lot of spot and perch in the Indian middens.
RW:Yes. They are both a light-colored meat. They are not dark
meat. Anything with dark meat is strong.
EW:Where do you all find all of this stuff?
K:Well, all around. Many of the islands out here have big
BE:We worked on Buff Key and took all of the fish bones out of
the shell mounds and identified them. And we worked down
there on Jocelyn Island and Pine Island.
EW:Did you ever go to Gulf Island?
BE:Gulf Island? Yes.
EW:Did you find any treasures there?
BE:We never found any treasure.
EW:Did you ever find any beads?
BE:Beads here and there, yes.
EW:Let me show you some beads that this kid gave me. I do not
believe they came from the Indian mound, but that is what he
BE:That would be interesting.
RW:We have been in touch with a couple of people. This one in
particular she is talking about has been out raiding the
damn mounds before you all got there. He has found a number
of different items which they identified and felt were
worthwhile to keep. This kind of stuff they do not know
what the hell it is. They would never take them anywhere
and get them identified.
EW:We used to have a mound down here, but it is all washed away
now. There is nothing there but just a few clam shells.
BE:A lot of the sites in the harbor here have been washing in for
years. Between the developers and the rising sea levels and
the treasure hunters they are really taking them down pretty
RW:Well, the really odd thing is that so much of the stuff we
found is a lot of pottery, and you can still find pottery
lying around on the beach out here. Until just a few years
ago we did not know what the hell it was or what good it was
or anything else. I even found one piece one time that had
some designs [and] some markings on it, which is rare. You
do not find that kind of stuff.
EW:They found some arrowheads down here and quite a few different
K:Well these [beads] are definitely Spanish, but I am not
familiar with Seminole material much at all. Can I take a
photograph and show it around and see if anybody recognizes
the type? Would that be alright?
EW:Sure. Just do not take my beads.
K:I will not.
EW:I just do not believe it. They took too commercialized.
BE:The Indians really revere those beads. They would sell their
land and give their wives away for beads. I do not know
what it was about it, but they were obsessed with them. And
some of them did end up in their burials.
RW:Well, that is all they really had.
EW:This girl had a set of beads that were more like glass but
they were not perfect. They were oblong and all kinds of
shapes. See, that is what I treasure.
BE:That is a nice piece of pottery.
K:This olive jar is Spanish. Did you know that? This is
Spanish. This is from an olive jar. They used them for big
storage jars. They brought olive oil over.
EW:Well, that came from that mound.
EW:This one down here. I had a lot of those things down there in
a bucket, and somebody went and dumped them all out. I do
not know what happened to them. Maybe they took them with
them. I do not know.
BE:When did you start guiding?
EW:Let me see. In about 1944 or there about. See that is what
my husband used to do. He fished in the summertime, and in
the wintertime he used to guide. After he passed away I
just took over.
BE:So he guided for trout and redfish? Or tarpon?
EW:No. He took out fishing parties.
BE:What did they fish for mostly?
EW:Anything they could catch. They would go out, say, about 8:00
or 9:00 in the morning and be back in about 1:00. They
would have the boat so full of fish they would not know what
to do with them. They would throw them overboard. He used
to get his parties up here on Tarpon Bay. There used to be
a dock down there. He used to get his people from the
Matthew's Hotel. The name has been changed since them.
Do you want to see these Indian beads?
BE:So he commercial fished?
EW:In the summertime.
BE:How about roe season? He fished for mullet in the winter?
EW:Yes. Earl used to be a fishermen and a guide. Now he cannot
even catch a fish to eat. [laughter]
BE:Well, that is the next thing that we are leading up to. What
do you think is the biggest change in the environment and in
the fish that you have seen in your lifetime?
EW:Oh, Lord, do not ask me that! In is unbelievable. There was
no time that I could not go out there at the head of the
dock and get a mess of fish, clean them, and cook them for
dinner that night. I have been out there for three or four
days and did not even loose a shrimp. That is unbelievable!
I never thought I would see the day that I could not go out
on the head of my dock and get a mess of fish.
BE:Why do you think that is?
EW:Too many fishermen. Well, I do not know. That is part of the
game, but you know there are a lot of fishermen. Then the
red tide kills a lot them, and they [fishermen in
powerboats] go over these flats where the fish lay their
little eggs. They churn the mud up and kill the grass roots
and stuff like that. That is the reason why all the stuff
is deteriorating because they [the fish] do not have enough
place to protect themselves.
K:Ms. Esperanza, you are right about that. There has been a
study done that shows that 30 percent of the sea grasses has
disappeared since 1930. I think you are right on.
EW:And the channels have changed, and they are deeper than they
were. There is no place for a fish to live or feed. There
is nothing there for him to stay for. They either die or
leave. I guess down around the Everglades and that section,
probably, the fishing down there is not quite so bad as it
is here. But they will take care of it eventually.
BE:Most of the fish around here are migratory? I mean, they come
around here different seasons. They come in the fall; they
come back in the spring?
