Part I: The Life and Times of Jimbo Meador, Point Clear, Alabama

I ran into Jimbo Meador at a grocery store a few weeks ago. After exchanging pleasantries, we decided to meet for coffee and a visit. I left looking forward to it like a kid waiting for Christmas. I wasn’t sure what we would discuss. I planned to listen and learn and relish in the moment. Any time spent with Jimbo is memorable.

As we sat down at an outside table at Refuge Coffee Shop next to Thomas Hospital, Jimbo began talking and telling stories. Fortunately, I had my notebook and pen in hand. After a minute or two, I opened my notebook and started furiously jotting down half sentences of what he was saying to capture the conversation. 

The result was a glimpse into the life of the epitome of an “Old Salt” if there ever was one. Jimbo Meador is a legend around these parts. At 82, he has so many tales to tell that it’s hard to fully grasp the adventurous life he has led. The conversation jumped from one subject to the next as quickly as a cat, and I wanted to savor each moment.

He knew we shared a similar background growing up in Springhill and on Mobile Bay, but mine pales in comparison. Let’s start with the book, Forrest Gump, written by the late Winston Groom. It’s dedicated to Jimbo and George Radcliff. You could go so far as to claim the book’s main character is inspired by Jimbo, and no one would tell you you are wrong.

Before I continue, a little background is in order. Jimbo grew up in Mobile but spent much of his youth on the Eastern Shore and the Gulf Coast, fishing, pulling trawl nets for shrimp and crabs, and pretty much anything that entailed being on the water. His father owned W.M. Meador and Company, a food broker in Mobile, and packaged Big Bill’s Rice and Beans. Jimbo went to UMS (University Military School) in Mobile and spent summers in Pt. Clear.

Jimbo’s list of close friends includes Winston Groom, Jimmy Buffett, Jim Harrison, and Lefty Kreh, all gone now, and many, many more who are still with us. As the conversation unfolds, these people are woven into an engaging, lively, and thoughtful storyline that describes Jimbo’s life and experiences. I was smitten and relishing the moment.

Jimbo’s work experiences, in no certain order, include outdoor writer, fishing guide, boat designer, stevedore, Orvis dealer rep, shotgun rep, boat captain, eco-tourism expert, sailor, windsurfer, and naturalist. If you sense a connection to the water and hunting, you’re right. His knowledge of the waters surrounding the Scenic 98 Coastal area is extraordinary. He is passionate about the Mobile River Delta and is eager to voice his ideas to preserve and protect it.

We talk about the old Tuveson’s Boat Works in Battles Wharf, now PointClear Landing where everyone went when we were kids to get boat gas. “Dad helped Mr. Tuverson buy that property,” he says. We reminisced about the big wooden catamaran that seemed too big to get out of the marina’s entrance. “My father helped get the rail put in to launch that boat,” Jimbo tells me. “I played and fished in that creek growing up. After Tuveson took over, all the mullet fishermen kept their boats there. I kinda wished they had left it alone.”

As a boy, he grew up in the country in Springhill near what is now Municipal Park. “I fished the lake and set traps to catch raccoons to sell the pelts. Davy Crockett was popular back then and every kid wanted a coonskin hat. There was nobody out there but me and the coons.” 

He tells me he was arrested by the Mobile Police when he was 14 for shooting ducks in the marsh where the lake is now. “It was within the city limits. They had extended the city limits westward, and I was unaware.” 

He tells me about sleeping on the screen porch at their house in Battles Wharf, and how an older friend, called the Duke, who lived nearby, would wake him up most every morning before daylight to fish, flounder, pull a seine net, scoop shrimp clinging to pilings for bait, and check for jubilees. 

“He made me my first cast net when I was five years old, and added to the length each year. He taught me how to throw it left-handed because he was left-handed. We fished for speckled trout with Calcutta cane poles and a popping cork. We had a wooden skiff that we rowed to where we wanted to fish.”

“We designed a bait keeper that was tied behind the boat in the water to keep the shrimp lively. We’d pull in a fish and catch it between our knees. Then we’d get the fish off the hook with one hand while reaching to get another shrimp to bait the hook with the other. We’d sell the fish we caught to Mr. Stern in Fairhope, and we never missed a jubilee.”

One day, Jimbo noticed a sign erected in front of the property near the Grand Hotel, which was  close to Meador’s property, announcing “Future Home of Bay View Condos.” Jimbo had a sign made the next day that said, “Future Home of Bay View Hog Farm, 300 Duroc, and Yorkshire Hogs,” and put it up on his property. 

The project was scratched for a more suitable development for the area. Jimbo’s family eventually gave part of their property to the Presbyterian church where Bay Treat now stands. It was once a hotel. Jimbo was once the regional Orvis representative for the entire Southern United States and was invited down to the 30-A area below Destin for a development presentation for what is now Watercolor. 

“They wanted me to put a big Orvis store there and made a pitch to me about everything they had planned.” After the presentation, he was asked what he thought. “I think it sucks! Do you even know why people love this place so much? You’re fixin’ to destroy the very reason people come here. You haven’t done anything to protect the natural habitat and wildlife that makes this place so special.” After the meeting, they hired a naturalist, and the whole project was redesigned to keep the natural areas intact.

