ANNA MARIA — Erica Webb, the bartender at the historic Rod & Reel Pier Restaurant on North Shore Drive in Anna Maria, says the best thing about the place is that you always meet someone interesting there.
A sampling of the Sunday crowd turned up, in this order, a treasure hunter with an eBay account, an opera singer who is also a paranormal investigator and a super serious fisherman from Lakeland.
Not a bad haul and well below the legal limit.
But the 300-foot pier, said to be one of only several privately owned piers in Florida, seems to attract those accomplished in the much ignored art of doing little to relax from doing much.
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It has always been not much more than it was when built in 1947 — a bunch of boards strung together out over Tampa Bay with quaint bar, bait shop and restaurant at the tip.
But there, with a fishing pole in her hand, was Brenda Delhotal, a soprano in the Elgin Opera in Illinois and a member of the Elgin Paranormal Investigators.
Wearing a neon pink top and a yellow hat, Delhotal said she trekked to Anna Maria from Illinois with her sister and friend Lydia Hanson all because of her husband, Augie.
“I want to catch a bigger fish than he has ever caught and he’s caught some big ones,” Delhotal said between screams as she baited her hook with a live shrimp.
Delhotal, who was trained in opera by Elgin’s opera diva, Solange Sior, was hoping for a hammerhead shark but ended up hauling in a six-inch white fish which won’t beat Augie, but made the trip worth it, she said.
“I am an investigator,” Delhotal said of her ghost-busting sidelight. “We don’t just do this for fun. This is science. Members of our group trained me.”
Somehow, one can imagine that Frank Cavendish was listening to Delhotal and smiling.
The late Cavendish is one of a handful of owners of the pier over the years, but he may be the most popular.
He is seen in several of the photographs that are preserved under a thick layer of polyurethane that makes up the top of the Rod & Reel bar.
“Look at the women’s bathing suits in this picture from 1955,” said treasure hunter and eBay businesswoman Denise Potter. “There’s certainly a lot to them.”
Potter lives on Holmes Beach but rides her bike several miles north for a blackened grouper sandwich at the Rod & Reel.
On Sunday, Potter held a million-year-old clam preserved in calcite crystals, called a Mercenaria permagna, that she had found in her secret hunting place somewhere on the island.
“I think they are beautiful,” Potter said of the clams, which she can find in goodly numbers and sells on eBay in quantities of two or three for 99 cents.
“I want to sell my crystals to help the dolphins, turtles and birds injured by the oil spill,” Potter said. “I’m working on a way to do it.”
“My most emotional piece ever was actually not an opera but ‘God Bless America,’“ Delhotal said outside as Potter ate her sandwich. “We sang it as a whole group. You can take your Italian opera numbers, but nothing has the emotional impact of that song.”
Almost overshadowed in all of this was Shawn Knowles, of Lakeland, who quietly went about the business of catching an 18-inch black drum, one of a long list of fish that can be caught from the pier, including mangrove snapper, flounder, black and red drum, cobia, pompano, stingrays and sharks.
The largest fish ever taken was probably a 17-foot, 1,300-pound shark, said Ted Pasquantonio, prep cook at the Rod & Pier and its amateur historian.
So what does it mean that the pier is private?
Adults fish off the pier for $2 and children for $1.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.