Interview with Eugene Grady Sands, January 31, 1991

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Interview with Eugene Grady Sands, January 31, 1991
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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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FF 9


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Interviewee: Grady Sands
Interviewer: Bob Edic, with Greg Blocker
January 31, 1991
E: [This is] oral history interview FF9 with Grady Sands,
former resident of Big Mound Key, by Bob Edic accompanied by
Greg Blocker from the Department of Natural Resources.
[Today is] January 31, 1991.
Would you tell us your full name?
S: Eugene Grady Sands.
E: Where were you born?
S: I was born in Gasparilla.
E: Gasparilla Village?
S: Well, that is where we were living at the time. Actually, I
think they said we were [born] in Arcadia, but that
[Gasparilla Village] is where we were living.
E: And what year was that?
S: [I was born in] 1919.
E: What were your parents' names?
S: My dad's name was Eugene Ivan Sands. My mother's name was
Mary Elizabeth Sands.
E: And where were they born?
S: I do not really know, to be honest with you. My dad was
from Key West. My mother was from up in the northern part
of Florida, [but] I do not know right where.
E: What was your father's occupation?
S: [He was a] fisherman.
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E: How many children do you have?
S: I have three.
E: What are their names?
S: I have a daughter. Her name is Veronica Sue Durrence at the
time. I have a son, Gary Richard Sands, Sr. [And] I have
[another] daughter. Her name is Pamela Carlisle Mills.
E: What was your wife's name?
S: Effie Mae Sands.
E: And what was her maiden name?
S: Osteen.
E: Is she from the local area here, too?
S: She is from Lakeland.
E: What years did you live on Big Mound Key out here?
S: We moved here
[To Big Mound Key or to Arcadia? If not, where?]
in late 1934, and I do not remember whether we left in 1936
or 1937.
E: And you moved out here [out where ?] with your mother and
S: My mother, my dad, and my uncle.
E: Did you fish from here?
S: We fished from right here.
E: Was that a seasonal residence just during fishing season or
did you live here all year long?
- 2 -

S: We lived here all year long. My mother has spent many
nights in here right by herself. That is the reason why I
say there was no Bigfoot! [laughter]
E: Who owned the site then?
S: Well, supposedly Jerome Hubert.
E: Did he have the key lime trees planted here at that time, or
were they already here?
S: They were here when we came here. I do not know who planted
them. I do not know who took care of it before we came, but
that was the purpose for us coming back to here.
E: How many buildings or structures did you have out here?
S: Just the one house we lived in.
E: You had one house and a dog house, I heard.
S: Yes.
E: Did you farm any areas?
S: Oh, we had a small garden right behind the house up there,
but it was not very much.
E: Did you put in any fence lines or anything like that?
S: No.
E: And where was that house located? We are looking at this
map of Big Mound Key now.
S: Well, it was located kind of on the back side of the mound
up there where that big rubber tree is or was. I guess it
is still there.
E: We will have to walk up there and [see].
- 3 -

S: But the house sat right on the northeast corner, right on
the flat part there.
E: Did you and your family take care of the key limes?
S: All we did was keep the trees trimmed back, [kept] the dead
parts [trimmed] out, cleaned out under the trees and so
forth and so on, then picked them.
E: When those key limes were put in was the land altered or
plowed off or leveled off in any way to accommodate the
S: Not that I know of. Like I say, those [key lime trees] were
there when I came here. The trees were already there. I do
not know what they did to [prepare for them]. But I would
not think [that they leveled the ground] because there were
too many hills and hollows that the trees were on. So I
would not think that it had been leveled off any. I think
it was planted as it was.
E: We are standing here by the backhoe trench down here now on
the south part of the site in front of the water court on
this flat area down here leading up to the beginning of the
mound. Did you ever utilize this area in here for anything?
We call it the water court area.
S: No. We never bothered this at all. We never worked out in
this area. Just from the edges of the trees.
E: Do you remember this deep-water entrance into the front
here? Coming into the front of the site there seems to be a
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deep-water entrance coming up to this flat area where we are
here. Was that always deep in front there?
S: Not that deep. Not very deep, you know.
E: Nobody ever used the front for an entrance?
S: As far as I know, no.
E: So when you came to your house you came in through the pond
on the west side?
S: We came in through the pond area and right in along
somewhere right in this area. Well, from just about where
the boat is.
E: Was there an elevated footpath going in there or just on
S: Well, it was flat, but it gradually went up. But the one
coming from here, now, going up, had a small incline for a
ways, and then it would go up.
E: Do you remember this area here being altered when you were
S: No.
E: There were no holes dug in it?
S: None at all.
E: Well, we are going to walk north on the site up where
Grady's house used to be.
This is about the area that your house was in from what you
were telling us. It will take a little bit to find it with
this canyon going between this thing here.
- 5 -

