Gulf Coast Fisherman Magazine VOL 41, No. 1 - Page 34

The Knife & Fork Gang M y father’s older brother, Will, had a way with words, in fact, he was a brilliant technical writer for trade journals in the petroleum industry. While highly respected for his articles, his one regret was not being able to “cross over” and sell to mainstream outdoor magazines. The rejected fishing stories he sent our family for comment were so “dry” my brother joked “you would have to sprinkle water on them to make them readable!” In later years - before the golden age of letter writing was abandoned in favor of new technologies - he wrote such elegant prose about fishing trips to Canada, Mexico and other exotic locales, we advised him to forget the tough magazine market and publish his letters instead! They were that good and I still have a shoebox of them that I take out and read from time to time. As I stated, Uncle Will definitely had a way with words. On a trip to Florida’s Suwanee River to test his company’s unique line of fishing lures, including a jointed shrimp, the early morning sunlight filtering through moss-hung cypresses, black gums and cabbage palms was surreal to say the least. The dazzling light was blinding in its intensity as it flooded our car’s interior with kaleidoscope-like prisms. “Do you know what this crazy light reminds me of, nephew?” he asked solemnly. But before I could answer, he stated matter-of-factly, “The dancing lights of Jupiter.” “THE DANCING LIGHTS OF JUPITER!!!, I exclaimed, while under my breath wondered where that gem had come from. However, I had learned long ago not to question anything about his storehouse of cerebral thoughts on varieties of 34 G U L F C O A S T F I S H E R M A N subjects, so why not our solar system. Another saying of his that has become second nature with me had to do with hordes of pesky bait stealers decimating our live shrimp one morning while skiff fishing for speckled trout. “We may as well pull anchor, Jimbo”, he quipped, laughing, “It appears ‘THE KNIFE AND FORK GANG’ has found us!” It was an apt analogy and in my mind’s eye I visualized thousands of ravenous hardhead catfish, pinfish, croakers, puffers, saltwater bream, oysterfish and sand trout attacking our terrified live shrimp - all brandishing tiny knives and forks! That was only the bottom feeders while nearer the surface swarms of scissor-toothed needlefish added insult to injury with their zany antics. At no time, in my opinion, was the knife and fork gang more plentiful than the 1960’s and 70’s. There wasn’t the crushing number of shrimpboats then and the socalled “by-catch” wasn’t nearly as stressed. That changed significantly when thousands of Vietnamese refugees were added to the mix following the end of the Vietnam War. These fishermen were assimilated into coastal communities from Florida to Texas that most fit their former life-styles. Initially, they were hotly resented and in some cases, justly so. But the reality was they were greatly disadvantaged because of the obvious language barrier, not knowing the fishing grounds and the complexity of deciphering new rules and regulations. I was privileged to meet many of these fishermen while the Outdoor Reporter for ABC affiliate WLOX-TV in my home town of Biloxi. I found them to be a pleasant lot, resilient and fast learners with a fine work ethic. “We may as well pull anchor, Jimbo”, he quipped, laughing, “It appears ‘THE KNIFE AND FORK GANG’ has found us!” Granted, it took a few years but today they are simply part of the population. But let’s return to the by-catch issue... Products of each shrimping “drag” contains numbers of juvenile gamefish, including speckled trout, flounder and cobia, plus untold millions of lesser stuff, commonly called trash, such as catfish, eels, croakers, pinfish, stingrays, squid and crabs, to name only a few. Native shrimpers sort out the coveted shrimp and keeper finfish, then shovel the rest of the mostly dead and dying species overboard, perhaps saving a few buckets of chum for sportsfishermen. The Vietnamese, on the other hand, utilize part of their by-catch as food and often take part of what’s left home to enrich their lush vegetable gardens. I know whereof I speak because I often “showcased” their horticultural skills on the gardening segment of my outdoor report. I once believed a 2-3 year moratorium on shrimp trawling would allow the knife and fork gang - as well as gamefish - to rebound nicely. Of course, that’s not going to happen. However, continuing low prices at the dock and a seemingly endless glut of imported shrimp may someday accomplish the same goal through attrition. While I’ve sometimes been irritated by the knife and fork gang destroying my bait supply, I’ve also experienced quite the opposite. On a recent wadefishing trip to Horn Island - eight miles south of Pascagoula - with pails of frisky live shrimp in tow, our anticipation and excitement was high but two boring hours later we were still waiting for our first action on speckled trout. Right about then, batting zero, I think we would even have welcomed the dreaded knife and fork gang. Where were they we mused, when you needed them most? In retrospect, maybe all things are cyclic; even the abundance or scarcity of bait stealers. My fishing partner that disappointing day suggested you could also toss in the vagaries of weather, especially the premise on GLOBAL WARMING. I believe we’ll have a handle on the latter in a hundred years, or so, provided we don’t freeze to death first! GCF W W W. G U L F F I S H I N G. C O M