Now, My Sympathy Goes To The Guy Sideswiped By Fate

For example, the tourist who was walking along a Florida street, going along dumb, fat, and happy who got killed graveyard dead by a falling submarine – bar sign. Sometimes it seems there just ain’t no sense in what happens to folks.

Now, some folks are easy to talk about, some are hard. Shorty Breck is one of the hard ones. For one thing, he was about as serious as a hellfire and brimstone preacher low rating a cat house. For another, he only scaled 16 hands – five foot four –
but he weighed over 200. He wasn’t fat, he was solid.

Built like a mortar shell, the same size all the way up until he came to a point. He had one of these low maintenance hairdos, too. Just a little moss around the edges. Of course, the barber charged a quarter in those days, whether you got your hair cut or your scalp waxed.

Shorty never showed more emotion than that barbers pole, except every once in a long while some particularly outrageous stroke of misfortune would set him off. Serious, serious, serious, that was Shorty.

But talk about tight! Shorty squeezed every nickel until the buffalo hollered. He was close with his coin on everyday needs and he was double tight when it came to spending a dime or two on recreation!

Yessir, Shorty was one of these bleeding optimists that figured if a ten buck Ocean City salt water reel was excellent and a five dollar level wind Pfleuger reel was good, a one dollar “no name” without a level wind would do just as well. So Shorty spent most of his fishing time unsnarling backlashes!

Now, since Zebco has all but eliminated backlashes, I guess I better explain just what a backlash is. Take a bait casting reel – one with the spool set sideways and supported on both ends. In theory you control the thing with your thumb. If you catch something, your thumb on the spool is the drag. The harder you thumb it the more drag, so the harder the pull on the line.

But if you flip a bait out and apply thumb while your bait is still in the air it flops into the water, SPLOT!, scaring all the fish in the bay. That ain’t generally considered cool.

If you don’t apply thumb quickly enough the spool keeps on spinning, spitting out most of the line on the spool so you get a big birds nest of snarled line just forward of your reel. A birts nest that takes a half an hour to pick apart. That’s a backlash.

While you are untangling the mess you review your profane vocabulary one word at a time as the turtles eat your bait. Which is why spin casting reels are so popular.

Now, Shorty having this serious aversion to spending money on a HOBBY meant his tacklebox was nothing but junk. I remember the first day of December in ’40 we left Naples, Florida, in a 19 foot inboard called the Liffey – out after five pound jacks, amberjack, that just loved to tear up your tackle.

“We” were my dad, Art Larsen, Shorty, a local man named Grey, plus the kid. Me! I wasn’t just along for the ride, either. Every time we ran out of bait they would pull up somewhere and I’d take the bait bucket and fill it with fiddler crabs. I don’t think there was a fish down there that wasn’t daffy for fiddler crabs – every beach was working alive with those things, and we still couldn’t keep enough bait.

Besides that, I got to lay on the front deck watching the dolphins ride the bow wave. And a few more things, too. Like catch fish! Sheephead were my favorite. Especially caught, dressed, and fried over a fire on the beach, sprinkled with salt water for seasoning.

Now, we were inside the barrier islands, trying to keep out of the Gulf’s waves, Shorty was trolling. He was using a little fresh water bass rig he’d bought for two bux in a Michigan five and dime. Shorty had taken the six pound test twist line off and filled the reel with 40 pound braided line, though. The fish in that part of the world are stout.

All at once Shorty gave a hair raising howl. We knew he’d hooked something big. In just a few seconds a tarpon about five foot long broke water, tail walked maybe fifteen feet, and flung Shorty’s drone spoon back at him.

Shorty gave a screech like a lost soul as he tried to dive in after that fish! It was all my dad and Art Larsen could do to keep him from it! It seemed to take forever to calm Shorty down, but they finally got him to let us go on.

After he cooled off he threw his spoon back out, trolling again. About 11:00 we pulled up at a little dock to fry our catch for lunch. Grey started talking about the Gar Wood style speed hulls the rich kids liked to race through the channel. They were lovely boats, all mahogany and horsepower, but the nuts holding the steering wheel were a menace.

The worst was a jugheaded kid who had a beautiful thirty six foot two seater with a supercharged engine and open exhaust pipes. Those “cigarette” boats you see on the tube remind me of that speedster – except the cigarette’s don’t have the mahogany planking or the roostertail. The planking is a waste of money, the roostertail a waste of horsepower. But they sure did make that boat stand out when it was flat out.

That boy loved to drive that boat flat out, almost as much as he liked making whoopie with the little waitresses and cigarette girls he picked up in Palm Beach night clubs. He usually had one of those pretty young things in the mechanic’s seat when he took his racer out.

Rumor said he’d take the girl for a “picnic” fifty or so miles down the coast, where his family had another camp. Rumor also said he could make the trip in an hour, which is moving along some swift on the water.

