A NANFA Expedition to the Floridian Gulf Coast

Panacea & Tate's Hell:

October 20-23, 2005

In March, I led a small group of NANFA members to the Floridian Gulf Coast. We stayed at the Florida State University (FSU) Marine Lab just outside of Panacea. The university's gated compound is located on the coastline looking south into the Gulf of Mexico. The objective of our visit was to explore and sample the area, the FSU facility, and its housing, both for ourselves and in preparation for a return visit this October. We had an excellent time exploring and relaxing for three full days and four nights. We seined and netted the rivers, backwaters, ponds, lakes, roadside ditches and swamps of Tate's Hell, which borders the vast Apalachicola National Forest to the north. We spent a day snorkeling the cool, clear waters of the Wakula River and a beautiful spring-fed slough lush with plants and fish. We walked and waded the beaches by morning, moonlight and lantern, finding coupling horseshoe crabs, sting rays, the oddly shaped batfish, schools of killifish, pulsing squid, and a green-eyed alligator. We cast nets for mullet and hooked speckled trout from the docks. We gathered and plunked tiny sunfish into moonshine for Fritz Rohde's DNA work. We marveled at the diversity in our nets and viewers. We watched the stars and planets by night and felt the sun's warmth by day. We measured Old Joe and found the gator's length decidedly exaggerated. We rode whales and fiberglass sharks and stuck our fingers, hands and arms into places we were told not to. No one was lost, forgotten or eaten. We ate the finest foods the sea has to offer, from grouper to freshly smoked mullet to bait-shop squid cleaned, ringed and fried. Saturday evening, surrounded by jars of preserved specimens, we sat before a gumbo of oysters, crab and shrimp with side helpings of salad and homemade bread, cherry cobbler and ice cream. We climbed the two towers, one for fire and the other of wood, and saw the Silver Lake and a vast stand of dwarfed bald cypresses. Fish, life and water were everywhere!

We spent three days enjoying all this and invite you to do the same.

From October 20-23 of this year, I will host a return visit to the FSU Marine Lab and Tate's Hell. The gathering will be limited to 12 dedicated and ethical fishheads. Advance reservations are required. The cost is $250 per person, which includes lodging, the makings for breakfast and roadside lunches, a variety of snacks and drinks, and a special evening meal on one selected night. On other nights we will visit nearby seafood restaurants or cook some fresh fish or crab in the house's kitchen or outdoor grill.

Waders are required for safety in the swamps and snorkel gear suggested for some amazing views in the clear waters of the Wakula. The weather should be dry, cool and bug-free this time of year. Alternate and backup plans for rainy or restful days are a visit to the Gulf Specimens Marine Lab or the Apalchicola Nature Center. We should encounter a wide variety of fishes from bluefin killies and golden topminnows to sailfin shiners. We observed well over 35 species of freshwater fishes during our short March stay.

A freshwater fishing license is required. All laws are to be respected and no over-collecting will be tolerated. This gathering is to be pleasantly experienced for its wonder and is not an opportunity for wholesale collecting. Alcohol is prohibited at the lab, but quiet discretion was accepted during our stay. No smoking in the house. Alligator wrestling, if desired, will be readily observed. The lodging is available as a four-bedroom house fitted with bunkbeds, two full baths, a nice kitchen, and a large living area opening to the sea.

Send a check for $100 to reserve your space as soon as possible. Remember, we are limiting this to 12 individuals to simplify logistics. So it's first come, first reserved! Make your check out to NANFA but send it to Casper Cox, 1200 Dodds Ave., Chattanooga, TN 37404. Include your address and email address so I can keep you updated. My phone number is 423-624-0721, if you have any questions. The deposit is nonrefundable as the house must be reserved in advance and expenses will be incurred. The remaining $150 is due upon your arrival. Any additional monies after expenses are paid will be given to NANFA.

This is a great region, with a wonderful facility, to experience and explore. Interesting opportunities are all about! If you can agree to the rules, then you are welcome to join us!

-- Casper Cox

Ranger Bob's big catch!

Ranger Bob's big catch!

Ed Scott riding the great white at the Gulf  Specimens Marine Lab.

Ed Scott riding the great white at the Gulf Specimens Marine Lab.

The FSU house right on the  beach.

The FSU house right on the beach.

Steve and Casper swigging and standing by  the slough.

Steve and Casper swigging and standing by the slough.

Steve Ellis posing at the duck  pond

Steve Ellis posing at the duck pond

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