In 1928, there wasn't much more for a young Indiana boy to do on a warm April day than go down to the creek and turn over a few rocks. "We were always looking for bait," said Tom Young, a.k.a. "The Elderly Angler." "If it would fit on a hook, we would use it." Now, the great state of Indiana might not have an ocean, but it does have plenty of lakes brimming with bass and crappie. So Young fished every chance he could, until winter came. Then he would hang up his rod and reel, and start dreaming about the spring. "Fishing was something we always looked forward to," he recalled.
The war years
In 1941, when war broke out against Japan, Young joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and became a pilot. He was itching to head to Europe and get behind the wheel of a bomber, but Uncle Sam decided he would be more valuable in the United States training others.
"In the summer of '45 I finally did get a B-29," he said. "I was headed to the Pacific when they dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima."
Back in Indiana after the war, Young started a business, sold it, started another business, sold that, started another, and …
"Lots of different businesses … small businesses …" Young said. "It seemed that there was always somebody who wanted to run a business more than me. So I was always willing to sell."
Between ventures, Young had time to pursue his true passion, which, of course, was fishing.
Like most Northern anglers, Young had heard all about the Sunshine State's great fishing. Why it was rumored that Florida had bass as big as a bulldog. And when it came to saltwater, the southernmost state had more species than even an educated angler could recount.
"I moved here 35 years ago," the St. Petersburg resident said. "The first thing I did was buy a boat."
Young didn't care if he fished freshwater, inshore or offshore, as long as the fish were biting.
"To be quite honest, I really didn't care if I caught anything," he said. "I was always just glad to be out on the water."
When he wasn't fishing, Young could be found on the golf course.
"I wasn't bad," confessed the former 2 handicap. "But over the years I've slowed down a little bit."
Learning the ropes
Even though Young had been fishing for more than 70 years, at the adventurous age of 80, he decided to take a fishing class.
"You can always learn something new," he said.
Young enrolled in an adult fishing class at Lakewood High School taught by the legendary Jack Pribyl.
An avid angler and vo-tech teacher with nearly 40 years of experience, Pribyl took a liking to the aging Hoosier.
"We hit it off, and after the class was over, we just started fishing together," said Pribyl, 62.
Young put it more bluntly: "Jack is one of the only people around these days that will still take me fishing."
These days, Young sticks to a pretty strict schedule.
"I play golf on Wednesdays and Fridays," he said, "and Thursday … that is my fishing day."
Last week, though, Pribyl found himself off from work on Friday, so he called up his old buddy and asked if he wanted to do a little grouper digging instead of golfing.
"We have that common bond — fishing," Pribyl said. "We speak the same language."
They found themselves fishing in 40 feet of water about 10 miles west of St. Pete Beach.
"We usually start off with cut bait," Young said. "We get the grunts going, and then that usually makes the bigger fish curious."
Their lines hadn't been in the water more than a few minutes when Young hooked what Pribyl called a "three-eyed fish."
"That's a fish that bends your rod so far the first three eyes (of the rod) go in the water," Pribyl said. "They are always keepers."
Never say die
Pribyl didn't think Young would boat the fish, but "The Elderly Angler" didn't give up. He whipped the 30-inch, 13-pound gag like a 3-pound mudcat in an Indiana farm pond.
Young said his secret is to think positive and stay light on his feet.
"I know that Grim Reaper is out there looking for me," said the 90-year-old fisherman. "But as long as I keep moving, he is going to have a hard time catching me."