Dame Rumor also had it that local fishermen had picked up several girls “walking home” after fighting off young Lothario’s advances. Letting a girl walk and swim up a coast with alternating mosquito infested islands, channels, and mangrove swamp ain’t nice, not none! So the locals didn’t much care for him or his doting family.

But all the time he was squiring a gal he was strictly “puttin’ on the agony, puttin’ on the style,” big time! He drove a fancy French car like a bat out of hell, DeLoop or DeLage or some such, the same way he drove that boat. He wore the latest clothes – and when a girl stayed at the mansion there was a flower delivery a day.

He seemed to think that scaring the liver out of his latest conquest as well as everyone on the water was sure enough smart, too. I liked to stand on shore a safe distance from the beach to watch a palm tree high roostertail come up the channel at maybe seventy miles an hour.

Women’s coal scuttle hats were popular and slacks were not, so you could see his passenger scrooched down trying to keep her hat on and her dress down. Most of the girls needed two hands for either job but failed at both.

That big racer’s wake would swamp a small boat, turn it plumb over, so I always thought the boy got his jollies watching old couples swimming to shore cussing him.

Not that it did any good to cuss him – “Bread rules, he who has the bread makes the rules,” you know. His family had plenty bread, so the rabble better get alee when his racer came snarling up the channel.

Every fall the folks who were subsistence fishing had to learn all over again that a roar in the distance meant you better put dirt under your keel. Grey had to put the Liffy out to rescue someone at least twice while we were there.

The wake wouldn’t have sunk the Shannon, she had too much freeboard and decking for that, but nobody enjoys a cold saltwater bath at the hands of a certified idiot, either. So we chose discretion rather than valor and headed for shelter when we heard those open exhaust pipes thundering in the distance.

We knew that boy and a couple of his Gar Wood buddies headed out early, so we decided to go in early and avoid nasty surprises. Shorty decided to pass the time trolling his way back to the dock. We got to a pretty good sized pass when Shorty howled again. This time he had about four foot of fighting snook on. That robalo was trying his best to stay airborne. After the fish sunned his belly maybe four times he started to run.
Shorty’s reel started to get empty! So Shorty set down on that spool just as hard as he dared. All he did was blister both thumbs! He didn’t even slow Mr. Robalo down, not none.

When the line ran out there was a twang and his cheap pot metal rod broke just behind the reel seat. Natural, the reel took off for parts deep and unreachable, while Shorty sat there stunned
for a second. Then he came alive!

We weren’t quite quick enough that time! Shorty came up about thirty feet from the boat, stroking for Mexico! Wasn’t no fish going to steal his rod and get away with it. He was going to swim that fish down to get his tackle back! We followed him until he got tired and calmed down before my Dad hauled him back in.

Now, Shorty wasn’t about to pay Florida prices for a decent rig, but he was plumb out of fishing tackle. So he figures he’s going to try bridge fishing. Bridge fishing consisted of going out on an old abandoned bridge after sundown, working a lure in a figure 8 pattern until something tried to swallow it.

Most of the time you’d get some good fish – but sometimes you’d tie into a big old ray or a three to four hundred pound hammerhead shark or maybe a five or six hundred pound jewfish, or something else way too big to land.

Shorty was close with his coin, but he wanted to haul in a fish as big as the two that got away. So the morning after the trolling debacle, Shorty runs into Naples to get a twelve foot piece of closet rod, two inch wooden dowel

He cuts two feet of it off and whittles that to look like a giant Heddon Pikie Minnow. He puts a screw eye at the front end, six pair of 10/0 treble hooks on the body. Big hooks! Then Shorty threads 50 feet of 500 pound test piano wire leader through all those hooks and out the screweye, then winds the excess tight on the end of his “pole.” Then he takes a fifty foot piece of 3/8ths hemp rope and ties that off between a loop in the end of his leader and the bridge rail. In case he hooks Moby Dick it won’t get away, you know.

About sundown my dad and I walked down to where Shorty has his “pig minnow” cutting a phosphorescent 10 foot figure 8 in the water. He’d just about figured out that he’d overdone things when there was a sound like somebody threw an anvil off the bridge.

SWOOSH GLUB SHLOP – something swallowed his bait whole. Shorty gave out a war whoop and set the hooks!

Whatever Shorty had hooked shifted to overdrive and took off for Cuba at a high rate of speed. His pole was snatched out of his hands instanter, while Shorty got a nice rope burn from his safety line. When it got to the end of Shorty’s safety rope, there was a loud TWONGG as his 500 pound test wire line broke! Then the “pole” came back and whopped Shorty in the kisser!

Talk about a mad Kraut. I think that was the last time Shorty Breck went fishing. I can’t really blame him much, having all that happen to him in just two days.

Stranger

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