Efforts to find boater reduced

Searchers find no clues three days after a fisherman's vessel is discovered.

Published May 22, 2007

HERNANDO BEACH - Authorities on Monday scaled back the hunt for a missing boater after three days of searching yielded no clues about his mysterious disappearance.

Michael Curl, 50, of Hernando Beach was last seen Wednesday morning when he left for a day-long fishing trip in the Gulf of Mexico, family and friends say.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers discovered his abandoned 17-foot flats boat about noon Friday floating about 1 nautical mile west of the Pithlachascotee River off the Pasco County coastline.

By air and water, FWC and Coast Guard rescuers searched a large area from New Port Richey north to Hudson Beach.

The Coast Guard suspended its search Sunday afternoon. FWC spokesman Gary Morse said his agency curtailed its hunt to normal patrolling areas.

Authorities found Curl's boat with the keys in the ignition, but the engine was not running. A cell phone and bait were also found inside the boat. Morse said there is no indication of foul play. They believe Curl possibly fell off the boat.

Curl's family and friends continued to hold out hope, baffled by the lack of answers.

They described the part-time truck driver as a knowledgeable fisherman who loved his boat and his dog Sally, a pit bull and terrier mix.

Curl drove for Today's Fresh Catch Inc., a seafood business that sells bait and live shrimp. Brande Cromer, the office manager, said Curl trucked the shrimp to restaurants all over the state.

On most of his days off work, Curl would go fishing, particularly for sharks, in the shallow flats off the coast. Cromer said he enjoyed any time he could get out in his boat.

"He loved it," she said. "It was his pride and joy."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or 754-6114.