There we were. Three men. Five boys.
Fishing and crabbing at Eden.
Eden is a Florida state park on that part of the Sunshine State that is closer to Mobile than Miami.
Located on Choctawhatchee Bay, amid live oaks draped with Spanish moss, Eden has been the site for many “events,” but for us the attraction was a small pier from which to fish and crab.
When we arrived, Eden was getting ready to party. A DJ was checking the sound system and rows of chairs had been set up, facing a wedding arch festooned with flowers.
The bride, radiant in white, was about to walk down the aisle. The groom in a tux and flip flops, waited.
Not wanting to intrude, we slipped along the woods and by the pavilion where the reception would be held. I decided I’d fish through the ceremony but drop by when the eating started.
The caterer was already putting out the food.
My little group eased on down to the dock and started fishing.
Meanwhile, the wedding went on.
Then, about the time the bride and groom were pledging their troth, something hit my bait.
Broke the tip off the rod.
I grabbed the line and pulled the monster to the edge of the pier, where my son netted it.
It was a stingray.
A big ‘un.
Now I do not belong to the “catch and release” school of fishing. If what is caught can be used, I use it – which is what I intended to do with the stingray.
Not many people know, but the wings of a ray cook up really good. So, I put it in the bucket.
With the wedding done, members of the wedding party drifted by.
One of our kids told them about the stingray. They came to see, and saw, and hollered to others and pretty soon the bucket was surrounded by folks whose comments revealed that they weren’t locals.
“At the Tennessee Aquarium we pay money to touch those things.”
“Is that what killed the Crocodile Hunter?”
“Naw, that was in Australia.”
So, we showed them the barb and explained that they do not “shoot out” at you and that you pretty much had to step on one to get hurt but if it did get you, then you were in a world of pain.
“What you gonna do with it?” someone asked.
“Cook it,” I replied.
And they all moved back and looked at me that way.
“And eat it,” I added.
And they moved back a little more.
But I knew that my lovely wife had ordered steamed shrimp and I figured when we got home, I’d light the grill and play stingray chef.
As the music got cranked up, we packed up, and to the strains of “Down in Mississippi and Up To No Good,” we drove off.
At home, everyone gathered round while the barb was removed and set out to dry, and the wings were put on the grill.
And that evening, fisher and non-fisher alike tried the new delicacy.
“What’cha think?” I asked my daughter.
“Tastes like chicken.”
Which made me happy. She likes chicken.
I wonder if the wedding-goers had as fine a feast.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org