EW:Well, I would not say that. I think that if a fish is left
alone and the feed is there, I think they stay there unless
something comes and disturbs them or scares or the feed
disappears. Like you, you are not going to stay where you
BE:No. They have to feed me if they like me!
EW:That is right. That is the way it is with the fish. If you
feed them and do not scare them and they are all right, why,
they stay there, at least I think. Only maybe when they go
to spawn or have sex or something like that. I imagine they
must have certain places that they go. I do not know.
BE:Well, the mullet are here when they are in roe, and the trout
and the redfish also. Have you ever seen a roe in a
EW:I do not think I have. Have you?
RW:I do not recall that I have, no. But, again, that is
something that people ask me questions about grouper and
redfish and snook. It is a rare occasion for some of them.
You do not catch that many fish anymore, and you never
remembered looking when you were catching a lot of them.
But I do not recall.
BE:I know I have gutted an awful lot of grouper, and I have never
seen a roe. That is why I asked the question where do they
EW:Up there where we call the club house there used to be a great
big high oyster rock. It was, oh, as long as this house.
We used to go out there back when my husband was alive, and
you could see the redfish on top of that thing just laying
around. We would go out there to catch a redfish to eat.
He would catch one, and if that did not suit him, why, he
would throw him back overboard. He would fish until he
caught the right size.
EW:Sure! He had a choice to pick from. But now with the net
fishermen, the tide, and everything else, there is nothing
out there now but white sand.
BE:Did you very fish with a monofilament net?
EW:A cast net but not a gill net. No. When I quit fishing the
last net I had was made out of flax.
BE:Do you remember any red tide on Cayo Costa?
BE:When is the first red tide you can remember.
EW:I cannot remember the year, but it was after I had moved here.
I imagine it was about forty years ago.
BE:After World War II?
EW:Yes. The worst one we ever had was the first one that I ever
saw. All along those woods there when the tide was low you
could see these red things up in the mangroves. It looked
like flowers. It was the mullets' roe. The red roe where
the mullet had drifted up there and died, and the roe was
still there. Roe is tough. It lasts a long time before it
BE:Even a pelican will not eat it. It is about the only thing a
pelican will not eat.
EW:I will tell you one thing. That pelican will not eat a
catfish no matter how hungry they are. They will not eat a
catfish! Did you know that?
BE:Have you ever heard of poison water?
EW:That is what they used to call red tide you know--poison
water. But I do not know. I remember one time, and I did
not know what it was all about. I had bought some nice big
shiners like this, and I had them in my [bait] well. I was
so happy I was going to go there up there around
They were catching a lot of trout up there, you know. I
looked down in the well, and my bait was doing this. I
said, "I wonder what in the world is the matter?" So I got
a bucket and dipped some water out of the bay and put in
there, and you know they all went down to the bottom dead as
a door nail. I could not figure out what had happened. I
was so disappointed and so mad. I guess I went to the fish
house over at St. James, and I got some ice. I went on up
there fishing, and there were two or three boats up there.
They were fishing too. They had dead bait I guess. Anyhow
one of these guys said, "What kind of bait you got?" I
said, "I got dead shiners." He said, "So have I." He said,
"What happened?" I said: "I do not know. I had some
beautiful bait, and all of a sudden they were down in the
bottom of the boat." He said, "You know why I think it is?"
I said, "No. I have no idea." He said, "It is that damn
poisoned water." I said, "Sure enough." He said: "Yes. It
is all over the bay. Same happened to me. I got up before
daylight this morning. I caught my bait. I had the lid on
the well, and by the time I got out to where I wanted to
fish, everyone of them was dead." I said, "Well, I iced
mine." He said: "Well, they might bite those. I do not
know. But I have not had a bite with dead shiners." I got
a few trout, but I did not do as well as I expected.
BE:I have heard a lot of old timers say that somewhere around
1918 or so, right after World War I, there was some poison
water, at least over in Cape Hayes and the Placida area.
Maybe there was not that much of it out on Cayo Costa around
the passes or something. But I definitely got things like
that happening further up in the bay.
EW:Well, we had some last year around Captiva [Island] in the
Gulf, but it did not come inside. Some of the dead fish
floated in, but I do not think we got any of the tide
BE:Do you think that the red tide is responsible for a lot of the
EW:Oh, sure. There is no doubt about that.
BE:How about winter kills--cold-water kills? Do you remember any
EW:Yes. It freezes a few of them, but I do not think that is as
bad as the red tide. Of course, we had a freeze in
December, and there was a lot of fish along the beach here.
BE:I was here for that.
EW:You scooped up a bunch of them, did you not? Mullet?
RW:Yes, I got some mullet.
EW:He kept a whole bunch mullet that were frozen.
K:Ms. Esperanza, how long does it take for the fish to come back
after a big red tide?
EW:How long? That is the sixty dollar question! [laughter] I
imagine it takes a long, long time.
BE:I hear that they used to have quite a grouper fishing industry
right off of Boca Grand Pass during World War II. The red
tide hit there around 1947, and they have not come back yet.
