Interview with Arthur (Bo) Smith, November 23, 1990

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Interview with Arthur (Bo) Smith, November 23, 1990
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Subjects / Keywords:
Fishing -- Florida
Fishers -- Florida
Fishermen -- Fisherwomen -- Women fish
Florida Fisherfolk Oral History Collection


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Florida Fisherfolk' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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Interviewee: Arthur G. "Bo" Smith
Interviewer: Bob Edic
October 23, 1990

E: [This is Bob Edic, and] I am interviewing Arthur George "Bo" Smith for the
University of Florida's Oral History Project, under the project name "Florida
Fisherfolk," at his home on Tarpon Street in Boca Grande, Florida. Today is
October 23, 1990.
Bo, state your proper name for me.
S: Arthur George Smith.
E: Where were you born?
S: I was born in Punta Gorda.
E: What year was that?
S: 1929.
E: How long have you been in the Gasparilla Island area?
S: I moved to Boca Grande when I was six years old.
E: Where was your father born?
S: He was born in Buffalo, New York.
E: When did he come here, approximately?
S: I guess it was about two or three years before I was born.
E: So he was here in the early 1920s. What was his occupation?
S: He was in the merchant marines. Then we went to Fort Ogden and had a big
orange grove there.
E: What was his name?
S: Walter Smith.
E: What was your mom's name?
S: Thelma Smith. I do not remember whether her middle name was Mary, [but the
initial was] M, anyway. Thelma M. Smith.
E: Was she from Florida?
S: Yes.

E: Where was she born?
S: She was born in Fort Myers. [Do] you know the Kozy Kitchen [restaurant] down
E: Yes.
S: That was her mother [and my grandmother], Laura Barnhill, [who ran the Kozy
E: Do you know her father's name?
S: He was the deputy sheriff here. John [was his first name].
E: How many brothers and sisters did you have?
S: None.
E: You were the only child?
S: Yes.
E: What was your wife's name?
S: Billie Jean [Polk] Smith.
E: How many children do you have?
S: Two: Timmy and Nancy.
E: That is about all of that I need. Basically, they like to see that the people have a
little heritage in the area here and that they just did not move down two years ago
and know everything.
S: My grandmother was here when I was born in Punta Gorda. She owned the Kozy
Kitchen. I used to come back and forth, so I have been here almost all my life.
E: She owned the Kozy Kitchen from about when to when?
S: Darn, I do not remember. I remember I came in on the train, and I just walked
across the street. She lived in back of it; the restaurant was in the front.
E: I hear some pretty good stories about that place.
S: Oh, I am telling you!

E: It does not have much to do with fishing, but it would make some interesting
S: I will tell you one thing about it. You never seen ten- and eleven-cent hamburgers
and ten-cent beer [like they had there].
E: When did you start fishing?
S: I was about thirteen, I guess. I started grouper fishing. I started fishing with Bill
E: That would be right around World War II?
S: Just before, yes.
E: We are really interested in the grouper fishing out there because it does not seem
to be there any more. From what I gather it was quite a viable resource here. A
lot of people made money off it.
S: I was making more money doing that than I was guiding.
E: Did you mullet fish also?
S: Oh, yes.
E: What do you think was the most important species of fish to you, economically?
From which one did you make the most money?
S: Well, I think I made more money when I was grouper fishing than I did from mullet.
Some years we would have a good year for mullet, and the next year would be a bad
year. Seems like every year grouper fishing [was good]. Why, I would catch 1,000,
1,500, or 1,800 pounds a day. We would leave at 4:00 in the morning, and we would
not get back in here until 7:00 at night.
E: How far did you go offshore for grouper?
S: Not very far. When I first started, we would just fish the other side of the bell buoy,
catching 800, 900, to 1,000 pounds a day.
E: That was hook-and-line fishing?
S: Yes.
E: Hand lines?

S: Hand lines. Then we had to move on out until we almost got out of sight of land.
Then we started going to thirteen to fourteen fathoms. At the end we were going
out to about sixteen or seventeen fathoms.
E: How far offshore would that be?
S: Well, let me see. Sixteen fathoms is about ninety-something feet. [Ninety-six feet.
E: What do you think happened to the grouper?
