Shrimp fishing in Sarasota Bay offers a glimpse of the ‘real’ Florida.


After my last column weighing the pros and cons of living in Sarasota, and a handful of emails suggesting that our beautiful city would be much better if we just “got (expletive) out of town,” I’m moving away from controversy. to share a recent experience that will remain one of my fondest Florida memories.

After I wrote about the effort to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot mandating the right of Florida citizens to safe drinking water, Mike Cosentino sent a text message with concerns that the amendment’s language could be challenged.

Mike, a former Sarasota County Commission candidate, has long fought objections to the language in an amendment he proposed, and voters approved, in 2018 to keep roads adjoining waterways open to public access.

At the bottom of her message was a picture of a huge bowl of shrimp head-on, bright pink,

“By the way, the happy part of the red tide fish kill is that the lack of predation allows a higher percentage of juvenile shrimp to reach adulthood,” he wrote. “These are from last night in Sarasota Bay.”

As fast as I could type, I replied, “I want to go!”

“Can you be ready in half an hour?” he wrote.

I couldn’t, but true to his word, about a week later he offered me a date when new moon and tides would be fine. I didn’t talk about anything else for days. My sisters, who, like me, spent their Nantucket summers collecting mussels for dinner, were jealous. From everyone else I heard a lot of Forrest Gump jokes.

Mike and his dog, Remus, picked me up in their skiff at dusk. According to instructions, he was wearing water shoes and clothing “as if he were working in the garden.” We drove to the bay, where the sea grass was thick and the water was knee-deep. Mike dropped anchor and handed me a raincoat and headlamp.

Further: SEIDMAN SAYS; COVID is over. It’s time to meet face to face again.

“Can you see them all?” she marveled. She embarrassed me to say she couldn’t. “You have to look at them in your own light,” she suggested, so I turned on my head lamp and looked down. Hundreds of tiny red eyes glowed like a Christmas show. They were literally everywhere.

We strapped buckets around our waists and jumped overboard holding the kind of nets on a long pole that you’d use to catch butterflies. Instantly Mike began collecting shrimp, often multiple at a time. My first few hits were unsuccessful – those suckers can slide and jump faster than you think.

“Too fast,” he advised. “Just let them swim in your net.” I did it, and they did it.

Once caught, he climbs into the net and grabs the shrimp as they wriggle and spin, trying to avoid the spikes on their heads and tails, and drops them through the trapdoor into the bucket to drop into the bag. net hanging in the water below. . Mike politely ignored my yelling and yelling.

At one point, he stuck his net deep into the seagrass, threaded it across the bottom, and then lifted it up to show me the mini-ecosystem writhing within. Pinfish, spotfish, tiny shellless shrimp, and many creatures she had no name for. I tried not to think about what was sliding down my ankles.

After what seemed like 20 minutes, but was actually more like three hours, a breeze picked up, ruffling the water, making it harder to see, and we headed back to the boat to examine our loot. Mike’s bag was so heavy it was a miracle his shorts didn’t fall off; 10 pounds, he estimated himself. For a novice, my three pounds seemed respectable.

Looking out to the mainland, Mike said, “The people in those condos are turning off the air conditioning, and I’m here wondering if I should have brought a sweatshirt.”

It was after 11 at night when he added: “Is it curfew or do you have another 15 minutes?” It was past my bedtime now, 15 minutes wasn’t going to make much of a difference, so I said yes. Whereupon he placed a pot on a small gas stove, dumped in two handfuls of shrimp with only the water in their bodies, and covered it with a lid.

A few turns and a couple of minutes later, we were inhaling shrimp like whales eating krill, throwing heads and shells overboard. Mike, a Sarasota native who has explored these waters since childhood, told me stories of lobster fishing and diving in the Keys. Then we fell silent, absorbing the new moon, the sounds of the night, and the gentle rocking of the boat while the sweet and salty scent of the sea lingered on our tongues.

One shrimp, a monster, remained in the pot. “Please,” Mike said, nodding for me to take it. I did, if only to make the enchanted moment last.

Minutes later I was waving goodbye, walking back to shore with my catch in an empty dog ​​food bag. At home, I rinsed the shrimp and popped them in the fridge to clean and freeze in the morning. Despite the hour, I could not fall asleep, remembering the joy of hunting, the beauty of the Bay and the wonder of the generosity of the sea.

The next day, I texted Mike to say thank you. His response brought the words out of my head.

“I have to think that if more people knew about the ‘real’ Florida, they would be more proactive in preserving and protecting it.”

Contact columnist Carrie Seidman at [email protected] or 505-238-0392.