RW:No. We used to catch big grouper right off this dock here,
and they do not come around anymore either in any size like
they used to.
EW:In fact, we used to catch shark off of this dock.
BE:Do you think there are more red tides now? Are they more
common now than they were even in the 1940s? Do you think
there has been more or less since then?
EW:I really do not know.
BE:Seems like we skip a year and then we get two or three in a
year and skip another year.
RW:The first one we had, I would guess, was in the late 1940s,
as best as I can remember. That was a real bad one. Of
course, since then it has progressed to where almost every
year you have some, somewhere. It may not be in the bay
here, but somewhere in the St. Pete area it starts and then
comes down the Gulf out there. It is definitely more
prolific now than it was back then.
EW:Well, these scientists they are so smart and they can figure
out everything, but I do not think they know yet what causes
all of that. They think they do, and they tell you what
they think it is.
BE:I was reading the old newspaper articles when they first came
down here in 1950. They said they were going to have it
cured in two years.
BE:They set up Moat Marine Research over there, and they had it
all figured out. They said a cure was expected in two
EW:I do not think they can do anything about it because it is
such a great, big, tremendous area. How are you going to
protect all of that stuff?
BE:Have you got any ideas yourself as to what might cause that?
EW:No. I think that it is something that grows in the water--
some kind of allergy or something. I do not know just what
it is. They claim that it is in the water all the time, but
in certain times it gets so thick that it starts killing the
fish. The water is not poison. It is just the stuff that
gets in the fish's gills.
I know about three years ago my sister and I went up there to one
of these creeks. We were going to go fishing, and we found
this net fisherman out there. He said, "Are y'all looking
for fish?" We said yes. He said, "Well, go over there and
look on the bottom and you can find all you want." My
sister said, "Well who wants dead fish?" He said: "Oh! The
red tide hit along that cove there, and a school of trout
[got caught]. They are good. I caught a few in the net,
but I do not have a dip net or anything." I said, "Well,
why do you not jump overboard and dive them up?" He said:
"Oh, no. I do not think I want to do that."
So we had a dip net, and we went over there and sure enough there
were trout about like that. There must have been a whole
school of them that were running from the tide. We had a
dip net, and we caught several that were already dying.
They would come to the top, and we would dip them. We
almost fell overboard. The water was about that deep. I do
not know why we did not get overboard and pick them up in
BE:Who wants to go in that water with the red tide?
EW:Well, I do not think that it will hurt you.
BE:I know people who pick the fish up by the boatload when they
are still wiggling and brought them in to the fishhouse and
sold them to me. But it does not hurt the fish any. You
can still eat them.
EW:That is what they say, but I would not want to eat one.
BE:Of course, they are hard to sell during the red tide. Nobody
wants to buy them.
EW:But these fish were in good shape. You can tell a fish if he
is bad by his gills. If it is black, leave it alone. But
if it is red, it is okay. So we picked the fish up and
looked at the gills. If it was alright, we put him in the
boat; if it was a little bit tainted, we did not fool with
it and we threw it overboard.
BE:Have you ever found any cancers in fish when you clean them,
big, rotten boils?
EW:We caught a jewfish one time that had a great big glob of
something about like that on one of the edges. You could
see the eye of a hook sticking out. Somebody had caught
that jewfish, and he had broke the line. That hook was in
him. It was just laying in his stomach with all this goo in
there. We cut him open, and there was the hook. It was
just as clean as it could be, and that thing was eating that
hook up. Only the eye was still [there]. You could tell
that it had been a good hook.
BE:Did you ever do any scalloping?
EW:Not commercially. We used to get some to eat up on Tarpon Bay
at low water. You used to could go up there and pick them
up by the washtub full.
BE:Did you dip them?
EW:No. We picked them up with our hands. One bit him [Ralph]
one time. He got so mad he squashed that scallop. He was
just a tyke you know. Oh, he was so mad. It made his
finger bleed. Boy, he was a mad kid.
BE:There were lots of scallops around? Whenever you wanted them
you could go out and dip them up?
EW:Up until the time they built that causeway. That fixed all
the scallops in this section.
BE:When was that built? In the 1950s?
RW:In 1962, I think, they opened the damn thing.
BE:Do you think that had a lot to do with the water flow in
EW:Oh, sure. Definitely. Absolutely.
BE:Was it right around the 1960s, the same time as the causeway
opened, that the scallops really declined.
EW:In this section of the world.
RW:The state biologists told them it would happen. There was no
question in anybody's mind that it was going to happen. A
guy named Woodward, I guess it was, worked with the state
biologist at the time. He told them flat out.
EW:Well, this whole island is washing away for that matter.
BE:Have you ever eaten any pearl oysters?
EW:Yes. They are delicious.
BE:Do you collect them yourself?
EW:Not anymore. Even they have deteriorated.
RW:They are scarce, too.
BE:Were there lots of them around? I mean, if you were pulling
nets and getting pinclams you would know it.
EW:Yes. There used to be a lot of them around.