S: Yes, and there is quite a difference in the size of the
tree, too.
E: Which tree is that? That big gumbo-limbo on the west side
there. So we are looking east from the main cut here, and
right over in front of us there to the east is a bunch of
key limes put in there--sort of terraced in there. Do you
get any bearing from them? They are over in the back there.
You really cannot see them.
S: Well, see, they came all the way across right behind where
the house was and all the down just a little way down north
of the house. Then they would go back, I would have to say,
three-quarters of a mile. There were a lot of limes growing
E: So your house was located where from here?
S: It would have to be right on top of the main mound where
that big rubber tree is. There used to be a big rubber
tree. That thing was, oh, Lord, it must have been six feet
in diameter.
B: It is not this one we are looking at over there, is it? The
base of that one is pretty big.
S: Well, let me look around here.
E: We found part of an old stove and some other stuff right
over here.
S: We had an old wood stove.
- 6 -

E: And we found some old cream ware plates and bowls and cups
and some tin off of a roof.
S: The tin would have been off of the building because that is
all it was was tin except for the floors. The sides were
tin, the top was tin, [it had] no insulation or no nothing.
Like the Indians, you could look through the top of it and
the nail holes and see stars.
E: Was it up on pilings or stones?
S: It was right on the ground.
E: We are [now] standing on the east side of the main cut here,
east of the big ficus tree that had the lookout tower in it,
and immediately to the east of that there seems to be a road
that has been bulldozed in here. You say that road was not
here and that [it] more or less came right through where
your house was?
S: Yes, right where the house. Well, it would have had to move
the whole house. It was only a three-room house, and it
went this way. If the house had been here, it would not be
here any more because all out there was all flat right on
across yonder.
S: Well, that accounts for how the tin and the old wood stove
and stuff got down over the bank there. [It was thrown
there] when they pushed this [road] in. And this is pushed
in right on the edge of the key lime grove.
B: I see a key lime right there, Grady.
- 7 -

S: That is key lime right there.
B: And there is about three of them sitting up there on that
ridge right there.
S: See, them trees were right behind the house. You could have
walked out of the back door and stepped out there and gotten
a lime anytime you wanted it. But the house sat right here.
And right on over there, just not too far, it drops off. It
drops off, and you could walk from there to Boggess Hole.
You could not walk dry-footed, understand. It was wet
through there.
E: So the top of this mound here was flat right over where the
main cut went?
S: Yes.
E: What was the shape of it? Do you remember any shape? Was
it rectangular?
S: No, when we came here, I would have to say, it was more or
less of a square shape because it came down that side and up
in back. Like I say, there is a flat land place right on
back there.
E: So this mound here was flat until it tapered down and then
went off into the Fiddler Flats down to Boggess [Hole].
S: Well, it did not stay [completely] flat. You had hills and
hollers all the way through it. But that was the build of
the place. That is the way whoever was here (the Indians or
whatnot) left it.
- 8 -

E: Were there other flat mounds on this site here too?
S: Not that I can recollect.
E: There is another place on the site over here that is a
little higher than this. We do not know what it looked like
or how it has been altered from them, but we call that the
East Mound. That is where you filled the big holes up.
S: Well, it could have been there, but I just did not notice
it. It could have that it might have been higher than this
one, but I did not really pay that much attention to it.
Like I say, I was a kid and was not really paying that much
E: For the most part, you utilized this section of the mound
here and out in through the little pond down there.
S: And [also] what little bit of grove there was here, which
went back just a little ways. It went a pretty good ways
back down that way and then across.
E: There seems to be key limes down the other side of the East
Mound now, and that is quite far away from this grove here.
Do you think they grew in there since, or were they planted
there also?
S: Well, they could have [been planted]. Like I say, they
could have been there. That mound could have been there. I
just did not pay that much attention to it. That mound
could have been there to begin with. I never noticed.
- 9 -

B: Grady, I have a question. On the other side--and I want to
see if this is similar--when you came up the side on that
other mound over there, it has a little taper. It is like a
sort of little path. It was leveled off so you could walk
around this thing. Then it went up again. Was there
anything like that over here?
E: Sort of like a terrace.
S: No.
S: [It would be] a wonderful thing to clear it [the mound] off
and bring people who have the history on it and let them see
how the people lived back in those days.
B: Well, I would like to see it someday. With your oral report
here and stuff like that, we have an idea, if the state ever
gives us money, that we can [use to] come back in and
restore this place and do exactly what you are talking
S: That would be nice.
E: Richard Coleman told me that he came out here one time, and
your father told him to go on out there and get some honey
if he wanted. There were some beehives here.
S: We cut one [tree with a hive in it] and boxed them back on
the southeast corner. That is what I was telling you a
while ago. What it was, a limb had grown out and bent over.
It was just like your elbow, and on the back side it had
- 10 -

