Here’s the full Old Salt interview with Capt. Sam at the Fort Pierce Inlet.
by Dale Wills
Singer, songwriter, newspaper columnist, book author, duck hunter and longtime captain – Sam Crutchfield can catch most anything that swims in fresh or salt water. Were that not enough, Capt. Sam is also proficient in Morse code and was bitten by an alligator while wade fishing for bass in a Florida lake. Captain Sam Crutchfield is an outdoorsman in every sense of the word. When speaking with Sam you could hear about most anything – a play by play story of a big blue off Walker’s Cay or about any number of adventures in Florida or the Caribbean. Today, at the age of 79, you can still find Capt. Sam at his local boat ramp fishing in the Indian River Lagoon and along the Treasure Coast beaches almost every morning. “You can never get a missed day of fishing back,” he says gently.
The Young Captain Sam
Born in 1939 in Polk County, Florida, Capt. Sam Crutchfield was hooked on fishing by the age of six. His father had a little boat and motor and would run out of Camp Mack on the Kissimmee River targeting big bass on shiners and artificials. His favorite holes were the Polk County phosphate pits, which according to Capt. Sam, “made the bass really big.” It was here that Sam caught his largest bass to date – a 17.2-pound whopper. Sam recalls how the incredible bass fishing during his youth has changed. “I remember the day they started dredging the Kissimmee to create the canal to Lake Okeechobee. It broke my heart, and it’s never been the same since.”
After high school, Sam joined the Coast Guard. “I enrolled in Radio School with the plan to relocate to Fort Pierce to be on the Ft. Pierce inlet. Upon completing my training, I quickly realized Ft. Pierce did not have a radio position. I then selected Jacksonville Beach Coast Guard station to be my new home.” Back then, radio communication was Morse Code (which Captain Sam can still encode today).
Captain Sam’s two day on, two day off schedule in Jacksonville was ideal. “Hunting and fishing was easy with my schedule. In the fall, I would hunt ducks on the land currently developed as the TPC Sawgrass Golf Club in Ponte Vedra, Florida. It was one of the best flyways you could imagine. Widgeon, pintails and teal were so prevalent,” says Sam. “In the spring and summer, I would fish the Jacksonville pier in which I witnessed over a half-dozen fifty-pound kingfish caught.” Sam is careful to note that his biggest kingfish, caught off of Ft. Pierce, tipped the scale to 67-pounds.
A Career in Sportfishing
After his service in the Coast Guard, Capt. Sam finally moved to Ft. Pierce to attend Indian River Community College – and fish. During this time Sam started mating on charter boats. This was the beginning of a lifelong sportfishing career.
Crutchfield earned his captain’s license in 1966. “I started running a small 19’ inboard charter boat with a 70-hp named Lucky. We mostly fished the Ft. Pierce inlet and Indian River Lagoon for snook, tarpon, trout and redfish. I was lucky to be mentored by Capt. Rollin Matheson at the time. He was a big influence on me when I first started,” Sam recalls. “We used all conventional tackle with wire leader. I remember when the first spinning reels came out. Eagle Claw introduced ‘cat gut’ as a type of mono and the spinning reels were awful. They got their names ‘spinning’ because they would spin the line up in a mess.”
A couple of years later, Crutchfield upgraded his boat, purchasing the Lucky Too, a 23’ T Craft with a 225-hp inboard Chrysler. The boat was equipped with two big live wells and two fishing chairs and could take a party of four fishing comfortably. Then, in 1973, he upgraded the boat again with a 30’ T Craft also called Lucky Too with a CAT 3160 diesel engine.
“My charter business progressed to mostly offshore fishing then.” In 1976, Sam purchased a 40’ Warren O’Neal-built boat out of North Carolina. The boat was originally built for sportfish legend Omie Tillet and is still in charter service today out of Oregon Inlet. During the late 70s and early 80s, Captain Sam built a steady charter business from Ft. Pierce which evolved into a world class operation booking clients in the summers to fish out of Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas.
During the fall, Sam was dialed into duck hunting around Lake Okeechobee and Louisiana – when he wasn’t charter fishing his local Ft. Pierce waters. Sam also mentioned he forged a great relationship with his dock partner and friend Chip Shafer during the height of his charter career. “Captain Chip’s friendship has meant a lot to me over the years, and we are still fishing buddies today,” says Capt. Sam.
In 1985, Capt. Sam retired from charter fishing, making the switch to private boats. His first private position was working for Charlie Campbell on the Escape, a 53’ Hatteras out of Stuart, Florida. “I had the opportunity to fish and help Charlie with his hunting ranch in Okeechobee. It was ideal, but short lived,” recalls Captain Sam.
Around 1988, Capt. Sam switched gears again and accepted a new captain’s position on the 53’ Hatteras Lillian B. The new job allowed him to return to Walker’s Cay on a regular basis. The position evolved into working on a second family-owned boat, a 60’ Hatteras called Silver Streak. Captain Sam would split time on both boats. This lasted until the early 90s.
Captain Sam recalls many evenings sitting around the dock at Walker’s where he and so many others were, as Sam puts it, “living the good ole’ days but just didn’t know it.” The dock parties at Walker’s and Captain Sam’s love for music eventually paved the way for Captain Sam’s next career – in the music business.
In 1995, Sam finally traded the ship’s wheel for a microphone, jumping full time into his singing career. Captain Sam recalls how Walker’s Cay charter captain Billy Black and friends – and the nights of singing and playing guitar on the dock after fishing – influenced many of his songs. Most of his lyrics were conjured up in the shadow of the iconic Walker’s Cay scale. If you like fishing even a little bit, you can’t help but enjoy Crutchfield’s songs like Trollin, Ugly, The Mullet & The Mackerel & The Ballyhoo and Big Game Fishin’.
“I really enjoyed making music, but didn’t realize that once you start making albums, every year you need to come out with another and another. I decided to quit making music after 13 albums,” Captain Sam recalls. (If you are interested in buying one of Captain Sam Crutchfield’s CDs for the boat, give us a call at InTheBite).
A Lifetime on the Water
Captain Sam’s lifelong interest in fishing proved to be one of his best decisions. “Through the years there were good times, bad times, sad times, and most of all, the wonderful times when good folks got together on a fishing boat to share the fun and excitement of sportfishing,” he says. “Recently on a morning fishing trip a young fella yelled ‘Hey old man, have you fished here all your life?’ ‘Nope,’ I answered. ‘Not yet!’”