I started shrimping about 15 years ago. When I moved over to Melbourne from Fort Myers my only pastime was golf. I had given away my rods and reels and sold my boat several years earlier. However, I have always been drawn to the water and I had heard about “dipping shrimp” and was anxious to try. So!---I began asking questions and eventually bought a 18' pole with a net on the end and a couple of lanterns.
I started out on the Eau Gallie bridge, hanging the lanterns over the water and occasionally would see a shrimp swimming near the surface and would try to scoop them up. Sometimes successful, sometimes not, but after several nights I had enough so we could have a few for supper. My bride quipped, “these sure are expensive shrimp!” and I retorted, “Yep, but not as expensive a new boat and fishing gear would have been”. She just laughed.
My shrimping location was somewhat less than desirable. I was hit with a beer can once, just missed with a beer bottle, and both tail lights were stolen from my truck. So! I started looking around again. I had heard they caught a lot of shrimp from the pier at Titusville, but there was some talk about a “rough crew'' up there. I decided to try it and it was one of the best decisions I ever made, even though it was a hour away.
At the Titusville pier, they had a system set up whereby everyone would gather at the bait shop at 6 PM. There someone would check your light to make sure it wasn't more the 100watts, and was grounded, charge $2.55, then you were given a lottery number. When you number was called you could go out on the pier and set up. (The sooner your number was called the better your chances of getting a good spot. The last number called could go out first on the next night and wouldn't have to pay.
I had made up an electric light to use, but it had a standard three prong plug. Wrong. It needed a twist lock plug, so I had to rent a light. Next trip I found my twist lock plug was the wrong size, so I had to rent another light. Then I final got it right.
There was quite a bit of camaraderie between most of the shrimpers because they had been doing it together for years and it was somewhat hard to get to know them because of the brief exposure to them at the drawing, then after you got a position, you were just exposed to the ones on either side of you. Gradually, I got to know a few of them and they were a big help.
I never did get my limit of a 5 gallon bucket full of shrimp, but I got a lot better.
Things changed after a couple of years. The pilings under the restaurant at the beginning of the pier needed to be replaced and we were chased off the pier and had to go over to the adjacent bridge. There was no lottery there and it was first come gets the pick of sites. In addition there was no electricity, so you had to use batteries(and later generators) and nearly everyone switched to underwater lights. As a result, we had to get there early to get a decent position, because the farther out on the bridge you go the higher you are from the water, requiring more length of poles with the nets. After a year we were able to go back to the pier, but then a storm finished it off, and we were back on the bridge.
With a lot of time to mingle, I got to know a lot of wonderful people, from all walks of life. First names we usually all that was needed, except when there were multiples ie Big Tom, Canadian Tom, Spittin' Tom or West Virginia Bob, Alaskan Gene etc. One of the brightest stars was Puerto Rican George. Actually he was Italian. He had several business, including a car dealership. Shortly after five he would come driving up, yelling at anyone he saw while still 100 yards away, with a big cigar in his mouth an a can of beer in his hand. For about 15 minutes there would be greetings, curses, and stories. Someone asked PR George how he got a dealers tag on his truck when he couldn't even get a green card. Another time, recalling an event when Spittin' Tom almost fell overboard, but was saved by the shrimpers next to him. The next night several people told Tom that they had “dibs” on his shrimp, if he fell overboard.
My wife was a little concerned that I might topple over, but I assured her that I was certain 2 or 3 of my friends would jump in to aid me. I did add the caveat that if the shrimp were running well, they would mark where I went in and then as soon as the shrimp run slowed down, would call 911.
Sometimes the shrimping would be a family affair and sometimes people would bring food and we'd have a picnic .The first time my granddaughter Katie went shrimping, she really enjoyed all the pre-event good nature banter among the shrimpers and she picked real quickly how to spot and dip the shrimp. On the way home that night, I told her that among the people she had met that night were: a retired engineer, a retired preacher, a retired bank robber, and a retired Madam. She said, “They are all really nice, and when I get my driver's license, I'm going to come up here every week”
After a couple more years, I was having difficulty on the bridge. I could get my gear out there, taking four underwater lights on wires, 2 batteries, a stool, net, and bucket. I would just make several trips with rest in between. However, late at night, when I was tired, as I started pulling in my first underwater light, without a word being said, a flock of my friends would descend upon me, gather up my gear, and load it into my car. Wasn't that nice? Plain old good hearted Americans helping out a friend.
The next year, I was using a scooter and would shrimp from an adjacent wooden dock. I could carry all the gear I needed on the scooter without
any trouble. Eventually a number of people started using the dock, when the bridge became too crowded and some of my friends would occasionally drop by. After a long delay the new bridge was built as well as a new pier, which
is really first class, and is handicap available, but the long delay's resulted in the breaking up of a fun loving large group of shrimpers. I think we'll all remember the wonderful times we had. Experiences like that make you so proud to be an American. And “that crew up there” wasn't so rough after all.