S: The red tide wiped us out! [There were so many dead fish floating that] it was like
plowing in a field after that first red tide we had.
E: What year was that?
S: I do not know. I had just been married a little while. I built that house on the
bayou up there, [and] that is when I lost it. We were struck with that red tide.
E: That was after the war?
S: Yes. I guess that was during the war.
E: I am sure we can come up with that date somewhere. A lot of people mentioned
it. I have not got it nailed down, but it sounds like somewhere between 1946 and
S: You just cannot believe the fish [that were floating]. It was just like getting out there
and plowing with a mule. You would be running in there and just plowing the fish
aside. There were just millions of them. Just as far offshore as you would go you
would be in them.
E: Was that up and down the coast or just isolated in this area?
S: No, it was all up and down pretty much.
E: How long did it take the grouper to come back after that?
S: Well, truthfully, they really have not ever come back like they were, unless you go
way offshore.
E: Now they seem to be fishing fifty or a hundred miles out.
S: Right. Back when I started--like I say, when I was about thirteen or fourteen years
old--we would just go out there just outside the bell buoy and catch 700, 800, to
1,000 pounds any day you wanted to.

E: Who all was involved in the fishing then?
S: It was mostly Sam Whidden, Bill Wheeler, Bill Hunter, Ted Bylaska, Paul Bylaska.
E: Did you sell all those fish to Tommy Parkinson?
S: Yes. He had an old truck that he would run to Gasparilla. [He went] back and
forth with that truck as we came in.
E: Did you ever see a roe in a grouper? Were they in roe at any season at all?
S: I do not know. I gutted many a one of them, but I cannot remember [seeing one
with roe].
E: It seems like a lot of people I have talked to say the same thing. They do not
remember seeing any roe in grouper.
S: I do not believe I ever really have.
E: Well, they probably were not coming in the pass to spawn, because they would have
had roe in them like a lot of the other fish [if they were].
S: Well, red grouper always stayed in the same spot. Back then you would catch eight,
ten, twelve pounds.
E: Was that what you caught mostly, red grouper, instead of black [grouper]?
S: Yes. Black grouper are like kingfish [king mackerel]. They migrate. This is the
time of year kingfish and [Spanish] mackerel are coming through.
E: What was the best season for grouper?
S: The hotel closed on July Fourth, I think it was, and we all started grouper fishing
in July. Right after the hotel closed there was not any place for the tarpon
fishermen to stay, and we would put our grouper boxes in.
E: You would think there would be more of a market for the grouper, though, when
the hotels and restaurants and everything were open here.
S: No, there was none sold here. They were all shipped out. The grouper were put
in box cars and shipped north.
E: They caught so many of them that they had more than enough to ship out.

S: Oh, yes. That went through September. We would fish a little in October, [but]
then the weather would start getting a little bad for our little boats, you know.
E: You used to mullet fish also?
S: Oh, yes. I use to mostly seine fish.
E: Is that different than stop netting?
S: Oh, yes. That is where you strike on the beach and pull them ashore. Then you
just bail them in the boat.
E: What size nets did you use for the seines? I mean, what would be the stretch mesh
S: Well, back then I guess it was [one] inch, inch and a half, something like that.
E: So you were not targeting any specific size mullet?
S: Well, if you got a bigger net you could gill it full and you could not handle them.
You have to have it small enough so they would not gill. That way you could just
bring them upside the boat, bail your boat full, and bring another boat up and bail
it full.
E: Did you use a bank net when you did that?
S: No.
E: You never did any stop netting?
S: I never did any stop netting.
E: On the seine net, what was the net material? Cotton or monofilament?
S: It was mostly cotton back then, and then they came in with nylon.
E: With cotton nets, did you have to lime or tar them to preserve them?
S: You had to lime and spread it just about every day. If you did not, that sun would
hit it and it would rot. Sam Whidden had a big old reel down there. I used to put
my mackerel nets and seines on it and just walk that thing up.
E: I have seen pictures of them here. Was that to stop the nets from rotting or

S: It stopped them from rotting with that fish slim in there. You had to lime it to kill
that fish slim, dry it, and then put it back on your boat.
E: Where did the lime come from?
S: From the Gasparilla Fishery, I guess. We would order it by the fifty-pound bag.
