SI Vault
John Underwood
August 21, 1967
No longer a splinter, Ted Williams (right) is just as splendid—and brash—as ever when he turns his skill against another worthy opponent, the leaping tarpon of the Florida Keys
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August 21, 1967

Going Fishing With The Kid

No longer a splinter, Ted Williams (right) is just as splendid—and brash—as ever when he turns his skill against another worthy opponent, the leaping tarpon of the Florida Keys

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"I guess a lot of people thought Chick was a rummy or something, because he used to like to drink that 3.2 beer, but as far as I was concerned he was a great man. Chick used to go fishing around those bass lakes near San Diego, and he'd come back with six-, seven-pound bass, nice, you know, nice bass. I was just fascinated as hell. That appealed to me, you know? So, I finally got a rod and reel, a $3.95 Pflueger Akron reel and a Heddon bamboo rod. Just a straight bamboo rod. But I will tell you one thing"—he gave me a hard look—"I went out and learned how to cast the damn thing before I went fishing with it. I learned how to use it.

"So, I got my first chance to go fishing, and I got some bass, not very big, and from there I tried the surf in San Diego. Used to go out with a wonderful man, Mr. Cassidy. I played on a baseball team with his kids, and he was nuts about fishing, you know, but his kids didn't care anything about fishing, so he would take me. He'd want company, and we'd go up to Coronado Beach, and we would fish the whole night, till 4 in the morning, and here I am a young kid, and I'd go to sleep all the way back and he'd have to make it without anybody to talk to. The dearest man, a great fellow.

"From there I fished for yellowtail and tuna, met some kids whose big brother had a boat and I'd get on a trip—I remember one time in San Diego, I'm making a guess at this, in 1933 or '34, I went out on a little boat one day and we caught 98 barracuda. Ninety-eight. And we brought them back into town, and we had them on ice, wrapped up four in a paper, and we'd just give them to anybody on the street. Just wrap 'em and give 'em away.

"Of course, after that I was bought by the Red Sox and shipped to Minnesota, and during that summer I had the chance to fish for walleyes up at Mille Lacs Lake. It was about that time I read an article in Field & Stream about snook. The writer said a 10-pound snook tied tail to tail with a 20-pound muskie would drag the muskie all over the lake. I had fished for muskie, and I thought, boy, I sure want to catch one of those snook.

"Finally I came down here, and snook turned out to be everything he said they were. I was stationed at Pensacola at the time, instructing in Corsairs at the air station, and a buddy and I saved up our gas ration stamps to buy enough gas to get us down to Everglades. The first or second cast I got a 15-pound snook, and it took off like nothing I'd ever had on freshwater equipment. We had a good day, and we were at this fish house at Everglades, and I said, 'Gee, we caught a lot offish today,' and the guy said, 'Bring 'em in, we'll buy them.' "How much do you pay?' 'Eleven cents a pound.' So the next day we kept every snook we caught, and we had 110 pounds of snook, which is quite a little haul of snook. And that's the first and only and last time I ever sold fish.

"After the service I made up my mind I was going to come down a week early just to fish before spring training. Hell, I found out a week wasn't even close to being enough time. The next year I came a month early, then two months, and before I knew it I was a resident of Florida.

"One night I was coming home—hadn't had too good a day. Hadn't been using a fly rod very much then, and I wasn't doing well with plugs. I saw this guy on the Tamiami Trail. Gee, he had a nice fish on a fly rod. I stopped the car and went back, and here's this 10-pound snook. We started talking and he said he'd been catching a lot of little tarpon up in these bilateral canals, said he was getting so many his arms were tired. I thought he was bulldozing me, but I told him I'd give him a new reel—I saw he had this old beat-up one, and it just so happened I had two new reels with me—if he'd tell me where this place was, and he agreed and I went back the next day and sure enough he was right, they were there, and I used my fly rod and from then on I used nothing but a fly rod in the Tamiami area, because it's 2-to-1, it's 10-to-1 more effective than spinning gear around all those little bushes.

"I did that for three years, but there got to be more people coming down each year, and now I was listening to people telling me about blue water and the Florida Keys and bonefish. Bonefish were just starting to get caught on flies. This is about 1950. Lee Cuddy says, why not move to the Keys? So, that winter I came to Islamorada, and I caught 67 bonefish, and before long I had bought myself a house and I was permanent."

Reflecting, he said there were so many places he'd like to try. He said he'd like to have a big boat he could outfit and hire a crew and just fish around. "I can't think of anyone who had more fun than Zane Grey with his big boat," he said. "Listen, what a hell of a life he had, you know? I'd love to have a big 60-foot shrimper-type boat, deck it out with what I need and be able to cruise all through Central America. That's where the tarpon are."

The next week, with Jimmie Albright as his guide, The Kid won the Gold Cup tarpon tournament for the second time. He won it on the last day of the tournament. On the morning of that day he was in 11th place. By mid-afternoon he had caught five tarpon.

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