BE:Did you ever use that heron that is in there for anything--
that seasilk that they burrow down in the mud with?
EW:When we lived on Cayo Costa there was an old woman over there.
They used to call her a witch. She used to take that hair
and clean it, and then if she had an ear ache or any kind of
ache, she would put some kind of junk in that hair and put
it on there. I do not know whether it did any good or not,
but if you believe in it, I guess it helps. But she swore
that that was good.
BE:You have never seen anybody twist that up and make line or
twine or anything out of it? It seems like it would be such
good stuff to use.
EW:Probably. It is pretty strong you know. You cannot hardly
break it. We used to take it when we were kids and make
mustaches out it. We were just kidding, just messing
BE:Did you ever eat conchs?
EW:Oh, yes. We used to eat those.
BE:How did you prepare them?
EW:Well, I never made a stew out of them, but I ate some one
time. We ground up some welts and made a soup or a stew or
BE:Did you grind them though?
EW:He did. He ground them into little bitsy, tiny pieces.
BE:Do you know how they got them out of the shells?
EW:I guess he busted the shells. My dad used to eat those little
ones like that. He used to take them and put them over some
coals and cook it, and them he would eat them. He said they
were delicious. But I do not know. I thought they would be
kind of tough. But I bet if you could ground up some little
ones they would be good in a stew or soup. Even if you do
not eat the meat, the broth would be good.
I have eaten coquina broth.
BE:Yes. I have had that.
EW:It is delicious. Some of it is kind of sandy. [laughter]
BE:On shell fish, on oysters and clams, what time of the year did
you prefer to eat oysters and clams?
EW:Well oysters are not very good [during the summer]. [Oysters
are good] only in the wintertime when it is cold. And the
clams, we eat them most anytime of the year. We used to. I
am afraid to eat a clam now unless I know exactly where they
came from. There are so many bugs.
BE:But there is a lot less clams and oysters here?
EW:Oh yes. The tourists are about to wreck the clam beds.
EW:[I do not know if] you can buy those anymore.
BE:They are still making them.
BE:I think they make them at the fishhouse. We had them. They
call them spuds.
EW:I have one that I have had for I do not know how long. I have
seen the tourists out there on the mud flat where they see
those things. They feel them, and then they just dig them
up with that. There would be two or three of them.
Everybody would have his own digger.
BE:You know, there is a lot of those old green demi john bottles
all over Cayo Costa and Useppa Island and around. Do you
know anything about them?
EW:I know we used to have a whole bunch of them, and now we do
not even have one.
BE:Were they the five-gallon bottles--the big round green ones?
EW:Well, they were about four gallons. They had wicker on them.
BE:They had straw wrapped around them?
EW:They used to come from Cuba. I have handled a many of those,
too. We had a whole bunch of them, and we carried them back
here in the bayou and tied them to the mangrove roots with
ropes. Of course, we did not have any use for them, and I
guess the high tides and the hurricane tides washed them all
BE:There are a lot that seem to be floating around the harbor.
Do you think that they were used for water bottles after
they were emptied?
EW:No. They were only used for what was in them.
BE:What was in them?
EW:Well, there was, I guess, shine. They called it aguadin. It
came from Cuba.
BE:Aguadin was rum?
BE:And moonshine would be . ?
EW:Well, it was white. Some of them call it lightning.
BE:What was red whiskey? Was that the same thing as aguadin?
EW:No. Aguadin was white--pure, all white. It would knock your
head off if you smelled of it. I do not know how they could
drink it. But I have handled a many of those [bottles], I
can tell you that much.
BE:When the early settlers on Cayo Costa sold their fish to the
Cubans would they get some aguadin back and some money?
EW:No. No money. Money? Nobody knew what that was. They just
traded back and forth whatever they had.
BE:Would you get any of your fishing supplies or anything--oil
for your lanterns or anything?
EW:No. They used to have some kind of [food]. I do not know
what it was. I guess it was made out of wheat because it
was brown. It was like a flour, and they used to bring a
lot of that in. They used that sort of like a dessert.
They put sugar and milk in it, and they used that from these
Cuban smacks. And they would bring olive oil and
knickknacks [and] stuff like that. And they traded some
fish or whatever the islands used to have.
BE:Where did you get money from?
EW:Ha! I do not remember seeing any money until I was grown.
Arthur Coleman's mother had a little boarding house. She
had about five or six fishermen living with her, and they
paid her, I think, $20 a month for room and board. I used
to go and help her wash and scrub all day long for twenty-
five cents a day. Gosh. I do not know how I lived.
BE:When the Punta Gorda Fish Company started coming into that
area, was the fish sold to them?
EW:Well, at that time, the name of the fish company from Punta
Gorda was Shabbick Brothers. Then later the Punta Gorda
Fish Company took it over.
BE:And they had a run-boat that would come around?
EW:We had a run-boat that used to come up there in Tarpon Bay and
pick up our fish.
BE:You would have a running account with them for supplies?
