Legendary fishing guide James Gilbert "Cappy" Joiner turns 75 this year and he's still as feisty as any tarpon.
More so, in fact, if you factor in how many battles he's won against the mighty silver kings,
His trophy tarpon was a 200-pounder and he once boated a nearly 500-pound Jewfish (before it was renamed the Goliath grouper).
James Gilbert “Cappy” Joiner
The president of the Boca Grande Fishing Guide Association shared stories of growing up and making a living on the island for the March 14 Boca Grande Historical Society's History Bytes session at the Johan Fust Community Library. Here are excerpts of his entertaining talk before more than 60 attendees on a gorgeous, sunny island day with temps in the high 70s.
QUESTION: How did you get your nickname?
ANSWER: They called my father Captain and I was Little Cap. I've been known as Cappy since I was about this big (lowers hand to about 2 feet). Even though I've been here most my life, if you asked someone on the island who James Joiner is, they wouldn't know.
Look Who's Talking
Cappy Joiner at a glance
Hometown: Boca Grande (born on the north end of the island in a fishing village).
Family: Married 42 years to his wife, Sally. Father to three boys and two girls from a previous marriage and a "pile of grandchildren."
Education: Graduated in 1955 from Boca Grande High School with a class size of 10
Largest tarpon landed: 200-pounder
Q: You were born in the fishing village on the north end of the island, which finally disappeared in 1958. Is there anything left of the village?
A: The last home left of the village is sitting today on Tarpon Street. My cousin, Wayne Joiner, lives in it. It was brought there by Sam Whidden.
Q: When did the Joiner family come to Boca Grande?
A: The Joiner family came to the United States in the late 1700s from the small island of Minorca on the east side of Spain as indentured slaves. They were supposed to be indentured for 10 years on a rubber plantation on St. Augustine and they were there indentured for 16 years.
Q: How were they freed?
A: The priest from the mission in Spain came in and took them away from the rubber plantation and moved them into New Smyrna.
Q: You don't believe your family was named Joiner then?
A: No, it was some Spanish name. The Joiner name came about because they are all builders, boat builders. They were all good to work with their hands so they thought, join, joiners. And we became the Joiners.
Q: How bad were ship conditions coming over from Minorca?
A: They started out with 1,500 and got here with 900 people. Six-hundred of them died en route. They also brought the datil pepper and the honeybee.
Q: Why was growing on the island the "greatest thing that ever happened to you?"
A: For the young folks, because back in those days we weren't involved - there was a little alcohol - but nothing else. I've spent all my life on the docks. When I came home from school, I'd change my clothes and head to the trestle to fish.
Q: Was over-indulgence in booze ever a problem on island?
A: I drink every day and I'm still around.
Q: How often was fish on the dinner table?
A: We all grew up in fishing families. There was tough times. I can remember eating fish probably three times a week at least. We ate everything in the world except fish that were very expensive. I don't ever remember eating rainbow trout; they were about 20 cents a pound in the market.
Q: How bad were mosquitoes on the island when you were growing up?
A: You've heard that old saying about I had to throw a rock so I could talk? They're not so bad. My dad used to say, yeah, we've got a lot of mosquitoes but we were infested by Yankees.
Q: The population boom has changed Florida greatly since your boyhood days. For better or worse?
A: That's not a fortunate thing. They wouldn't have so many damn Yankees down here if they had all those mosquitoes and no air conditioning. When I was born in 1937 there was 1.7 million people in the state of Florida. Think about that. Now there's 18 million.
Q: Back in the day, why would you pole a skiff instead of using your gas engine to fish?
A: They would pole these skiffs several miles during the night because they wanted to save the gas. We wanted to save the gas till the morning when we were all tired and give out.
Q: What was the bread-winning fish then?
A: The mullet. As I got older and my dad got a bigger boat, we started going to the south and getting mackerel and kingfish to net.
Q: What killed commercial fishing around here?
A: It seems like the price always stayed the same. The low price, with everything going up, going up, drove a lot of fishermen out of the business. And, of course, the 1994 ban on gill nets in the state of Florida.
Q: Sea turtles used to be tablefare?
A: Back in those days, we did some things, we could have sea turtles and we ate those. That was some of our diet, probably a half dozen a year. No manatees or bald eagles or anything though (laughs). Of course they changed the law on sea turtles, which is a great thing.
Q: Is the overcrowding on the water the worst part of growing older on the island?
A: Someone once told me the worst part of growing old is losing your friends. That's about the truth.