Jul 20 2014

Fishing the Folly River

Fishing the Folly River is always an exciting time, and this year has been no different.  Throughout my years of fishing the river, I’ve caught everything from whiting to spotted trout, even a mystery fish that tore my line out all the way to the bridge!  We’ve also managed to catch hundreds of blue crabs in our traps.  As most of us from the lowcountry know, there is nothing better than the sweet taste of crab meat fresh from the pot, boiled perfectly with everybody’s staple, Old Bay Seasoning.  Throw a few stone crab legs in the pot, and you’ve got the tastiest treat this side of the Edisto.  Tossing out cast nets, we have been lucky to catch our own bait, including shrimp, finger mullets, and other fish used for cut bait.  

Sitting out a few days ago, my friend John and I perched on the edge of his dock with a few cold beers and some freshly caught shrimp that we were using for bait.  Fish after fish jumped on his hooks, and we managed to capture 17 whiting, 1 spotted trout, 6 croaker, 2 sting rays, and 1 mantis shrimp between us.  What, you say, the heck is a mantis shrimp?  Let me tell you, this is one of the most interesting and terrifying creatures you’ll see come out of the water, and one that you’ll  think is harmless upon first sight.  Let me clear up this misconception as soon as possible.  It is beautiful.  It is not, however, harmless.

The mantis shrimp, known officially as a stomatopod, is a sea creature resembling a sort of crawfish or small lobster.  They can reach up to 12 inches long and are found in shallow areas of tropical climates.  With unique colors of over 400 species, the shrimp may be found with a colorful prism exhibited across its incandescent shell, or it may be found with the dull browns of the ocean’s depths hiding it beneath the rocks where it hunts for its prey. 

Known as “thumb splitters”, the mantis shrimp has been known to cause tremendous damage to those of us who have manhandled the species carelessly, as was nearly the case with me.  As I was curiously prodding the shrimp, my friend begins yelling for me to stop!  “Stop now, don’t touch that thing!  It’ll cut your finger off!”  I jerked my hand away in puzzlement, as I couldn’t imagine that this little creature could be that dangerous.  That is until I looked at the appendages on its front side.  Upon research, I learned that those powerful legs have been known to burst through fish tanks and are well known clam crushers.  Had my finger been been caught in the middle of these tiny little legs, the force of a 22 caliber bullet could have severed the tip of it right off!  

The mantis shrimp’s punch offers 1,500 Newtons of force in less than .003 seconds.  The underwater wave that is induced by this action is known to kill prey, even if the shrimp misses on the first attempt.  The shrimp doesn’t even have to make contact to be a notorious killer!  With an extremely tough exterior, researchers have studied their cell structure and  are trying to find a way to create similar body armor for troops to use in combat.

So, as of this writing, my fingers are still intact, and I’ve become a much more educated fisherman who will be much more wary of my catch.  Instead of prodding blindly at my catch, I will admire its beauty from afar and try to maintain my sense of curiosity with a hands off approach.  Although sea life will remain a mystery and fascinating to me, I plan to continue my efforts on the Folly River with a slightly higher guard and respect for the fresh and unknown.  While we wait for the next run of shrimp, we hope to see more of these scary yet luminescent animals in our cast nets.  Until then, whiting, croaker, flounder and all the other glorious catches of the sea will fill out our dinner cards for the foreseeable future.

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