There are many books about fishing, but very few target
in depth personal narratives of commercial fishermen and none target Florida commercial fishermen. This book is about unique and interesting characters as much as it is about fishing and the sea.
They are all well known from Cape Canaveral to the Palm Beaches and beyond. Two share their Vietnam experiences and one shares his beginnings as a Cuban Revolutionary and fisherman.
The latter grew up in Cojimar, Cuba and auditioned
for the part of the boy in the film,
“Old Man and the Sea”.
A history of Florida commercial Shark fishing and Sword fishing evolves through the book’s narratives. One of the charter captains in the book just swept the 2011 Bahamas Billfish Tournament series.
All of the stories are “priceless".
From the University Press of Florida,
High Seas Wranglers,
summary can be viewed here
This book chronicles the personal lives
and adventures of three seasoned commercial and two charter captains.
First, I must say that my saltwater fishing experience is limited to a rare party boat trip where the crew take my fish off the hook, and I start hyperventilating when I get out-of-sight of land. So, initially “High Sea Wranglers” didn’t seem a natural read for me. However, I enjoy reading about people and adventure, and boy, is this book packed with both.
Author and Kingfish Captain Terry Howard starts off by explaining the fishing process, which gave me an appreciation for the skill and danger involved in bringing mahi-mahi to my plate. I was surprised to learn that commercial king fisherman don’t use rods, but pull in lines by hand. This explains why I’ve noticed some commercial fisherman have missing fingers. Howard paints a startling image to emphasize why it’s important that fisherman stay clear of their pile of line: “If a porpoise or a large shark should take the fish that is being pulled in, the line might fly out of the boat as if it were hooked to a passing freight train.”
Following the introduction’s primer on commercial fishing, Howard launches into the individual stories of fishing captains as they were told to him. Removing the writer from the narrative gives the book an organic richness. I can sometimes hear the fishermen speaking as I read their unfiltered tales. Their personalities show through their pattern of speech and word choice.
The five fishing captains profiled all live in Fort Pierce, once billed as the world’s fishing capitol. They reminisce about their adventures at sea: Surviving turbulent storms, being struck by lightning, saving stranded divers 8 miles offshore, and enjoying days of bountiful catches.
Of course, the highlights to a fisherman are the fish stories that range from landing a 65-pound king mackerel to capturing sharks so big that they wouldn’t fit on the boat. It’s enough to make a non-fisherman want to charter one of these captain’s boats, if only to watch them fish. Though it’s clear you shouldn’t expect a big catch these days. Throughout the book, the captains lament the dwindling supply of kingfish along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, particularly Fort Pierce. Overfishing and the use of nets prompted more regulation, both making it more difficult for commercial fisherman to survive.
One of the things I like most about “High Seas Wranglers” is the men’s histories. Their backgrounds greatly vary. One of the captains, Ray Perez, is a Cuban refugee who came to the United States as a highly skilled shark fisherman. I particularly enjoyed his stories of when he was a revolutionary under Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista and later a counterrevolutionary under Fidel Castro.
Another captain, George Kaul, received the Purple Heart in the Vietnam War. He talks a lot about his service and it’s obvious life on the sea acts as a salve to the harshness of war.
Despite their cultural differences, the captains share their love of the sea and fishing. At times, this is poignant, particularly in the chapter on Captain A.J. Brown who was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer shortly before his interview. Brown told the author: “I just love the ocean. I love the part of being a mariner and being a part of it all. I still love it. Whether I catch a fish or not, I still love it.”
After reading “High Seas Wranglers”, that’s something even this landlubber can appreciate.
Book review of Terry Howard’s
“High Seas Wranglers”
by award winning journalist
and author of “Fringe Florida”