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The Summer of '58

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On: Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 9:09AM | By: Captain Sergio Atanes


Last year I wrote a three-part article on Tampa Bay when I was growing up and had a tremendous response. So here is another untold story on growing up in Tampa Bay.

Somewhere around 1958, needless to say, things were a little tough around my house. Mom and dad working hard trying to make ends meet and here I was a 13-year-old trying get enough money to buy a little fishing tackle, so I quickly learned a few tricks. Courtney Campbell Causeway was the hot spot for fishing from the shoreline and the ends of the two main bridges that took you into Clearwater.

By mid-April the water temperature got up around 76 degrees and at 13-years-old you think you can do almost anything. One of my friends had told me the story about how many lures had been lost by anglers fishing the east end of the long Courtney bridge on the rocks, so I put on a mask, an old pair of shoes, so as not to cut myself too bad (which I did), and proceeded to look for lures. I found the bonanza in about an hour of swimming around the rocks and I came up with more than 60 plugs, some jigs, and a few dozen cuts from the rocks, but it was well worth it.

To my amazement, most were red-and-white MirrOlures and most were ready to fish again. I found a rod and reel that I remember well, a Ted Williams rod and a Garcia Mitchell 300 reel with just a little growth on it. I was King of Ybor City that spring with plenty of tackle.

That April in ‘58 I remember catching small Tarpon behind the old Mullet Inn restaurant using cut ladyfish for bait. We lost most of them for lack of good tackle, but we had a lot fun trying. The tourists would sit there watching us kids fighting the fish and we even got a few tips for putting on a good show for them.

My first big Tarpon (at the age of 13) was at least a 70-pounder I caught from the shore next to the Columbus Drive Bridge using my uncle's Grouper rod and dead catfish on the bottom. I could see cars pulling over and least 10 or 15 spectators watching me fight the fish, which pulled me into the water several times. As scared as I was, no way was I going to let go and lose my uncle's rod.

When I could not hitch a ride to the Courtney Campbell, I would ride my bike from my house on Ninth Avenue and Twenty-first Street on Saturday mornings to the 22nd Street bridge in McKay Bay, which was a twenty-minute bike ride down hill. I remember it well, like almost yesterday, there used to be a small bait shop at the entrance to the bridge. I had only five cents at the most, (remember we are talking 1958) and a dozen shrimp went for fifteen cents, but the owner always gave me six shrimp, a dozen or so dead ones, and I always managed to get some from the other anglers on the bridge.

I could catch some nice big Trout, Sheepshead, and Redfish, but the biggest problem was getting the fish to the top of the bridge. Yes, in those days we were allowed to fish from the top of the bridge. Snook was called soap fish and no one wanted them, and I recall catching some pretty big ones on the south end of the bridge from shore where the dry docks are now.

A short walk along the mangroves just south of the bridge, just before you got to the Seabreeze restaurant, lay a patchy area of rocks that always held Redfish, and on the outside, where the water depth dropped, you could get your fill of Speckled Trout using the long forgotten Trout Tout, the first jig that used a shrimp-like tail, and it was a killer.

Well, I guess I'll save a few more stories until next time, but I hope for those who lived in the early days, this brought back some memories, and for the young or transplants from up north, now you know a little more about Tampa Bay.

If you would like to contribute please email your story about Tampa Bay by contacting Capt. Sergio at atanes@msn.com

Tight lines




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