Tampa Bay Outdoors Legend Terry Tomalin

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The Tomalin Family: Kanika, Tai and NIa.

As you all probably know, Terry was my editor at the Tampa Bay Times the past nine years.   We worked on a few projects together.   I took him fishing once, something we talked about doing again and just didn’t.     Terry’s years cut way too short on Earth, I sat back and watched the outpouring of stories and appreciation people had for the man.  Terry and I didn’t agree on everything.  But Terry never treated me badly and always respected my positions.  We were going to “have coffee” the day after he died, something we did every six months or so.     I sure wish I didn’t put that off a couple of weeks.  It would have been a pleasure to have talked to him one more time.

I have set this up, copied from the Times, as a “one article with everything” on the life of Terry Tomalin.    His family he left behind, they have to be at peace more than most.    The outpouring of public support for them was impressive.

My thanks to the Tampa Bay Times staff, they did a tremendous job covering this for his family.   All credits go to The Tampa Bay Times.  Terry lived for his family.    I hope that they have positive memories dominating their everyday thoughts.   He sure enjoyed that part of his life more than anything.    But look at everything else he did in his years.

Neil Taylor, guide Strike Three Kayak Fishing; owner www.capmel.com

One of Terry's older sisters?   Actress Susan Sarandon.
One of Terry’s older sisters? Actress Susan Sarandon.

 

Thursday, May 19, 201

  1. PETERSBURG — He once lived with witch doctors in the wilds of Amazonia. He sailed to Cuba and swam around Key West.

5 Months Ago

Terry Tomalin, the Tampa Bay Times‘ larger-than-life outdoors editor, traveled Florida and the world to take readers on extraordinary adventures. He died Thursday after suffering a heart attack. He was 55.

Mr. Tomalin had been at the North Shore Aquatic Center in St. Petersburg with his 14-year-old son Kai; the two were taking a life guarding test together. He collapsed and never regained consciousness, his family said.

“We are devastated,” said his wife, St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin. “He loved us. He loved his family so much, and we loved him.”

Mr. Tomalin was a well known outdoorsman across the state. Boat captains respected him, both for his fearlessness and generous spirit. He had an Encyclopedic knowledge of all things Florida.

“He joked that he could get through life without ever putting on a pair of long pants,” former deputy managing editor for Sports Jack Sheppard recalled. “He smelled like he got up at 4 a.m. and went fishing before work, which he did.”

One of nine siblings — an Irish-Italian brood that includes actress Susan Sarandon — Mr. Tomalin grew up in New Jersey. He developed a love for camping and the outdoors during family vacations to an island off the coast of Maine.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Look back with us at some of Terry Tomalin’s most memorable stories

He moved to Florida in 1980 for the surf and sun. After graduating from the University of South Florida, he launched his newspaper career at the Daily Commercial in Leesburg.

Later, at the Lakeland Ledger, Mr. Tomalin distinguished himself as a hard-charging investigative reporter. He broke one of the biggest stories of his career on Halloween 1985. Mr. Tomalin had overheard Polk County sheriff’s deputies saying then-Sheriff Dan Daniels was requiring new hires to take polygraph tests. On instinct, Mr. Tomalin requested the tests and sifted through more than 200 polygraphs, only to discover that two deputies, hired from the Lakeland Police Department, had disclosed affiliations with the Ku Klux Klan — and were still hired.

That initial bombshell story led to more scoops. The 50 stories that followed shocked the Central Florida community, detailing everything from warrantless entries, bid-rigging and cronyism.

Daniels later resigned and the Ledger won the prestigious Roy W. Howard Award for Public Service Reporting, one of journalism’s top honors.

Mr. Tomalin joined the Times as a police reporter in 1986. But the outdoors beckoned. He left the job within 18 months to backpack through New Zealand.

He was named the Times‘ outdoors writer when he returned.

During more than 25 years on the beat, Mr. Tomalin explored sunken Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico and canoed to the Bahamas and chased after the elusive Skunk Ape. He went places many outdoorsmen never went. He ventured into the Everglades alone. He made veteran outdoorsmen test their fears.