busted open. Those bees got in there and filled it full of
E: I think he said he and Tom Parkinson came out here, and
[they] went to open the top on that beehive, and those were
the meanest bees they ever saw. They ran them all the way
down to the boat in Big Creek there, and there was not even
enough water to get under. The bees would not let them
alone, and they chased them a mile.
S: Well, I know when we cut that tree you would not have been
surprised. I can remember cutting it. When we cut that
thing and took an ax and busted it open--we had a bee box
there--you could actually, as long as you did not mash them,
work your hand right in under that joker with no shield or
no nothing on, standing just like I am right now, and work
that joker right up like that, carry them right over, and
put them right in that box. That is how tame they were.
E: There was also a lady who was a midwife around here for a
lot of the fishermen and people that lived here.
S: That was my mother.
E: That was your mother?
S: That was my mother.
E: Did she have a nickname: Aunt somebody?
S: Well, they called her Aunt Mary because that was her name:
Mary Elizabeth Sands. She was a midwife. As a matter of
- 11 -

fact, [she delivered] nearly all of the Underwoods and some
of the Joyners [or Joiners ?].
E: When these [mothers] were due, [before they were] in labor,
would she move in with them and stay with them?
S: Yes. We were living in St. James City, which is at the
south end of Pine Island, when we moved here. She came from
there all the way up to Gasparilla for Gilbert Joyner's
wife. She stayed with her until she had her baby.
B: Do you know any of the before-you-got-here type history?
S: No.
E: There were no structures here at all when you moved onto
[Big Mound Key]?
S: Nothing but the house is all.
E: So basically the only alteration to the site were the key
limes that were put on here.
S: That is it.
E: Have you any idea when they were put here?
S: No. Like I said, the limes were here when I came.
E: And the trees were pretty good size then?
S: Oh, they were big trees. Big trees!
E: Well, Jerome Fugate supposedly planted them out here.
S: He is the one we went to work for, or my dad went to work
for [him]. So that is all I know about that part of it as
far as the lime trees are concerned.
- 12 -

E: So when you lived here, that was during the Depression. Was
it hard times out here? Did you need money to survive?
S: No. Because you take just like [some] people nowadays. All
you had to have was a bag of beans and a little bit of
flour. You can survive.
E: Did you bring your fish in when you caught fish or did the
run boat pick them up?
S: No. We delivered them to Gasparilla.
E: And what did you do for ice back then?
S: We did not even know what ice was. [laughter] It makes a
E: Did you use any "green ice"?
S: No ice; no nothing.
E: You did not put mangrove branches or anything over them [the
S: Well, once in a while if we fished in the daytime we did.
E: I have heard that called "green ice" when they put mangrove
branches over [the fish].
S: Well, whatever. But we used to go leave Gasparilla over
there like at 6:00 in the afternoon. We had the boat with
an engine in it with three pole skiffs tied behind it. We
would tow in to right out here in the bay, anchor that boat,
then we would split up. My dad would go one way, I would go
one way, and my uncle would go [one way]. We covered the
island. We would come back to the boat at daylight (or
- 13 -

sunup, whatever), tie on to it, and the fish [we caught
were] still lying right there in the floor. [We would]
carry them all the way to Gasparilla and get there at, say,
8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. [We would] unload them, and
they were just as hard and firm as if you had iced them by
the time you put them in the boat.
E: Why?
S: Well, that is your pollution.
E: All of the old fishermen say that they do not know why, but
the fish did not used to rot back then, and they did not use
any ice.
S: We did not. The only time we used ice was back in the 1940s
[when we were] going grouper fishing. Now, we carried ice
[then]. But, hell, we would go out there in one day and
catch as many fish as these guys catch in three days.
B: How was the fish population back then? I mean, they did not
have the motors to run [the boats] around the fish and lay
out their nets.
S: It was good. As a matter of fact, I think right now--of
course, you would not be any fishermen--if they outlawed all
those fucking outboard motors, you would see a difference.
You look and ride in your air boat. There is no habitat
nowhere on the bottom for the fish to feed on. It is all
cut off. OK. Another thing. You go and you watch. For
- 14 -

every six gallons of gas, [two-cycle outboards require] a
pint of oil. Where does that oil go?
E: It goes in the water.
S: OK. Now they tried to tell me that oil floats. You all are
in the business. I am going to give you an example. (There
is not nothing we can do about it because money has got it,
[and] money is going to fight it.) [You know about] right
over there where they test those damn motors?
E: Yes.
S: I can carry you over there right now. Oh, hell, fifty foot
behind where they are running, I can stick my oar down, and
when it hits, you can just keep walking it [further down].
The oil is that deep on the goddamn bottom. But they say
that there is nothing we can do about it. Think about it.
B: No, they never will [do anything about it]. They will drive
it until they ruin it. That is basically the way the world
is going right now. But I agree with you. I really do.
S: Of course, it is not only the [commercial] fishermen that
are cutting all of this grass and stuff off of the bottom.
It is the sport fishermen as well as anything else.
E: It is the boat traffic.
S: Yes, the boat traffic. The boat traffic here is so pathetic
that it is pitiful. And the only one thing that caused
that--of course, if that one had not, somebody else would--
is that damn marina right there.
- 15 -

