It was over one hundred years ago this week, a few days before America entered the first World War. A crowd of over a thousand people gathereed to enthusiastically welcome the former President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, to Punta Gorda. He had come to conquer the “devil fish”.
Roosevelt had been enticed to Punta Gorda through an article written by fishing guide, Russell Cole of Danville, Virginia, who dramatically described in a magazine the catching of a manta ray weighing three tons. Roosevelt immediately got in touch with Coles - he had to conquer this fish.
Coles arranged for Captain Jack J. McCann and crew and the launch, E.C. Knight, to take Roosevelt and himself on a fishing expedition to what was then considered the leading sports fishing area of Florida.
While in Punta Gorda for his fishing trip, Roosevelt stayed at the Seminole Hotel in the downtown, where the Sunloft Building is today. He rode through town waving at people standing along Marion Avenue. A young girl, Belle McBean (later Quednau), furnished the former President with a kodak camera to snap pictures of his trip and the fish he caught. He later sent her a brand new kodak with a thank you letter.
On their first day of fishing , Roosevelt succeeded in harpooning two “devil fish”, one of small size and the other a huge creature measuring over twelve feet across. The latter nearly capsized their boat. While here they also explored the surrounding waters, spending one complete day inspecting the bird rookeries near Matlacha. Captain McCann was their guide and transported the party between Punta Gorda and the inlets and passes of this area.