Every year Spanish mackerel fall into what is known as the hole. They migrate south and end up at Salerno or if colder weather hits they go further south. Salerno is two hours south of where we live. Since the net ban fishermen have been trying different methods of how to catch them and stay within the law. We were told we could not have a cast net more than 12 feet. The fishermen who lived down there were putting duct tape around their cast nets but they could only catch them at night.
My husband remembered a conversation he had with an elderly fisherman who was from down south where you could not use a cast net more than 6 feet in a river there. The old man told my husband he had always thought of making a 6-foot cast net but instead of a horn into the top of it, he said he wondered if he put a rope through the meshes and let it spread bigger, he said it should work and it would make the net cover more area.
We could not catch anything here and needed to find a way to make money and be home with the kids at night. My husband had an old cast net that he took the horn out of and put some heavy mono through the meshes. A friend of ours was going to Salerno that night so my husband gave him the net to try. He came back and wanted to know all about how to make him a net like that.
We would have to get up at 2 am to get to Salerno before daylight and sometimes not getting home till dark. They were long hard days, but we did whatever was needed to pay the bills and keep a roof over our heads.
Since we knew it worked my husband made a new cast net and called it a spreader net. We caught good fish and it was not long and all of the other fishermen wanted to know how to make them. Now that is the only net type that anyone uses to catch mackerel.
My husband did not like catching the small fish, we had to catch three of them to get paid for what one big one would bring. He built a cast net with the spreader but it was a bigger mesh, it would let the small fish go through it leaving only the bigger ones to catch. The other fishermen did not know what we were doing to catch so many big fish. There was more to it than the mesh size, we had to be there at daylight and we had to be right on the beach, well not ON the beach, that would be bad, but very close to shore. We could only do this when the weather was calm. Some of the fishermen could see us in there and they would wander around looking to mark them on the fish finders. we were not marking them as we did with the smaller fish, I would just see some blue dots on the scope and tell him to throw. They did not know this so the would go back offshore to catch the smaller fish.
I always drove the boat and told my husband when I thought the fish were thick enough for him to throw the cast net. Sometimes there were fifty other boats all trying to mark the fish, I had to keep an eye on them while keeping an eye on the scope, it was very nerve-racking. We always caught fish and I have never thrown my husband overboard as other boat operators had done. I have shed more than once what I would call mermaid tears. Sometimes I felt very frazzled trying to keep up with everything.
One day the mackerel were thick and the fish house down there shut off on them but our fish house was still taking them. We always hauled our fish back to Sebastian. This time a couple of our friends asked if we would haul their fish back here with ours. My husband told them yes we would.
We had a huge insulated fish box in the back of our truck, it would hold two thousand pounds and we filled it. Then we laid a tarp down and put a layer of fish then a layer of ice and so on until the truck was full and tarped it.
When we left Salerno and it was already getting dark. My husband turned on the headlights and they were shining in the trees from all the weight in the back of the truck. We got on I95 headed north and my husband tried to change lanes and the trucks front end floated he had no control of it. If he turned the wheel the slightest it would float sideways. We were both so scared and I prayed all of the ways to the fish house. After that, we were careful about how much weight we put in the truck bed.
We have always been able to change when life changes but now I am at a loss, I do not know what is left for us to fish for. When we first started fishing together we would row two boats around mullet. And we would use the fish house's boat for a percentage to fish the ocean and made a living for many years. We had a bought built and started using it. When the weather was calm we took it in the ocean and caught good fish, it was a 20-foot flat-bottom boat. We had 1400 pounds of fish on it one day when we were coming in the inlet we were sitting pretty low to the water. The Marine Patrol pulled up by us and shook his head like he could not believe we were not sunk and waved us on. I think he was afraid to pull up to us.
We were both fishing different boats, I had the 20-foot flat-bottom boat and my husband had the 24-foot bowrider that he built. We knew what weather made the roe-mullet move and where they would be at. They come out of the Sebastian River, what we call the creek, ahead of a cold front. It was illegal to net fish up the creek but every year people from a different town would come here and sneak up there with their nets and catch them.
