A childhood that revolved around the waterfront; an adolescence working in and around boats, fishing the local waters; and a stint of service to our country in the US Coast Guard attracted the two brothers, founders of this company, to purchase a small baithouse at the end of the old City Pier in Gulfport (FL). In 1944, Capt. Myron (Sonny) Aylesworth and his brother, Ralph Aylesworth, soon added fish and other seafood to their product selection, selling to the local community.
The “Aylesworth Brothers” as they were known, distinguished themselves in the fishing and seafood community, purchasing locally caught seafood and fish from local fishermen. Sonny also became one of the most prominent fishing guides in the Tampa Bay area, a specialist in hunting the wily tarpon, a regular tournament champion - a distinction he would enjoy for the rest of his life.
Requiring additional room to grow, in 1952 the pair took their operation to Clam Bayou (Gulfport, FL), expanding on both the retail and wholesale aspects of the business. The Clam Bayou facility, at a whopping 1500 sq ft, included the partners’ first refrigerated cooler for extended product storage. Mackerel, kingfish and mullet were produced in volume at this facility, attracting wholesalers throughout Florida and from Georgia and the Carolina’s. The pair also invested in their first truck, to deliver fish locally and within Florida.
One of the brothers’ customers was a beautiful young widow who ran her own retail market in downtown St. Petersburg. Katherine Gropp Ernest billed herself in advertisements as “Pinellas County’s Only Woman Fish Dealer”. Kitty’s “Jake’s Fish Market”, eventually merged with the retail operation of the brothers’ – and Kitty later became Katherine Aylesworth, Ralph Aylesworth’s wife and another partner in the operation.
A fire at the Clam Bayou facility in 1958 precipitated a move to an even larger facility in the city of St. Petersburg. Building a 3600 sq ft processing room, a retail storefront, and a 1600 sq ft loading dock with 4 truck bays, the company expanded at this location rapidly. Freezing capabilities were added to expand the distribution range; a 540 sq ft storage freezer soon followed. Trucks and trailers complemented the expansion.
Production of all types of fish, bait, shellfish and other products dominated the business; the retail operation was discontinued; and the commercial wholesale distribution company became the driving force behind expansion. Ralph and Kitty’s son, Robert, joined the business to manage the trucking business. Trucking routes were expanded until the company was running regular routes on their own vehicles coast to coast.
Today, our current location at 1295 – 28th Street S in St. Petersburg occupies a property of over an acre. With local production discontinued, the company has recently completed a total renovation of the circa 1958 building to complement the distribution operation.
Conveniently located near I-275, between exits 20 and 21, our current operation focuses on the roots of the company – fishing baits. Our sales and distribution is housed in a 19,000 sq ft warehouse, 12,000 sq ft of which is frozen storage housing much of our quality frozen natural bait products. Operating hours at our sales and distribution facility are from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. We are closed on Saturday and Sunday.
Our staff includes Robert Aylesworth, an accomplished tournament fisherman, and his wife, Dawn Aylesworth, a competitive fisherman in her own right; a dedicated group of sales people, drivers and operational staff, well-versed in our product mix and it’s uses, who fish competitively whenever possible.
Aylesworth Foundation for the Advancement of Marine Science
Investing in Florida’s Future
We also participate in the operation of the Aylesworth Foundation for the Advancement of Marine Science, which Ralph and Kitty formed in 1984. The foundation’s mission is based upon the belief that scientific knowledge in marine related areas coupled with decisions based on environmental and conservation factors will prove to be the only way to develop, utilize and manage our renewable marine resources on a long-term basis. The Foundation funds research grants, participates in the growth of marine educational projects and funds scholarships to Florida students. The scholarship program is a joint effort of the Aylesworth Foundation, the Southeastern Fisheries Association, and the Florida Sea Grant college Program. To date, more than 100 students representing fourteen Florida universities have received scholarships totaling nearly $600,000. The Foundation has also partnered with other similarly focused institutions to provide financial support for the Florida Aquarium, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Mote Marine, and Madeira Beach Middle School. In cooperation with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Foundation partnered with the Environmental Careers Organization to fund salaries of aspiring scientists in an internship program with the water management district. The foundation also contributed $100,000 toward the construction of an Aquatic Food Products Lab at the University of Florida for the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. To date, the foundation has donated nearly a million dollars to the marine community.
To apply for an Aylesworth scholarship and to check the latest scholarship deadlines, visit the “Students” tab at the Florida Sea Grant website, www.flseagrant.org, and click “Scholarships/Fellowships”.