Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Shrimping On The St. Johns River, Florida

Begin anything with the end in mind.


In this case, the "ending" on my mind was our heirloom Selmo salad on a plate next to a pile of fresh river shrimp with a dish of my home made datil pepper sauce along for the ride.
But back to the beginning ...

I grew up in St. Augustine and spent lots of late summer nights shrimping on the St. Johns River. When I was a kid, shrimping was done at night, with a boat staked to two poles, hissing lanterns hung from the side of the boat, and lots of shrimp bait to toss in the river.
After staking, lighting lanterns, and baiting, you cast nets into the dark water until you were wore out or the washtub was full.

Shrimp bait consists of fish meal blended with whatever the shrimper thinks will attract shrimp.  Some folks added cat food, others rocksalt ... it's a very personal thing.

Somewhere between me leaving home for college, the National Park Service, and eventually life over hear on the wild coast of Florida,  ... shrimping switched from only at night to mostly a day time activity.

That does simplify things, but the shrimp tend to be deeper in the daytime. This fact required some modification of our traditional cast nets.

You see, in deep water, a cast net which opens into a circle as you throw it, may actually become a cone with a tiny base by the time it hits bottom.

The smaller your net coverage, the less shrimpossibilities.

So, clever beings that they are, the shrimpers added webbing to the net just above the leadline. This acts as a wing of sorts and keeps the net open longer as it sinks.

The last time I shrimped, in 2007, the shrimp were in 22 feet of water near Palatka and this webbing was vital.

This year, even in the daylight, they are holding shallow.
Not so vital.

You can see the webbing in my castnet below.
That's not me throwing it of course, I am taking the picture.

My friend Denny loading up for another cast, you can see the fruits of his last cast scattered about the deck.

We had found a "honey hole" thanks to a friendly boat that came zipping up to where we and about 10 other boats were casting and catching a few shrimp per cast.

They picked us out of all the other boats (we had a pleasant boat to boat conversation earlier in the morning) and excitedly told us of a spot up river where they had caught their limit in about 15 minutes.

The limit is a 5 gallon bucket.

We zipped up there immediately.

When we arrived, the shrimp were leaping out of the water as the boat slid to a stop.

Oh yes, this must be the place.

Each cast brought up 50 to 100 shrimp at a time.

In no time we had our limit and were done.

Sweet!

These shrimp moved into the river last spring as juveniles and they have been fattening all summer.


Soon, they will feel the pull of the ocean and the need to spawn.


Then, in a great bottom creeping flood that we can only imagine due to the murky tannin stained St. Johns water, they will move out of the mouth of the river and into the ocean.

Should a tropical storm come before that deadline and dump lots of fresh rain into the river, they will leave with the rushing flood.

Shrimpers know that a season that may stretch into October can be short circuited by a single tropical event.
They watch the Weather Channel during hurricane season ... and they fret.

Once in the ocean, the shrimp will run the gauntlet of shrimp boats, predatory fish, seabirds, and just about anything with a mouth.

It is their misfortune to be incredibly delicious.








19 comments:

Tree Hugger said...

Ohhhh my goodness gracious!!! NOTHING is better than St. Johns River Shrimp!! Shelba shared some shrimp when I went home this summer and I ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Sweetest shrimp in the world!! Shelba is as sweet as those shrimp - and that's a huge compliment :-}}

Barbie said...

Seriously salivating this morning.
MMMmmmmm..... I need me some shrump!

amarkonmywall said...

"These shrimp moved into the river last spring as juveniles...soon, they will feel the pull of the ocean..."
Well, not THESE shrimp. I love this video, except it kept making my bare feet agitated. You two make it look easy and the end results? YUMMM.

I'm heading up to Maine for a couple days to visit a good friend, sit on her porch with a view of the ocean and eat lobster. Whole lobster, lobster rolls, lobster bisque, lobster salad...definitely needing a crustacean fix and this post makes me ever more eager.

threecollie said...

Thank you so much for the cast netting video. Seen lots of stills, but it all becomes clear with the video. Very cool indeed.

D said...

OH LORDY I miss eating fresh shrimp! The one problem with moving to Colorado...not a lot of options!

Island Rider said...

MMM! What time is dinner?

MinorcanMeteorolgist said...

Thanks for bringing back good memories. I haven't been shrimping at all since I've gone to college.
The Cousin Rick reference made me laugh, too. Sometimes going out on the river turns into a family reunion!

Deb said...

Now this brings back memories! Wish we had a similar crustacean here in MN.

Floridacracker said...

Susan,
Aunt Shelba always has a freezer full of shrimp. She is a sweetie and she definitely can cook.

Barbie,
They do have that effect on people.
:)


Hey Vicki!
Yes, I guess the shrimp who made it to PF actually will not be heading out to sea.
Well, it's dangerous out there for them anyway.
Have a great time in Maine. Be careful ... I hear those Yankee lobsters have claws ... unlike our genteel southern bugs.



3Collie,
You are welcome. There are about a half dozen ways to throw them, but they are one of the most effective food gathering tools ever invented.


D,
Well now, I hear they have something called "Rocky Mountain Oysters" out there ... perhaps they have shrimp too.
:)

Cathy S,
Last Monday. You're late!


MinorcanMeteorologist,
LOL! You need to go!

Sayre said...

I know what I want for dinner!!!!

Floridacracker said...

Deb,
I forgot you spent time on the St. Johns!

Sayre,
Every nite rite?

Julie Zickefoose said...

Hmm. Posts like this almost sound like they came out of a book. It's odd.
Thank you for the shrimptastic posts. I like the tip on freezing them in salt water. Crustogenics.
My word verification is rivergen. Go figger.

Suwannee Refugee said...

First scalloping and then shrimping. If only I were so lucky... I guess mullet fishing will have to do for me unless I find somebody with the shrimping or scalloping know how.

Shelllady said...

I just had some fresh shrimp...sauteed in garlic!! Mine were from Outer Banks NC though!! (bought them from the shrimp boat...no knack to that!!) This is something else I would like to do...scalloping first, then shrimping!! Do you know how lucky you are??

Floridacracker said...

Julie,
It is so weird to me how word verifs can often relate to a post.
Glad you got in on the shrimping!
Odd, that whole book thing ... must be serenshrimpity.


Suwannee,
You try Hagens Cove in your kayak?


Shell Lady,
I bet those shrimp were awesome! I am partial to Norcalina, it's is a beautiful place and I have some good Park Ranger memories from NC.

Miz S said...

I can just see you as a young'un on the dark river, casting your net and filling your washtub. Love those little vignettes.

And, HAHA, the last little bit of the video made me laugh. Mrs FC would never let you get away with a remark like that. Just one of the signs of a healthy marriage ;)

Big Shamu said...

I've been crabbing, never been shrimping. I need to rectify this because I loves me some shrimp. Thanks for sharing.

Ana- Sign Company said...

Food is one of the most wonderful pleasures that as people, life has given us. Fruits that help us live healthy and proper balance. Every time I can enjoy a wonderful dinner, enjoy it and if it is prepared by a chef better. The chef makes us feel special when in front of our eyes there is a dish adoranado to enjoy the wonders of the kitchen

Suwannee Refugee said...

Thanks for the tip!