A trip up the river with columnist Capt. Gill

I know it’s not polite to brag, but at one time in my life I owned a one-quarter undivided interest in a 1972 single-wide Elcona mobile home at the mouth of the Suwannee. That is, the little town of Suwannee, Florida, population 300, where the river flows into the Gulf, like Apalach, except Suwannee makes Apalach look cosmopolitan.


It was a most delightful place with lots of good fishing. One of us had a TV that the sound wouldn’t work and one had a TV that the picture that wouldn’t, so we set one on top of the other. Sometimes we got to having a good time and we would get the channels out of sync which made viewing very difficult.


I had a 24-foot Tremblay mullet skiff with a mullet net and a shrimp net. Now I wasn’t too good of a mullet fisherman and I had an old friend, Vernon Chewning, a full-time mullet man, so I gave him my net to use and when I came down we put it back on my boat and went fishing. One day we lassoed a school of mullet and hidden in there was about a 10-foot alligator. You’ve never seen such an eruption, and of course he plowed a hole in our net big enough to drive a truck through, so that was that for that day.


One time I stopped by his house and found him in the backyard with my net strung between two pine trees. He was repairing holes. About that time, a woman walked through the yard and went in the back door. I’m sorry to say, she wasn’t very attractive.


I asked, “Mr. Chewning, who was that lady?” To which he replied, “Well, that’s my wife but I usually don’t tell folks, she’s so ugly.”


I had wanted to take Lane down there for some time with her camera. We even made reservations twice but got rained out. So, a couple weekends ago we decided to go, no matter the weather. We hooked up our little 14-foot Rivercraft boat, a real classic, and headed out and arrived at Bill’s Fish Camp, very nice accommodations with a dock right there where we could leave our boat.


We spent the first afternoon cruising the lower Suwannee and Lane was able to take some beautiful photographs. The plan the next day was to head up the river by boat to Fowler’s Bluff and Manatee Springs, but lo and behold, here came the rain. We had planned for this so we set out by car to Cedar Key, probably smarter than going by boat for a day.


Our first stop was Manatee Springs. Next was the little community of Fowler’s Bluff on the east side of the river with a fuel dock and the Treasure Island Restaurant. At the boat ramp, next to the restaurant is a sign with a picture of a Gulf sturgeon warning, “Beware! Boaters have been seriously injured from impact with these jumping fish.” A fellow told me there are 10,000 sturgeons in the Suwannee and 800 in the Apalachicola River. (That must be true ‘cause he had a PHandD, so he said.)


We spent the rest of the day at the little village of Cedar Key, where there we so many cedar trees at one time they had a pencil factory. Of course, they are mostly gone now.


We made it back home on Tuesday and I turned right back around, loaded up “Lily” and headed up river 45 miles to Wewa for another year of supporting the RiverTrek - that’s the annual fundraiser for the RiverKeeper whereby some 16 hearty souls kayak the entire 107 miles of the river in five days, a daunting task. Lily is the support boat carrying the paddler’s gear and providing safety.


On the final day as they rounded the turn near the trestle, they faced a headwind and an incoming tide. As I put the motor in neutral, I had the oddest sensation, I was going backwards, so I looked at the channel marker and yes, the river was flowing upstream at a pretty fair pace.


It took a million years for the Apalachicola Bay to evolve into perfect balance and it took us less than 100 years to screw it all up. Our bay is dying. The problem is the lack of freshwater as restricted by the dam at Lake Lanier. So, that is the problem the Apalachicola RiverKeeper is working to solve. To assist the effort, the RiverTrek 2019 raised something north of $60,000. I asked, “What is the deadline for donating to the RiverTrek?’ The answer is, “There ain’t one.” So, you may join the fight or “get some skin in the game” as they say, if you like.


The Supreme Court earlier referred the water wars case to a Special Master Paul Kelly who will hear oral arguments from the states on Nov. 7. You can follow the progress at apalachicolariverkeeper.org or www.scotusblog.com


By the way, in 1960 a sill (small dam) was built at the headwaters of the Suwannee River where it emanates from the Okefenokee Swamp, adversely affecting the ecology of both the swamp and the river. Sound familiar?


Maybe the final solution will come when sharks start showing up in Lake Lanier. Some of my opinions seem to be politically incorrect so I’ll just leave you with these thoughts.


Excerpt from the Manatee Springs Brochure


“For millennia, Manatee Springs and the surrounding area have provided a home site and livelihood for humans. Artifacts found in the spring and adjacent areas indicate that people have been living and raising their family here for at least 9,000 years. The arrival of the Spaniards during the 1500s brought an end to a series of cultures that lived in harmony on earth for thousands of years.”


And from “The Gulf” by Jack E. Davis, a quote from a clam farmer at Cedar Key:


“Maybe the storms and rising waters will chase away the snow-birds who plant invasive, fertilizer-loving turf grass in the sand, and the cursed sportfishing crowd that took away commercial nets, forced market fishers out of family homes by driving up property taxes, and pushed their weight around in the old fishing villages, turning some of them into condo villages. Fisher folk, who know best how to live by the sea, no matter what the conditions, will then reclaim their waterfront.”


Your friend,


Capt. Gill