EW:Well, if she wanted groceries or shoes or anything, we would
just write up an order and send it back on the fish boat.
The next boat would bring it down, and they would deduct it
out of your pay.
BE:But they would give you some money if you had any coming?
EW:Yes, a little bit. Have you ever heard of Harry Gooley who
was in Punta Gorda? He was the big shot at the Punta Gorda
Fish Company. We always sent our orders and addressed our
grocery stuff to him, and he would take care of it. I mean,
he was really good. If it was in Punta Gorda, you got it on
the next boat. I know him personally. He was a good guy.
BE:How about during the slow season when you were not really
catching fish? Could you still run an account with the fish
BE:And then come run season, they would just take it out of your
EW:Yes. They used to buy nets and boats and everything else for
the guys. I imagine when they went out of business they
lost a lot of money from debts that these fishermen had
never paid out. In fact, I guess some of them did not want
to pay. [laughter] And they used to own a lot of the boats
that they used to fish on.
BE:Were you familiar with Gasparilla Village? Do you know
anybody over in Gasparilla Village or Perkins [Ranch] Cove
over there? It seems like there was an entirely different
set of fishermen over there, and a lot of them came from Key
West originally. I guess fishermen are about the most
independent people there are, do you not think [so]?.
EW:Well, I guess so.
RW:Well, there was not a hell of a lot of traveling done, though,
even when I was young. To go from here to Cayo Costa was an
all-day trip, and that happened maybe once every three or
four or five years.
BE:Did you get run off of Cayo Costa in 1910?
EW:By what, the hurricane?
BE:No. I heard they asked everybody to leave Cayo Costa in 1910.
EW:Well, I heard that the government ran some of the families
that lived there [off], but I never heard it when I was a
BE:You were still living there?
EW:In 1910, yes. We moved from the Macadow place in 1910 to Cayo
Costa. That is when they started building there. The
families bought lots, and they built houses.
BE:They had the school on Cayo Costa then?
EW:Yes. That is the school I went to.
BE:Then they moved that to Punta Blanca?
EW:I do not know if they moved the house, but they had a
schoolhouse on Punta Blanca. I have a picture of that
somewhere in there, where the kids are getting in the boat.
It is from the news press. That is a valuable piece of
BE:It sure is.
EW:I bet there is not anybody else who has got one like it.
BE:When the Punta Blanca school closed, is that when they set up
the school on Boca Grande?
BE:Everybody from Cayo Costa went to Boca Grande to go to school?
EW:Well, some of them moved to Bokeelia. A lot of the Darnas
that went to Bokeelia--Helen Darna, Jake Darna, and I think
that Arthur Coleman's wife lived there.
BE:Yes, I talked to Nellie a couple of weeks ago for quite a
EW:I have not seen her in ages, but a lot of the Darnas and
Colemans [who] lived there at Bokeelia. I think that Boca
Grande was too fancy for them.
BE:It seemed like the people that came from Cayo Costa lived on
the northern part of Gasparilla Island, and the people from
Gasparilla Village and Perkins Cove and Placida lived on the
south side. In the middle you had all the old rich from up
North. On one small island they seemed to keep the people
away from each other. It is not much different today.
EW:When my grandfather lived on Cayo Costa, I do not think that
there was any other family there but just his immediate
family and maybe two or three of the men who worked for him.
The people who lived there were all related one way or
another. I guess he was a hard-boiled old customer.
[laughter] He did not like a lot of strangers around.
BE:No. I guess the people on Cayo Costa always were kind of
independent, and nobody really knew what they were up to.
Even during the Civil War they had problems because they did
not pledge any allegiance to anybody. They claimed to be
Spanish, and they educated their children [in Cuba]. They
said they sent their children back to Cuba to go to school.
Of course, they got run off during the Civil War. They ran
everybody off of Cayo Costa.
EW:Well, the first teacher that I had was named Captain Peter
Nelson. Now, I know that you have heard of him. He was a
great old guy, I will tell you.
RW:I am running out of tape here. Do you want to tell me again
what your name is and what you are going to do with the
information that you have gathered here?
BE:Sure. My name is Bob Edic, and I am an anthropologist for the
Florida Museum of Natural History. I am collecting
information for the Oral History Department for the
University of Florida also. What we are trying to do is
recover some of the oral history that only the senior
pioneer people in this area possess. [We want] to archive
it so that we have that information for the future. We
really do not plan to do any newspaper articles or anything
like that from the information.
EW:Where is that?
BE:It is in Gainesville, the Florida Museum of Natural History.
EW:You are not going to put anything in the paper about your
BE:We do not do newspaper articles to speak of.
EW:Well, I think you ought to put a write-up about [it]. You
know, you do not exactly go into details but say that you
have been looking around trying to get some information from
BE:We do, in general.
RW:That is when he gets interviewed. Somebody comes and
interviews him and finds out what he has learned, and then
they put it in a paper.