We got to the creek right at daylight and found three out of town boats sitting there, the marine patrol kept them from going up there so they were waiting for them to come out. The only problem with their plan was they all went to sleep. One guy was to stay awake and wake the others if the fish came, but he also fell asleep. We were sitting there looking at the boats when my husband saw a pelican dive, he told me he was going to set south and he wanted me to set north of him. One of the outer towners was inshore of where my husband set his net, he came so close to the guys' boat that he knocked his one of his oars overboard. I set my net right up to the other two boats. The guy that had his oar knocked over told someone he thought someone was shooting at him. It was the sound of my husband's cork and the lead line going overboard. Needless to say, we woke them up.
This is no exaggeration, there was several hundred mullet in the air and all the out of towners could do was watch. I saw someone onshore in oilers and waving gloves at me. It was my sister, she was crossing the bridge and saw what was going on. She went to the fish house and told them of our set and borrowed someone's oilers and gloves. I poled across my net and went to shore to pick her up.
We were pulling the net in when one of the out-of-towners pulled up to me. He had a bowrigger like my husbands' boat but it had a huge tower on it so he was very high in the air. He says to me " lady there is no way you are going to get all of those fish on that boat". I did not think I was either but I sure as hell wasn't going to give the fish to him, I said back to him "watch me". But I was really waiting for one of our local fishermen to show up which he did and I told him to start on my other end and when I get all I can put on I will cut my net. He said hell no, you are going to put them on your boat. I saw the other boat talking to him before he came to me and I bet he was told that I was not going to haul them all.
Tim would tell me when I needed to put more in the bow, then he would say go to the middle, now the stern and back to the bow until I got them all loaded. My sister jumped on his boat because I did not have much freeboard. It was sleek calm, which was a good thing. We hired anyone who showed up at the fish house to help pick them out of our nets, we paid each of them one hundred dollars for helping. That week when we got our check we had to get the fish house to write two checks because it was over ten thousand and someone told us that a check like that would send red flags to the IRS. This was a week before Christmas and I was so worried we would not be able to get the kids much. They all got new bicycles.
They had their bikes for one week. New Years' Eve night they were all stolen. I called the police and made a report but figured they would not look for them. I always take pictures of the tree and the presents on Christmas eve and when they open their presents so I took the pictures and knocked on every door that had someone home. The next day I got a phone call from a man that said he thought he knew where the bikes were, he said his son was one of the boys who took them and they threw the bikes in a canal. I went to his house and he had his son get them out of the canal. I told him if he will handle his son, I would not press charges. I believe when you do something like filing charges against a kid, you are really just causing the parent the trouble, the child is not going to be in any more trouble than he already was in by his parents. He thanked me and I took all of the bikes home, they looked like crap but still worked.
Every year we made six months of our money on catching roe mullet. And every year we would get a good set of them right before Christmas. I have spent more than one Christmas doing all of my shopping in just two days before Christmas. Once I was shopping on Christmas eve, which I hated because there was not much left in the store.
One November my husband had bought a new outboard motor, it came in a cardboard box with a styrofoam insert. I had a plan for the box so I saved it. Christmas eve I took five envelopes and put a hundred dollar bill in each envelope, I pulled the insert out of the big box and taped the envelopes to the back of it then replaced the insert. I filled the place in the insert that held the motor with sticks, put the lid on it, and wrapped the box. That was the only present I put under the tree. They woke in the morning and were all talking about what could be that big and for all of them. They opened it and all they saw was sticks, I need to say they were all teenagers. I told them that is all they got because they do not listen to me. I let them fret for a bit, then told them they had something else but they had to find it. It took them a while but did find the envelopes. They were so happy to go shopping and buy whatever they wanted and so was I because that was the cheapest Christmas we had ever had. I did get them each a little something else but did not spend nearly as much as I usually spend.
My husband and I always drank while wrapping presents. We never had a bottle of champagne but had plenty of beer. One year we wrapped each child's gift with different wrapping paper, we did not put any names on any of the presents. We knew who had what by the kind of paper it was wrapped in. We mixed them all up and put them under the tree. Our kids were peekers if they saw their name on a gift before we were awake they would try to look between the taped areas. So this time they did not know whose gift they were peeking at.
Another Christmas my husband said Santa gets all of the credit, let's give them gifts from others. They had presents from the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Mother Nature, Peter Pan, and etc. They laughed so hard asking each other who their gift was from.