B: They are putting more of them in.
S: Oh, yes!
B: We know that in the last twenty years we have lost, as Bob
said, over 60 percent of the grass beds that used to be in
Bull Bay.
S: That is right.
B: And that is because of all the boats.
S: Well, another thing. You go down there and try to find you
a mess of oysters now. They are not there. There are no
oysters. Now, [as for] clams, that section of the bottom
right there in front of the fish house [which one ?], as I
understand, is supposed to be closed because the pollution
coming from the marina on the ebb tide goes across it. And
I will bet you that that damn shrimp boat up there, that big
one, could make four trips and never haul the damn clams
that have been took off that out there. Nobody has ever
been sick. You can go right across the channel and get all
you want if they are there. It is not closed. What the
hell is the difference?
E: It is just a "line" in the water.
S: I do not know. I cannot figure it out.
E: When you lived out here in the 1930s, that was during
Prohibition also. Was there rumrunning or bootlegging going
on out here?
S: Not out in here.
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E: Nobody had any stills out in here. Did they do any business
with the Spanish fishermen--get that aguadin [do you mean
agua caliente ?] off of them?
S: Not that I know of. When my dad first came to this country
down in here, the only way they had of transporting fish was
to split and salt.
B: They would get bags of salt? I do not understand.
S: I do not know how they got it. I do not really know, but
that is what they said they [did]: split and salt. And the
only way they had of moving them was sailboat. They had one
sailboat. My dad did sponge fish up around Tarpon Springs.
He was a skipper on a sponge boat up there for a while.
E: Where did he fish down here? Did he fish for mullet too?
S: He fished for mullet.
E: Whereabouts did he fish out of?
S: All around these islands here.
E: I mean, did he fish for Perkins Cove or Gasparilla Village?
S: Gasparilla Fishery and Dixon. See, there were another breed
of Dixons that used to be in here.
E: Not related to the Dixons that owned [what ?]?
S: Not as far as I know. I do not know. Then there was
another gentleman in here by the name of M. T. Herring, and
I do not know who was in here ahead of that. Of course fish
were scarce at times, but back then we had a closed season
- 17 -

[on mullet] and run season from the fifteenth of December
until the twentieth of January.
B: Was that a law back then?
S: That was the law. Of course, when they passed this deal on
the snook [gave it gamefish status], that is when they
opened up the closed season [on mullet]. But
is coming back.
E: Do you think that closed season helped the mullet? I mean,
do you think it helped manage them so there were more the
next year?
S: Well, I guess it did. I cannot say that it did, but I
presume that it did.
E: Did it keep the price up on the fish?
S: Not really. Hell, no! When I first started commercial
fishing--that is, when I was first here--I fished with old
man Sam Joyner [or Joiner]. And we caught fish, [and] I
mean by the goddamn boatload. We were getting one cent a
pound. I have caught them for less than that. They say
not, but I know better.
B: One cent a pound that is hard to fathom.
E: Did you ever do any stop netting?
S: Yes. I have drug that goddamn place over there so goddamn
many times and this one over here [so many times] that it is
E: How long a net was a stop net?
- 18 -

S: Well, it was not just one net. We had nets tied together or
fastened together with
E: And those nets were made out of cotton or flax?
S: Cotton, but they were tar dipped to preserve them.
E: Was that to stop the crabs from eating them?
S: Well, that hardened them up, see, and the crabs would not
eat it as bad. But it would make it last longer [as well].
E: Did you put the stop net out on the high tide and then let
the tide go out? [You would] block and inlet out with it?
Is that the way you stop net?
S: We would stop net this, but a lot of times we would cut it
off just from down where the boat is there and go all the
way across yonder.
E: Go across Big Creek?
S: I would go across Big Creek and then go down and cut the cut
off where it goes into Turtle Bay. I would cut that off.
B: That is a lot of net!
S: And, see, a lot of people do not know this, they do not
realize it, but a mullet goes against the tide. They do not
go with the tide. Trout, pompano, and stuff like that goes
with the tide, but mullet goes against the tide. When you
cut it off and that tide goes out, those fish go right back
in that creek. Then all we do is go up there, cut it back
off, and take the boat and pull it [the net] back down [the
- 19 -

