Swimming with the fishes, almost
I went fishing in Mosquito Lagoon (intracoastal waterway associated with the Indian River along the eastern shore of Florida just north of Cape Canaveral) yesterday. I was in my kayak with all my gear and new setup. It was sunny and hot, but with a strong breeze. It was a pretty good day. Heck, I was out fishing with dolphins who were pounding and scarfing up those mullet.
Anglers were all around, so it did feel a bit crowded. I found a nice spot on the leeward side of a mangrove island where mullet were schooling and feeding in about 3 feet of water (tide was up). I was using a DOA-shrimp and hoping something bigger (like sea trout) might be lurking near the mullet. I worked the area systematically, shifting spots and casting in a fan pattern. I think I had a few nibbles, but they were very subtle and probably from curious mullet.
I decided to let the breeze take me slowly north toward another mangrove island, and I kept casting and retrieving on the way. My kayak ran aground once on the oyster bars, but I walked out of it and relaunched. On the other side of that shoaling oyster bar was a small channel with slightly deeper water, say about 5 feet (6 feet max is all you really get in Mosquito Lagoon over about 62 square miles of backwater).
The really great thing about fishing in a kayak is the stealth. I can approach an area without alarming anything at all, with pretty much no sound if I drift in with a breeze. On this occasion, I was particularly stealthy because the breeze covered any sounds, especially any underwater sounds. I noticed some large shapes moving near the grasses, and then was seen by a small manatee calf. Then I noticed mama manatee. Clearly the calf, who had seen me first, alerted mama and signaled the alarm! I am lucky I had my paddle in my hands, and not my fishing rod. Mama manatee charged at me full speed, and started to smash the water with her hind fin (note the fin in the picture folks!!). I was paddling for my life-sort of like an Olympic kayaker at the start of a 500m sprint! The water came alive, with most of it up in the air and directed at me.
I think I escaped damage very narrowly, and although I was soaked and my yak was full of water I did not go swimming with the fishes. Lucky for me the water was shallow enough I could have abandoned ship and climbed to high ground in the mangroves, but if she had hit my kayak that would not have been an easy escape. If she had hit me, I'd have been in serious trouble. Mama manatee was the largest living manatee I've ever seen anywhere. The encounter took place just to the right of the mangroves in this picture. You can see the grasses they were foraging popping up behind the mangroves.
I didn't catch any of this on camera-wasn't really in the mood to take a beating while I reached for the GoPro. I did find this Youtube video of a similar experience caught on camera. These kayakers were not hurt, physically...
Manatees are very docile and generally harmless creatures, but clearly an accidental close encounter can lead to aggressive behaviors intended to protect their young.
On a fishing note, I had no success trying for sea trout and/or redfish in the 2.5 hours I had to be on the water. Next time I'll fish earlier in the morning with topwater lures in calmer water, and I'm also preparing a rig to catch some mullet. Why not?