Friday, September 23, 2005

Stupid Things I Have Done: Part Two: Swimming With Bait

Sometimes I do things that may appear stupid, but are really well thought out and carefully planned...so those don't really qualify for the STUPID label. This post is about truly stupid things I have done(you may remember the hornet nest, August 4 post) and is one in a long series. Here's the second installment...

Back in 2000, we took a trip down to the Keys. We hauled the boat down and stayed at a quaint older motel called the Seahorse Motel. It was reasonable and had a boat ramp and dockage.

We had a blast snorkeling Sombrero Reef and the kids did fantastic snorkeling in depths of 20 to 30 feet over a beautiful reef. The reef was loaded with colorful fish who soon learned that our boat leaked crumbs of food. We always seem to take Fried Chicken as the boat picnic food and this came in especially handy as we could feed breading and bits of chicken to the swarm of Sargent Majors and other reef fish that clustered around the boat. The kids were only 12, 10, and 8 at the time, but the clear blue water put them at ease and they even got used to the 4 foot long barracuda that hovered over us where ever we swam.

You are forgiven for thinking the above was the stupid part...'cause it ain't even close.

Barracuda are a regular thing when you dive or snorkel in the tropics and they almost never attack anybody. Really. It's so rare, I can only think of 2 or 3 recent news stories about barracudas attacking people and 2 of those cases happened to people in boats, not divers! Buddy, if a barracuda jumps out of the sea and latches on to you while you are sipping a drink in your boat...don't bother buying a lottery ticket.

Middle daughter Emma and I were snorkeling together and along the bottom came 2 nurse sharks. They were about 4 feet long and looked like big catfish as they slowly, sinuously swam along the bottom. I spotted them and pointed them out to Emma. We hovered and watched. They stopped, seemed to notice us, and began rising towards us.

Now my daughter has the biggest, most beautiful brown eyes you have ever seen, but on this day they outdid themselves. The closer the sharks came, the bigger her eyes got. I wasn't worried, I knew what the sharks wanted and it wasn't Emma.

The local divemasters fed the nurse sharks on Sombrero (A practice since made illegal I believe) and these nursies were just checking us out for tidbits. Besides, nurse sharks almost never bite anybody and when they do, it's usually because someone tugged on their tail or otherwise harassed 'em. Really, I can only think of one or two nurse shark attacks in the news recently. Curiously, in both cases the shark would not let go and actually went to the emergency room clamped onto the bitee.

Calmly watching 2 sharks approach your daughter might be stupid if they were great whites or bulls, but they were not, so this was not really stupid. Honest, it wasn't.

When they got too close we pushed our fins at them and they immediately descended and continued their search for handouts. Emma's eyes gradually squeezed back into their orbits. It was a great day and one I will always remember...Emma will too.

The stupid part happened later that day. We had left the boat moored at the motel and drove to Bahia Honda State Park to play on the beach. If you have never been to the Florida Keys, there are few beaches. The islands are rocky not sandy, but Bahia Honda and Long Key both have nice beaches.

It was late in the day, the water was warm, shallow, and very clear. The kids were having fun splashing and wrestling in the shallows, so I donned a mask and went out a little deeper. In about 8 feet of water, there were tiny coral patches, reef fish, and even lobsters (it wasn't lobster season).

As I floated, there was movement at the edge of my vision, and I turned to see a huge school of small baitfish moving my way. The school was nervous and the fish were milling into a tight ball. It was hard to see exactly how big this school was because it was just on the edge of the gloomy green where the late afternoon light met the deeper water. I hovered and watched as the school moved and flexed as if it were one organism. Then it happened...

The entire school shivered and bent to the left and a silvery tarpon zoomed out of the murk and through the school, then another and another, and they just kept attacking that school. It was incredible. Tarpon are huge fish, these guys were all about 4 feet long and so graceful.They would pass by so close you could feel the wash from their powerful tails. Pretty soon some smallish barracuda showed up and they too zipped in and out of the school. I waved to my wife and she snorkeled over. We both watched awestruck as the light faded and the school and it's attackers slowly moved down the beach.

Later, back on the beach as the sun set, we were still stoked and still talking about it. She said, "You know that probably wasn't too smart, hanging out in a feeding frenzy like that."

I nodded, " I know, the next thing that zoomed out of the gloom could have been a tiger shark. Actually, I'm surprised you went for it...you are usually the sensible one."

She looked at me...firmly, "We won't do that again."

"Yes, dear"



This really was stupid. We broke two very important rules for avoiding bad shark encounters.