E: Did you use a bank net to get the fish out?
S: Sometimes we did and sometimes we would pull them to the
E: Did you cast-net them out of there or scoop them out or
anything like that?
S: We bailed them out with a bail net.
E: Bailed them out and put them in the boats.
S: Put them in the boats and hauled them to the fish house.
E: How many people did you usually use to do that?
S: There were about five of us.
E: And what kind of catch could you get? What would be a good
S: Well, I guess our biggest catch would run anywhere from
twelve to fifteen thousand [pounds].
E: And were they all-sized mullet? I mean, you did not
selectively target the roe mullet or anything like that?
S: No.
E: And there was a market even for the little one-pound mullet?
S: Yes, sir! We never graded fish out. When I first started a
red-roe mullet and a white-roe mullet was all the same.
That was before the Japanese came in. [The Japanese prefer
the red-roe as a delicacy. Thus, red-roe mullet bring a
higher price per pound. Ed.]
E: When did they outlaw or stop stop-netting?
S: I do not know, but you ought to remember.
- 20 -

E: I do not go back that far. I do not remember anybody stop
S: You do not? You are not that old.
E: I am forty-five. So it has not been a good long time since
they stopped them?
S: It has not really been that long, I do not think. It might
[have been] twenty years. I do not think it has been much
more than that.
E: Now they have mullet season closed on the weekends.
S: They do not now. They did. It opens up this weekend.
E: When they closed commercial fishing on the weekends, they
said the rationale behind that law was to keep the weekend
[or part-time] fishermen out of there.
S: Well, it does not help.
E: It seems like in the last two years almost every cold front
has come through on Friday or Saturday night. I think I
kept track of it last year, and it was nine out of ten
S: Did you ever think to look at the phase of the moon? Every
one of them [every what? Every full moon? Every new
moon?] was on the weekend. Every damn one of them. And it
is going to be the same thing next December. You look on
your map and see where that moon changes. Of course, you do
not have weather now like we used to.
- 21 -

E: Do you think with [current] weather patterns that you get
more or less cold fronts through?
S: They get less. And the point is they do not come like they
used to.
E: Do you remember any red tides back here when you were a
S: Not when we lived here.
E: What was the first one you remember?
S: It seems to me, the best I can recollect, sometime in the
1940s, around 1943.
E: So it was somewhere around the end of the war. They say
there used to be a big grouper fishing industry right in the
pass off of Boca Grande, and a lot of old timers made good
money out of that grouper.
S: They made good money out there, and I guess there are
probably still grouper left. I do not know.
E: No, they say that the red tide around 1946, 1947, or
something like that just wiped them out.
S: Well, it could have. I know that these boys that are
fishing now I tell them how we used to fish. If we got out
of [the] sight of land in, say, nine fathoms of water, we
were good; we caught a lot of fish. But they say all of
that rock [on the ocean floor] now has all been covered up--
the inshore rock. You have got to go further out.
E: It is sanded in more? [Covered with sand. Ed.]
- 22 -

