Naming spots is always an interesting task. Some take life with fish names and what was caught, while others are remembered by events thathappened.
Six miles west of Bean Point is a ledge where I've caught grouper and snapper year round. It's a secret spot found on a day when the water was so clean the rocky ledge could be seen below. This spot, known as the "Raker Ledge," has more memories tied to it than any spot I fish offshore.
One of my closest friends growing up was Steve Raker. "Raker" as he was known, was the reliable friend. The common bond we shared with fishing and sports kept us close through high school.
Steve was ready to fish no matter what we were after that day. He was always smiling, whether the fish were biting or not, and his jovial sense of humor endeared him to everyone he met. Long before we could drive, Steve and I would ride bikes to Palma Sola Bay, fishing for anything that would bite as we waded through the mud.
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When I turned 16 and could finally tow our boat, it was a weekly occurrence that we'd be launching from Kingfish boat ramp or 59th Street to see what was biting that day. When the weather was nice, we would head offshore, exploring many of the reefs and a few private spots we found ourselves.
Steve began to take a love for diving and spearfishing. While I couldn't spend time underwater, I was happy to get Steve and others out to let me know what hid below. One of our favorite trips was to the ledge six miles out of Anna Maria Island. It was an easy trip, and he would routinely bring up grouper and snapper for dinner when I couldn't catch one, describing to me how the fish were acting that day.
As college came, our fishing time was cut back by distance as Steve spent his freshman year with the Army. When the school year ended, we were back on the boat for much of the summer, chasing tarpon and snook. He started the following year at Manatee Community College, while I was across Tampa Bay at Eckerd College. We timed our schedules to be able to fish occasionally during the week and on weekends as well when time permitted.
Then the night of Feb. 13th, 2005, and the following day changed the life of everyone who knew Steve. He was involved in a single-car accident that took his life far too soon. Every Valentine's Day, it's a remembrance of the great friend and person we lost and the memories we shared.
The ledge we spent many days six miles offshore was nicknamed the "Raker Ledge" in his honor. Every time I leave Bean Point and head west, the Raker Ledge is a reminder of the great times we've spenttogether.
It's a fitting tribute to the man who helped me become who I am today. He was loved and lost on Valentine's Day.