BE:I try to stay pretty low key on what I tell people out of
EW:They should put something in the paper different that all of
this killing and raping and all. I do not even look at the
BE:There is a lot of important information there, and it directly
relates to how the Indians fished out here. It helps us
recognize different artifacts when we see them too. This is
a list of some of the people [I have interviewed]. I am
sure that you know a whole lot of them on there that I have
either worked with or plan on working with. These are the
questions that I am really interested in and what we talked
about there. We are trying to get some of that information
EW:Well, we thank you.
BE:What we are planning on doing as part of the Lee County Year
of the Indian Project is to get just a little bit of this
information together to put into the school system so that
the kids in school can understand how the pioneer fishermen
had to deal with some of the same problems that the Indians
did and how they managed to do it without taking the last
fish out of the resource. The amazing thing is that the
Indians fished here for 6,000 years, and when they got wiped
out here, all the things that they caught and the
environment that they fished in is still here. All the same
fish and same species [are still here today].
EW:It is amazing to me [how] all of that stuff has kept all these
BE:In the last fifty years or so, things are really starting to
be depleted. I would not want to project what is going to
happen in the next fifty years. Supposedly, when you buy a
fishing license, a third of that money goes into hiring new
Marine Patrol [officers] to make sure you have a fishing
license, a third of the money goes into studying the
environment and the fish, and the other third of the money
is supposed to go for restocking programs. Do you think
there is any chance of restocking the fish back into the
EW:I am afraid not. They waited too long to clamp down on the
rules and the regulations, I think. I do not know. Maybe I
am wrong. That is like the old saying goes: They locked
the barn after the horse or cow or whatever got away. That
is the way with the fishing industry. After it is all
deteriorated and gone, now they are trying to do something
about it. But I do not know. It is going to take years and
years and a lot of work to ever get it back. The worse part
of it is the people who catch the fish would not eat a fish
on a bet. They will take it and kill it, take pictures of
it or show it, and then they throw it in the garbage or
BE:Do you think that all of the laws that have been made favor
the sport fishermen over the commercial fishermen?
EW:Oh, sure. That is why they are protecting the fish. They do
not care anything about the fishermen.
BE:Why do you think that is?
EW:I do not know. They just do not think a fisherman has got any
background, I guess. I do not know. Everybody thinks
[that]. "Why, are you a fisherman? Why? What do you do
BE:They should not have to do much else. I mean, they did it
here for 6,000 years.
EW:My stepson was sick, and somebody went down to Bailey's
Grocery Store years ago. They were asking if they would
take a donation up to send him to the hospital. He [the
stepson] did not have anything to do with it [nor did] the
family. It was just an outsider. So they went to this
guy--old Ernest Bailey, you know--and he said: "Why, Sam
Woodring? Why, he is just a common fisherman. Why should
we help him?" I said: "I wish I had been there. I would
have told him off." That is the attitude. "A fisherman?
Why, he is degraded. He is not anything!"
BE:All of the litigation, rules, and regulation make it kind of
hard to make a living off of commercial fishing anymore,
does it not?
EW:You are telling me! When you stop to think about all of what
they have to pay for those boats and nets. Oh!
BE:Fonso says he is going to have to hire a lawyer to go fishing
with him because he dose not know what he can keep and what
size net he can use or anything. [laughter]
EW:[laughter] Well, there is a lot to that, I will tell you.
RW:That is true. But, see, there is a lot of people fishing
either part time or full time that are not from the old
school. They are people that come in here from other
places. They really do not give a damn about the
environment or anything else. All they are looking to do is
make a living.
BE:And they outnumber you ten-to-one or a hundred-to-one.
RW:They sure do, and a lot of them are part-timers, you know.
They will be firemen or policemen or whatever. They get
three days off every now and then. They can afford to have
a net and boat that does not work except for that period of
time. They go when the tides are best and everything and
catch as many fish as they can, and the rest of the time
they have got a steady income anyway. If it does not work
out, why, they do not have to fish except when everything is
at its peak. They knock hell out of things too.
EW:Earl said something that I have never heard before. He says
that you are not supposed to cast-net over the weekend.
E:You are not supposed to catch mullet over the weekend. Have
you heard that?
EW:Is that a law now?
RW:[You are not] supposed to catch mullet over the weekend.
Commercial fisherman [are not supposed to catch them]
either, for that matter. They did that for themselves. In
other words, they do not want to fish on the weekends, so
they fixed it so you and I cannot fish on weekends either.
BE:I heard the logic behind that was that all of those weekenders
[were catching the fish]. The only time they get a chance
to fish was when they are not working their other job on the
E:Yes, I will go with that.
BE:So by closing it for Saturday and Sunday it keeps them out of
the way of the commercial fishermen. How does the weather
know? How come every time there is a northeaster it comes
on Friday night? [laughter] I mean, is that not what
happened all of this year?
RW:Yes. You have got a lot of that nonsense.
EW:Well, it is just like you having to have a fish license if you
fish. Well, I have not ever seen a boat come in here and
inspect any of these boats out in here. I know some of them
must be fishing. They are not all running. How are they
going to get by with all of that?