E: Did you ever hear of anybody making lime by burning shell or anything like that?
S: No. We would just buy it. It came in brown bags.
E: We know the Indians twisted their nets out of palmetto fiber, and they had to
preserve them too. I have been twisting some fiber and even making little parts of
it into nets. They were pretty strong, but I cannot see them catching any redfish or
trout or a snook in it.
S: Well, I am going to tell you. They did not catch them [redfish] in those cotton nets
either. A cotton net would just bust. When we switched to nylon, we would catch
one once in a while, but they would still bust it.
E: Do you remember [from] what size cord that cotton net [was made]? Did they have
different sizes?
S: Yes. It was #6 and #9. The #6 we used for a wing, and the bunt was a #9 twine.
That is what you hold all the fish in, you know.
E: So that was heavier cord?
S: Yes.
E: Did you do any gill netting?
S: Yes. I have done quite a bit of gill netting, but it was so much easier with that
seine. Of course, gill netting, I guess, you could always catch a few fish everyday.
With a seine you might not get a catch but once a week, but you would catch twenty
or thirty thousand or something like that, you know. Maybe it would be two or three
weeks before you catch anything. [And] you always had five or six men. You would
think twenty or thirty thousand was a lot fish, but by time you split it between five
and six people it really was not that many.
E: They were not all three- or four-pound fish, either?
S: No, they were not.
E: Did you have a market for the smaller fish?

S: Oh, yes. We could sell every mullet we caught.
E: And that went to the Gasparilla Fishery?
S: Yes.
E: And that was probably shipped up north, most of that, to the Atlanta or New York
S: Yes. They had box cars. They would weigh them and put them in them
wheelbarrows and carry them in there and dump them in box cars with a sheet of
E: They just put them head down or head up on something with ice on them?
S: [They] just dropped them in.
E: So they were not packed in boxes for sale. The whole car was mullet.
S: The whole car was just mullet on ice.
E: [In] what season did you catch the mullet?
S: [By] Thanksgiving you would catch a few fish, you know. Or [at] Halloween you
could catch a few. Then they would get in bigger bunches in November, December,
and January.
E: During roe season was when you had your biggest catches?
S: Yes.
E: Did you fish for them after they had spawned?
S: No. I usually quit and [would] go back to guiding the first of February.
E: How about summer mullet fishing? [Did you] ever do any of that?
S: Yes, I have done quite a bit of it. Old Woodrow Coleman and I each had a little
boat. And then I started with Johnny Downing.
E: What size nets did you use in the summer?
S: Well, we were using "6/8" netter'ss jargon for a 3.5" mesh]. Then we would go to
7/8 [3.75" mesh].
E: Is that critical, that 1/8 [difference]?

S: Oh, you better believe it! If that fish does not fit that nylon net, he would go
through it or get bounced off it.
E: You can use down to a 3" [mesh] net legally?
S: Yes. A lot of people fished earlier for smaller fish with 5/8 nets [3.25" mesh], but
I never did. When I started I just went with a 6/8, then a 7/8, and then I when to
a 4" [mesh].
E: So how many different net sizes did you have to own?
S: Well, back then that is about all [I had], counting the seine.
E: I mean, for the mullet nets.
S: I had three nets.
E: And the largest one was ...
S: A 4" [mesh].
E: So a 6/8, a 7/8, and a 4" [mesh] net would cover you for what you needed for
S: That is right. Well, they talk about mullet being so scarce now. I have seen back
then when you could not hardly catch any mullet. Now, of course, they get back in
these keys in these little boats with kickers [small motors], you know. We could not
do that [back them].
E: So there are fluctuations in mullet, too. If you do not get the [cold] fronts coming
through, you might not get a good run?
S: That's right! You always get them just ahead of a front.
E: And, of course, if there are a lot of fish, the price is down?
S: Yes. That is the way it always has been.
E: And when they are scarce the price is up? So even when everybody is catching a lot
of fish, still the price is down.
S: Yes. When I first started we were getting three and four cents [per pound], and then
they jumped up to six and eight cents a pound.
E: Did they have a closed season then?

S: Oh, yes!
E: And what was that?
S: It was a month. I think it was over Christmas, in that month.
E: So it was right in roe season, then?
S: Well, it was in roe season.
