GLADES COUNTY -- “You never know what will happen to you out on this water. You’ll learn a lot of stuff and you’ll meet a lot of people,” Sam Griffin told the crowd gathered at Harney Pond on Lake Okeechobee on Saturday morning.
He should know.
Griffin was born in a houseboat on Lake Okeechobee in 1937, and has spent his life fishing the Big O and teaching others about it.
He is so well known as an angler, guide and lure designer that in 2018, he was inducted into the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.
On June 12, Glades County Commissioners honored “the man, the myth, the legend and the teacher,” by putting his name on the new observation tower at Harney Pond.
Griffin’s family moved to the Clewiston area in 1921. His father found work as a commercial fisherman, using massive haul seine nets to harvest the fish from the big lake. Fish houses around the lake packed fillets in ice to be shipped north by rail to places like Jacksonville, Fla., Richmond, Va., and New York City.
After commercial fishing on the lake shut down, Sam’s father operated Uncle Joe’s Fish Camp, renting out boats and providing a guide service to recreational fishermen. At age 12, Griffin was working as a fishing guide.
"My dad came to Glades County in 1921 and got on a commercial fishing operation in Moore Haven,” said Griffin.
“Over a period of time he became involved in the business himself, fishing Lake Okeechobee out of Clewiston,” he continued. “That’s where I was born, on a houseboat in 1937.
“I was raised right there on the Industrial Canal in Clewiston. Then we moved to Uncle Joe’s after the commercial operation was terminated on Lake Okeechobee."
He recalled an incident from his childhood that made a big impact on is life.
“My father took in on pawn, a rod and reel, from a gentleman that was going to war in Europe, that’s the Second World War. He gave him $25 for that rod and reel, which cost the guy $5. The gentlemen had a family and he needed the money, so my dad gave him that.
“Well, I wore that rod and reel out learning to bass fish,” he continued, explaining that he taught himself how to use that rod and reel. “It’s been 78 years since I laid my hand on that rod and reel and I haven’t laid my hand off it yet.”
The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame website notes “Griffin was 15 when he carved his first lure. He used guava wood because he knew it would float. When the lure hit the water it immediately sank and that was the beginning of his experimentation creating lures that caught big fish. His initial offerings were the Old Line Sides lure which is coveted today by collectors. His other early experiments yielded the Hobo. In 1989 when Griffin sold all the rights of Griffin Lures to Luhr Jensen they were producing six of his creations. They were: The Sammy Shad; the Wobble Pop; the Bass Baffler; the Lil’ Chris; the Jerk’n Sam and the Nippin’ Sam. Griffin tested his lures on Lake Okeechobee where he guided for over 50 years.”
Griffin experimented with creating fishing lures that would be durable and attractive to largemouth bass and snook. At it’s busiest time, his fishing lure business employed about 22 workers. He shipped lures to Japan, Australia, Italy, Africa and South America.
At the dedication on Saturday, Commissioner John Ahern said the tower will be a tourist attraction. “Visitors always want to see Lake Okeechobee,” he explained.
He said it is appropriate to name the tower for Sam Griffin not only for his reputation as a fishermen, but also for his service to the communities of Clewiston, Moorehaven and Lakeport.
“Sam is a great fisherman, a great bait builder and a great teacher,” said Commissioner Tony Whidden. “There’s not any part of this lake that Sam can’t sketch you out a map and show you where the fish are going to be.”
Commissioner Donna Storter Long said “Sam is one of those people who doesn’t seek recognition.
“It’s an honor to know you Mr. Griffin,” she added.
“If you go up to the top of this tower and look out over the lake, you’ll truly know you’re in God’s country,” said Commission Chair Tim Stanley.
A book about Griffin, "Big Sam and the Big O," was written by Robert Montgomery.
Griffin is also one of the anglers featured in "Tales from the Glades" video series.