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Fishing is unique to each of us

June 21, 2024

Many of us start fishing as kids, introduced by parents or grandparents. It seems to me the younger we are exposed to the outdoors the deeper it imprints. My first memories are about fishing. About five years old I caught a pickerel on a red and white Jointed Pike Minnow, casting under an overhanging bush. Then a small striper at my grandfather’s river house on a steel pole with a tip and only one guide, no anti reverse, AKA knuckle buster, and black linin line. Both hooked me. Notice the details kids remember.

Catching is everything to some of us, but kids enjoy anything, even minnows. I certainly adhered to catching at the start of my career because as a commercial fisherman, it paid by the pound. It began naively. Growing up in St Petersburg, I loved to fish, and caught plenty because it was much easier back in the sixties -,even without a boat. Tackle, gas, transportation, etc. all cost money. 

The natural progression for successful fishermen then was to sell the fish we couldn’t eat fresh. Prices per pound were ridiculous by today’s standards. Trout were twenty-five cents a pound. Sheepshead whatever I could get. Nobody really liked redfish, so we ate them. Snook were a treat and welcome whenever we caught them. Grouper were a quarter for red and thirty-five cents for gags. King mackerel thirty-five cents Spanish a quarter per pound. Mullet were a dime, if you could sell any. 

Back then everything was very different. Gas was only a quarter a gallon. We had a couple million people living in Florida, now it’s twenty-two and growing every day. Our waters were changing because of all the dredging but there was still abundant fish, crabs, etc. The dredged fills with sea walls offered seemingly endless opportunities to fish and explore. I’d take my bike to ride the seawalls stopping to dip up crabs, or cast to trout, reds, or snook. I could usually get enough to feed the family of six dinner. We could scoop up buckets of fiddler crabs for bait from the red clouds of them running around at low tides. Now everything is covered in homes and condos. 

After my return from the Navy in December of 1979, I fished at night a lot from piers. It was extremely productive if you put in the time. Fish moved around but I remember spacing my three rods so that as a school of redfish swam by, I could get the first one up just in time to grab the second rod and then the third. We used crabs and pinfish for baits. I had friends that helped me with transportation in this and most of my adventures. It paid for itself and fed us well. I’d go to Jr College for a semester, work a while and fish as I could. I got my AA degree it just took an extra year. 

I started working nights at O’Neill’s Skyway bait shop nights so I could get to know the fishermen I idolized. It was twelve hours for twenty bucks and no problem to fall asleep in the chair if it was slow. I got to know the important snook fishermen, night owls and secretive. They wanted good shrimp and if they helped me, I made sure they had em. We had a group of excellent guides and weekend fishermen too. They targeted grouper, snapper, kings, reds, and trout depending on what was available. Some fished the tarpon tournaments and were excellent. 

I went commercial netting if someone needed help or crewed on private sportfish rigs when I could. This gave me varied experiences and a different understanding of fish and their habits. I’ve wade fished, plus worked million-dollar sportfish rigs around the state. Mullet to marlin, a lot more mullet than marlin. Bottom line: I am committed to fish conservation and fishing. 

In 1976, I went to John’s Pass a started working for Captain Wilsom Hubbard. W, we are not related, but he was family and a father figure to me. Again, twenty bucks a day but eight-hour days. I got to know the key players, earn their respect, and gain knowledge of the charter fishing business. I passed my captain’s license in ‘77 and started running the gulf charters on larger boats. It was work and hard to get ahead on other folks’ boats. I mullet fished in the windy Fall fishery and got a smaller rig to inshore fish kingfish and bay fish if it was windy. This worked out well until I went to Boca Grande to help others out. This was paradise and there were so many fish  it was amazing.

In ‘81, I was leading the Suncoast Tarpon tournament and was offered a 39-foot Sportfish to bring down and tarpon fish. In ‘83, I moved to Boca and was blessed to have the best catching anyone could dream of. We had thousands of tarpon and I learned to figure out enough to catch plenty. Then I discovered snook fishing and moved to the mainland in ‘87. We had plenty of tarpon guides and no back country captains. We started the TV show business, and the fishing was crazy. I worked too hard and burned myself out. For example, in ‘84 or ‘85 the fish didn’t show up until Memorial Day weekend. I ran four trips a day for three days and then collapsed. It was work crazy hours and then play hard between working seasons. Much of it became a blur, but there are exciting memories. 

We enjoyed amazing catching through the ‘80s and well into the ’90s. Even up until about ten years ago it was possible to produce results, I was able to share a quality fishing experience with clients. Recently it’s been hard for me to adjust to fishing instead of catching. It’s not so bad, just nothing compared to what I’m accustomed to. For now, things appear to be recovering fish stock wise. We still have way too many boats and people, but that will only continue to grow. 

It’s time to accept reality, the place has been discovered, and I’m not young anymore either. I’m working to discover my next adventure. This writing helps me share my passion and maybe even convince someone to help protect and preserve our special paradise. This is home and I want to help maintain some of the old ways and charm. Thanks for your help.

Capt. Van Hubbard is a columnist for the Boca Beacon. You can follow him on Facebook or at