Most roe mullet seasons it was my job to sit at the creek and wait on them to come out. My husband would be looking the river over for them to come from the north. We had radios on our boats and I was to call him if they came. A friend was talking to me on the radio when the fish showed. My husband and I had a different channel that we talked on. I was scanning both channels. The mullet came and our friend set his net and I picked up the mike as I was running my net out and just said 'you better get here". After I finished setting I called him and asked where was he. He told me and I said why are you not on your way here? He said I never called. I had forgotten that I was scanning and did not look at the channel I was talking on. He never got the call. oops. I had close to four thousand pounds on that set. Even if I would have called on the right channel, it would have been over by the time he got there.
The fish house owner's grandson showed up and I told him there was plenty of fish in my circle that did not hit the net. I told him to run a circle around my net and when I get picked up for him to put his net in the middle. I picked my net up and poled over his net and went on to the fish house. Later the grandson came and I asked him what he caught, he told me a hundred pounds and I asked if he put the net in the middle and he said no he just picked up his circle and had that many. I knew there were a lot of fish still there but it did no good to tell him he screwed up.
We were in the ocean offshore of Vero Beach. We were making a feeler. That is when you run a piece of net out and hold on to it for a couple of minutes to see what kind of fish hits it. we had this feeler out when something hit it and net went to running out of our boat, my husband grabbed me and yelled get out of the net, he was afraid I would get pulled overboard. Then this big fish that looked like a baby whale, came out of the water with our net over it. We looked at each other like what the hell was that when this long tail came out of the water. I had never seen anything that looked like that. My husband said he was not sure but he thought it was what is called a thresher shark. It was gone when we picked the feeler up. When we got home we went to the library and looked at a book on sharks and there it was a thresher shark. They have a round short body with a tail longer than their body.
I did not get to fish at night much, only when I had someone stay with the kids. I loved it on the river at night. My husband did not like fire in the water because the fish could see his net, but I loved seeing it. As we ran along I could see the fish swimming off by the streaks in the water. Fire in the water is some sort of plankton that lights up and any movement would glow. I could take the oar and pull it through the water and I could see where it was pulled through. The boat waves would light up, it was just beautiful to watch.
I was splatter pole fishing. My splatter pole was 19 feet and weighed two pounds. A splatter pole is a long fiberglass rod with no reel. It is basically a cane pole. All you have is a line as long as the pole and a hook.
I was fishing with the splatter pole on the edge of the old east channel. One of the top three pole fishermen was fishing near me and I caught my 75 head limit of trout and never moved my anchor. He told me later that he knew I was catching the trout but did not know I was doing that good. I am no way near the top fisherman but no one else has ever caught their limit on one anchoring and back to the fish house by 10 am. I am proud of that.
Another time I was splatter pole fishing and this same fisherman was near me. I caught a ladyfish and when I tried to grab it, it jumps out of my hand and the hook went through the bend in my arm. It was not bad just through the skin and back out. The fish was up the line and every time it moved it pulled on the hook in my arm. I tried to grab it but when I did, it jumped again, this time twisting the hook and skin in a circle and burying the hook in my arm. It was a 5 ought long shank hook and all that could be seen was the eye and a small part of the shank. I grabbed the fish with a death grip. Now I have this long pole stuck up in the air, a hook in one arm, holding the jumping fish in the other and I can not do anything, I can not lay the pole down. The other fisherman heard me cussing and came over to me, he cut the line so I could lay the pole down and offered to take me to the dock. I told him I thought I could make it on my own. I got the anchor pulled and had to pull start the motor. Once at the dock, the owner's daughter offered to take me to the clinic.
At the clinic, they took one look and rushed me to a room, the doctor came in, then he went out and came back with everyone in the office so they could see it. He told me he was afraid if he tried to push the hook through and cut the barb with the little wire cutters they had, that it would do more damage, he said when the hook went in the first time, it went through my tendon then the second time it twisted the tendon in a circle and went back through the tendon again. He sent one of his office workers to Ace Hardware to buy a big pair of bolt cutters, I still remember them having the price tag of 43 dollars. He deadens it and pushed the hook through then cut it with the bolt cutters after all of that, he still had a hard time getting it untwisted and pulled out.