E: Do you think that did any good for the mullet and for the fishermen?
S: Yes, I do [think it did some good], because you could see bunches of mullet then,
and now you do not see those big schools like that much. You would go to a pass,
and you would see forty, fifty, sixty thousand pounds in a bunch.
E: Did that closed season keep the prices up on the fish?
S: No. They still ran six, eight, or ten cents a pound.
E: Now they close it on the weekends. Do you think that works or helps the fishermen
or the mullet?
S: Well, I know the last cold spell we had all the fish left out of here on the weekend,
and none of the boys got them here. In Venice they caught the devil out of them.
These fish left here and went up there.
E: Last year I was keeping track of it, and I think there were six cold fronts that came
through here, and five of them were on the weekends--either Friday or Saturday
S: That is the way it works.
E: Some people say they passed that law to keep the part-time fisherman out.
S: That is what they did it for, [to cut people off who] just fished weekends and then
go back to work.
E: There are a lot more people now fishing for mullet than there used to be.
S: Yes, but they have it now where you have to make a certain amount of money
fishing before you can get a license to catch mullet.
E: I guess they have to limit the number of people somehow.
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S: I guess so. If you did not, you could not get on the water for them.
E: There are only so many fish out there. Are there more people taking less fish, or
are there less fish out there?
S: I cannot say that. I still think there are just as many fish as there ever were. You
know, you think there are no fish. You go out two or three days and you do not see
any. All of a sudden you get a front, and I guess they come out of those rivers and
creeks and cuts, and there will be bunches of fish.
E: So really they are pretty weather dependent. The weather is directly related to when
they gather up and head out.
S: That is right.
E: How about pompano fishing? I heard you were one of the first ones to use a ring
ding. [A ring ding is a net that is curled at the end and is run out from the beach.
S: Yes. Old Buck Cole would go out at night, and he would come in with 100 [or] 200
pounds every night. I was fishing the beaches just like he was. So I thought, I am
going to find out how he catches those fish. I followed him one day. I got behind
Bird Key as he went out, and I followed him without any lights on my boat. I caught
him when he put that ring ding out--he was the first one that started it--and he was
not going to pick his net up till I left. But I would not leave. I just stayed right
there. [laughter] Then I started catching a lot of fish.
E: Was the net that he used for that a gill net?
S: No. It was a trammel net. [It was] made for pompano [with] 4.25" mesh and #9
E: What year do you figure that was when you first started ring dinging?
S: Let me see. Timmy is thirty-four now. He was about two or three years old when
I started.
E: Probably after War World II?
S: Yes.
E: Maybe 1950 or so. There was a market there for pompano?
S: Yes.
E: How did they catch pompano before they were ring dinging?
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S: Just strike them at night. We would run along and skip them out behind the boat.
E: Strike them like you would strike a mullet?
S: Yes.
E: Did they use a gill net for that?
S: No. [They used] a trammel net.
E: Were trammel nets new then?
S: No. Trammel nets have been out for years.
E: The redfish and trout do not break through that like they do the cotton or nylon
S: Well, they will break a pompano net, but now a bunch of them had these trammel
nets that had 208 twine in there, and they used #9 wall. They did not break that,
and it was a smaller mesh, you know, where they could not get those gills [through].
If they ever get that gill in there, there ain't nothing that will stop them.
E: Did you ever do any hook-and-line fishing [for anything] besides grouper?
S: I used to trout fish a lot with a cane pole.
E: Did you just use a little boat and troll along?
S: No. I would go catch my bait at daylight, in the morning, with a little seine. I would
catch sardines, and I would just fish down the shores of Turtle Bay and Bull Bay.
I would catch anywhere from fifty, seventy-five, to a hundred pounds a day--when the
weather was good.
E: How about redfish?
S: I fished redfish in Captiva Pass three or four times with handlines. I caught quite
a few of them, but that was hit and miss.
E: Do you think there are just as many redfish or trout around as there used to be?
S: I do not know about trout, but I know there are the most redfish you have ever seen
now. Everywhere you go there are redfish. I tell you, this thing [the size and limit
law] really helped. When they cut it down to two redfish per person and a certain
length, I really believe that helped. [The law is actually one fish no shorter than
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eighteen inches and no longer than twenty-seven inches per person with no
commercial sale of the species. Ed.]