S: Yes.
E: Do you ever remember your father or anybody talking about
poison water back in the 1910s?
S: No, I have never heard of it.
E: So from your experience the red tide is something new or
something recent [that has happened] within the last forty
years or so?
S: Yes.
E: Have you got any ideas [about what might cause red tide]?
S: No, sir, I do not. That is just like going back to this
other stuff. Why do they not put their money in some
research for that [red tide] rather that doing this [this
what ?] up there? That is what I cannot understand.
E: Well, they sent a research team down here, I guess they were
in Placida for a while, [that] I read [about] in the 1948
paper. [They] said they were going to study the red tide
and have a cure for it within a year.
S: They did not, though, did they?
E: No, and I think they are out of business now, too.
S: Of course, that is just like those fish they found off there
after that boy caught that catch that Sunday. You know, the
fish died. They rotted in his net.
E: Well, that was such a big strike. Who could be prepared for
it? You could not bring enough ice for it.
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S: Well, he was foolish. That is the way I look at it.
Anybody that had anything to do with it was foolish.
E: After a bad mullet season, though, you can surely see
somebody wanting to make their season. That is their
S: They will not do it. But they should stop and think,
though, just a little jump ahead, "How are we going to save
these fish?" [It was] eighty-five degree weather, which was
unusual for January. The paper stated that they caught roe
mullet illegally. They cannot prove it. The only way it
would have been illegal would have been [if they had] struck
them before sundown. And why would the boy sit out there
all that time looking dead at the sun and do it before
E: The fish house did not even buy a lot of those fish because
they were in such bad shape.
S: Well, they have got fish right now in the freezer that if
they do not turn out they will not get anything out of them.
They are waiting to see what the company is going to get out
of them before they pay the fishermen.
E: So the fish are on consignment.
S: Right, until something happens. They probably will wind up
making fertilizer out of them.
E: How many pounds was that strike? I heard various numbers.
How many good pounds were out of it?
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S: Well, I do not know about the good pounds. They figured
172,000 [pounds] went through the fish house not counting
what went other places. They loaded one boat and went back
to Cortez, and the man turned them down because they were
too small.
E: Is that an unusually big catch, even with your experience?
S: Very unusual.
E: Have you ever seen anything comparable to that?
S: No.
E: So how about all of these people saying that the mullet are
getting extinct and this and that and the other, and then
you come up with a catch like that. How does that all
figure in?
S: I do not know how that figures in. I cannot see where they
are getting extinct. Not really. I am going to go right
back to your outboard motors. If you cut them off, you will
see a difference.
E: So the reason for that big pod of fish was probably because
it was closed for a couple of days, and the boats did not
break those schools up?
S: Well, that is true. And another thing [is] I think those
fish came from Punta Gorda.
E: They came down out of the creeks and rivers.
S: They came down the river up yonder out of Punta Gorda or
wherever. But on Saturday night I was working there at the
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fish house, before they caught these fish on Sunday night.
I had went and gassed up the trucks, and I heard a porpoise
right there in back of the fish house. I looked out there,
and that whole flat out there was solid black with mullet.
They [the porpoises] raised cane there awhile. Then they
went on out to the mouth of the channel--it was either him
or another one--and then over by that bird island they were
doing the same thing. So I walked down to the entrance of
the creek there going into the marina. Up in that marina
was the awfulest site up there you have ever seen.
Porpoises! They had to be in mullet. You could listen down
that shoreline like we came this morning, and you could just
hear them coming. I figured those fish never stopped until
they got to that bridge. They went in there and then came
back out. They went to that bridge and got together. Then
they dropped off. And Mitchell King, I understand (now, do
not quote me on this because I do not know), found it. He
started following it, and they were going on the pass, so he
called Donnie. Well, Donnie came to him and saw what it
was. He had a seine on his boat then. And he had a pocket
that would hold approximately 30,000 pounds. He said,
"Well, this pocket is too little." He went back to the
house and got the other one, which had a pocket that would
hold approximately 100,000 [pounds]. They pulled them so
tight [that] they pulled the lead line in two. I know [they
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broke it] once, and I do not know how many more times. And
to show you how foolish they were, they went and got the
other seine to put behind it.
E: To back it up?
S: [Yes,] to back it up. To make sure none got away, or that
is what it amounted to. Well, Timmy Dixon (and I think his
brother or some of them were the ones that put all of this
in the paper about it) had been following a bunch of fish
besides that. They came on out, and he was waiting on them
[the fish he was following] to get on down the beach. He
looked, and he seen what was going on, so he did not strike
them. They went right on and got in with the others that
Mitchell and them were following. So when they struck, he
hauled off and got over in the compass and run his gill net
in there.
E: Well, he got some good-sized ones out of there, I am sure.
S: He got 8,600 [pounds of] nice mullet. Well, now, had they
done what they ought to have done (seeing what kind of a
bunch of fish they were) and called all the fishermen (there
were enough fish there for everybody), [they could have]
gone out there with those big-mesh nets and struck those
fish, strained them out, [and] let the smaller-class fish
go. That is what hurt us. Because if he was that long, we
had to check to see if he had a red roe. That is
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E: So that seine net had to have had a 3-inch mesh on it anyway
to make it legal.
S: It had to be.
E: But if you get it that jammed up, a lot of fish are not
going to get through because all of the holes are jammed.
S: All the holes are full when they pulled them so tight. They
said the lead line was about, I do not know how far away
from the beach out there in a circle, and they were solid.
You could walk on them from there to the beach. They got
there and bailed them without ever pulling the lead line and
showing them.
E: Well, that is what everybody hopes to run into, and it
almost is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
S: Yes, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but actually
they did not make nothing out of it. They made money,
understand, but they did not make the money they would have
made if they had done it like I am talking [about].
Everybody would have still got fish. And, of course, what
got away would have probably went on north, which that is
the direction they generally go or offshore, and got back
together and came in down there around Cortez, and they
would have done the same thing. They would have struck them
with a seine. If nothing else, that guy would have went out
with that damn purse seine and caught them.
E: [Were there any Florida panthers or bear on Big Mound Key?]
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S: Over here around Boggess Hole, they claim there used to be
some panthers in there. Now, bear, I never did see one or
never did hear nobody say anything. Hogs and stuff like
that were plentiful. They say that on up the line there
were a lot of deer. But I never saw a bear. Actually, you
see a lot of bobcats, coons, opossums, and things like that.
But the big game, I never actually seen any of that stuff.
B: Going back to the water, how about manatees and things like
S: You know, the best I can remember, those things are
starting, just now in the last few years, to get in this
area. They used to not be that bad. Now, I say they did
not--I am going to have to take that back. Back when I
lived on Gasparilla Island as just a kid--I do not remember
what year it was; it had to be back in the late 1930s or
early 1940s--we had just put a boat overboard (painted it
and whatnot), and we were out trying it to see how it was
going to run and everything. We went out Gasparilla Pass,
and we saw this thing out there. They do not call them
manatees; they call them sea cows. That is what we called
them then. OK, there were three of them out there. We did
not know what the hell they were the first time. I never
[had] seen one of them. So we came back in and got Albert
Lowe. I do not know whether he would remember it or not (I
am pretty sure he would; I do not see why he would not) and
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we got a harpoon, [laughter] not knowing what we were doing,
see. It was dumb and stupid.
B: Well, that was back when there was not that big of a concern
about them, either.
S: That is right. Well, we went out there and we harpooned
that joker, and we wished there for a while that we had not.
B: [laughter] How far did he take you?
S: He took us half way to Boca Grande. Finally, I had to shoot
him. But we messed around and got him ashore, and they
skinned him out. I do not recollect what they did with all
the meat, but that was my first experience with sea cows.
B: How big do you think he was?
S: I imagine he would have weighed 1,500 to 1,800 pounds.
B: Whew, that was a big one.
E: They call them the pork of the sea, and there are a lot of
manatee bones in the Indian mounds here. They sure ate a
lot of them.
S: Well, like I say, that was my first experience with a
E: How about sawfish? There are a lot of sawfish bones in the
mounds here.
S: There were a lot of them around these islands.
B: They say you cannot find them anymore.
S: Well, I have not seen one, and you hardly ever do. But back
south of us here you can go back in there in some places and
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run your net and, oh boy, you would catch five or six at one
time in a strike.
E: And how about blue crabs? Do you think there are more or
less of them now? Fishermen usually know about blue crabs.
S: Well, I do not know. But I will tell you something there is
plenty of. I do not hear people talk too much about the
blue crab right now, but this spider crab, now, they say
there is a world of those things.
B: Yes. I have seen a lot of them.
S: Now, I was talking to Mitchell King some time ago, quite a
while back, and he had been in the islands fishing that one
night. So I asked him, "How are spider crabs down there?"
He said, "They cannot survive." I said, "What is the
matter?" He said, "Them damn redfish are eating them up as
fast as they hatch." [laughter] He said, "The redfish are
out of this world."
E: Do you think that ban on [the commercial sale of] redfish is
what is responsible for bringing them back?
S: Yes, I would have to say it is.
E: There seems to be a lot of them around now.
S: There are a lot of them. And snook, too. There are a lot
of snook.
E: Did you ever net redfish or trout?
S: No. Not really. The only way I netted them or anything
like that [was when we fished with a stop net]. We netted
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trout a lot of times when we were stop netting in closed
season. When they had the closed season on mullet, we stop
netted for trout a lot of times.
E: The old cotton gill nets, would they hold a redfish or a
S: Well, they would hold a trout all right, and I guess if you
could get one a net big enough that would gill a redfish,
you would catch a few. You did not catch too many until
they went to nylon.
E: But with seine net or a stop net you could sort of scoop
them in. They could not tear that up.
S: Oh, yes. The mesh was so small they could not get their
mouth in it. That mouth is what busts it.
E: Was there much of a market for redfish back then?
S: Well, not nothing like there would be now. But redfish,
there is just any amount of those things you want to look
at, they tell me. I have not been out that much to know in
the last few years. I just ignored fishing. I have got my
boat and everything here. I have got a pole skiff.
E: Do you think banning the [commercial sale of] redfish hurt
the fishermen economically?
S: Well, I will tell you this. I will put it to you this way.
If they do go and have this closed season on mullet, and
they do not open it on redfish, these guys are going to be
hurting because that is what they did in that month and a
- 32 -

