It was teaching that first brought Monty and Florita Richardson to Seward in 1957, but it was sport fishing Resurrection Bay’s rich waters that captured their passion and occupied their summers for the next half a century.
The couple had lived in Oklahoma, South Dakota and Colorado before setting their sites on Alaska.
“I always loved the outdoors and always loved fishing,” Monty said. “One of the attractors that brought us up there was the Alaska fishing.”
They spent their first year in Homer before crossing the Kenai Peninsula to settle in Seward. Florita taught second grade and special education, and Monty taught geography and U.S. History at the junior high.
The Richardsons had no way to get out on the water when they first arrived, but Monty eventually picked up a plywood rowboat with a 15-horsepower outboard motor and began exploring the bay.
“It wasn’t really made for ocean running,” he said with a laugh. “But it got us up the bay four or five miles and I’m still here.”
It was Monty, Florita and their children on those early excursions when they learned where to find the fish and how to catch them. Soon the hardware store started asking Monty to take people out fishing.
“I took a few out in the skiff but only one or two at a time,” he said. “They’d give me a tank of gas and a six pack of beer. I thought I was doing pretty good.”
When Anchorage fishermen began calling for his charter services he decided it was time to get a bigger boat.
“I talked the wife into letting me buy an 18-foot Bryant; it was an open boat with a canopy over it.”
After consulting with his family, the vessel was christened the Tinkerbell. They made up signs with whiteboard and shoe polish advertising the new charter service and clients began calling.
“I didn’t know what to charge; if I took a couple of people out, usually they’d give me $30 or $40,” he said. “Next thing you know I was taking people out, and getting some money out of it.”
Soon after the clients began calling, so did the U.S. Coast Guard asking if he had a charter license. There were a handful of charter boats already operating in the bay and they weren’t too happy about a new and unlicensed competitor. He spent July of 1962 high and dry, cramming for the Coast Guard exam. He got his charter license just in time for that year’s Seward Silver Salmon Derby.
Monty recalls that the early derbies attracted Seward residents but soon 700 to 800 participants from all over Southcentral were buying tickets. Compared to todays numbers, the derby was small, but still, Monty said the early derbies were crowded affairs.
“The reason it was crowded is the boats were small and the fishing was limited to Caines Head and Thumb Cove,” he said. “Officials knew that those small boats shouldn’t run way out into open water.”
He said that as the boats improved, the boundaries expanded outward.
“Each year boats kept getting bigger and better; at first they only went 4 or 5 miles, now they go 40 or 50 miles.”
As Seward’s popularity as a fishing destination increased, the derby grew and so did Monty’s operation. He sold the Tinkerbell, bought a 24-foot cabin cruiser and called it the Irish Lord. It was the first in a series of boats he would run over the years, but each would carry that same name. The other constants were Monty at the wheel and Florita working as deckhand.
Monty said she was the best deckhand the Irish Lord ever saw, known to make lunch, bait hooks, untangle crossed lines and then calmly crochet in the cabin until a client called for help.
Over the decades that the Richardson’s operated their charter business they watched the community change from, “a longshoreman’s town to a tourist town.” The Seward Silver Salmon Derby, Monty believes, helped Seward make the transition.
“It has been a good thing for Seward,” he said with conviction in his voice. “The Chamber of Commerce has done a great job. There are a great number of participants in town and the bay is loaded for nine days. They expanded the prizes, and it seems like almost everyone comes away a winner.”
The derby was good to Monty and his clients, too. In 1975, Bill and Sheila Erwin were fishing with him during the derby when both hooked up with big silvers. Monty went to Bill’s aid first.
“We didn’t pay much attention to her until we had his in,” Monty said. “When we got hers in after a big fight I realized it was big, bigger than his. Well, it won the derby.”
Two years later Bill Erwin tangled with one about 20 yards from where his wife hooked her 17.04-pound derby winner. His fish took third in the 1977 derby. A few years later, Monty’s daughter, Maureen, home for a visit, caught a fish that placed seventh. The prize money covered all of her travel expenses.
Monty ran his charter business well into his 80s but gave it up about a decade ago. His last derby was four years ago, with friends and family.
“I remember taking all my family on board,” he said. “We didn’t do worth a darn that day, but there were eight or nine of us, and we had a lot of fun.”
He sold the last incarnation of the Irish Lord in 2013. Now 97, Monty fondly reminisces on his chartering days. Asked if it was difficult to leave, he paused and said, “If losing your right arm is difficult. I knew it would come to the end but it was a pretty good operation while it lasted.”