■ BY MARCY SHORTUSE
Capt. Lewis “Buster” Herzog, a true Boca Grande character of the greatest magnitude, has left this earth to fish another realm. If you knew him you only have to close your eyes to picture him – skinny, salty, sassy and barefoot – fishing the bottom for grouper up in heaven while keeping an eye on the ladies at the same time.
He was 82 when he passed away on September 26, 2015, but for decades everyone who knew him described him as “older than dirt.” His reputation as an angler was preceded only by his notoriety as a practical joker (ask Jay about the raccoon) and a ladies’ man, but he was known to be true of heart and a dedicated friend to many.
While it is rumored he hailed from somewhere in the Northeast, Buster fit in just fine on the Florida coast. He called St. Petersburg home, but spent much of the last few decades living on boats on Boca Grande waters. He was captain for Mark Nagle for many years, more than two decades to be exact, and ran Mark’s two boats – a tarpon boat called Had ‘em and Obsession, a sport fishing boat. Mark remembered the first time he ever met Buster.
“He was a salty, skinniest man I’ve ever met in my life,” he said. “Buster was Buster: He wasn’t the most handsome man in the world, but he thought he was. I took him out to lunch and we went to Marina Jacks (in Sarasota). We were sitting at the bar and he was working the waitress so hard I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I finally asked him if he was looking for a job or trying to get with that woman.”
Buster was hired on the spot, and two days later he moved Mark’s boat to Boca Grande. “He lived on that boat until the day I sold it, about two years ago, Monday through Friday,” Mark said. “When we would go down to the Bahamas for a few months at a time he would live on the boat as well.
His best friend, Capt. Freddy Futch, was a captain for another Boca Grande man, so we went together.” Mark said Buster used to go down to Millers Marina and pick up dead shrimp out of the bait tank, bring them back to the boat, and feed them to his wild birds. “One day I was there by myself in the galley and the doors were open,” Mark said. “Three big cranes came walking into the salon. They were looking for their breakfast. I told him he shouldn’t feed those birds right on the boat, but he didn’t listen.
“He was like a father to me. He taught me so much about fishing, about boats, about everything. He loved to dance and he only had one pair of shoes … but he never wore them. He would eat lunch at The Temp, in the back room in the kitchen, every day of his life. He used to love to party, he loved to dance … he was just a wonderful man. He lived on my boat for about 15 years, and when the guy came to clean it when it was time to sell, by the time he got all of Buster’s belongings out of there he had left, the boat rose out of the water by six inches … and that’s a 54’ boat. That’s how much stuff he had collected in there.”
Buster had a tournament-weighed tarpon of 166 pounds to his credit, but on more than one occasion found anglers in his guiding parties fighting fish that were estimated to weigh more than 180 pounds.
In a 1968 article from The Evening Independent, a newspaper that used to be around St. Petersburg, Buster was referred to by the writer as one of the most patient anglers on earth. It was right after Hurricane Abby had hit, and quite literally had blown all of the fish out of area waters. He was also referred to as one of the best tarpon guides around.
Capt. Sandy Melvin remembers Buster well, too. He was one of the only “old-timers” who would (albeit begrudgingly) answer all of Sandy’s fishing questions when he was just a novice angler. “I caught my first tarpon with Buster shortly after I arrived in Boca Grande,” Sandy said. “I considered him a mentor because he would always take the time to answer my dumb questions. He could be cantakerous, but he was usually kind and friendly. He liked his practical jokes at lot, he was a fun kind of guy. He lived the Boca Grande lifestyle, and while he was known all up and down this coast of Florida as one of the best fishermen there was, he just wanted to catch some fish. “We’re going to miss him.”
On Buster’s memorial page at legacy.com Capt. Scott Moore wrote, “(You) were one of my mentors, Buster. Thank you for all the fun on the Boca Grande docks. He will get by St. Peter without shoes. Rest in peace.”