The Legend

On a fine spring day sometime around the turn of the 20th century, the Rum Runner “Victoria” rounded what’s today known as Johnson Shoals and entered Boca Grande Pass.

On board was a skinny, leathery swab who, although slight and wiry, had quickly proven to the crew to be tougher than he appeared. The other sailors had instantly taken a liking to him and referred to him simply as “Precious”.

The kid had arrived on the docks of Havana out of the dark one evening in search of adventure on the high seas.

Barefoot and alone, no-one knew where he came from, and no-one in that crowd really cared. All that mattered was that he knew a little about fishing and had passed the captain’s test to join the crew by catching enough snapper for the next morning’s breakfast.

On this particular day as the Victoria sailed leisurely through the Pass, the kid was rousted from his afternoon nap by an excited crew.

All around them were big silvery fish. Thousands of them splashing and jumping about. The crew had never seen anything like it and knew little about where to begin to try and catch one. One thing they did know was they had been eating well on this trip, thanks to the barefooted kids ability to catch fish. They figured if anyone could, Precious could catch one.

In those days, rods and reels that could tame a 100 pound plus fish were unheard of. All the kid had on board was the braided line he used for hand lining grouper and snapper from the depths.

Precious had never seen a fish like this before. Didn’t know what bait they might like, no clue how to present it if he did. But his manhood had been challenged by the crew. Bets were taken and the pressure was on the Kid.
So he sat and pondered.

Eventually, he thought about the time out in the Gulf not long before when he was washing the mornings breakfast utensils. As the newest swab, it was his job to clean the galley after each meal and being a bit clumsy, as he often was, he had dropped a fork overboard and noticed a mackerel take a swipe at it as headed to the bottom.
This thought led him to an idea.

He went to the galley and found a spoon. The shiniest he could find. He punched a hole in each end, attaching a stout hook to the round end and his braided line to the other.

After a little prodding from the crew, the captain agreed to turn around and make another run through the Pass and those big silvery fish.

The rum buyers in Punta Gorda could wait, the captain thought, this could be interesting.

As the captain made his turn, Precious fed the spoon out behind the ship. It wobbled and flashed as it was trolled in the ships wake and the crew gathered on deck in amazement at the kids ingenuity.

It didn’t take long for things to happen.

The strike was awesome. A big explosion erupted in the ships wake and a long silver giant of a fish took to the air. Precious hung on with all his might, the braided line burning the flesh of his hands and the crew shouting and yelling encouragement.

The battle was on, and what a battle it was!

Back and forth, give and take. Precious fought the silver giant with all his might. Sneering at any crew member who dared to offer help. In an odd sense, enjoying the pain of salt in the open wounds of his hands.
This was personal for the kid, and he was going to see this fight to the end.

An hour into the battle the fish was beginning to tire. And the captain was becoming impatient. Precious instinctively knew it was not time to grab such a monster fish, still “green” with plenty of fight left, but the Captain had let it be known that they had been delayed long enough on this journey and Precious had better end this battle soon.
Using his long ugly toes to grip the gunnel, the kid pulled and strained with all his might before finally managing to pull the giant alongside the ship.

As the fish relaxed a bit to get a second wind, Precious leaned over the gunnel and looked into the eye of the beast, filled with the satisfaction of the catch when, at that very moment, he saw the eye of the beast grow wide with fear as a huge, dark shape appeared from below.

Shark! A Hammerhead that was bigger than anyone on the crew had ever seen before, and it was heading straight for the silver giant.

In sheer panic, the great fish made a final leap to escape the shark, and promptly landed onto the deck of the Victoria, thrashing about and destroying many cases of rum while sending the crew scattering around the deck.

The braided line broke and with a final flop, the silver fish managed to scale the port gunnel and return to the Pass.
There was stunned silence, the crew dazed and not quite able to grasp exactly what had just happened.
That silence was abruptly ended as the Captain made way to the deck and took a look at his destroyed cargo. Ranting and raving followed and his anger was soon directed at the kid.

The captain ordered the ship to the south end of Gasparilla Island where Precious was unceremoniously tossed overboard and had to swim for shore and a new home.

The Victoria resumed its journey to the docks of Punta Gorda and then onward for the return to Havana. The crew spreading word of the great silver fish, epic battle and the big shark along the way.

Soon, as legend has it, word got out about a new bait, and a silver spoon became one of the most popular baits for many varieties of fish worldwide.

It is said by many that on that day, the first Silver Giant was brought to boat by hook and line in Boca Grande Pass.
It’s also rumored that as the story of Precious, the silver giant and the shark made the rounds on the docks of Havana, that it inspired a young writer named Hemingway to write a popular work of fiction.

Fiction. Always a curious thing where some truth lurks in the shadows.

Today the young swab friends called “Precious”, walks barefooted along the streets of Boca Grande as a crusty old captain named Buster, a local legend who continues to catch Silver Giants called Tarpon in Boca Grande Pass to this day.

-Capt. Sandy Melvin

Capt. Buster “Precious” Herzog

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