On this day I was drifting north of Long Point and hooked a big jack on the splatter pole. I had to stand up in the boat while trying to tire it out, he was going circles around the boat. Then a bull shark showed up and was doing circles behind the jack. I am not sure how many times the three of us did circles but when the shark hit the jack, I never felt a thing, half of the jack is all I had. When I got to the fish house I showed them the half of jack I had and told them what had happened. I threw it on the scale and the half I had weighed six pounds. I am still amazed about how I could have so much tension on the line and not feel the shark bite it, I saw him do it but there was no tugging.
I was fishing with the pole at Mullet creek flat in knee-deep water, I saw a very large fin in shallower water and was thinking that is a big bull shark. I pitched another bait while still watching him, He started moving towards my bait but was down tide of it. when he got even with my bait, it did an abrupt turn and headed straight for it. I yanked my like in and saw it swimming for my boat. I stood up to take a look at him and when I saw it, I sat down really fast. My boat was 13 feet and it was every bit of 10 feet.
We had taken my sister and her husband fishing for fun. We went just outside of the inlet in the ocean. My sister's husband was called Masher, he was a big guy with a beard but to know him he was a big softy. Masher was reeling in a bluefish when a shark got after it. As he reeled the shark had his mouth open and was coming straight to the boat. Masher reeled as fast as he could but the shark got the fish just before he was to lift it out of the water. I had never seen such a big man shake like he was shaking. I laughed so hard, but he was seriously shaken by it.
Masher was from New York, I think it was northern New York. we were all walking on the beach. I showed him some turtle tracks and told him that is where a turtle laid her eggs and then went back to sea. He was amazed at this. I went on walking with my sister and husband and in a few minutes Masher caught back up to us and said " you were right, it is a turtle nest, look it is a turtle". We were upset with him for digging it up and he said he had a hard time getting it to break open, throwing it on the ground and finally taking his knife and cutting it open, he said they don't crack like a chicken egg. The poor little turtle still had its umbilical cord attached, my husband took his knife and cut it. We did not know if the little turtle would make it if we put him in the surf. We brought it home and put it in our saltwater fish tank, we hand fed it and took good care of the little guy. We named him Flash. Flash was the size of a quarter when we took him home when Flash got to the size of a small saucer we took him to the boat ramp and let him go in the river. I did not like the thought of putting him in the ocean, I felt he had a better chance of making it in the river.
About seven or eight years ago my youngest son was fishing with me. The only place that had mullet was on the shallow water on the north side of the inlet. Other people had tried to catch them but for some reason, they could not get close enough to them to get a good throw with the cast net. My son is thin and tall and I would tell them he can catch them because he looks like a channel marker pylon. But truth is, he could throw the net so damn far. And he did not give up if he got a bad throw. we brought in anywhere from seven hundred to a thousand pounds a day. That year my son and I were top boat, which means we caught the most mullet for the entire east coast. I was very proud of him.
To me, it is odd how my life has mirrored my Dad's life. When he was in the Air Force during World War 2. He said when they went to drop a bomb it did not always go, it would get stuck and he would need to kick it to get it unlodged. He showed me some pictures of the crew and them standing in front of their plane. The plane was named Snow White and had a big picture of her painted on it.
He also told me about the time some big wigs came to his Base and was taking questions from the men. He asked why do our Allies have brand new Goodyear tires on their planes and the United States planes were having to land on bald tires. He received many cheers from his peers for this question. But the Brass did not see it that way. They threw him in the Brigg for instigating a riot.
After the war, he moved to southwest Florida and fished and shrimped out of the Everglades. The state came in and closed all of the Everglades to commercial fishing. He could still shrimp but it had to be done in The Gulf of Mexico. At this time he had three kids from his first wife, they had divorced and he got the kids. He remarried and one of his shrimping trips he had his middle son with him. This son got in trouble for something and hid on the boat from dad. Dad told me he searched the entire boat and could not find him. He had circled around and he was nowhere to be seen. Dad said he was so upset, thinking the worst when he heard a noise. He found Tommy and he was so relieved that he had not fallen overboard that all he could do was hug him.
Sometimes he would spend days on end shrimping, only coming in to unload and returning to the sea. Which many did when fishing was good you kept fishing. This second wife did not care for the kids. The oldest was a girl and she overheard her step-mother talking to some people and handing them the youngest child. She said she will get the other two. Shirley grabbed Tommy and they hid in a closet. I am not sure of the time-line but Dad came home and found Victor gone. This woman had gotten rid of him and Dad never seen him again. He kicked this woman out of the house and filed for divorce. About fifteen years ago Shirley found the people who adopted Victor and found out he was killed in Vietnam, the people wrote her a beautiful letter about how much joy he brought to them and sent her a picture.