E: Do you think that hurt the fishermen economically?
S: Oh, yes, it really hurt them. I mean, they [commercial fishermen] cannot catch any,
you know. If you catch one in a net, you better turn him loose.
E: You can gig one with a spear if he is within the size [limit].
S: Can you? I did not know that.
E: You can take them on a hook and line as long as they are the proper size, or you
can spear them. They are not considered a gamefish like a snook. There are still
a lot being taken if you figure the number of sport fishermen out there.
S: The commercial fishermen do not hurt them as badly as the sport fishermen. I
mean, the sport fishermen get out there, and there so many of them. If everybody
catches two, that is a lot of redfish.
E: Do you think that some of the laws that are made up favor the sport fishermen more
than the commercial fisherman?
S: I really believe so. I mean, it looks to me like they would let commercial fishermen
catch a couple of hundred pounds a day, like mullet, four days a week. There are
just getting to be bunches of them.
E: When they ran, was that during roe season for them, too?
S: No. They would get back there at nights in the keys. See, when I fished, the only
time I found them was September, and I used to catch them with my seine.
E: And that is out along the beach?
S: Yes. September was when they bunched up. I did not know they got back in those
keys like that and got in those bunches. That is where most of them trammel-net
fishermen would catch them.
E: What area around here--the passes, the beach, or out there in the bay--do you think
was most important to you for commercial fishing?
S: Well, mine was the beach. Mostly, all of my fishing was done around the beaches.
And Big Shoal out there used to be a wonderful spot.
E: Mackerel Shoal?
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S: Johnson Shoals. Let me tell you something. That ring dinging for pompano, I loved
that. But, boy, when that sun starts to set, you better get that net up. That is when
them buggers start coming down the beach: sting rays and whipper rays and sharks.
E: You pick up a lot of other things besides pompano in there.
S: Oh, yes. When the sun goes down you do. They come in to get on the beach.
When they come down the beach, you better have that net up!
E: How about when the tide gets to running real good? That does not bother your
S: No. You see, mostly where I ring dinged was down around Journey's End, between
there and the narrows. That was in between the two passes, and there was not much
tide there. Now, on a good south wind or a nor'wester you get an undertow.
E: If you tried that too close to the pass, would you lose the nets?
S: Hell yes. It will not work. I have tried it.
E: What fish do you prefer for eating?
S: Pompano. But you cannot beat an old mullet, I will tell you.
E: How about redfish or trout? Do you ever eat them?
S: No. I have cleaned trout, and I see the worms in there, and I do not like them. I
have eaten some redfish, but they smell so bad when you are cleaning them. Darn,
that is a stinking fish!
E: How about shark? Have you ever eat any shark?
S: No, I have never tried shark.
E: That does not seem to be too much of a favorite down here.
S: Yes. A lot of people eat cobia, you know. They look too much like that shark to
E: How about shellfish? Have you ever done any oystering or scalloping commercially?
S: [I] never did it commercially. Well, I did in the wintertime sometimes if I needed
[some extra money]. I got four or five dollars a bushel. I would just sell enough to
pay for my expenses, and I would keep the rest. I never got more than a couple or
three bushels full. I would just take what I wanted and maybe sell that bushel, like
I said, to pay for my gas.
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E: Do you eat shellfish yourself?
S: Oh, yes! Shoot, I could sit on the oyster bar [and eat them raw right out of the
E: In what season did you eat clams and oysters?
S: Well, clams are good all year round. Now, in summertime clams are fatter. You
do not get oysters till you get two or three cold spells on them. A lot of people go
to get them, but they are just wasting them, you know. If you wait till the water gets
pretty cold, then they get fat.
E: How about scallops? Did you ever do any scalloping for yourself?
S: I did it for myself. I used to take these little drags and drag them up over there by
Pine Island.
E: A lot of people mention the passes over there and in back of the passes.
S: Well, it is a pretty good spot. Here on Big Flats, when I was a kid, we used to take
just a skiff and pull it along, and two or three people would pick them up fast as they
E: Where is Big Flats?
S: You are going out through the bayou there. [It is] that flat.
E: Hole in the Wall Flat? Right before you go out that pass called Hogans Key and
all out there?
