Early Labor Day morning I went out commercial fishing with Curtis Whiticar on the “Howdee”, a small charter craft which used to belong to DeWitt Upthegrove in West Palm Beach.
The “Howdee” has caught her share of sailfish, but when sport fishing went the way of many other non-war essentials a couple of years ago, Capt. A. A. Whiticar, Curtis’ father, bought her and refitted the craft for the more serious business of hauling in mackerel and bluefish. She furnished a great many thousand pounds of seafood by the hook and line method during the emergency-and is still doing it.
The trip started out right with a rare human element-consideration for the other fellow. As we eased down a narrow channel past a moored houseboat, Capt. Curtis slowed her down to a crawl. “Has it shoaled here?” I asked. “No,” he replied. “I’m just keeping our wake from rocking that houseboat.” You can put that down in my book as one of the top reasons why Curtis Whiticar is one of the ace charter captains of the Martin County fleet.
Easing out the inlet in a grey dawn, we saw ugly rain squalls north and south, but edged between them to the northeast-and soon had four stout hand lines trailing, with two 3 ½ Drones on outriggers and a couple of feathers astern.
Before I had time to get my gloves on those hand lines went into action, and soon there were three big king mackerel, four blue runners, a jack, a small Spanish mackerel and about a 15 – pound barracuda threshing and flailing in the fish box. Although the clouds grew more menacing, we continued on our course, and about six miles offshore Curtis unerringly located a small red buoy which he had placed to mark a hidden reef.
“Here it is,” he said. “I’ll get the grouper lines ready while you stow the trolling gear.”
He idled the “Howdee” down and a small dolphin struck as I brought in a stern line. While it was still threshing in the box one of the outriggers bowed-and Curtis said “Get your gloves on for this fellow.”
I really needed him them. What a fish! If you don’t believe it, try hauling in a 30- pound amberjack man to man. While I was still breathing hard from this exertion; he said-“and here’s another.” I am now thoroughly convinced that the only thing harder to haul in than a 30- pound amberjack is a 35-pounder which was next on the bill of fare.
Meanwhile it was getting rougher. The squall hit and we were enveloped in clouds of rain. That is-we thought we were. Before we came in we were to know what real rain could look like.
Finally the sea flattened, and over went the grouper lines, baited with chunks of blue runner. “I find,” said Capt. Curtis delicately, “that the novice sometimes has difficulty in this deep water reef fishing. He fails to pull fast and hard enough to take the belly out of the line and set the hook.”
“Yeah, that’s so,” I agreed, feeling sorry for the poor novices.
There must be some other reason. Curtis hauled in four big grouper and a beautiful 13-pound red snapper while all I did was feed ‘em bait with my feeble jerks at the hand line. What a fellow needs in that sort of fishing is six-foot arms.
All this time it had been raining intermittently, and the sea got to kicking up more and more, so we called it a day and started in. Myself, I’ll be honest about it, if I’d been at the helm I wouldn’t have known which way to go. Six miles offshore in a rain squall, I would probably have headed for the Bahamas.
We saw some beautiful sights going in. Veering winds created a hillocky cross- chop with considerable ground swell-and the flying fishes showered like little silver birds ahead of us. Once we saw a great hammerhead shark lolling on his side just ahead of our bow – and it rained. A 10- pound king mackerel whanged onto an outrigger-and I insisted on dangling him overside two or three times until Capt. Curtis kindly took him away from me.
And it rained. It rained like it used to rain. It rained in a solid wall, and the little “Howdee” rode through the squalls without a sight of land unerringly to the inlet mouth. Going in over the bar an 8- pound cobia latched on a Drone, and he was still kicking when we got inside the river.
I had a wonderful time. Just the memory of hauling in that last 35-pound amberjack was something. Of course, Capt. Whiticar, all alone one time, using an ordinary hand line, brought to boatside from the reef bottom and landed a jew fish which weighed 265 pounds, dressed with head and tail cut off. He’s modest about it, not with a rope or shark hook-but with an ordinary tarred hand line.
Back at Salerno, we unloaded our edible catch at Banks Shelton’s fish house, and the barracuda and amberjack at the shark house, and were soon under cover again in the Whiticar boathouse at Port Sewall, where Capt. Curtis showed me the initial work on a 34-footer charter craft he is building with his own hands for use in sailfishing. I hope sometime to have the pleasure of going out in it with him-and know that I will enjoy myself just as thoroughly as I did Monday on that trim little sea boat, the “Howdee.”
Stuart News ~ 1945 - E.L.