“Terry was the real deal,” said William Darrell “Darry” Jackson, the owner of Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure. “He was a true outdoorsman. He would go out and live in the outdoors. He didn’t do car camping.”

But his mission was broader than that. Colleagues say he sought to change the culture around outdoors writing. Rather than taking freebies from manufacturers and travel companies, Mr. Tomalin exposed restaurants that served fake grouper and fought for catch and release fishing of tarpon.

“I feel like Terry would want people to know that he worked hard to put outdoors writing on the same ethical footing with all the other journalism that the St. Pete Times did,” said Chuck Murphy, a former colleague at the Ledger and the then-St. Petersburg Times.

Terry Tomalin: Take It Outside

Tampa Bay Times

For all of his travels, however, Mr. Tomalin’s greatest passion in life was his family. Friends say he was swept away by Kanika at first sight. The two married in St. Petersburg in 1999.

He couldn’t wait to become a father, recalled former senior editor Joe Childs.

“When he got to be one, he was just so thrilled,” Childs said.

Mr. Tomalin would later serve as scout leader of Kai’s Boy Scout troop. He considered Kai and 12-year-old daughter Nia his greatest travel companions.

“Terry became one of those dads that every kid really wants,” said Dave Mistretta, a charter boat captain and close friend. “He was devoted. That’s what I saw shine in him. It was all about morals and being a good person. He wanted his kids to turn out right.”

Mr. Tomalin also was dedicated to the community. He helped found the annual Tampa Bay Frogman Swim, which has raised more than $1 million for the Navy SEAL Foundation since its inception in 2010, when just 30 people showed up for the swim across the chilly bay.

In announcing the death to the newsroom staff Thursday afternoon, Editor Neil Brown said he considered working with Mr. Tomalin one of the great honors and privileges of his career.

“Terry personified what it meant to be part of a community,” he later said in a statement. “You think of Terry and you think of his stories about the beauty of being alive and taking advantage of living around Tampa Bay. You think of his volunteer work in the community or you think of him routinely taking 40 kids camping. I can’t imagine that I’ve ever been around a more giving, energetic, can-do man.”

In an anniversary column last year, Mr. Tomalin had offered readers tips both practical, “Never turn your back on the ocean or a fishing buddy who doesn’t know how to cast,” and philosophical, “Carry a compass. It will tell you what direction you are going and, sometimes more importantly, where you have been.”

In the end, he wrote, it came down to wearing a smile, even if the boat’s going down.

“I used to say that attitude is everything,” he wrote. “But now I know that attitude is the only thing.”

Times staff writers Neil Brown, Katherine Snow Smith, Dan Sullivan, Michael Van Sickler and Colleen Wright, and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

 

By Rodney Page, Times Staff Writer

Terry Tomalin was a man of many stories and adventures. The Tampa Bay Times outdoors editor died Thursday, and we asked some of his friends and fellow adventurers for their best Tomalin tales:

3 Weeks Ago

William Darrell “Darry” Jackson, owner of Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure in Pinellas Park:

“We were cruising down from Cedar Key to Anclote Key in a dug out canoe and it was a tough day. We had 5-foot seas with water coming over the top. We were exhausted. It was late in the day and we were trying to find a place to camp. From Anclote Key north there are very few beaches. It’s very hard to find a place to camp.

“We pull into Aripeka and there’s this private boat ramp with a sign that reads ‘No Camping. No Overnight Parking.’ I’m thinking, great, this is going to (stink). We have no other place to go. I go inside and there’s this old guy behind the counter. I said, ‘Hi, my name is Darry Jackson.’ He said, ‘Is Terry Tomalin with you?’ I said, ‘Yes, you know Terry?’ He said, ‘No, but I read all his stories. I love them.’ I told him we were looking for a place to camp and he said, ‘You’re welcome to camp here as long as you introduce me to Terry Tomalin.’

“I thought that was pretty cool. We ended up having a little street party with all the people in the town.”

