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It is December and a time to remember. As the year will soon end, I look back to when I first started this column, twenty-one years ago. It was 1987. I retired from Channel 8 TV and came to my weekend Ruskin retreat, after a long trip to Africa.
I visited “The Shopper Observer News” one day and was directed by the publisher, Dennis Mixon, to his brother, Mickey Mixon, who was the general manager.
I still remember our conversation well. “The paper has no column about fishing, with Ruskin being a place where fishing was the greatest. Do you think you could handle this assignment?”
My whole career had been television, but I told him that I knew I could do the job, and with a coined name of “Fish Tales,” my column started.
Accustomed to press cards, I found that I could join the Florida Outdoor Sports Writers Press Organization, of which I am a member today.
Through the years I have seen a lot of changes, both in our paper and the town of Ruskin. Today, Mickey Mixon is president, brother Dennis has retired to Tennessee, and Brenda Knowles is editor/publisher.
I became familiar with the local bait shops. A popular one was Cole’s Landing on south Hwy. 41. Many fishing tournaments were held there. It was the most popular bait shop in town.
In 1988 Cole’s Landing had new owners, Rick and Debbie Tastad, who carried out the traditions of the Cole family. I featured John “Grizzly” McLaughlin and his giant 14½” freshwater catfish, which he took to Cole’s Landing for Rick to snap a photo for us.
Some other big catches in 1988 were a 14-pound grouper by Jim Lewis of Ruskin, and Mike Farrington caught a 14” silver trout. Mike made his catch at Island View Marina on Newport Drive, near Broken Bridge. This marina or tackle shop, no longer exists.
In 1988 Dot and Cliff Friend became the new owners of Alafia Bait and Tackle in Gibsonton.
Soon we had a new fishing club in Ruskin. The Ruskin Reelers was the brainchild of Frank Tichy. This club was organized to make fishing more enjoyable, and for all anglers to get to know each other.
Cole’s Landing was the home base of the club, and tournaments were started at daybreak with a shotgun fired into the air.
The Reelers had women in membership as well as men, with around 100 anglers grouped together. Kay Carr, Harriet Southerland, Devy Morgan, Debbie Duignan and I were members.
We had great seafood cookouts with smoked oysters, crab legs and the works. Prizes and trophies were given at tournaments and we had a tournament for every species of fish. We had caps with the Reelers’ logo as well as flags. The club was active for several years, and then finally dissolved.
In 1989 the “turtle protection” devices were a law on all shrimpers’ nets. In 1989 oysters were stil good on the beds in the rivers and you could eat them.
In 1990 I still had not caught a snook, and at one of the gatherings at Cole’s Landing the guys planted a snook in a big tank, and everyone gathered around while, with the aid of the guys who caught the snook and put him in a holding tank, gave me a big net. I landed a snook!
Giants Camp in Gibsonton was the oldest bait shop in the area and always reported their giant sheepshead caught in Bullfrog Creek. It is now gone with time.
It became a law in 1992 that all children under the age of six must wear life jackets if aboard a boat. In 1993 Dick Worden and Gary Tanner owned Ruskin Bait and Tackle, which is now owned by Doug Fox. Dick is a ranger at Simmons Park in Ruskin and Gary retired to Tennessee.
In 1994 Heidi Elsberry and Steve Rogers caught a stringer full of fish at Lake Wimauma. Margaret Driggers was fishing daily in our bay waters as well as Steve Mobley, Johnny Tedder, Don Williams, Terry Haden, Steve Bronson, Buster Dansby, and Bobby Fletcher.
From 1995 on I featured many anglers in my weekly stories and learned much about our waterways, keeping you the readers up-to-date about laws and all the happenings in the world of fishing.
Many bait shops have opened and closed. Our town has grown. Fishing has changed. Gas was higher than ever in history. Many public boat access launches have closed, due to growth. Many available fishing spots of years gone by are no longer in existence.
Fishing for a living is more or less a thing of the past. Many new laws, grass area restrictions, and closed season on various fish are now part of our lives. I have memories, and so you do, of days of yesterday, but we still live in the greatest fishing spot in the world.
Fish together; protect our waterways, obey the laws, and enjoy the great fresh air and exercise you get from fishing, not to mention the thrill of catching that big one. Still talk “Fish Tales,” about the one that got away.
-- Aleta Jonie Maschek is a member of Florida Outdoor Press.
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