About the Captain

My name is Captain Rick Ryals, and I have recently entered my 50th year of offshore fishing. Most of my fishing has been off Northeast Florida, but I’ve spent plenty of time off Ft. Pierce, Palm Beach, and throughout the Abacos. I’m 40-19 years old (The adults among us call this 59), and I’ve gradually become aware, I was born at the perfect time for an offshore fisherman. I have seen migrations of fish that today’s youngsters can only dream about, and I have gotten to play with technology my dad could have never imagined. In fact my dad only fished a few days a year. We had a worn out 17 foot wooden cabin cruiser, that was powered by a pull start Johnson 50. I can remember it taking dozens of pulls on the starter rope, and I can remember never leaving without a couple coffee cans to bail with during the day. Loading the boat back on a single axle non galvanized trailer meant we were going home, unless of course we burned out the clutch in the Nash trying to get back up the ramp. In short, I’ve long suspected my dad didn’t fish often, because it was a hundred times more difficult than it is today. What I’d give to have him be able to touch off the two big diesels I run today, and punch Marsh Harbor into his autopilot, knowing he wouldn’t have to even touch the wheel until he was pulling into the harbor.

I can remember my first fishing trip so clearly. We were guests on another 17-foot wooden cabin cruiser, but this was one was an advanced fishing machine capable of carrying us an unbelievable 7 miles offshore. That’s where I witnessed a king mackerel that I thought must weigh 600 pounds cutting one of our baits in two. Forget the fact we missed the fish. Forget the fact we never had another bite. I was going to grow up to be a deep sea fisherman. For the next several years my parents would never tell me when I was going to get to fish the next day, because I wouldn’t get a minute’s sleep the night before. Now I’m 40-19 years old. If I ever start sleeping the night before a trip, I’ll let you know.

A lot has changed in 50 years, but an awful lot hasn’t. Back then it was drone spoons, Creek Chubs, and bonito strips, or chumming with shrimp boat by catch. King mackerel were the target species and a sailfish held all the dreams that are now reserved for blue marlin.

Unlike what today’s greenies would have you believe, we did not catch pick up truck loads of fish every day. I was 16 when I became a partyboat mate, and there were plenty of days I weighed one three-pound sea bass against another three-pound sea bass to see who took the big fish pot for the day. Sure we had great days, but we had just as many tough ones as we do today. Interestingly enough Capt. Fred Morrow took me under his wing when he was a commercial snapper fisherman in the very early sixties. He had a 45-foot commercial boat, and he specialized in red snapper. Those bent on keeping snapper closed for 35 years don’t want to hear this, but he will tell you today his average size fish was eight pounds. I can also tell you that there were no records of how many snapper, of what size Capt Fred sold, other than a few scribbled notes in his log. When the SAFMC tells you their records show how many 30-pound snapper were caught in the fifties, all I can tell you is, the records did NOT come from Northeast Florida.

At sixteen I was invited on a three-day trip to another galaxy. A mystical far away place called the Gulf Stream. It would take a day to get there, and a day to get home. We would troll out and back and fish for giant grouper along the continental shelf. We caught dolphin, wahoo, snapper and grouper. My parents last, best hope to see me become a doctor vanished when the first dolphin charged out from under a weed line and ate my bonito strip.

I was really hooked then, and it’s just not gotten any easier to stay off the water. Fifty years of questions has led to nothing but more questions. It seems every time I find an answer the questions change. Just like in most phases of my life, the most successful people I know in offshore fishing don’t have lots of great answers; they have loads of great questions. Week to week, I’ll try to bring you some of the ones that haunt me the worst.

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  • Tony

    Great story Capt. I too was hooked on fishing at a very young age. My dad would fish a little bit, he would drive us boys over to NJ from Philly after putting in a full night shift as a diesel mech., row a boat out into Brigantine bay, help us rig-up our lines, laugh at me about to jump in the water when a bloodworm would shoot it's hooks out as I tried to bait my hook, all before he laid down to sleep. All it took was me catching my first sea robin with its’ fins stretch out wide and me yelling out with excitement, "I got a California flying fish!" and my dad saying, "Son we're in New Jersey." Teach me to look at those fishing books.
    Great job! Look forward to the next article.

  • Strike One

    My Dad started taking me out Port Everglades in 1962 in a 17' with a 70 hp Merc. I think he spent more time working on that Merc than we did fishing some days. Watching him land his first Sailfish (6'4") hooked me for the rest of my life. After many years living elsewhere, I moved back to my old stomping grounds 7 years ago. Now I am going out the same inlet he and I started going out 50 years ago. My Dad has been gone many years, but there is not a time he is not in my thoughts when I head southeast looking for a weed line. Like you said, we had just as many good days and bad days back then as I do now. Thanks for the story. It drummed up a lot of great memories.

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothy.altman Timothy Altman

    I've known Rick for a few years now, this article is exactly who he is. Like Strike One my dad started taking us fishing out of Port Everglades in the mid 60s. When I was 9 we moved to Georgia and bought a farm. The boat stayed in the back yard until 1975 when he sold it. My sister and I never got over not spending weekends on Whitewater bay and spending the nights in the mangroves catching live shrimp for the next day's fishing. My focus in 1969 in rural Georgia turned to bass fishing and I promptly got banned form most every neighbor's pond. I started fly fishing the Satilla River and eventually at age sixteen made my way with dad's old corn truck back to the ocean at Fernandina Beach and then to the Fort Clinch side of the St Mary's jetties. No Cell phones, no internet, just a boy, a tent, a couple spinners, his dad's farm truck and his father's trust..to not get hurt or most importantly not to kill the old Dodge. Dad didn't live long enough to enjoy the great NE FL fishery & fisherman I've found here so close to our old family home. He didn't see my youngest land his first Wahoo or my sister's 35lb Dolphin. But we take his love of adventure and the ocean with us every time we leave the dock.

  • FSJim

    Awesome blog Capt Rockin Ricky…. Keep em coming..

  • Alan read

    Rick. It was very nice to meet you tonight at the duck's unlimited charity event. I do believe that Jacksonville is the biggest small town in America after hearing our connection with my uncle Dan Crisp's brother Dave. I can't wait to book a trip with my Folks and Aunt Allison! It was enlightening to hear your story about the pew organization and the dis-connect with the reality of North Florida snapper fishing. We'll keep fighting the good fight.

    Alan Read
    Alan.read@keyautocompany.com