Zack Gross, owner of Z-Grille in St. Petersburg:

“This was about eight or nine years ago. (Former Salt Rock Grill chef) Tom Pritchard introduced me to Terry when we had the old restaurant on Central (Avenue). Terry came up to me and said, ‘Hey, you ever cooked alligator?’ I had just moved from California a couple years earlier so I said, ‘No, but I can cook anything.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m going alligator hunting for a story and I’m going to get some alligator. Can you cook it?’ I said, ‘Of course.’

“He told me to do whatever I wanted with it, just make sure I get to try some of it. So I get this alligator and I don’t know anything about what to do with it. So I figured I’d make gator tacos. I do a little research and come up with this buttermilk batter. I usually like to wing it, but since it was Terry I figured I should at least do a little research.

“So I make them and then I call him and say, ‘Hey, come on down for lunch. I’m putting them on special.’ He didn’t just give me a little bit of alligator, he gave me a boat load. So I make it and I’m waiting for Terry to get here and I’m seeing this line out the door. Everyone is ordering these gator tacos. We get to the end of the day and Terry comes in and says ‘I’m ready.’ I didn’t have any left. I sold them all out. He was like ‘Dang it!’ But he was cool with it. He said, ‘Were they good at least?’ I said, ‘They were awesome.’

“He did something really nice for me and I wasn’t able to repay him for it. That kind of goes back to losing him like this, I never got to say thank you.”

George Stovall, St. Petersburg chiropractor:

“One thing you may not know about Terry is that he knew every word to hundreds of songs. He had a photographic memory when it came to knowing the words to songs. And he had an amazing voice. It was remarkable.

“There was one time when we were on one of our harrowing trips, we’d paddled the length of the Suwannee River and we were trying to make landfall near Cedar Key at about 3 in the morning. We’d been paddling for 14 hours. We were tired. It was around Christmas time, and all of the sudden Terry starts singing Christmas carols. He’s singing Deck the Halls and all that. Then he starts singing Silent Night. He knew every word to every verse. So there we are, out in the middle of nowhere trying to find land, and Terry’s singing Silent Night. So we all start singing Silent Night and I really think it helped. It calmed us down, and sure enough we found land. That’s Terry.”

Ed Walker, area fishing guide and longtime friend:

“It was 1990 and we went to Homosassa for a tarpon story. He was new at the time and I was just starting out as a guide. He saw a picture of a kingfish that I caught and he wanted to know if he could run it in the paper. So I brought it down to the paper, but I also slipped a few other pictures in there. He saw a tarpon picture in there and he said, ‘Man, I’d love to catch one of those.’

“So we set up a trip to go to Homosassa, where all the record tarpon were being caught on fly rods. It’s a who’s who of tarpon fly fishing from all over the world that time of the year. I’m kind of new to the whole thing and I was hoping we’d catch one, but I wasn’t an expert. He brought Maurice (Rivenbark) as the photographer. We start poling around looking for fish and while we’re doing that I said, ‘Let’s throw a few practice casts.’ I quickly find out that Terry’s not a great fly fisherman. He’s having a hard time getting it out there as far as it needs to go. We spend a few hours practicing because there are no fish. It gets late and things are looking kind of grim.

“All of the sudden, here comes a big, single tarpon. It’s approaching the boat and Terry starts swinging the fly back and forth. It’s just not going out there and he’s flinging, flinging, flinging. I said, ‘Okay, just let it go.’ It was like the hand of God dropped that fly right on the tarpon’s nose. He gave it two little twitches and that thing looked up and gulped it. It was a miracle. That thing stands up out of the water and Maurice gets the shot. To this day, that was one of Terry’s all-time favorite fishing photos.”

Aaron Freedman, friend and frequent member of adventure trips:

“This last trip we took into the Everglades, it was me and Terry and George Stovall and (Tomalin’s son) Kai. We were driving back and Terry and I were in the front and we were chatting about business and life and leadership. The next day or two, two books show up at my house. They were about leadership and life. I’m looking at them and wondering who sent them to me. I texted Terry and said, ‘Hey, if you sent me these, thank you very much. It means a lot to me.’ He texted me back and said, ‘Yes, they were. Enjoy my friend.’ He must have gone right home and ordered those books. That meant a lot to me.”

