As we teeter on the brink of spring, our winter visitors are preparing to head back north. But there are still shrimp to be dipped down at Oak Hill and Edgewater.
Until late March or perhaps into April, the dipping brigade will be out each night in search of a tasty reward.
If you are curious about the fine sport of shrimp dipping, there is still time to give it a try. The first thing you should do is take an evening boat ride from Riverbreeze Park on the northern edge of Oak Hill. Leave at dark on the outgoing tide and travel south where you will be amazed at the city of lighted boats you will find anchored in the Indian River. Each evening in the cooler months the shrimp dipping fleet sets up for fun and profit.
Most of the residents of Volusia County are unaware this happening occurs. Through the decades I have known folks who come down just to take part in the bountiful shrimp harvest found there. Some sell their shrimp and are able to catch enough to pay all of their vacation expenses.
Aside from profit, shrimping is just danged good fun. It is best done in a group, and lots of sandwiches and beer must be on board to make the night successful. As I said, you should be there on the outgoing tide when the "bugs" turn loose and head for the inlet. Your weapon of choice is a telescoping fine mesh dip net. You must have a source of light and most use some sort of 12-volt system.
On an average night, you will encounter 30 to 40 boats holding tight in the best spots and they might range from actual yachts to tiny johnboats. The lighting will include sophisticated underwater apparatus down to the single Coleman lantern. The shrimp will sail past on the current either on the surface or just beneath and your job is to scoop them up.
Pretty good fun and something kids or senior citizens can do equally well. Folks in the larger boats usually begin a shrimp boil as soon as the action begins. The smell of Old Bay spiced shrimp fills the night air and compels you to catch your five-gallon limit. A bucket full of shrimp (heads on) weighs about 22 pounds, so you will probably take some home for the freezer.
I began dipping back in the 1970s and once I was married my wife, Lana, and I would often pitch a tent on the banks of the Government Cut for a day of fishing. Each evening we would enjoy a fish fry and, once dark, we would set up in the Cut to dip shrimp. Government Cut was a prime spot for shrimp back then and it still is today. Invariably we would catch a tasty limit to take home. Once we had kids, our daughter and son would join us. Great fun!
If you would like to be a part of it, check out Capt. Lee Noga's Shrimp Academy website. No one knows more about shrimping than Lee and she will help you get started. A couple of years ago, I spent the evening with her and learned just how far the methods had advanced since I began all of those years ago.
Remember the ideal tide is one that changes right about dark. Then you will be able to shrimp for five or six hours and get home at a reasonable hour. For those hardier souls you might catch the tide change later, but know that if the tide changes at midnight, you will need to shrimp until dawn.
Still, shrimping is a sport that takes very little talent and the reward is an excellent dinner or maybe several. It is a wonderful resource that many are not aware of and it happens nightly. Get out from in front of the TV and have some fun with nature. You won't be sorry.
Dan Smith has fished the waters of Volusia County for more than 40 years. Email questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, "I Swear the Snook Drowned," is available for $10.95 at (386) 441-7793.