My Favorite Fish Tales

by Charlie Courtney

Published in the August, 1995, GOFC Newsletter

Earlier this year, on a windy and unfishable winter's weekend, I discovered the writings of Philip Wylie (1902-1971) hidden deep within the bowels of the new downtown county library building. Writing in The Saturday Evening Post for much of his career, Wylie -- the antithesis of Zane Grey and Grey's he-man vs. the sea monster image -- did more than any other author of his time to promote the idea that offshore fishing was a sport anyone could participate in, not just the muscular and well-heeled in their mega-yachts. He also championed the notion that there was plenty of exciting light tackle angling available inshore for those who lacked the finances, physical condition, or inclination to go offshore and do battle with the big ones.

Wylie's popular "Crunch and Des" stories (more than 100 were written, and there was even a brief television series) were set in and around the charter boat business, and most were set in southern Florida and the Keys of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. The subject of Wylie's stories was Captain Crunch Adams, master of the charter boat Poseidon and a former professional boxer. Crunch was very much a man's man with a strong sense of honor, justice, and fair play. He was also a man of action who usually settled his run-ins with blackguards of every sort in a simple, direct manner involving timely application of black eyes and broken jaws.

You never know what you will get when you read a Crunch and Des story. It may leave you rolling on the ground in laughter at the antics of Des (Desperate Smith, the Poseidon's eccentric first mate), crying along with heartbroken lovers (who happened to charter the Poseidon), nervously turning the page as Crunch matches wits with desperate criminals (who hijacked the Poseidon), smiling along with a heartwarming tale of a big fish and a small boy (guess whose boat he's on), or simply enjoying a rousing fish tale.

No matter the plot, each tale often had a good fish story imbedded within it, and, since Crunch chartered for both offshore and inshore trips, there was a remarkable variety of accurate fishing lore hidden within each tale -- a reflection of the author's wide experience as a salt water fisherman.

Despite his broad experience, Wylie had notoriously bad luck as a fisherman -- once losing an $800 outfit overboard to an untimely blue marlin strike. However, he enjoyed talking (and writing) about such disasters, and once he even said he could recall ever having only two lucky days of fishing in his life. Wylie soon found that he was not the only fisherman plagued with ill fortune. This led him in 1941 to endow the Philip Wylie Hard Luck Trophy for the Greater Miami Fishing Tournament, to be given to the angler showing "grim effort in the face of hopeless predicament" or who had the "worst break" of the tournament.

You can more read about the life and times of Philip Wylie (along with many other famous figures in the sport of salt water fishing) in George Reiger's Profiles in Saltwater Angling (Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973). The Alachua County Library has Crunch and Des: Stories of Florida Fishing (1948), The Best of Crunch and Des (1954), and Treasure Cruise, and Other Crunch and Des Stories (1956). Other collections of Crunch and Des stories that I have not been able to find locally include Salt Water Daffy (1941), Fish and Tin Fish (1944), and The Big Ones Get Away (1954). Wiley also wrote Denizens of the Deep, True Tales of Deep-Sea Fishing (1953) and several novels unrelated to fishing.

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This page last updated 3 November, 1996
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