By Jack Sheppard, former Times Sports Editor

Tampa Bay Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin died Thursday. Jack Sheppard served as sports editor during most of the 26-plus years that Tomalin was outdoors editor.

2 Weeks Ago

They were four simple words that I grew to love.

“You got a cooler?” said the familiar voice from the other end of the phone, the question delivered despite Terry knowing full well that by now I’d learned to never leave home without one.

I usually had no idea where Terry Tomalin had been that day. But by that question alone, I knew he’d been fishing somewhere, and my wife, Cindy, and I were about to become the beneficiaries. Within the hour, he’d plop a baggie of pink filets, packed in ice, on my Tampa Bay Times desk.

No matter the morning catch — grouper, redfish, kingfish, whatever — Terry always made sure Cindy and I would be enjoying fresh fish on the grill for dinner that night. The delivery usually included a cooking tip or two (courtesy of his many friends in the restaurant industry).

It was just one of the perks that came with being Terry’s sports editor for more than 25 years. Certainly the tastiest. But there were more. A lot more.

Terry was the consummate newspaper man. Journalists are idealists, oozing with passion and commitment. We believe there’s no wrong we can’t right. We believe we can make a difference in the world. And even in a department that some still believe is just fun and games, there are mountains of examples of great investigative reporting.

Terry was one of those hard-core guys. He had already made a mark as an aggressive young reporter, first at the Leesburg Commercial, then at the Lakeland Ledger where he exposed the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, leading to the sheriff’s resignation.

After Terry took a break in his career to hike around New Zealand for more than a year, our former boss, Joe Childs, convinced him to return to the then-St. Petersburg Times as an outdoors writer.

It was a perfect fit. Terry would do anything for a story. The more dangerous, the better. He would hunt wild boar with his bare hands. He would bungee jump. He would skydive. Just last year he supported my new career with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay by rappelling 19 stories down the old Bank of America building in St. Pete.

He would take us on long adventures, kayaking through gator-infested rivers, or mocking Mother Nature’s wrath in open water — by paddleboard, kayak, canoe, sailboat or any other method anyone dared present as a challenge.

But Terry also loved news. He took on the wildly popular Suncoast Tarpon Roundup, which was killing dozens of the prized trophy fish every year, and through a series of stories helped pressure organizers into making it a catch-and-release event. It was his idea to send samples of pricey grouper sandwiches from area restaurants to a research lab, exposing that many of your favorite eating spots were selling cheap imitations — even Vietnamese catfish — leading to penalties and fines, a great news story that generated a lot of buzz.

He created the daily Captain’s Corner, enlisting the best local experts to share their fishing secrets withTimes readers. And although almost all were also his friends, he set the standards high and held everyone accountable. Miss a deadline once, you get a tongue-lashing. Miss it again, you were gone. Terry knew that regular exposure in the Times was a great marketing opportunity, and he’d have a replacement by the end of the day.

Terry lobbied for years to expand our outdoors coverage and finally convinced Times editors to create a monthly special section we called Gulf & Bay. It included his usual fishing and hunting stories but also tasty recipes, and Great Catch photos, and anything else Terry found interesting. It only lasted a few years because of dwindling advertising, but it was named the Best Outdoors Section of the Year by the Outdoors Writers Association of America just about every year it was in print. That was all Terry.

I have a book’s worth of personal stories with Terry. About the luscious experience of catching kingfish out of John’s Pass at sunrise, then stopping at Gators restaurant on the way in so they could cook up the fresh catch for lunch. He would bring Boston Market chicken noodle soup to my house if he heard I called in sick. He would take my sons fishing and canoeing, even helping my youngest get his first job out of college. I’m sure his colleagues snickered that he was just kissing up to the boss. What they didn’t know was this is how he treated everyone.

My favorite story, though, has to be the time he took me and my dad fishing. My dad was well into his 60s by the time he finally accepted Terry’s invitation to make the drive from Tavares to St. Pete for a day of chasing kingfish. My dad had been an avid fisherman in his younger days, but that had slowed considerably over the years, and he was quite excited at the chance to “catch something big.”

