Get ready for the harvest of the sea

September 5, 2011 

I know it is only the first part of September and it's still hot and muggy, but something in the air has changed. Do you feel it? Given the fact that many of the tourists have left and kids are back in school, I am pretty sure it's not my imagination playing tricks on me. Everything in nature seems to be in transition.

Besides fishing, my lovely bride, Karen, and I love to garden. Sadly, an entire summer's hard work is beginning to turn brown around the edges. The plants know it's time to go to seed, and before long it will be time to cut down all those annuals that have given us so much enjoyment these past few months. The trees, too -- especially those with broad leaves -- are beginning to turn brown on the edges, the first sign that fall is just around the corner. On one hand, it's sort of sad to see summer come to an end, but once you leave the garden and get out on the water, this change of seasons means that if there ever was a time to go fishing, shrimping or crabbing, it's now.

Thankfully, it appears the shrimp made it through last winter's brutally cold spells with flying colors. Right now, the creeks are slap full of shrimp. Just the other day I was out on my boat and everywhere I went, shrimp were popping out of the water as I went by. If you have ever looked at a map of our area and seen just how many creeks wind through the marshes, you should know every one of these creeks acts a nursery for not just shrimp but crabs and fish too. It simply blows my mind to think how many shrimp and crabs there must be in a one-mile stretch of water. It has to be in the hundreds of millions. If you really want see just how much life is out there, then you should give flounder gigging at night a try. Not only will you come home with a cooler full of flounder, you'll also see more marine life than you ever thought imaginable.

Though I haven't been gigging in the past five years (simply because I can't seem to stay awake past 9 p.m.), on the right night it can be quite a show. The best time for gigging is at low tide and the first of the incoming tide. Using bright lights attached to poles so they shine straight down in the water next to the boat, you ease along the shoreline using either a paddle or an electric motor. Gigging flounder is an art because if I had to pick one fish that has camouflage down pat, flounder are it. They are able to change the spotted patterns on their skin to match their surroundings, so you have to look for the flounder's shape and glowing eyes more than you look for the fish itself. But what is really amazing is all the other stuff the lights reveal.

There are shrimp everywhere and their eyeballs light up like Christmas bulbs under the lights. The same goes for crabs and other little creatures. If you are lucky enough to pick a night with little or no wind, the show gets even better.

Have you ever seen a diamondback terrapin turtle? Probably not, but when gigging, you'll see these turtles come to the light like moths to a flame. The same goes for big ugly garfish, redfish, trout, sting rays and just about every other fish that swim in our waters.

And flounder? They are everywhere.

I can only guess what you are thinking right now: So if there are this many flounder around, why don't I catch them when I go fishing? That is a very good question and, unfortunately, I don't have the answer. My guess is there are so many other fish scrounging around, they gobble up your bait before a flattie can get to it. Flounder are ambush feeders and most of the time they sit in one spot waiting for a meal to come within reach. To increase your odds, try fishing on the bottom in the mouths of small creeks as the tide begins rushing in. Live finger mullet seem to be their food of choice and from now until early November, they will start migrating toward the sea, so look for creeks and rock jetties close to the ocean.

Whether you feel the changes in the air like I do, all I can say is the time for harvest is upon us. And as each day passes, it is only going to get better. Nature is so fine-tuned it knows exactly when changes are coming and all the signs are pointing toward the next 60 days. So empty all that old stuff in your freezer and take part in the harvest. But remember: Nature has been good to us, so be kind to her and take just what you can use.

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