September 23, 2014
Thomas 'Blue' Fulford

Photo: Mark Wemple

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Thomas 'Blue' Fulford

Commercial fisherman, Cortez, west of Bradenton; age 81

Art Levy | 11/6/2012

» The fishing got kind of slack in the late 1950s, I guess it was, and I went to work for a construction company for about six months. I got tired of that real quick. The only thing wrong with it was it wasn’t fishing.

» I helped start the Organized Fisherman of Florida in 1967 and so I’d have to go up to Tallahassee and talk to the politicians about the laws they wanted to pass and all the areas they wanted to close off to commercial fishing. It was extremely frustrating. I was a greenhorn and didn’t know the procedures and the terminology they used. I didn’t know what they were talking about.

» All of the cartilage has gone out of my shoulders. It’s extremely painful. All of the cartilage has gone out of my knee. I lost one leg, which doesn’t hurt much sometimes. Phantom pain is what they call it. It’s all from a lifetime of fishing.

» My father was born in Cortez. He died when I was 3 years old. I had an uncle who took me under his arm. He’s who taught me how to fish. That was Tink Fulford. I watched him. He’d never sit you down and tell you this or tell you that. You just watched and learned. I guess if I wasn’t going to have a daddy, Tink was kind of a daddy to me.

» At a natural resources committee meeting up there, they asked me a question I couldn’t answer. W.D. Childers was the chairman. After the meeting, I was sitting there feeling dumb and Bob Graham, who was on the committee, came over and kneeled down in front of my chair and talked to me. He told me he would help me.

» I lost my leg in 1987, Sept. 14, and I went right back to fishing in a month. Somebody visited me in the hospital from the state, wanted to know if I wanted any state help. I said, ‘No, I don’t want any state help. I’m gone back fishing.’

» My mother, when I was tiny, before I could even walk almost, she taught me to say that nursery rhyme — ‘Little boy blue, come blow your horn, the sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn’ — and everywhere she’d take me, I had to recite that nursery rhyme. It got to the point that people would say, ‘Here comes little boy blue.’ That might be why people started calling me Blue.

» My favorite fish is the kind with fins and tails. I eat fish every chance I get.

» I had come down from the bridge. It wasn’t my job to be where I was. I don’t know what I was doing down there. I was standing by the tom weight, a 600-pound weight. I turned it loose, and there she went on her way down, 600 pounds, and everything was fine and then I moved over and the rope took a loop around my leg and jerked me up. I was hanging spread eagle. It had just about cut my leg off, cut everything except the Achilles tendon. My son come down and was asking if he could cut me down and I said, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ He took his pocketknife and sliced the tendon. That was the start to another phase of my life.

» I liked Lawton Chiles. He used to call me Blue. I called him Lawton.

» Synthetic fibers were a godsend for people like me. You used to have to work to be a fisherman. Natural fibers, the cotton and linen, bacteria would grow on them and destroy the net. It had to be dried and mended. When people were having to do that, there wasn’t a long line of people wanting to become commercial fishermen.

» 1953, we were on a shrimp boat, going to Campeche, and we were in a hurricane. That was some experience. I got sick for one thing. I got so seasick I couldn’t stay in the bunk. I couldn’t stay anywhere. As a matter of fact, I went outside and tied myself to the winch. It was rough. The captain, who was my brother-in-law, said the seas were 55 feet high. Everything started breaking apart. The steering gear broke down. I promised the good Lord then, if he would help me get back to shore, he wouldn’t have to worry about me out there in the Gulf anymore. We got home and I didn’t go out that far again. I’m a smooth water fisherman. Close to the shore. Close to Cortez.

» The best way in my opinion to eat mullet is just scale it, filet it and fry it with the skin on, flesh side down, turn it when its almost done and get that corn meal crust where it’s crunchy. Oh man, that’s good.

» I’ll tell you what was a real shock to me when I would go to Tallahassee representing the commercial fishermen. I would sit up in the gallery and watch the Senate or the House in action. They’d be debating a bill and there’d be three, four guys standing over in a corner talking and joking, reading the funny papers, pinching the girls on the butt, doing everything they thought they could get by with. It bothered me. Those people were supposed to be taking care of my livelihood. I never pinched anyone on the butt, but I knew the people who did.

» If I had my life to live over again, there are some things I’d do differently, but, oh yeah, I’d still be a fisherman. No doubt about that.

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