Dad met my mother and asked her if she would like a job babysitting. She had run away from home in Massachusetts and was in south Florida. She was fifteen. They moved back to Sebastian where dad leased the land on the south side of the Sebastian inlet. This was 1953. Now, my dad was 32, and mom was 15. There is no other way to say this but to say, dad was a dirty old man, and he married mom. In 1954 my brother was born and I was born in 1956.
I lived there for 15 years when dad told me we had to move. The State was taking our land. I do not think that I have ever gotten over being forced out of my childhood home and then 12 years ago getting thrown out of the house I raised my kids in, again by the government.
I have always said our family has had a curse put on us. I do not really believe this but it does seem that way. To lose four brothers and a nephew, all of them in their early thirties and none of them had had a child. That and all the laws that have affected our lives, the taking of our homes. It is too much of a coincidence for me.
Around ten years ago our well collapsed and filled with sand and we had to have a new well put in. Sand filled our water heater, water softener, and reverse osmosis unit. I started losing weight and my hair kept breaking off, I lost 8-inches of hair. If I stayed outside in the heat too long I would get sick. No matter how much I drank or ate I could not put on weight. My husband said he was going to try and get the water softener working, this was four years later. when he took the filter off, it was blacker than black, smelled bad, and was falling apart. I told him I was glad that it was going to the softener and not to our sinks. That is when he looked at me weird and said "it goes to the house" I thought I was going to throw up. Neither of us had thought about the filter after the softener quit working. I know that I was dehydrated but I also think drinking and cooking with water that had gone through that black gonk had something to do with me losing weight and having no tolerance for having to work outside. I have now put on about ten pounds but I still suffer being outside. I can work all day on the river but can not last an hour outside in our yard. I think it is because the wind is always blowing on the river and that makes it a little cooler.
Also around ten or maybe it was close to fifteen years, I went to the dump and someone had left a bunch of flower pots sitting on the wall. At the time I did not know why but I put them in my truck and brought them home. I jokingly told my husband we could grow plants to make up for when fishing is bad. From that, is how we got started growing plants. And for a few years, we had plant and yard sales, this is when I was losing weight and it just got to be too much on me and I told my husband I could no longer do it. He still grows areca palms and a friend has a nursery and sells them for us. But this friend is retiring and closing his nursery. So it will be up to us to sell our own. I do not know the laws on selling from our property so we will need to look into it. I know we can grow and sell them as long as we planted the seeds, we can not sell them if we bought them from someone else and grew them bigger. It is a crazy law. Another friend who lives in a different county told us he can advertise and sell plants from his yard once a year. what I would like to do is advertise on a web-site and have people come to pick them up. We have a nursery license to grow them, and we get inspected by the state once a year. We will need to see how this will work out. I do have faith that something will work for us, we just do not know what it will be but one thing is for sure we know how to change ways of making a living. We do whatever it takes to stay self-employed.
Through the summer if fishing is bad and the price is high enough we have even picked palmetto berries. They say by taking palmetto berry pills it helps men from getting prostate cancer, I do not know if it really helps but if there are not many berries going on the market, they have paid over a dollar a pound for them. You have to be very careful getting them, rattlesnakes like to hide under them in the shade and wasp like to build their nest in them. After the fire behind our house, the palmetto berries came back like no other year, they were plentiful. It was also a year where we had a drought and elsewhere the berries did not do well. We were getting them and our son was getting them. The people buying them could not believe the size of ours and the amount we were bringing in, we did quite well on them.
My dad would take palmetto berries and soak them in whiskey, I am not sure for how long but it was quite a while and he would drink it for cold medicine, personally I think it was the whiskey that made him feel better.
For the last few years, I have had this feeling to write down all of my memories. I started doing it a couple of different times but never finished it. I do not think I made the word count but I pretty much wrote all the memories that I could recall. Thank you @kaelci for allowing me to do this.
It does not matter to me that I will not receive any reward because I feel leaving my words for my children and grandchildren is enough reward for me.