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Tall Shrimp Tales…

Tall Shrimp Tales
by: Capt. Gary Graves

Once upon a time, long, long ago on a bridge now forgotten, I remember dipping my first shrimp. I had lived here in Florida for nearly a year and by that time I had been exploring fishing holes and the attraction of the waters.  I had met my buddy, Pat, who was a born and raised Florida cracker. I guess he had tried most everything once and a few things twice by the time I had met him. He had been telling me about catching shrimp in the Banana River while he was growing up and sure enough, I bit on it. It was time to try another Florida adventure.

We didn’t have a boat back in those days, so we purchased a Coleman lantern and two 18’ shrimp nets from our local Wal-Mart and headed down one of the bridges crossing the Banana River in Cocoa Beach. I was a virgin to shrimping and had to let the master instruct me in that fine art. Tying off the lantern just above the water line from the bridge, we awaited the running of the shrimp. (Sounds like a similar occurrence with the bulls in Spain…huh?) I realized after a while that we weren’t the only ones that knew of this ancient art. The bridge was lined with people waiting to get their share of the booty.
So it appeared that we had a six or eight swath that we could call our territory to catch those little boogers. Bring it on!

We had bought along a six pack of beer and a huge bag of Wise hot pork rinds……just the thing for a health conscious individual. The pork rinds became a tradition on those trips.  Soon the sun had set and the light dimmed slowly along the skyline. It was time for some heavy duty shrimping! I no longer remember how many we caught that first night. The memory recalls some nights catching plenty to other nights of seeing the bottom of that five gallon bucket at two a.m. But it was fun and a great way to plan fishing trips and solving all the worlds problems in a few short hours.

One such evening, Pat was telling tales of earlier days when the kids would throw things out of their cars at the people shrimping. We were just in the middle of that conversation, when all of a sudden I heard a tremendous crash on the chain link fence. Looking over at Pat, I suddenly realized that he was covered head to toe in a dozen exploded raw eggs. I had luckily been standing next to him so the his body blocked the blast from hitting me. Naturally, I laughed at him till I had tears in my eyes. Steam was coming out of his ears, but he could do nothing. So I continued to laugh….

                Pat with a nights catch.....                           Pat and I cleaning our nights work....

Sometime later, we began shrimping in my first boat down here. It was just an 11’ john boat from the Sears & Roebuck catalog, but it was the new shrimp mobile for sure. We began heading off most every Saturday evening to Haulover Canal up in Merritt Island.  It became one of those weekly adventures that you look forward to the challenge of competing for those tasty treats. Many haps and mishaps came out of those trips….

We would take a hundred hotter-n-hell wings up there and enjoy breathing fire while waiting for the sun to drift off in the west. Of course the raccoons reeked the benefit of spicy wing bones for dinner, too. Soon darkness would arrive and it was time to set up for the night. Imagine an 11’ john boat loaded down with equipment and two grown men……little left of a waterline to work with. We would have to give each other ample notice of any movement to prepare yourself to prevent the ever present danger of sinking. Heck, it was dark so we didn’t worry so much about it most of the time.

I can still hear Pat yelling at me to dip up a whole wad of seaweed that he could see a number of shrimp clinging on to it. He would just scream, “Dip it….just dip it!” It was always interesting to see how much seaweed ended up in the cooler. Laughing and re-living every line of “Caddyshack” and “Animal House”, we would scan the water for any movement. In the hot summer, you could see the trout swimming under the boat when the phosphorescence would get high. It was an eerie scene…..  Some nights we would fill a five gallon bucket and others come home with not much more than the scent of seaweed. But it was the opportunity of being in the outdoors that kept us coming back each week. I think our friendship became stronger through the trials and triumphs of each trip.

I am sure Pat remembers the night we took my father-in-law up there to show him how we catch shrimp. One of those nights from hell was about to begin…. Bill and Lillian had come down to visit and, as it was our custom, we took him out on our excursions. Arriving at Haulover Canal just after dark, Pat and I started wading around the edge of the canal and dipping shrimp in our nine foot shrimp nets. Bill was standing on the bank watching us in awe and wondering if there were any shrimp in the trap we had placed in the water.

I kept hearing a strange sound off in the distance. Sort of a putt….putt…putt….putt…putt. It seemed to be getting nearer. I just figured it was another boat coming down the canal search out a place to anchor and gave it no other thoughts. We kept on shrimping and had what looked like fifty shrimp in the bucket by then. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves as always. Showing off to Bill on how we could catch so many shrimp.

Suddenly, that putt….putt….putt turned into a shadow that gave me one horrifying thought. “Marine Patrol”, yelled Pat and I in unity. We almost walked across the water to get to the bank and my mind was trying to think of how the hell to get out of this mess. You see, at night in Haulover Canal you must be in a boat. I told poor Bill to get in the car, making no explanation. Pat had no time to get in as he had both nine foot nets. I just said, “I’ll come back and get you”, as I sped off with Bill. While we sat a half mile from Pat, I explained to Bill what had just about happened. I left him with the car and slowly…and I mean s-l-o-w-l-y…..walked back to where Pat was. I met him halfway and could see the paleness in his face as we met. He had hidden among the bushes with the two nets, while being eaten alive by mosquitoes. The officers had found our bucket of shrimp and the trap also. They kept saying something some old man with white hair on the bank.

On the way home, we could finally laugh over the experience. We were afraid to tell the wives about the near disaster. That would come another day when everyone might think it was funny. Never was sure how Bill felt about nearly being arrested, but we still talk of that trip today. Bill passed away a few years ago and I will always miss his company on some of those trips. Lives change and you move on, but memories of these experiences stay with you a lifetime.

Every trip became another adventure that bought some event to bring a smile to your face. I could go on for many pages on our experiences in shrimping. It’s remembrances that I can always look back at and manage to bring out another laugh at another Fish Tale…..

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