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by Jim Martin

The Baithook


lunar phases

When there is no time to spare...

For anglers here in south Mississippi we are blessed with a wide variety of saltwater offshore, near shore, and inshore species to seek throughout the entire year. That's right, no matter what time of the season, an angler willing to wet a hook has a good chance of doing battle with some sort of hard fighting fish. You name it, speckled trout, redfish, flounder, sheepshead, black drum, cobia, snapper, grouper amberjack, pompano, Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, jack crevalles, and a variety of sharks are all popular pursued species.

 In the soft glow of our gasoline lantern, my 15 year old grandson, Chadd and I cautiously approached a huge live oak tree, its' gnarled roots half in and out of the water. I say cautiously because shards of glass, twisted metal and other flesh-ripping hazards were strewn about like an Iraqui minefield ... And then we saw it, the tell-tale track of a nice-sized flounder. Three more steps and there he was, wedged between forked branch.

Chadd's eagle eye and swift stroke neatly impaled the mini-doormat, fat three pounder and I quickly added it to the seven fish already on our stringer. This was POST-KATRINA FLOUNDERING - and let me tell you it was definitely different!

The mammoth storm hit the Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana Coast on August 29, 2005 but nearshore waters were not open to fishermen until almost nine months later because of so much dangerous stuff in the water. Small boat anglers, of course, could venture out but they risked damaging their hulls or tearing up the lower units on their outboards. It was tough fishing to say the least.

The spring following Katrina was a strange one because there was no one fishing! There were few, if any, charter boats running, thousands of private craft were destroyed or damaged - and local, shore-based anglers were forbidden to enter the water. As Spring blossomed into Summer, things slowly began to change. A few brave souls decided to ignore posted warning signs and venture timidly into the water. I was not among them because a couple of unauthorized gigging trips during low tides had revealed unimaginable dangers awaiting wade-fishermen.

Nearly all salt water fishermen are familiar with the term "Stingray shuffle". Now, anglers had re-defined the phrase with the "KATRINA SHUFFLE"! Instead of long strides, baby-steps were the rule and a few enterprising fishermen even carried "probing poles" along to help them avoid unseen hazards. It was a dangerous game and some paid the price.

Back to the floundering ... one thing I noticed in the Spring following Katrina was that their "patterns" had changed dramatically. We were now finding scads of fish on low, fast- falling tides in water so skinny that their backs were actually out of the water. Many were only inches from dry sand when they should have been high-tailing it for the safety of deep water. In my 50 plus years of gigging I had never seen anything like it. Perhaps they too, had been traumatized by the Big Blow!

After Chadd and I had made about a dozen gigging trips last summer, we began to catalog where we were finding most of our fish. We jokingly began with varieties of trees. We unanimously agreed that magnolias and oaks were best; sycamores and hickories - good; pines and sweetgums - fair: and palms and willows - worst. In fact, we gigged so many flounders in and around tree-tops, that Chadd thought I should title this article: "HOW TO TREE A FLOUNDER!" Not bad I thought, for a teen-ager ...

Other "Hot Spots" for post-Katrina flatfish were: bathtubs, kitchen sinks. bedsprings, refrigerators, compact cars and golf carts, dining room tables, riding lawn-mowers, barbecue grills, computer desks, patio furniture and garbage cans, the latter especially good for finding softshelled crabs!

While the thousands of straight-back chairs that washed out of coast casinos didn't (in my opinion) make good flounder habitat, you had to admit they were interesting. What tales they could tell of the "high rollers" who rolled out of town before Katrina rolled in!

Thankfully, the United States Coast Guard, federal and state agencies, private industry and thousands of volunteers, all combined to remove nearly 90 percent of the hazards. The summer of 2007 should be - as Hurricane Katrina survivors like to say - the second anniversary of the "New Normal" and hopefully, a period with no killer storms threatening.

While I've elected to dwell on I'minefield flounders" as the piscatorial fallout from a horrendous storm, I could use the same analogy from a personal experience two years prior, but of course, In a much lighter vein...

Just before Katrina, my wife and I became friends with a young family in our neighborhood. Knowing I liked to gig flounders, they proposed a series of trips for "family fun and education". It was an education alright!

It started well but the husband soon lost interest and their bored, hyper kids found other activities more to their liking. My wife said she had long ago "paid hergigging dues" and I was on my own. Well, that left me and this gorgeous, curvaceous (stacked is apt), gung-ho, blue- eyed blonde to go it alone. No one had put a gun to my head and I admit I was flattered. The problem was, for some unexplained reason, the flounders disappeared! One, two, three trips without a fish! t assure you, the thoughts going through my mind during this trying period were not amorous ones. Instead, I wondered if there were any late-night fish markets open or would I be gut-shot by an insanely jealous husband.

Not to worry. The fourth trip we happily gigged 24 biq ones and I decided it was time to get off that trolley.

It seems there are minefields everywhere!

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