Saturday, December 16, 2017
Outdoors

A fond farewell to Jon West, the King of Fishermen

He walked into the sports department one evening wet from the waist down. "What happened to you," I asked the teenage copy clerk with a smile as big as the Gulf of Mexico.

"Snook took me into some dock pilings," Jon West responded. "I had to go after it."

He had many names — mate, husband, fishing buddy, tournament angler, outdoors writer — but I think I liked Jonny Kingfish the best. That's how he'd often sign his e-mails, written late at night, detailing the excitement of that morning's catch.

Jon West was many things to many people. But the 45-year-old, who died Friday after a long battle with cancer, will most likely be remembered by friends and family as the King of Fishermen, for those who knew and loved him would agree that no one before or after was so deserving of the title.

"The thing you remember most about Jon was his smile," said Dave Mistretta, captain of the charter boat Jaws Too. "It was no ordinary grin. It was a big, juicy, red-apple biting smile, the kind that leaves juice dripping down your beard, for all the world to see, but Jon didn't care because he was happy, happy as a man can be."

As Jon often liked to say, he was "born and raised within a bike ride of Boca Ciega Bay." He began his writing career in 1989 at the St. Petersburg Times where his daily fishing reports dripped with action and adventure reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway on a good day.

His writing earned several awards from the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and he soon landed a job as the founding editor of Fishing the Florida Keys magazine. It didn't take long for Jon to find all the secret spots from Islamorada to Key West. So he bought a Volkswagen Westfalia and along with his wife, Christine, dog Marley and 13 fishing rods, drove the back roads all the way to Alaska.

"A year on the road, young and free, we did anything we wanted … it was magical," Christine said. "We did fit in a few rock concerts along the way as well because it was our love of music that bonded us. We always had concert tickets in hand. It was nothing for us to fly standby on a whim because a band was playing in Atlanta, L.A., Colorado or Costa Rica."

When Jon returned to the Tampa Bay area, he resumed his writing career, publishing in all of the major national sport fishing magazines. He also started manning the main deck for Mistretta, the hardest-working charter boat captain on the west coast of Florida.

"It was never about the money with Jon, it was always about the experience, whether we were pulling stone crab traps, running daily charters or fishing big-money kingfish tournaments," Mistretta said. "He just loved the excitement of it all, living life to its fullest, every minute of every day, always going all out, all the way."

Throwing a cast net on a cold, winter morning, Jon never wavered, never complained. As long as he was fishing, the smile stayed the same.

"There are people in life that you never forget and Jon West was one of them," said Jill Foraker of the Old Salt Fishing Foundation. "He could brighten your day even if you didn't want him too. His passion — be it for life, music, fishing, writing and of course his friends and family — was palpable. Simply put, he was a lover and a giver and the world will be forever touched by him."

Jon left the Jaws Too team to start a local fishing magazine, Saltwater Angler, with Paul Arcos, then ended up running the creative department of an international publishing company that produced books for the NFL and the U.S. military.

When West became ill, the Old Salts rallied to his side. They hosted a fundraiser and Jon tried to explain his passion for the sport: "Since I was a kid reading every fishing magazine I could get my hands on, my heroes have always been fishermen. … And now, as I enter a fight for my life, it is once again the fishermen and captains who are my heroes, helping me through this rough spot."

Mistretta said he hopes those who knew and loved his friend will follow West's example and live life to its fullest.

"Find yourself a big old juicy red apple and take a bite," he said. "Now when the juice starts running down your chin, resist the urge to wipe it off. Just smile … a big ol' apple eatin' grin and think of Jon."

Comments

Captainís Corner: Look for that strong speckled trout bite on grass flats

The speckled trout bite has taken off nicely after the first good cold front last weekend. You will find a consistent bite along the grass flats from Apollo Beach down to Pinellas Point. The sweet spot seems to be 4-6 feet of water. If you can find s...
Published: 12/15/17

Captainís Corner: Drop in gulf water temperature means itís sea trout time

The gulf temperature has dropped significantly since our first real cold front last week. One day the water was in the mid 70s, then after the front, it fell to the low 60s. That caused speckled sea trout to become a reliable target. Redfish have bee...
Published: 12/14/17

Captainís Corner: Good time for shallow-water flats fishing

Shallow-water flats fishing can be very exciting this time of year. Trout and redfish are available in good numbers, and the opportunities to catch some gator trout have made recent trips very rewarding. Some of the largest trout have been in very sk...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/13/17

Captainís Corner: Seek clear water for bottom fishing as temperatures plummet

The great weather, calm seas and exceptional fishing we experienced at the end of November and beginning of December came to a screeching halt with the cold front that came through. Surface water temperatures plummeted from an unseasonable 71 degrees...
Published: 12/11/17
Updated: 12/12/17

Captainís Corner: Sheepshead action lively in cooler weather

Conditions after the cold front are cool and are going to be for a while. That doesnít mean you canít or shouldnít fish. Many anglers get stuck on snook, reds and trout and forget how fun it is to catch sheepshead. Many reefs are already holding good...
Published: 12/09/17
Updated: 12/10/17

Captainís Corner: Fishing will return to normal, but when?

The severity of this cold front will determine the fishing forecast for the next several days. Bait that had been abundant inshore will scatter. Nearshore gulf waters will muddy, and water temperatures. at least temporarily. will plummet. How cold, h...
Published: 12/08/17
Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

Captainís Corner: Planning around fronts can lead to productive days

I canít believe we are in the last month of the year. And while this is one of my favorite months to fish, it will be controlled by weather. As cold fronts become more frequent and harsh, planning your trips around them will make the biggest differen...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/09/17

Captainís Corner: Strong results for redfish, speckled trout

This is a great time for variety. Combined trips for speckled trout and redfish are achieving excellent results. With the correct approach, great catches of both species are a reality now. The best anglers use the lightest tackle. Light rods and reel...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Captainís Corner: Take advantage of abundant gag grouper before season ends

Gag grouper fishing and spearing is hot. The season for these grouper in the Gulf of Mexico is winding down, with a slated closure at the end of this month. The cooler water has the gags moving closer, and they are happy when the bottom temperatures ...
Published: 12/05/17

Captainís Corner: Bait schools near shore drawing kings, mackerel, bonito

Nearshore fishing is still going strong in north Pinellas. Bait schools are roaming just a couple of miles offshore, attracting kingfish, Spanish mackerel and bonito. The beaches are still holding sardines for cast netting at sunrise. I like to have ...
Published: 12/03/17
Updated: 12/05/17