Super Snook swam at a steady pace. He and his pal Stoney were rested after an easy night near St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. The “Ole Lady” tarpon matriarch had the newly assembled group up and making small surface V’s with their dorsal fins in the red morning light as they cleared the inlet and turned south along the Georgia coast. Super Snook with Stoney in tow, took the point this time and both he and Stoney easily set a pace for the others to follow. The “Ole Lady” felt good to have another set of experienced travelers ahead of her to watch for “road hazards.” The miles of white featureless beach went by as Super Snook day dreamed of Rio and the Brazilian Lady fish he met this season past, and all those lures he witnessed in their vain attempts to induce a strike from the massive linesider.
”Rookies... all of them are rookies, Stoney. In fact, if they had four hands a piece none of them could catch their own tails,” Super Snook said.
”Hey!! watch out!!!” Stoney exclaimed. As he did his best fog horn impression, ”EEEEEEEOOOOOOGGGGGOOHHHHHH!!!”
There, ahead were some pretty big shapes looming out of the stirred stained waters. More manatees. This slow moving herd was exactly what Clarisabell was looking for and with a wink and a pleasant ”Thank you guys,” she banked right and shimmied over and mingled in with the group. They were 15 strong now and a group of manatees that size could travel in relative safety anywhere. Other than the whirling propellers of boats and cold water, these gentle giants are pretty safe from predators in southern climates. With lengths of 9 to 12 feet and weights of well over 1,000 pounds, few predators will bother adults. They were headed to wintering area of the Nuclear power plant near Ft. Pierce, Florida, where the water used to cool the white hot reactor cores get discharged once its been used, and all winter long it creates a large area of warmed water that sustain the manatees should temperatures become unseasonably cold.
In 2009 the mercury plummeted to well below tolerable levels and the State of Florida experienced a really bad fish kill because of the low water temps. Snook are especially susceptible to low water temps and these discharge plants are a veritable safe haven for many creatures that need a warm water environment to survive unseasonably cold temperatures.
Super Snook had to go to several of these places before when temps dipped and his sense of weather savvy came into play. He felt the first chill that sent him packing into such a place that particular year. He survived, naturally, but many of his species did not fair as well. They were simply too far away from any warm water discharge plant to be helped and they simply perished in the shallow water. Many smaller snook, jacks, snappers, and a wide variety of other water life went belly up due to the cold temperatures that year. In fact, for a while the Gulf of Mexico had cold muddy water that harbored very little life. Mother Nature has a way of rebounding, however, and the Gulf of Mexico has since resupplied itself.
Traveling, now, they began to feel the twinge of a stomach pain that signals it was time to eat. Stoney had no problem as dirt, mud and any old thing would satisfy this stone Crab. Super Snook preferred fresh fish and crustaceans and was on the hunt.
Senses tuned and alert, he was into every splash and water clue now, and he used the afternoon shadows as a way to slip in and out of the shoreline breakers. He easily over took a shallow pod of resting finger mullet and scattered the school like crows at a crow shoot. Blasting into the group he swung his massive head and tail in a few mighty wild swings, and soon, there were victims slowly drifting to the bottom stunned but very much alive and ripe for the plucking.
”Ahh, finger mullet” he said, “Nothing whets an appetite more than finger food.”
An even dozen finger mullet were gulped down and he proceeded out into deeper water for larger prey. The snack inshore was fine but his plus 60-pound frame needed fuel.
Ahead in the slightly cleaned up waters of the incoming surf he spotted a small group of Yellow Jacks. These fish are lightning fast and are of good size and any one of the pack would be a good meal for SS. He picked up the pace and soon closed the distance and used the sun as a backdrop to shield his approach. He darted left to show disinterest initially then with a great swipe of that 14-inch wide tail of his he closed and clamped on to the last one of the group. Hammered it senseless in that gaping jaw and then turned it head first and it disappeared in a gill flash. Nothing to it.
Stoney who had used his crusher claw to clamp onto SS inside pectoral fin was spinning around dizzy from the G forces he just went through and SS slow swam for a while to let Stoney get his bearings and regain his balance, and to also let the tarpon group close ranks.
“Hey Super, the next time you go from zero to sixty n 2.5 seconds how bout letting a crab fellow know. Good thing my crusher has a reflex to stay closed once I close it or I would be half a mile from here after that stuff!” Stoney said.
Finally, after a slow swim to aid in digestion, SS had the tarpon group come up behind him and he took up his familiar spot in the rear and they were now ready to cross in Florida and say good bye to Georgia waters.
The Ole Lady asked if anything happened in their absence.
SS replied, “Nothing unusual. All system are a go.”
Ray the spotted eagle Ray, was busy vacuuming the bottom for debris and anything else that his omnivore appetite could muster. His constant shuffling on the bottom stirred up many creatures that hide in the mud and sand and many times he has a small entourage of fish that follow his every move. He calls them the “Pestarotsis” and they are always hovering around letting his methods of feeding in fact feed them as well. It is a relationship that that benefits them both, as many times these small fish find an area that Ray may have overlooked in his efforts. They tolerate each other for each other’s benefit. It is a symbiotic relationship, and many creatures do this to aid in each other’s survival. Its kind of what the Ole Lady does whenever she allows Super Snook to take the point as her group migrates south.