BE:The people that make up all of these rules and regulations,
are they fishing-oriented people? Do they know anything
about fishing or fishermen?
RW:Well, some. They have got this Marine Fisheries Commission
that projects most of this stuff or comes up with the rules
and then passes them on to the legislature to make them into
law. You know, they have got a couple of guys on it that
have been boat captains or whatever and who do some sport
fishing or whatever. But the problem there is just like
anything else: It gets political. OK. [For instance], you
go down to the city hall, and you have got something coming
up. The people who are either dead set for it or dead set
against are the ones who are there raising hell about it,
and the people in the middle really do not care. So you do
not really get a true picture of what is needed or wanted
most of the time. So they just go with the flow. Whoever
shouts the loudest is the one that gets the help, and by no
means [is it that] you have got the right formula for
helping or saving or trying to help the fishing industry.
It is a real hard question because you just flat do not
know. First off, you do not what causes it to go this way.
I mean you can blame it on one thing, or you can blame it
on a hundred different things. Probably either one way or
the other would still be right.
So then they try to correct it. One thing they said was so bad
over here was the damn fogging for mosquitos. [Doing it]
over marshes and places really crippled everything up, and I
think that probably has a great bearing on it.
But the other thing I read once somewhere--and I have never been
able to find the article again (I thought it was in the
National Geographic magazine)--was that the rain and
freshwater comes down off of the highlands down into the
sandflats and then on to the saltwater, creating a thin skim
of fresh water on top of the salt [water]. [That mixture in
the estuary] is about 1,000 times more prolific as far as
the growth of shrimp and small microscopic stuff than any
other place. Even out here it is nothing compared to that
because you need that temperature and you need that thin mix
of fresh and salt. You do not have that anymore.
You know, back here they screwed up Big Most of the
other islands up here never had any amount of it until you
get to Cayo Costa, [which] had some of it. Of course, they
are working on that now, whittling it up.
So if you do not have an area that is properly designed by nature
to promote the growth of the stuff, that fouls it up. But,
again, that would tie in with the thing about the mosquito
control, too. Because that is where they were actually
fogging. Anything that was alive there [was killed]. Of
course, it is microscopic and very subject to damage from
any kind of spraying or outside influence. Probably that
one thing had more to do with knocking hell out of the
seafood so fast.
You know, within ten years' time it is totally unbelievable how
much it has gone downhill. It has not been quite ten years
ago that things were [much better. Things were] not like
they were twenty years ago, certainly. But you still could
go most anywhere and catch a mess of fish to eat. At this
point, we are hard pressed to catch the damn mullet.
You know, I have got the bait box up there. We keep mullet up
there all the time--fresh mullet for the tarpon fisherman or
whatever. You can catch anywhere from fifty to one hundred
at a time. Generally, we can catch that many right around
the beach here. Now Earl and I have to go and just fram
hell out of the area to come up with a hundred head of
mullet. It is like that with most anything--trout, redfish,
snook, or whatever. You see a few here and there from time
BE:Do you think that the invention of the glass [monofilament]
net took more fish?
RW:Oh, it has had some effect. But, again, I would say that is
one of the factors. But, you know, what the hell. If the
fish are not here, they are not going to catch them anyway.
BE:If you have got 100 boats running around out there scattering
them up all of the time, [that hurts the fish, too].
RW:Yes, anything you can think of. The causeway thing definitely
has had some effect. The different nets [also have had an
effect]. The one thing that I say they ought to outlaw [is]
the damn outboard boats--period. They say if you want to
run your net out, you run it out with a damn pole like you
used to. That would eliminate all of these assholes, I call
them, because they would not be fishing. They would not
fish! They are going to do it the easy way. Most of these
guys do not have a pole in their boat at all. They have got
a little rowing oar. If they have to pole more that ten
feet, they either drift or they stay. They just do not go.
So they would never make it. I mean, I can remember the
time being in the boat when she pole the damn net out with a
long poling oar, and I guarantee you that you did not fool
[around]. You knew that there were fish there and that
there had to be plenty of them. Otherwise it just was not
worth it. Like they are having the problems over here with
the sanctuary. That is the thing I told them flat out.
"You outlaw that outboard motor in that area, and that is
going to end that problem."
BE:Right. In the grass flats, you cannot have all of them ass-
grinders back there just tearing the grass up.
RW:This does not say that you cannot go fishing. This does not
say whether you are a commercial fisherman or who you are.
You still could go do your thing, but you just cannot do it
[with a motor]. Like up in Virginia they still have got
sailboats up there to do the oyster fishing.
BE:That is right. If you want to do an oyster, you get a
RW:You better believe it. Just like back in the old days. I
firmly believe that would make a big difference. It does
not make any difference what the net is, who the guy is, how
big his boat or net is. Anything he thinks he can handle,
fine. Go to it. But you have got to pole it out. It is
going to eliminate the outboard motors.