This led us to a conversation about the growth that has damaged the water quality and the lack of ability to sustain the fisheries in Mobile Bay. “We’ve paved, roofed, and asphalted most of Baldwin County. We’ve built concrete drains to carry the water as quickly as possible to tributaries that empty into the Bay. There is no buffer for that water to filter through the ground naturally before it enters and contaminates the natural habitat.”

He explains that the abundance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other pollutants emptying into the Bay over-fertilizes the algae and creates huge blooms. “Everything needs oxygen. These algae blooms reduce the oxygen levels in the water and also get on the gills of fish so they can’t breathe.”

He says, “There is a difference between an algae bloom and a jubilee. These are not jubilees we are having that are killing the fish, they are more like red tides caused by a lack of oxygen in the water. These are top water fish like mullet being affected.” 

“Jubilees involve bottom fish like flounder that don’t have a swim bladder. In jubilees, they recover when the conditions change. When the water gets to the point where nothing can survive, the Bay, as we know it, is history. We have to do better.”

He goes on, “Any place with grass beds will have clean water. The Delta is the last nursery ground. It has a lot of invasive grasses, but it’s still grass. It’s the habitat for all our fisheries including shrimp, crabs, and fish. It catches a lot of the silt that flows down from all the rivers and eventually empties into the Bay. The Delta is where our seafood nurseries are, then they go out to the Gulf to spawn.”  

“You never have clear water without grass beds. These days the Bay stays muddy when it’s rough and most of the grass beds are gone. It’s like throwing a tarp over your lawn. It only takes a day or two for the grass to begin to die. It’s the same in the Bay. Grass has to have sunlight to have photosynthesis to live.” Then he says, “That’s all I’ve got to say about that.”

Later in his life, Jimbo earned his Certified Master Naturalist degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of Florida. “If Alabama offered a Naturalist program, I would have gotten one there, too.” He tells me he got these degrees so he could better understand what was taking place in the Mobile River Delta.

When talking about the changes he has seen during his lifetime he says, “I’m not using any Latin. I just tell it like it is. I speak Jimbonics. What we need to do is protect the Bay.” He’s a strong advocate for Mobile Baykeepers and what they are doing. He has served on most of the conservation boards in the Scenic 98 Coastal footprint at one time or another.

He spent time in his early adult years as a tugboat captain pushing barges along the Intercoastal Waterway and the Mississippi River. “I have a 100-ton captain’s license, which afforded me lots of time off to hunt and fish. It suited my lifestyle.” He talks about working with Ryan Stevedoring in Mobile. 

“When I went to work for Ryan Stevedoring, I was hired by a guy they called the ‘Rock of the Dock’. He asked me if I knew how to splice a rope. I showed him I could indeed, and I was hired.” They put Jimbo with an old Swedish guy in his late 70s by the name of Mr. Jansen. He had once been a Bosun on the last sailing ship in Mobile, the Chiquimula, a four Masted Schooner. 

“A Bosun is the most important person besides the captain, on a ship. They are responsible for all the men and equipment.” The Chiquimula now lies underwater at the bottom of a hill below Spanish Fort. Jimmy Buffett’s grandfather had once been its captain. 

Mr. Jansen didn’t pay much attention to Jimbo at first. They were making “Save Alls,” nets placed on the outside of the deck to catch cargo that would occasionally fall overboard. They would make the nets by starting in the middle and working their way outward. Mr. Jansen always got to his end before Jimbo got to his. Then one day Jimbo finished his side first. After that, Mr. Jansen and Jimbo got along fine.   

He tells me that one day. he and Mr. Jansen were fishing in the Delta near the Chiquimula’s final resting place. “His hands were so large he couldn’t get them inside the cricket can to get his bait, and I had to do it for him. He was reflecting on his old sailing days, and I could see he was getting sad, so we moved to a new fishing spot.”  

Ryan Stevedoring sent Jimbo to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina to supervise the loading of cargo ships with ammunition headed to support the war in Vietnam. He tells me one of his favorite books is The Old Man and the Boy, a classic by Robert Ruark. “It was set in the Wrightsville Beach area and the two years I was there, I lived everything in that book.”  

Jimbo kept getting promoted at Ryan Stevedoring until he ended up with an office job in Mobile wearing a coat and tie to work every day. One day, he came home and told his wife, Lynn, “I think I’m going to go shrimp,”’ and he quit. Lynn, or Carolyn McPhillips, grew up in Point Clear, right by Zundle’s Wharf. Her father owned the grocery store that later became Boo Boo’s King Cole Club. (Another story for another day)

She went to the nearby Point Clear School, which, unfortunately, burned to the ground a few years back. She was Linda’s 5th-grade teacher at Mary B. Austin Elementary School in Mobile, and she remembers her fondly. Lynn is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease, and Jimbo has been caring for her for the last 15 years. “I’m paying her back for the free spirit lifestyle she allowed me to live.”

Part II: A Life Well Lived, The Life and Times of Jimbo Meador will be published Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Dec 13, 2023
Water Side of Scenic 98

Join Our Community

Sign up below to subscribe to our weekly newsletter

* indicates required

More from 

Water Side of Scenic 98


View All