As the ambient light of the beach faded, the group, consisting of the Ole Lady and her tarpon, Ray, SS and Stoney were now feeling the power of some slightly warmer waters and this quickened their pace. Ahead they detected splashing of fishes and disturbances and that usually meant an easy meal.
Before checking out this potential dinner bell, SS did an about face and asked the Ole lady what her group had planned for dinner, “You in on this ahead??“
She told him it was worth checking out so they took up a single file to reduce their underwater profile and headed towards the splashing they all now detected easily.
In the near dark, their assault was flawless and took place at low tide in less than 4 feet of water along the beach, and any stragglers that turned to dive were quickly hammered and those that leaped into the air fell back into waiting maws of cement like jaws lines with heavy grade sandpaper. Tarpon have mouths designed to pulverize anything that gets into them. Heavy bone and gristle and muscular crushing plates in the backs of their maws turn hard shelled crabs, like Stoney, into Paté in an instant, and fish fair no better. Stoney was too big to be an easy meal but stayed away from the Ole lady all the same. In a feeding frenzy of tarpon anything can and usually does happen.
As they fed on the hapless mullet school they found Super Snook had a strange feeling of restraint come over him. He tried to turn and speed away from this unseen feeling and instead found himself stalled instead. He was in a rogue gill net that stab netters had set along the beach. Stab netters are “fishermen” who set gill nets at angles along the beaches at night and one end of the net is attached to a heavy weight and the other end is stabbed into the beach at or under the water level to remain hidden. It is a lethal device that the State of Florida outlawed by referendum and by a nearly three to one popular vote some years back. That splashing they all heard a bit earlier before the mullet school was encountered, were the splashing of the many creatures that were entangled in these nets.
Pompano, redfish, mullet, snappers, sharks, and even a few smallish turtles were all helplessly entangled in the invisible nets and soon the scoff laws responsible for this would be by to retrieve their ill gotten gains. Super snook tried in vain to free himself, but instead only got entangled more. How could something so thin in diameter be so strong he thought? Ok, he thought the best thing to do is to get help. The tarpon hit the same net but their heads were too big to enter into the diameter of the open mesh and they simply backed out of the net when they hit it. The Ole Lady asked Super snook if he needed help.
He replied, “I am stopped in my tracks by some device and cannot figure out what it is that holds me in place. Can you see what it is?”
They swam cautiously up to the SS and saw nothing in the dark and offered little hope as to what the cause of his stoppage was. They saw nothing and were powerless to do anything for Super Snook. He tried all of his tricks to free himself and each one failed miserably. After an hour of constant struggle Super Snook was nearing exhaustion in the shallow waters of the beach and the tide had switched and was coming in. The fresher cooler water invigorated him to some degree but the great snook was spent from the struggle.
An outboard was heard coming hard and fast in the dark. It was the scofflaws intent on checking their sets to see when the time to haul was. Usually, they will pull a few feet of the net in to check and see if it was full or had a ways to go yet and tonight the first net they pulled on was loaded with victims. They struggled to get it all in the boat and they did this in the dark. Lights gave away their operation and location and lights were a bad thing in this profession. In fact, the dark soothed them from the guilt they felt each time the nets came in full, as they felt that ”unseen” was “undone” in a way.
They took their haul to their hidden truck up the beach a mile away but they would be back. They were greedy men who cared little about the resource and who only cared about the price per pound on anything their nets could snare. Not responsible commercial fishermen, but instead they were criminals in the field of fishing. They all lost their actual licenses and rights to fish from constant violations and getting caught over and over again. The courts simply fined them and spit them out each time and they counted this process as a cost of doing business in this chosen practice of wildlife rape, rob, and pillage until a resource is depleted. Then they’ll move on to the next species, and the merry goes round.
Super Snook had now been in the net for almost two hours and it grew tighter around his huge gills that were reduced to a rhythmic in and out that was as labored as he could ever remember them being. Nothing he had ever dealt with before had this effect on him and it was something he felt only and could not see. Things were looking pretty dim on this isolated stretch of beach. The great snook was now on the bottom laboring to get enough oxygen into his gills to support his functions and he was tiring fast.
“Hey, I leave you alone for half a day and this is what you end up doing? For kelps sake, Super.. How did you manage to get yourself into a gill net,” Stoney asked.
“A what net?” Super Snook asked curiously.
“A gill net SS, they are usually larger than these but they are no less as deadly, OBVIOUSLY,” Stoney replied, as he began to rip and tear the invisible strands away from our floundering Super Snook. He made short work of the nets and soon had Super Snook upright and recouping. He cut as many others out of the net as he could until the roar of the boat with the stab netters was heard on there return trip for more.
Super Snook looked on the bottom of the sand and there was some sort of document there that had a bunch of numbers on it. He asked Stoney, ”Do you know what this is?”
Stoney looked at it and said “NOPE! I don’t, but my buddy Ocho does. He is one of the smartest guys I know. Big, too! One day I was making my ways thru a Stone Crab trap line busting the sides out and eating the sharkskin inside of them and I met OCHO. He is an Octopus and is kind of slimy and weird to look at but one of the smartest guys I ever met. He will know what this is. Give it to me and we will find him and ask him what this is.”