Terry lined up a local captain, and we headed under the Skyway Bridge in the early morning to fish the channel near Egmont Key. It was your typical summer day — hot, humid, little breeze and, for the first several hours, not even a nibble. The lack of action and billowing clouds on the horizon that telegraphed one of those fast-forming Florida thunderstorms had us thinking that Dad’s big day on the water was about to end in disappointment.

Just about the time the first swell hit, the reel on the pole closest to Terry began to wail. We finally had our fish — at the worst possible time — but Terry instinctively yanked the pole out of its holder and thrust it into Dad’s hands.

The rain came hard and fast. The waves were pounding, each bigger than the last. The bow of the boat was heaving, and it took everything my dad had in him to stay on his feet. Terry was barking orders, alternating between encouragement and instructions, but I know Dad couldn’t hear a thing in all the chaos.

It was pretty clear that Dad was either going to the deck, going overboard or dropping the pole — probably cracking a rib or two along the way.

But Terry, as always, took charge. No worries. Instinctively, without hesitation, he wrapped his arms around my dad from behind, and in an instant became the strength in his legs, the muscles in his arms and the resolve in his heart. Hell or high water, he was not losing this fish.

It took an eternity to land the king, with Terry literally holding my dad up the whole time, lifting the tip of the pole time and again while Dad gathered in the resulting slack. By the end they were both soaked and exhausted, but Dad had his trophy — and what would ultimately be his last great fishing adventure.

It was classic Terry. Whatever it takes. Mind over matter. Power through. It was his mantra, and it served him well until last week.

I suspect about now, Terry would probably hate all this attention.

But man, he would have loved the buzz.

Rest easy, my friend. Tight lines, and don’t forget the cooler.

Times Staff:  Remembrances of Terry Tomalin

Joe Childs, former Times sports editor

“He’s the only great outdoors writer I know. I don’t know that there is another great outdoors writer out there. The only one left was Terry Tomalin.”

William Darrell “Darry” Jackson, Bill Jackson’s Shop for Adventure

“Terry had that sixth sense that all great reporters have, that bulldog instinct that something wasn’t right.”

Louis “Skip” Perez, executive editor of the Ledger(Lakeland) from 1981 to 2011

“He was sort of a hard-core old-fashioned newspaperman stuck in an outdoors writer’s body.”

Jack Sheppard, former Times sports editor

“One thing people would recognize from the Terry of 1986 in theTerry of 2016 was his intensity. He really brought his whole soulto every story.”

Chuck Murphy, colleague at the Ledger and the Times

“He was young, he was inspiring and he was ready to take the world on, and he was going to tell you about it.”

Dave Mistretta, charter boat captain and friend

“He would write these crazy things. People didn’t believe the things we were doing. It was nutty. It was more than 90 percent of people could ever imagine doing. And we did them. Terry dreamed up a lot of these trips.”

George Stovall, a St. Petersburg chiropractor who was a regular in Tomalin’s stories

 

By Terry Tomalin:    “Terry’s Tips after 25 years of outdoors reporting.”

Twenty-five years ago Sunday, I left my job in the News Department and moved to Sports to cover the great outdoors. One week, I was falling asleep in a county commission meeting, the next I was at Weedon Island catching snook. • I’ve gained knowledge and wisdom in the past quarter-century, and there have been times when the subtle difference between the two have helped me walk the fine line that often separates success and failure. • Many of these life lessons have been learned the hard way — through personal experience. But you can save yourself some time and suffering. Here are 25 observations from 25 years on the outdoors beat:

Terry, out in the sun.    He enjoyed his "field research."
Terry, out in the sun. He enjoyed his “field research.”