The other thing that I think that has had a great effect is the
wake of the boats back in all of the mangrove areas. Used
to be we would go back anywhere back here and come up with a
mess of oysters. [They were] what they called coon oysters,
but they got big enough that you could eat them. Mom, for
years, would go back with a skiff and cut the roots off with
all of the oysters clumped on and roast them down here and
use that as a means of income [selling them to] the
tourists. Hell, you cannot find enough oysters back there
now to eat. You have got a skiff load of roots, but that is
all you have. The shells are there, but there is not much
BE:Do you think the closed season on mullet helped? When they
used to have the closed season in the middle of roe season,
do you think that helped at all?
RW:Oh, yes. There is no doubt about that. Of course, the reason
that went out, you know, is when they did the thing with the
snook--took the snook off of the commercial market--to
appease the commercial fishermen, they just took the closed
season [on mullet] out. Well, all that did was bring
quickly about the time when there would not be enough mullet
to catch either. So I really think it is dumb.
BE:Do you think they will let more fish get out in the Gulf to
BE:A lot of old fishermen surprise me. I mean, when you talk
about litigating their livelihood, [they] say the worst
thing they did was lift their closed season.
RW:Oh, yes. Absolutely. Everybody depended on it. I mean, they
had a closed season on mullet, they had a closed season on
trout, and you know when that time came you were going to do
something else. Earl and I were talking the other day. He
said that is the time you went ahead a took care of your
boats and nets and whatever business you had (you were going
on vacation, if you had any money) or whatever. That is the
time you did it. You knew it was coming every year, and you
just planned for it. Nobody starved to death. That would
be the time when the fish company would carry you if you had
to do that.
EW:And now you know what they do when the mullet are running?
They take and catch the mullet and cut the roe out. They
get a good price for that, but then they kill the fish.
BE:They throw the mullet back in.
E:It is $1.85 [per pound] this season for roe.
BE:For red roe?
RW:They get $15 or $20 a pound [for it] in Japan.
BE:Right. When did they start just fishing for the roe?
RW:Well, it has been a long time. I would say that back in the
1940s they did. I can remember when I was a kid hearing--
particularly where what we called "down south," south of us
in the Everglades area down there--that the mullet were
thick enough that they could actually do that and make money
then. Of course, I do not think the roe went overseas back
then. Nevertheless, there has always been a demand for the
roe and a hell of a lot more than [for] mullet. Mullet were
anywhere from six to eight or ten cents a pound at the max,
and the roe was probably two or three times that much. So
it has been going on for a long time.
EW:I was talking to a guy, and he said that they had been flying
over some area. He said the bottom was just white. He said
to the pilot: "What is all of that down there? Is that
fish? The guy looked down, and he said: "Hell yes! Some
guy loaded down with mullet and cut the roe out and threw
the fish back overboard." He said they landed right on the
bottom where they had cut the roe out of the mullet and
threw the mullet back out. If you kill the fish, you might
as well [sell the entire thing].
BE:I do not know. I can eat a roe here and there.
RW:Have you ever heard of those big runs of mullet? Are you
familiar with that?
RW:If you have not [experienced it] it does not mean anything to
tell about it. It is just like how thick the mosquitos used
to be. You tell people, and they just do not believe you.
BE:I have seen some pretty big pods of mullet come around Cape
EW:We used to have schools come in here when they were spawning,
and in about five years I have not seen a school of mullet
come in this bay.
RW:We do not see mullet in here in years. I mean, there used to
be small pods would come by here [during the] daytime,
nighttime, or something. You just flat do not see them.
They just do not come around here anymore--no size, no
shape, and no color.
BE:And the silver mullet either. I do not quite understand that.
The silver mullet never was exploited or gone after like
the black mullet.
RW:Well, I think that proves the other point: It is not just the
fishermen or the fishing industry that has put them down.
BE:That is right. It is pretty complex, and it is a little bit
of everything and a lot of a few things. Probably mostly
water and grass flats [being ruined].
RW:That is why there is no quick fix. You cannot say a closed
season is going to do it or all these damn rules and
regulations are going to do it.
K:I think a lot of it is the agricultural runoff coming out of
RW:That probably is as important at this time [as anything else
and that is] to stop the damn fogging. The agricultural
runoff is probably just as important or more so at this
point. But, again, that is something that will have to be
K:And urban runoff. All of these developments and all of the
BE:Yes, it is the canals and everything.
E:The silver mullet is .You catch them and catch
lots of them for bait. for bait--
fishing bait, grouper bait, you know. And you take the roe
out of them this time of year.
BE:Well, I would like to ask you to sign a release form here so I
can give this to the University, and they will make you a
copy of everything I said and mail it back to you. Plus, I
will take my fishing information out of there and make a
copy and mail you that back.
EW:All right. Have you got a pen?
BE:I sure do. We think this information is really important, and
they put a lot of work in it at the University, listening to
it, and transcribing it. But they will not put any work
into it at all if I do not have your signature.
RW:What are they going to do with it eventually? Where are we
going with it?
BE:They will take the original tape, seal it in an envelope, and
[End of interview]