Do Not Spare The Rod…Especially When Fishing in the Southland
W. A. Jones, Devotee of the hook and line, Gathers in Fish “and to Spare”
Crystal River, Fla., March 14, 1904…Mr. Geo. M. Ambrose, Oak Park, Ill….Dear Sir: When I wrote you last I was in Hawthorne, where I enjoyed the best quail shooting it was ever my lot to participate in, but aside from this there is very little to attract either the tourist or sportsman.
The game laws of Florida are pretty rigidly enforced, but are more in disfavor with sportsmen then any state I have ever shot in (and as you are aware of I have hunted in a great many sections of the country), from the fact that there is no general state law on game, each county having its own laws, and a sportsman is required to take out license in each particular county in which he shoots, and he must be a little careful in not getting over the line, or he is likely to get into trouble, and unless accompanied by a guide who is thoroughly acquainted with the line this can very easily occur.
Leaving Hawthorne on Feb. 20, I came over here to Crystal River, a distance of about eighty miles, a little south of west and about eight miles from the gulf, on the head of Crystal River, as it is called, but which in my judgement might more properly be called a deep bay, or part of the gulf. At its head or innumerable large springs whose waters are as clear as crystal, and it is from this it derives its name. Lying in these springs, which boil up only a few feet from the shore, may be seen on any bright day, great numbers of fish, mostly bass and mullet, some of them quite large, and it is a site that will live long in one’s memory. The waters of the river are somewhat brackish and are as much affected by the tides as the gulf itself. Crystal River is a place of about 2,000 people, nearly one-half of whom are colored. Unlike Hawthorne, it is quite a flourishing little place, and there are quite a number of new buildings in course of erection, including dwellings, stores, a Baptist church and a Masonic Hall. There is one good-sized modern saw mill, a cedar saw mill, owned by the Dixon Lead Pencil people, of New Jersey, where they work a large force of hands getting out the cedar into small slabs which are shipped to the main factory.
Another industry is what is called here a cabbage mill, but which in reality is a fibre mill in which the buds of the cabbage palmetto are thoroughly stemmed and then the fibre is extracted and makes a very fair substitute for bristles in the manufacture of the coarser grades of brushes. I am told that the inner parts of the buds in taste and smell and resembles a cabbage and that they are sometimes eaten by the colored people. The remaining industry is a basket and crate factory, in which fruit and berry boxes and orange and other crates are made directly from the log. The logs are brought to the factory by a small, narrow gauge road running out a few miles into the pine woods; the coarser grade of logs are worked up into crates and boxes, while the better parts are worked up in the form of veneer into the smaller crates and baskets. This enterprise is of a thoroughly modern nature and is handled by northern men and capital and by the introduction of special machinery, and as my shooting partner exclaimed, when we were going through the place, “I will bet that there is a northern man at the head of this institution.”
The fishing here is the best of any point I ever struck, excepting that alone that at Avlon, on the Santa Catalina Island, the famous leaping tuna grounds. Our catch consisted in the main of sheephead, red fish (channel bass), mango snapper, black bass and sea trout. Aside from the yellow tail, the red fish is the gamiest fish and greatest fighter I have ever hooked, and after landing one that weighed 14 pounds on a 7-ounce steel road, I made up my mind that if I hooked one larger than that I would want to do it with heavier tackle; but the following day I got hold of one that carried away my line and broke my rod and I was forced to go to Ocala and got a rig that I could do business with; and since that time we have had great sport, and we (two of us) have averaged over 50 pounds of game fish every day we have been out. It was somewhat of a surprise to us to find all of the fishing done here, either with cut bait, still fishing, trolling, especially when fishing for bass, but they certainly got the fish, even if the most of it was done with hand lines from the side of a boat when at anchor. We had with us several varieties of artificial minnows and used them when casting with great success, especially on bass, and they are certainly plentiful in this river.
In one day we caught 80 bass that weighed 92 pounds, the largest of which weighed 6 ¾ pounds, and four of which weighed 19 ½ pounds. We made it a point, too, to put all the small ones back. I am told that in some of the inland lakes the bass run much larger, running up to 12 and 15 pounds.
We expect to leave here shortly and try some of that kind of fishing. The weather is delightful, the air balmy and fragrant and the sunshine as bright as in midsummer in the north. While I write, at my open window in my shirt sleeves, I can see the roses and lilies in bloom in the garden, and the yellow jasmine growing wild in the palmetto woods across the way, the fragrance of which is wafted in the air, and the whole side of the veranda of the hotel fairly covered with wisteria blossoms, and I think of my home in the far north and the severity of the winter through which you have just passed. Well, goodbye for this time, you may here from me later, if the rattlers or gaters don’t catch me. Yours Truly, W. A. Jones
Source: Crystal River Argus: 3-26-1904
Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers