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Pinellas' fishing captain Wilson Hubbard dies at 78

Capt. Wilson M. Hubbard, a legend along the docks and bait houses of Pinellas County, has died at 78.

The widely known charter fishing boat skipper died Thursday (Dec. 1, 1994) at Bayfront Medical Center, where he had been a patient for about three weeks. The cause was an apparent heart attack, said a son, Mark.

During more than a half-century, the owner of Hubbard's Marina and the Friendly Fisherman restaurant at John's Pass made his living from the Intracoastal Waterway and other local tributaries.

Until serious health problems arose about six months ago, he made regular appearances on fishing programs on WTVT-Ch. 13. He previously appeared on WTSP-Ch. 10 and wrote for the Times and Florida Sportsman magazine.

The son of carnival workers, he was born "on the road," in Memphis, Tenn., his son said. En route to winter quarters in Miami, the family came here from Clarkesburg, W.Va. It stopped at Pass-a-Grille because there were a few concessions there.

"That was 1929, and right about then, the stock market crashed," Capt. Hubbard said in a 1991 interview. "My dad figured there wouldn't be anyone spending money in a carnival with people jumping out the windows. So he thought he'd stay the winter here."

The younger Hubbard headed for the water immediately. "I used to row nearly 3 miles from the dock at Pass-a-Grille to Bunce's Pass and fish," he recalled. "Back in those days, there were so many different kinds of sea life that everything nourished everything else."

When a boat owner on the Pass-a-Grille docks became sick, he sold Capt. Hubbard his five rowboats and 40 cane poles for $150. The youngster bought the boats with money earned from selling fish.

"I started making $35 a week," he said. "My dad came down on the dock to help. When school started, he said, "I'll run the business for you until school's out.'

"When he died of cancer after I got home from World War II, that's when I got the business back."

He remembered taking a little skiff with a motor in 1941 and catching 500 pounds of trout a week.

"There were three of us who did that. We used to get 5 cents a pound from Harry Bell, but if we took them in town to Doc Webb, we'd get 8 cents a pound."

The family leased Hubbard's Pier (now the Merry Pier) on Pass-a-Grille from 1930 to 1976, renting boats, selling bait and taking out fishing parties.

"I never realized how lucky I was until I went all over the world as an Air Force pilot in World War II," Capt. Hubbard said. "The more I saw of the rest of the world, the better the west coast of Florida looked to me."

Among his more distant memories, he told a reporter in 1987, were days of rum-running in the gulf by fishing guides, dinners of raccoon stew on what is now Tierra Verde, and an old wooden bridge that was opened by a strong man turning a crank.

When he was a lad, Vina Del Mar, now known for its waterfront homes and docks, was called Mud Key and was famous for its mosquitoes.

"The reason they called it Mud Key was that, with the exception of a little sandy beach on the east side, when you went into the inside of the island you sank up to your knees with every step in soft, slushy mud," he recalled in the interview.

"You wouldn't dream of going there at night, because even in broad daylight the mosquitoes would fall on you in a swarm. You didn't slap a mosquito, you scraped them off. Literally, you'd look down at your arm and there would be 10 or 15."

Capt. Hubbard and his wife, Lorraine, married in 1946 and moved to Pine Key, now the posh waterfront development of Tierra Verde.

On Pine Key, they shared the island with two other families, rattlesnakes and raccoons.

"Raccoons are darned good eating," he said. "They taste a little bit like squirrel. My mama used to parboil them with onions and then put them in a big iron pot and cook them in brown gravy with potatoes."

A half dozen years later, he left the island he loved and moved his family to town.

Capt. Hubbard owned two noted fishing boats, Friendly Fisherman and Friendly Fisherman II, as well as a company called Deep Sea Fishing Boats. He was a member of St. John's Catholic Church, Gulf Beaches Rotary, Treasure Island Tennis & Yacht Club and Gulf Beaches Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to his son Mark, who lives in Seminole, he is survived by his wife of 48 years; three other sons, Michael, St. Petersburg, Thomas, St. Pete Beach, and Jeffery, Seminole; three daughters, Patricia Cecil, Treasure Island, Kathleen McDole, Seminole, and Jacqueline Hardwick, St. Petersburg; 20 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

Friends may call at the home, 3401 Casa Blanca Ave., St. Pete Beach, at noon Sunday. A rosary will be saidat 7:30 p.m. at the home. A Funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Monday at St. John's Catholic Church, 445 82nd Ave., St. Pete Beach. Burial will be at Royal Palm Cemetery.

Beach Memorial Chapel, St. Pete Beach, is in charge of arrangements.

_ Some information in this obituary came from stories by Patti Bridges and Betty Jean Miller in the Times.

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