S: There use to be the most scallops you ever seen come in there.
E: I have never seen one there. What do you think happened to the scallops?
S: I do not know what happen to them. I know old big Neil, I used to go stone
crabbing with him. One time we went across the pass there, and those scallops must
have been moving, because out in the middle of that pass it was just solid with them.
We took a little dip net and dipped the stern of the boat full of them.
E: When did they start disappearing or getting rare around here?
S: I really do not know, but I know have not been back in [around] Pine Island since
they build that bridge across to Fort Myers Beach from Sanibel. The used to come
in there, you know, but you do not get many scallops over there anymore.
- 15 -

E: I have been here about twelve years, and I do not remember seeing any scallops.
I think I got two once. [laughter] How about clams and oysters? Do you think
there are more or less of them around?
S: Well, [as for] oysters, [during] the first of the year there are plenty of them. But so
many people get them, you know, [that] they clean them out. But clams--there are
just millions of clams everywhere.
E: Everybody talked about Campbell Soup Company collecting clams and having a
place here where they collected clams. Do you remember that?
S: Yes. They would dredge them up and put them in croaker sacks. When I was
fishing, I would go by and see croaker sacks all along there where they had put them.
E: So they took the shells and everything?
S: Yes, they had the whole thing. At the end of the day they would come by and pick
up the croaker sacks full of clams.
E: Did they mechanically dredge them?
S: They had a little jet thing, and [it would] just jet them up. I never watched them
do it. I mean, I have seen them do it, but I never went up to them.
E: Did they stop doing that because they were not getting enough clams?
S: No. I think the government stopped it. Somebody stopped it. You could not get
but so many, you know.
E: Most of the clams seem to be around the barrier islands in the pass as opposed to
[being] back in the bays. Do you remember any clams being back in Turtle Bay or
Bull Bay?
S: No. I have not really noticed [them] back in there because I usually get them
around these flats. You know, down there by the Kitchen [Bay area] there are
bunches of them. In back of Gasparilla [Island] there are bunches of them. Just
outside the bayou there [are bunches of them]. That bar, there are plenty of clams
on it. On Three Sisters over there [there are plenty].
E: For some reason you do not see many people walking out there collecting clams.
S: Right.
E: Do you think the oysters have more barnacles or growth or anything like that on
them now than they used too? Are they cleaner or whiter?
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S: I do not really know. I think that there are places with muddy bottoms you get them
on, and then there are sandy bottoms, you know.
E: Are they sort of different oysters, the deep-water ones you get with thongs? Were
they shaped different?
S: Yes. They are mostly long oysters--long and narrow.
E: Do they have red sponges and barnacles on them like the shallow water ones do?
S: Yes.
E: How about blue crabs and stone crabs? Did you ever fish for them commercially?
S: Yes. I used to catch stone crabs with just a hook. You know, [I would] just go to
the holes on the flats [and fish for them]. I used to get four dollars a dozen for
them. I would just sell them along the beachfront.
E: Do you think that there are more or less blue crabs now than they used to be?
S: There are a lot less. [At one time] I could not strike with my net without them
eating it up. Like in Turtle Bay and Bull Bay, if you ever put your net around a
bunch of mullet, you had better get it up right now! Just rope it in.
E: They bite right through the net?
S: They will sit right there and eat that net, and right there in their mouth there would
be a little ball of twine. Just like a little ball.
E: You had a lot of work to do if you messed up?
S: You kept a needle in your hand all the time. I would not fish in there. If fish just
were not anywhere else, then I go in there. But I knew when I struck I was getting
in trouble.
E: How about the stop netters? They put their nets in the water and leave them in
there overnight for the whole tide. Is that why they tarred them [the nets]?
S: That is why they tarred the things. They tarred them so they [the crabs] could not
eat them.
E: And that was thicker cord in those nets?
S: Well, it was big twine, yes.
E: When they pulled the stop nets, did they keep the crabs?
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S: Oh, no. They dumped them. Everything they could not use would be turned loose.
E: What do you think are the biggest changes in this area that you have seen since you
have been around here?
S: Well, the only change, really, is the way they are fishing now. They got these kicker
boats, you know, and they just [go everywhere].