3 Weeks Ago

  • Stand on the beach for a moment and watch how the surf breaks before you jump right in. You’ll catch more waves and suffer fewer wipeouts.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean or a fishing buddy who doesn’t know how to cast.
  • Carry a compass. It will tell you what direction you are going and, sometimes more importantly, where you have been.
  • Sharpen your hooks. Any tool, be it a pencil, saw blade or mind, dulls with time. Routine maintenance will assure that you are ready for anything.
  • The Antarctic explorer Roald Amundsen said that adventure is just bad planning. Every hour spent in preparation will save you 10 hours in the field.
  • My father once told me that you can never have too many pocket knives or flashlights. I stash them everywhere, which can be embarrassing at airport checkpoints.
  • I know how to generate flames with flint and steel, but I’m no caveman. That’s why I carry a tube of fire starter and waterproof matches.
  • If a bull shark wants your stringer, let it go. There are more fish in the sea.
  • And when it comes to sharks, think about karma. I don’t eat sharks, and sharks don’t eat me.
  • Plan your dive and dive your plan. You might think differently when you are carried by the current in 80 feet of water. But never forget why you came and who is waiting at home.
  • File a float plan. Sure, maybe you are just going tarpon fishing beneath the Skyway. But when the engine doesn’t start and the anchor fails, you’ll sure be glad your wife has called the Coast Guard.
  • When in doubt, sit it out. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
  • Plan for the worst and hope for the best. I always carry a survival kit, even on day hikes. Be the person that saves the day.
  • When the going gets tough — smile. When it is cold, rainy and the boat is about to sink, nobody needs a sourpuss.
  • In Florida, you need to shuffle your feet for stingrays but also step high when hiking down a muddy trail.
  • Guns and alcohol don’t mix.
  • Raccoons are smarter than dogs or dolphins and many campers.
  • I’ve swam across Tampa Bay in the middle of winter, yet I still put on a personal flotation device, or life jacket, every time I get in a canoe or kayak.
  • Florida is like no place else in the world. You are lucky to live here. Take care of it.
  • Hug a tree, or specifically, a mangrove. When it comes to the future of our fisheries, it’s about habitat, stupid.
  • When you are shivering on a sandbar at midnight, a cup of coffee will make everything all right. Pack a camp stove.
  • Carry more water than you think you will need. You can always use it to brush your teeth.
  • To paraphrase Steve McQueen, the King of Cool, it is better to wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.
  • Your mom was right. Turn off the TV, computer, iPad, smartphone and take it outside. You will be glad you did.
  • I used to say that attitude is everything. But now I know that attitude is the only thing.

Terry’s most memorable stories

In pursuit of the famous Skunk Ape

Knife in hand, Tomalin hopes to capture one of Florida’s most elusive creatures. He wrote:

“A couple more feet and I would be famous. ‘Man captures Skunk Ape,’ the tabloids would scream, ‘and lives to tell the tale.’

One man, a kayak, the open, angry sea: Solitude is the quest

Tomalin loved a good adventure. In this one, he took on “The Outside,” the 75-mile stretch of unprotected waters down the west coast of Florida … in a kayak … all alone.

The power of the paddle

In 2003, Tomalin took readers on a trip to Bimini by canoe. “Keep paddling,” yelled one crew members as waves broke across the deck. “Keep up the speed!”

Big fun for small fry

Tomalin often included his family of his adventures. In this 2003 story, he wrote about fishing with his then 2-year-old son.

Portrait of a nephew as a young, happy camper

Family was also featured in Tomalin’s 1991 column about taking his 6-year-old nephew Tyler camping for the first time.

Camp fright

Tomalin went looking for ghosts in the Florida wilds, including Edgar J. Watson, the planter, trader and murderer who terrorized swamps at the turn of the century.

Scare tactics

He also explored the art and science of telling a good campfire ghost story.

The grouper catch: You order grouper; what do you get?

Tomalin also wrote some hard hitting stories, including a two-part special report about how the grouper you eat often isn’t grouper. Tap here to read Part 1. Tap here to read Part 2.

Father’s Day means lure of memories

Fishing with his father wasn’t so much about catching as it was talking, Tomalin wrote. “It was just he and I, pals for life.”

 

 

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Neil Taylor
Full time kayak fishing guide, Neil was an advocate for conservation since before the time he started guiding. Outdoor writer, speaker and radio show host, Neil connected closely with Captain Mel Berman and did many positives with Mel to promote ethical angling. After Mel passed away, Neil managed www.capmel.com and eventually became that web site’s owner.