Never swim in a school of baitfish. You are asking for a mistaken identity bite from a feeding shark.

Never swim at dusk or dawn. Sharks move in close to shore for nocturnal hunting. We were in the water at one of the worst times of day.

Do as I say, not as I do.



Next installment: "Don't Worry, I Can Fix It...Whoa, I Just Cut My Finger Off"







15 comments:

Zanne said...

And where are you on the food chain??

YIKES

I only like my sharks hanging on the basement wall.....mine's a 7 foot golden dusky shark! Only took two six packs to haul in. Is that bad?

Oh...I caught it back in 1978 before I was "enlightened".

Floridacracker said...

Zanne,
Hey, no PC here...if you want to keep a fish, keep a fish. I keep a small shark once in a while because they are so tastey...I think they feel the same way about us.

2 6-packs and I would have forgot what I was fishing for...

Thunder Dave said...

Hey FC, I finally got rid of my anonymity! I have to say that you crack me up, but I had a similar incident down at Pensacola Beach. I was out there snorkling with a friend, she won't be mentioned by name because she isn't my wife,and we spotted a migration of fish down the coast. It was about 20 feet dwon and we swam right into the middle of the fish. They would part about a foot in front of your face and come back together right as they passed. Only after we surfaced did we get the cold chill down the back feeling that we had just done a stupid thing!

Hick said...

That's interesting about the feeding time being dusk/dawn. That's also the time that cougars and coyotes are out hunting in this neck of the woods. I would probably advise against hanging out with a flock of turkeys or a herd of deer (local "baitfish")during that time of the day.

In enjoyed your story.

thingfish23 said...

I've been waiting for that one...

Laura said...

Holy SMOKES!@!!! You know, at first I was about to type something redundant, such as "I cant believe you stayed in the water during a feeding frenzy", but there are times when snorkeling (or diving) that you come across something so incredible that you probably lose track of reason and common sense. At least, maybe that time you did! LOL. I bet it was a sight to behold. I know I would have had a hard time getting my hub out of the water too.


I loved reading about Emma's encounter with the nurse sharks and also the barracuda that lurked nearby. We also used to snorkle in the Keys with our two daughters and had very similar encounters with the 'cuda and the sharks. You're right, the looks on their faces are priceless indeed.

By the way, would you go back to the same motel again? We are looking for a place to trailer our boat to in the Keys, and i'm always looking for recomendations. We used to stay with my brother in law in Big Pine Key, but he has moved to west Fla. If you know of a place that takes a well behaved dog too, even better. lol thanks!

Floridacracker said...

Laura,
Thanks for sharing your similar fishy tales...you are right, sometimes it is so amazing you just go for it...and accept responsibility for the results.

This motel was older, clean, but not a resort. Probably a 70's mom and pop motel building. The people were nice, the room had a kitchenette and was on the dock so my boat was right where I could monitor it. It was the off season right before Lobster season and the rate was great. It had good docks that fronted on a mangrove sheltered canal that led out to the west side of the island. From there, it was a short run to the bridge and straight out ot Sombrero.
I would stay there again, if 5 years has not changed the situation...
I don't know if they take well behaved dogs...but my son was welcome.

Floridacracker said...

Thing,
I have been holding it, as I am with the 3rd installment. Too many stupid stories in a row, might give the wrong impression...or not.

Floridacracker said...

ThunderD,
Can't wait to post a pic of you in college...remember SciFi movie night and the space helmets????

Floridacracker said...

Hick,
I imagine running a mountain trail in a deer costume might be considered suicidal. Your lucky cat vs. the cougar tale gave me the willies.

swamp4me said...

Mr. Swamp does so enjoy your Stupid Things I Have Done posts. I read them out loud to him as he is not a blog-type person :).

I have been to Bahia Honda State Park and have fond memories of my very brief visit there. Didn't go snorkling or anything though as I am a total whimp when it comes to the ocean -- lovely to look at, but I ain't going in!!

Floridacracker said...

Swamp,
Thanks, I'll just have to keep doing foolish things so the series can continue...

Let's see, you have a nest of Moccasins in your "backyard" and you are a "wimp" about the ocean?

Weary Hag said...

Egad FC! This surely gave me the creeps. Can hardly wait for your finger story... perhaps we should compare notes sometime.

Floridacracker said...

Weary,
The finger story comes complete with gruesome photo...be forewarned....

Laura said...

LOL, ok thanks for the recommendation!
my dog is better behaved than some boys... or so i've been told. j/k