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Fishing remains huge part of Ron Rosse’s life

By Staff | Oct 28, 2015

Ron Rosse holds two stone crabs. The stone crab claws have to be a minimum of 2 3/4 inches to keep. MEGHAN McCOY

A Lee County native who was introduced to fishing at a very young age, continues his passion near Captiva Island where his earliest memories were formed – building stone crab traps.

“We used to build them out of wood. That was the norm for years and still is for a lot of people now,” Ron Rosse said.

Over the years it was discovered that wood does not last long due to worms eating through the material.

“Once they get into the trap, there is no getting them out,” he said.

All those years ago, the Rosse family dipped the wood used for traps in oil because it acted as a preservative, keeping the worms from eating through the material.

Five days after stone crab season opened, Ron Rosse checked his traps. MEGHAN McCOY

Now Rosse uses plastic traps with a biodegradable escape hatch. The trap uses a one-by-two piece of wood screwed on top, just in case someone does cut the buoy off, or a trap is lost, the crabs have somewhat of a fighting chance to escape.

“The wood will eventually rot out and they will be able to chew their way through. It won’t be that much of a death trap,” he said. “It’s only the smaller large and medium. They can get out. A big jumbo, he is not getting out.”

He and his brother both put 75 traps in the water off Captiva when they were younger using their 15-foot boat. The first 75 were pulled Saturday and the remaining were pulled Sunday.

“We were making good money back then when they were snowballing,” Rosse said of the crabs filling the traps and crawling on the outside. “When you bring the trap up to the boat, you have to take a net and put it under the trap to catch the ones that are falling off.”

The money the brothers made was enough to buy a go cart, dirt bike and lots of “neat little stuff.”

Ron Rosse holds his day’s harvest. MEGHAN McCOY

Rosse also provided a helping hand for his dad with his 400 to 500 traps.

“I remember one year we built 425 brand new ones and a storm came in and we lost all but 19,” he said of the handmade traps. “We started at Bowman’s Beach and went to the Lighthouse. All we could do was cut the buoys off and save as many buoys (as we could). That hurt financially.”

In 1990, a dream came true.

Rosse’s father bought a 40-foot Morgan for his sons – Ron and Tony, which was docked in Marathon. Rosse recalled going 50-miles offshore putting their 350 traps in the water, which meant leaving before the sun came up and returning after it went down for the day.

“We didn’t see land all day,” he said.

The brother’s had their own specific tasks – Tony would drive, while Ron slept, so he could be ready to work the back once they arrived at the traps.

“I did the hydraulics and the pull and then at the end of the day he would go to sleep and I would run us home,” Rosse said.

He had to remain alert throughout the drive back to the docks because the wind always picked up later in the day.

“A lot of times I couldn’t sit in the big boat,” Rosse said. “I had to stand up while driving because it would be so rough. You have to watch the waves ahead of you and see what they are doing because you could flip really easily, especially when you have a load on.”

Although he was in heaven operating the 40-foot boat, the brother’s had to sell it in 2004, which ended Rosse’s stone crab commercial fishing career.

“The cost of living down there and everything was so high,” he said. “We weren’t catching. Most of the crabbers weren’t catching . . . just a few of the bigger boats that were going out a little further than we were going.”

Although Rosse no longer fishes commercially, he still drops at least a dozen traps in the water every year on Oct. 5 in the same area he has been fishing for 20 years. He checked his traps Oct. 20, five days after harvesting season began and came up with about a pound of stone crabs to enjoy.

Once the traps season and begin experiencing barnacle growth, it starts to appear more natural attracting the stone crabs. If this year’s crabbing season improves, Rosse said he will put more traps in the water.

The fisherman uses such fish as mullet and mackerel as bait, and on occasion grouper, redfish and snook carcasses.

“If the water is really clear, you want to let it sit because the crabs aren’t going to move, especially on a full moon,” Rosse said.

The love of the water is what keeps the passion alive.

“You never know what you are going to catch,” he said. “Your trap can come up empty, or it could come up slam full. You never know. It could have a variety of things – crab, catfish, dog fish – it’s just neat catching different stuff. That is what I like about it. It’s a rush when there is crab in every one.”

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.