The Lake Weir Live Minnow Bait Company


Craig and me at four-years old

When school ended for the summer, my family would move to Lake Weir: a 6,000 acre, sand-bottomed treasure located twenty miles south of Ocala.

We leased a small home on the lake, in the village of Ocklawaha.  A perfect location: on the north-shore, where the prevailing winds cooled things off; a short walk from a drug store and diner; and adjacent to Johnson’s Beach.

Johnson’s Beach had everything a young man could want: popsicles, pinball machines and as I got older, teenage girls: who, when I turned 13, drove my parents to relinquish our summer lease.

Craig Curry, my best friend, lived about a mile east of me.  From the time we were eight years old we both had boats: mine an eleven and one-half foot Feathercraft with a 7 1/2 horse Johnson outboard engine; Craig’s, a twelve-foot wooden boat with a 10 horse Mercury.  Daily I would motor down to Craig’s to awaken him and spend the day on the lake.  We would ski—being eight and weighing less than 40 pounds, you can ski behind a 10-horse outboard—fish and hangout.

You can smell Shellcrackers, a member of the bream family, when they are on the bed.  We would cruise the lake until we smelled fish and then dive to locate and mark the bed with an onshore landmark.  Later, along with Craig’s dad and brothers we would catch fish by the tubful.  Locating fish, led Craig and I to decide to go into the bait business.

My parents leased our house from Mr. Nelson who owned the marina.  Craig and I convinced him to let us clean out a neglected concrete trough use it to hold bait for sale.  After obtaining the live well, we persuaded our parents to advance us enough money to purchase a seining net.  With everything in place, we began what we believed would be a lucrative endeavor.

We hung a poster-board sign advertising shiners and stonewall minnows for sale and the Lake Weir Live Minnow Bait Company was in business.  Early mornings we would cruise the shore of the lake looking for bait.  When we would find a school of minnows, I would hold one end of the seine while Craig circled with the other and then we would both walk to the shore where we would gather our catch and place them in buckets.  Other than dealing with an occasional turtle or water snake, it wasn’t hard work.

There were things we didn’t take into account.  Mainly, someone had to be at the live well when people wanted to purchase bait; and that meant instead of skiing, fishing and exploring, we had to hang around waiting for customers.  Eight-year-olds aren’t good at standing around, so we decided to sell bait on the honor system.  Next to a dip-net, we placed a sign with the price of the bait and directing people to deposit their fee into a coffee can.

Needless to say, we weren’t in the bait business for long: a good idea but one requiring more effort than we were willing to put forward.  After a couple of weeks we divided up our earnings—I ended up with a penny more than Craig—and closed things down.

We were trying to make a living doing what we loved—life couldn’t be better, up early in the morning, cruising a beautiful lake and fishing.  Many people aspire for their avocation to be their vocation: their hobby, their business.  What some discover is a love for something, even an ability to do it well, doesn’t guarantee success. The lesson I learned from the Lake Weir Live Minnow Bait Company was success requires hard work and sacrifice.

I found out that a good friend could make a great partner.  We both loved being on the water and Craig is a better fisherman, so I didn’t mind holding one end of the seine while he skillfully circled around the fish.  Our partnership was the essence of how my dad explained a partnership should be formed, when he said to me, “if you need more than a handshake, then you don’t need someone as your partner.”

Fishing

Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day – farther and wider – and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played.” -Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Ch. 10

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4 responses to “The Lake Weir Live Minnow Bait Company

  1. Going to the lake to stay with you, riding the Greyhound bus to the bus station in Oklawaha (? right) were some of the best times of my childhood. And I was your best friend…just thought I would remind you…..

  2. Interesting story… Ocklawaha hasn’t changed much.

    Mr. Nelson that you mentioned was my great grand father. His daughter, my great aunt still lives in the house that he built on the east side of the canal going to the “boat basin”. It sounds like you rented one of the cottages on the west side of the canal.

    • Mark Westberry

      My name is Mark Westberry. My family rented a cottage (I believe was owned by Nelson). Every summer, my brother, sister and I would stay at the cottage my uncle rented. This was around 1957-1962. John and Anna Adams were friends (they also rented a cottage). Maybe you remember something about these folks. Anyway, I’m writing a story about my experiences at Lake Weir. When my son was very young, I returned and rented a small cottage at Johnson’s Beach. Any info would be of great interest to me. Thanks.

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