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Flirting with an Ugly Mermaid

Living in North Florida (Jacksonville) gives me a plethora of waterways from which to fish from and kayak.

I don't know about you, but it seems I always forget something when I go fishing; once it was my paddle which warranted a trip back home (duh), this time it was my sunglasses. I didn't think sunglasses were important as a paddle, PFD, or fishing license, so I decided to forgo the trip back home and get to fishing.

There was a pretty good glare on the water and a light chop, so I was casting a top water lure. I wasn't having much luck, actually no luck with the top water lure so I switched to my other rod which was rigged with an imitation shrimp. Coming up was a section of shoreline jetting out to deeper water. My thinking was to try the fake shrimp and bounce it along bottom on a slow retrieve.

I drifted within casting distance and silently let out my 3 lb. anchor. As I was reaching for my fishing rod I noticed what I thought was a Red Fish tailing along the shore. Again remember I didn't have sunglasses and there was a pretty good glare, but I definitely could see the Red's tail coming out of the water and it was a good size one too.

My cast was intended to land in front of the Red a few feet so not to spook it; what happened was more of a bullet cast that hit the Red right on the tail, at which point I discovered it wasn't a Red.

There was an immediate huge splash of water and an oncoming wake that looked like a torpedo heading directly towards me and my now undersized kayak. Through the glare I could see the displacement of the water caused by the wake and knew this was no Red fish. My first thought was that I'd pissed off a large Bull Shark and estimated it to be between 6 and 8 foot, possibly larger if I was to believe what my imagination was trying to tell me. If you've ever navigated the saltwater canals in North Florida you know that most of the shoreline is made up of what we natives call Muck, not mud which compared to muck has a more solid consistency. Muck is better compared to wet cement; if you step in it you sink to your knees or deeper and when you attempt a leg removal you usually lose whatever foot gear you may have been wearing.

Well I figured being up in the muck was better than the 6 feet of water I was floating in especially when wrestling sharks, so I dropped the butt of my fishing rod between my legs and grabbed my paddle. I'd like to say I was calm and gently paddled to shore, but that wasn't the case. In grasping my paddle I also grabbed the midsection of my fishing rod. Anyone witnessing this would have seen a very strange paddling style, sort of a crazy lopsided windmill stroke due to the rod's interference with my stroke.

Because of this my forward motion wasn't the most powerful so the most I was able to achieve was a slight bow bump onto the shore leaving the majority of the kayak still in the water. This wasn't far enough for my comfort so I tried a newly invented maneuver I like to call the 'butt scoot'. This is where the kayak operator thrust his bottom half forward in repeated motion hoping the expended energy will move his kayak a few more feet up the muck. This - along with the fact that my anchor was still out and acting as a drag - I didn't get much further up the shore.

During this procedure is when I heard (over my pounding heartbeat) a noise best described as a 'whooshing' sound; not a noise I've ever heard reported coming from sharks. Risking a look back I was greeted with an eye level stare from a very perturbed Manatee. I guess it wasn't happy that I'd tried to hook it with my imitation shrimp and no amount of explanation was making him look any less perturbed.

After gently nudging my kayak's stern and giving me another whooshing, which actually sprayed Manatee saliva salt water in my general direction, he slowly sank below the surface and moved away.

In about 10 minutes or more I was able to un-grasp the hold on my rod-paddle, pull in my anchor, and reverse butt scoot myself out of the muck and back to deeper water. I fished for about another 10 seconds, but my trembling hands didn't produce any distance to the cast and caused a nasty bird's nest in the fishing line on my reel. On the paddle back to the boat landing I did come up on the Manatee again, this time with less glare so I could see its large body meandering above the surface. I paddled close to it, but it moved away probably not wanting to be seen with the dork in the kayak (Jr. High all over again).

Later, I would read that Manatees have actually overturned small boats when they've been paddled over, in fact a friend recounted a story of two guys in a canoe being thrown out of their boat by a startled Manatee. In recanting the story to my wife and friends one made the observation that due to the dark color of my kayak and the Manatee's attitude towards it that the Manatee was probably initiating a mating ritual. Personally I don't think I look anything like a Manatee.

Written by: Curtis Royal - Jacksonville, FL

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