PANAMA CITY — Becky Saunders grew up in the Cove, where Sunday afternoons were spent with her family watching fishing boats come into the Panama City Marina.
Bay County comes from a long line of fishing, whether for commercial or recreational. You can stop in the Local History Room of the Bay County Public Library and meet some of those fishermen from 1-3 p.m. Tuesday.
“Primarily what we want this to be is a fairly informal program to share,” said Saunders, local history and genealogy specialist. “People with a history of fishing in Bay County can share experiences.”
Guests also can learn how to knit and mend a cast net the old-fashioned way.
“Nets were all cotton. Now they are all plastic and nylon nets,” Saunders said, showing off a case of handcarved wooden needles for making and mending nets.
Saunders’ husband, Robert, fished from his mid-teens until about 10 years ago. Occasionally, though, you still can find him throwing a cast net for mullet.
“It’s all in how you throw the net; there’s a knack to it,” Saunders said.
The old Hathaway Bridge, built in the 1950s, has been a favorite cast netting place. “People in earlier years were more self-sufficient and resourceful because they had to be,” Saunders said.
Sheila Leto Scott, a contributing writer for The News Herald, grew up on Ninth Street in St. Andrews.
“Men threw the cast nets, but the wife very often was a spotter for the fish,” Scott said. “They know the tides and they knew the weather and didn’t waste time being out there.”
She remembers when trains came through and began to sell fish.
“Mainly, I remember we wanted to be fishermen,” said Scott, who spent time down at the St. Andrews Marina. “I did a lot of crabbing and scalloping. Whenever tourists or even locals would come up, we’d show off how to clean’em. We thought we were really hot stuff.”
She also recalls boys getting up in the nets and taking naps in the afternoon, “like a hammock.”
“I have been a fisherman since I was born. … My family has been here 125 years,” said Jimmy Carden, 66, who owned Jim’s Nets & Supplies Inc. for almost 20 years. “I don’t think there’s anybody alive today that was shrimping in this bay before I was. I started going shrimping 61 years ago. ... I was 5 and my dad would stand me up on a fish box and say, ‘Steer the boat toward that light.’ ”
He recalls days with more than 100 boats in the bay, “one of the best producing bays,” and 2,800 large charters in the Gulf “at its peak.”
Carden learned early on how to make and repair cast nets and shrimp nets.
“I can sit down with a piece of paper and design a shrimp net from scratch. … It’s a dying art as far as in our part of the country,” he said.
He said he doesn’t eat much shrimp now, because he “can’t afford them.” But if he does, he makes sure they’re domestic.
“I can tell by looking at ’em,” Carden said. “We have six different types of Southern prawns produced along the Gulf Coast. Shrimp never get above 3 inches long. Prawn are bigger.”
These days, you usually can find Carden working in his backyard garden “to keep busy” in Springfield or making homemade bread to sell at the Grand Lagoon Waterfront Farmers’ Market on Sundays.
In “Full Box!” Winston Chester highlights “The Legendary Stories of the Men Who Built the Industry … 100 Years of Fishing and Boat Building History in Bay County.” The book was a Florida Historical Society 2002 Award Winner for Best Local History Monograph.
“Early fishing families are in here (the book), but not all. With the centennial of Bay County and 500 (years of Florida history), it is important to get these things out,” said Becky Saunders, local history and genealogy specialist at the Bay County Public Library.
BAY COUNTY FISHING HERITAGE
What: Talk to fishermen, learn about making and mending cast nets, fishing boats and more. Featuring Jimmy Carden, Robert Saunders and others.
When: 1-3 p.m. Jan. 22
Where: Local History Room, Bay County Public Library, 898 W. 11th St., Panama City
Details: (850) 522-2130 or NWRLS.com