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Fishing, Oysters, Alligators and Me!
By Bob Alexander

Sleet and occasional flurries of snow are making tap dancing sounds on my deck. Outside the cat is snuggled up inside his box in the garage. He's able to go outside if he wants, through the pet door which I have opened up again. A family of raccoons decided to move in with him and until they found a new home, I had to board up the pet door.

I'm keeping warm tonight by making plans for my summer vacation. I'm going to a warm and sunny beach on northern Florida's Gulf Coast. Having visited the Apalachicola area before, I've decided that that's where I'm going again! Since the last time I was there, I've done more research on the area and discovered that I missed a lot of things simply because I didn't do my homework before I arrived. This time I've made a list of some of the things I want to do when I get there this spring.

The first thing on my calendar when I get to the bay is to go oystering. I'm going to book a four hour trip with one of the guides who make his living harvesting oysters. I didn't make the trip any longer than 4 hours because after reading about the oystermen, who are called 'tongers', I don't believe my aching body would last more than a few hours. At that I may be pushing the limits of my endurance!

Charters will take 2-4 people with them at a time. That's about all the 20-24 foot boat will safely hold. The boat will have a culling board so you can sort the oysters according to size when you haul them aboard. The guide from whom I booked the charter says culling is not as easy as it sounds, but by the end of the tour I'll probably be an expert.

From what I have seen by watching oystermen from the shore, tonging looks like hard work. This is the way many of their fathers and grandfathers harvested oysters many years ago. They use a tool called 'tongs' that look like a heavy steel rake with long wooden handles that operate a little like a post hole digger. Sometimes the oyster beds are in 5-10 feet of water so the tonger has to be able to reach that far down. This certainly sounds like work to me, but I want to take a shot at it.

Another item on my 'to do' list when I reach the Apalachicola area is to go to the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. It's a barrier island, providing natural protection for the mainland from damaging winds and waves. You can only reach this northwestern Florida Gulf Coast island by boat. One of the great things about this place is that there are no human inhabitants. There are caretakers who live on the island sometimes and keep the place as natural as possible.

This island, with its marshes on the bay side of the island, is home for many specie of animals including Sambar deer, white tail-deer, alligators, loggerhead sea turtles, raccoons, ospreys, and bald eagles. Threatened or endangered bald eagles, sea turtles and the red wolf, enjoy life of the island. My wife is not as thrilled as I about going to an island that has neither souvineer shops nor restaurants, but to me this sounds like paradise. Spending the day fishing on the gulf side of the island and picking up shells that haven't been picked over by others is my idea of a relaxing vacation.

One of the brochures I've read boasts that as many as 2400 visitors boat to the island and walk the beach each year. Can you imagine? There are 2400 people on most Florida beaches each day! The island remains primitive and pristine because visitors to the island take care and clean up after themselves as they should on every beach.

These are my two must see trips I'll put on my calendar for this summer, but no vacation would be complete without dining out at local restaurants. The last time I was on St. George Island which is one of the four barrier islands protecting the mainland, there were two restaurants. All I can say is that one was wonderful, the way a seafood restaurant should be when you're on an island. The other one wasn't great. I would not recommend that one!

It doesn't take much to make me happy. Just give me a couple of brochures about fishing and eating and I'm happy. With each day getting a little longer than the one before, I know it's getting closer to vacation time!

Bob Alexander is well experienced in outdoor cooking, holiday eating and leisure living. Bob is also the author and owner of this article. Visit his sites at: http://www.bluemarlinbob.com and http://www.bobalexander.ws