half of closed season; they trout and redfished. And they
caught a lot of trout. They did not catch that many
redfish--maybe five or six hundred a night, or something
like that--but they did not really try for redfish as much
as they did trout because with trout the price was a lot
E: We find a lot of jack bones in the mounds here, and some of
the jacks look like they weighed between twenty and thirty
S: Oh, yes. You can catch them right now.
E: There are still fish like that around? Do you think they
could be caught in a net? It seems like they would tear a
net up.
S: That is what Buck and them survive on in the summertime.
They run those wingdings off the beach out there. That is
another thing, to me, they ought to outlaw.
B: Why is that? Any particular reason?
S: Well, they destroy so many small fish.
E: They are mostly just after the pompano.
S: Well, no, they are after the jacks, but they kill the
pompano. We get tremendous--I say tremendous, but it does
not go up that big, but it does whenever you stop and think
about it, even if you catch thirty or forty little old
pompano that big every day. They catch little permit.
E: Is that because they have got a trammel net?
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S: No, they have a seine. But when they herd them jacks up in
those seines, it is just like those small mullet. There
were a lot of those mullet that probably could have gone
through the net if they had not had the holes all plugged.
But they pull them in that pocket, and they have it plugged
up where the little fish cannot get out. Then whenever they
get ready to load, if they would just stop--it would take a
little bit longer, I will admit--and hand pick that stuff
instead of taking a bail net and bailing it all in the boat.
Then they go and they bring that stuff in there, and we have
got to get rid of it at the fish house. Catfish. I have
seen them bring in anywhere from 500, 600, to 700 pounds of
catfish. What are we going to do with them?
E: Nothing.
S: You are not supposed to dump them overboard. Of course we
cannot do it there now because of the restaurant. They
would smell it. But we have got to get rid of them some
way. What they ought to do is make those boys take that
stuff themselves and dispose of it.
E: That would make them think twice.
S: That is right. But you ought to be there sometime when they
bring one of those seines in and look at the crap--the
smaller class of fish--that they destroy.
B: Well, that has got to hurt the industry all the way around.
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S: Why, sure it does. That is just like grouper fishing with
your long lines. That is killing the grouper.
E: [They] stretch a line out there ten miles on those rocks.
S: Yes, and they are catching those little grouper, and they
are not that long. I tell those boys it would take two to
make a splash. It is just ruining them, and they do not
have sense enough to see it. If each one of those guys that
are on that boat would take a bandit reel (where you can
catch two fish at one time) and use their heads, [they would
not overfish the resource]. Because when he drops that bait
down in there, if those fish are there, the big fish is
going to bite that bait first. That little fish is not
going to get that damn bait. Now the only way that little
fish is going to get it is after the big ones have already
[been] caught up. Then you are going to go to catching the
little ones. Then, the thing for him to do is move from
that spot and go hunt him another spot. We never caught
fish like that when we were fishing. If we got to catching
fish like that [small ones], we moved. Because that
[catching small fish] was just a lot of work for nothing.
There was not any money in it.
B: It seems to me that back during that time period everybody--
and I am talking about other gentlemen I know in the same
time period--had a better understanding of nature and what
- 35 -