E: When they say--talking about net mesh sizes--3" mesh, is that a stretch mesh?
S: That is a stretch mesh, yes.
E: So that would make it six inches around the inside circumference of that mesh? If
you stretch it this way and put one of them paddles in there, what size would the
paddle be?
S: Well, it does not go like that. It would be like, well, 3.875" [mesh]. It will stretch
out that big, but when you let it go it will just be two inches each way. If you stretch
it out to four inches ...
E: It seems like it would be four inches on each side, so the whole net mesh would be
eight inches around the inside where you are actually stretching that mesh out.
S: You are actually stretching that mesh out. When you let it go it is like that square.
It just stretches out to four inches.
E: So the purpose of taking a stretch measurement is that you want to know when a fish
gets his head in there and stretches it as far open as he can, it is going to be a
certain size. If it is bigger than that, he will hang up, and if it is smaller, he will go
right through?
S: That is why they do that, so they can get mostly red roe mullet. They are using
4.125" [mesh] now and stuff like that. [Some even use] 4.25" [mesh].
E: On the cotton nets, was there more stretch in there?
S: [laughter] There was not any stretch. When he hit that, [if] he hit it pretty hard,
he would pop it.
E: So they did not stretch. They were more or less a set size.
S: That is right. Now, nylon would stretch, you know.
E: How about monofilament? Did they make nets out of that?
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S: Yes, and it stretches. You get that 139 and hit it, and it will stretch out.
E: What mesh sizes were used for seine nets?
S: I forget what it was. It was 1" or 1.25" [mesh] or something like that.
E: How about stop nets?
S: I do not know what they use. I never did any of that, really.
E: And how about cast nets? Did they vary in size too?
S: Yes, but you want a little-mesh net so they do not gill in it. Whatever fish you catch
[you can turn them loose].
E: You do not want them killing in a cast net. They would be too hard to get out.
S: Well, you can turn them loose, too. Whatever [fish] you do not want you can turn
loose, if they are still alive.
E: Do you know anybody that made their own nets instead of buying them and hanging
them in?
S: Yes. My uncle used to make trammels for his trammel nets. At nights he did not
have anything to do, so he would just sit there and make trammels.
E: They would get a net-mesh gauge of the size they wanted and tie the net around
S: Yes. He had a about an eight- to ten-inch paddle.
E: Did they call it a paddle or a shuttle?
S: We called them paddles back then.
E: On the cotton nets, when they were wet do you think there was more stretch in
them, or did they get bigger or smaller when they were wet?
S: There was not much stretch to that cotton net. At first there was while it was new,
but after it was wet and shrunk up and got hard, there not much stretch to it. You
could try to push a mullet through it, and that mesh would pop every time.
E: Do you think when they came out with the glass [monofilament] nets that you caught
more fish in them because the fish could not see them?
S: Oh, yes! That is what has helped these fishermen now, I think, is glass nets.
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E: Do you think those fish ever learn to see the glass nets?
S: I think they can feel that bugger, you know. When you first strike they will hit it,
like pompano in that ring ding. Then after it sits there for a while it will get some
kind of a mud on it, and they will not hit it, so you have to pick it up and shake that
out and put it back down.
E: Do you think the glass nets had anything to do with the decline in the number of
fish? Because people took more with glass nets.
S: Well, it is just easier fishing [with a glass net]. With cotton nets, we had to wrap
them up, close them up, and then drive them in the net. Sometimes we had to whip
them down, you know. With glass nets, you just have to see which way there going
and strike them. Just run that thing out [and] around them. You do not even have
to close it up. Just run it the way they are going.
E: They hit it hard?
S: Yes.
E: And there is more stretch in that net, so they stick in it. [And with the glass net, you
can catch] a fish a little bigger or smaller than with the same size mesh on the cotton
S: Yes. Well, a smaller fish will go on through until he gets to his belly, and then he
stops. But the big ones it just catches right around the gills.
E: How about with [Spanish] mackerel or kingfish? Did you ever do any net fishing [for
S: No. I used to [fish for] kingfish, but I did it with hook and line.
E: Do you still commercial fish?
S: No, I do not.
E: When did you, more or less, get out of commercial fishing and into guiding?
S: I went strictly to guiding, I would say, about twenty to twenty-five years ago.
