Capt. Ken Wilson Sr. knew there was good wood in the Valiant II, the charter-fishing boat he commissioned in the 1950s. He knew it because he cut all the cedar himself - from a piece of land he bought just for its trees.

And the Valiant II turned out to be a good boat. Wilson ran his charter business on the 40-footer until he retired in 1990 or so. When he stopped fishing for a living - which let him go just for the love of fishing - Wilson donated his wooden boat to a maritime museum.

Before he died last month, at 92, Wilson could have been a walking museum exhibit himself. The lifelong Port Republic resident, whose family roots in the town go back to 1823, was a man out of an earlier century, a guy who grew up knowing how to live off the land - or the water.

"If you ever got shipwrecked, he's the guy you wanted to be with," said his son, Ken Wilson Jr. "You'd probably eat better than you did at home."

Along with his fishing, Ken Sr. knew all about hunting and trapping in the local pinelands and wetlands.

"He helped me with snapping turtles, taught me ... how to catch them," said Newt Sterling, a neighbor since 1972 who now runs a business selling trapping supplies for many kinds of animals.

"I was in my early 20s, and he molded my life," Sterling said. "He took me under his wing, treated me like a son. Otherwise, it wouldn't have happened."

Still, it was fishing that made Ken Sr. his main living, and his reputation.

Don Wilson, his younger son, remembers friends saying his dad could "think like a fish. ... I think he knew where fish were going even before they did."

Ken Sr. started his charter-captain career early - at 8. Ken Jr. said his dad used to pick weeds for a neighbor at a dime an hour. When she offered him the same pay to take her out fishing, he was hooked. His whole life, fishing was more fun than almost anything he could do.

"Guys I know, they didn't call him a fisherman. They called him The Wizard," Sterling said.

And Ken Sr. did well in the fishing business. When he got older, he liked to spend winters in Marco Island, Fla., with his wife, Doris, until she died in 2005. Then once he was there, mostly he liked to fish.

Ken Sr. took his last Florida fishing trip in February. He needed a wheelchair to get through airports. And two family friends and fishing buddies, Paul Kuras of Mays Landing and Mike Quigley of Egg Harbor Township, had to help him around in Florida, and even change bandages on his face - it was damaged by years of skin cancer.

But out on the water, "He was still himself - catching fish, bringing them in himself," Quigley said. "He didn't catch the most, but he caught the biggest."

Contact Martin DeAngelis:

609-272-7237