to do to keep it alive, whereas nowadays it is just the
money, and you are not supposed to worry about tomorrow.
S: Well, it is just like those two guys fishing through this
run season. Say they did do good. What did they do with
the money? Just as goddamn quick as they can set up, they
go piss it away. Well, what are they going to do through
the summer? They have not got nothing to live off of
[except to] go welfare.
E: So, basically, the resource around here, as you see it, is
not really deleted of fish yet. You would say there are
still quite a few fish here?
S: Well, yes.
E: I am sure, like you said, there was a little more fish.
S: I think back in my early time there were more fish. But
there is more fishermen now.
E: There are more fishermen sharing less fish.
S: That is right.
E: And they cover so much more ground now than you do with a
pole skiff.
S: Oh, yes.
E: You have got an area to work in, and if there is no fish in
that area, by the time you have poled through the area .
S: You have done wasted your time.
E: But now with a boat and a motor you can go three or four
different spots ten miles from each other.
- 36 -

S: That is right. But you take back when the early fishermen
like me and my dad and my uncle [were fishing]. We could go
out there at night, and if we struck and did not catch but
thirty head of fish, what the hell. That was thirty head.
We would get up and go again. We always put our fish
together; they all went on one ticket. Then we split it
between us.
E: And you did not have to give the boat a third?
S: No. The only one that got a third back then--now, I will
put it this way, [and] they have just quit this recently--
was the fish house. If you needed a net, they would buy you
a net--you know, the webbing, the corks, the leads, and
whatnot--and put it on your account. Then when you came in
and settled up, a third came off of the top. That went
toward paying for your net.
B: Going in to Boggess Hole through Boggess Creek, was that
deeper than it is today?
S: No. I say no, but I have not been in it in years.
B: All right. We will take a run through there and you can
tell me.
S: It used to be up there right as you drop over in a hole,
there was a shallow ridge that ran across there.
B: It is still there.
S: You had to get an extra good [high] tide to get in there.
The rest of this, all it was was where your tide ran, just
- 37 -

like it does in Catfish Creek. That is the only way you get
a channel there is where your tide runs, and that is what it
is here.
E: Do you remember any docks or fishing houses or anything that
was on that sand ridge up there?
S: No.
E: No structures at all?
S: No structure whatsoever.
[End of interview]
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