E: When you made that transition, did you still commercial fish in the summertime?
S: No. I started working in yards and taking care of peoples' homes and stuff like that.
I found out it was a lot more money and a lot easier.
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E: It is a pretty big investment getting into guide fishing. I mean, you have to buy a big
old boat.
S: Well, yes. When I first started, I was about sixteen or eighteen years old when I had
my own boat.
E: What kind of boat was that?
S: It was a Daniels, a twenty-four-foot Daniels.
E: Just a classic pass boat, an open fishing [boat].
S: Yes, that is what it was called, a pass boat.
E: There are still quite a few of them around here. They seem to work pretty good for
fishing the pass, anyway.
S: I will tell you. That little old boat I had, you could do anything you wanted to [with
it]. [You could] nose around. Now there are so many boats out there.
E: Some of them look awful big for fishing.
S: Oh, boy!
E: So when did you buy the boat you have now? How did you acquire that boat? That
is quite a sizable investment.
S: Well, that is too long a story there. I was fishing [with] a man by the name of Tom
Bird from Virginia, an apple man: Tom, Dick, and Harry Bird. One day we were
coming in, and he was wanting a drink of Early Times [bourbon]. He was crawling
up there to get it, and, boy, it was so rough! When we got [closer] to the dock he
said: "Come by the cottage. I want to talk to you." I said OK. I [just] knew I was
fired or something. I got in there, and he said, "Stop by the Pink Elephant and get
me a bottle of Early Times and bring it to the cottage at the Gasparilla Inn." I got
to where his room was and went up there, and he said, "How much money would it
cost to get us a cabin boat?" I said, "Well, I have not ever really thought of it." He
wrote me a check for $5,000 and told me: "Go put this down on a cabin boat. I am
tired of that open boat." That is how I got this boat. He helped me buy it. Heck,
I bought that boat for, I think, $16,000. But it did not have any bunks. It just had
the cabin up there. I added on as time when on. That is how I got that boat.
E: When you first started guiding, was [your guiding] just [during] tarpon season or
more trout fishing and [other] winter fishing?
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S: You could catch anything back then. If you wanted to go trout fishing, you could
catch trout. If you wanted to go grouper fishing, you could catch grouper. Just
whatever you wanted to fish for you could catch.
E: Most of the winter guests who came down here were not around for tarpon season?
S: No, they would leave. It was altogether different.
E: There was a different group of people who came down? More sportsmen?
S: Yes. I guided for McMillan, I guess, twenty-five years and always had them
February, March, and till the fifteenth of April. Then you would always take two
weeks in April off to get your boat ready for the tarpon season in May, June, and
July. Then you would go grouper fishing.
E: Did most of the people that went into guiding come out of commercial fishing?
S: Most of them did. Most of the guides would either paint after the season was over
or go gill netting and mullet fishing.
E: It seemed like when I worked for the fish house in 1980, just ten years ago, there
were forty local people that sold their fish to the fishery, either to Tommy or brought
them across to Gasparilla. Now there are only probably three or four left on the
island that still really commercially fish.
S: Well, you cannot blame them for that, you know. They have to go all the way over
[to Placida] to get their ice, then go fishing, then take the fish back to Placida. That
is a lot of doing.
E: What do you think happened to those fishermen [who quit fishing] in the last ten
years? Are they still fishing, or are they into other businesses?
S: Well, they still are fishing, but they have moved to Rotonda. Timmy, my son, moved
over there and keeps his boat at Placida. Thomas Lowe keeps his there. Jackie
Bylaska keeps his over there and lives there.
E: It gets pretty expensive to live on this island and keep a boat docked here too.
S: I am telling you, it is just rough!
E: Here comes a fisherman now! [Timmy Smith, Bo's son, enters the room.]
T: Hey, Bob.
E: I am just trying to find out [something about fishing].

S: Those are fishhooks. [Smith points to bone artifacts. Ed.]
T: Yes.
S: Have you ever seen them before?
T: No, but I have seen them in books and stuff and how they rig them up.
E: Well, I think, probably, I have got most of what I want to know here. When they
type that all up and send it back to me I will get a copy over to you and we will go
over it again. And I will probably have some more questions too.
S: OK.
E: I appreciate it. There is some good information coming out here.
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