Our wild Big Bend Coast has numerous unspoiled tidal creeks to explore, and it’s especially fun moving up the creeks with the rising tide. Often, other creatures will have the same idea. I recently followed a pair of bottlenose dolphins up a creek in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge near Wakulla Beach. At first, I just spotted their slicing fins above the water, but then the water exploded as they began to feed.
The dolphins had two major fishing techniques that I could discern. One was to drive the mullet and other fish into the shallow water near shore with a great deal of thrashing and splashing. I assumed feeding might be easier if the fish had less room to swim away. Another, and my favorite, was to face off about thirty feet apart like two gunslingers and then come at each other with full force, wedging fish between them. All I could see as the dolphins closed in on each other were waves, white water and fish leaping to escape. The commotion attracted the attention of a brown pelican which would almost perch on top of them in hopes of an easy meal. One doesn’t realize just how many fish are thriving in the dark, brackish water until they begin shooting upwards in all directions.
I’m not sure what two nearby kayak anglers were thinking. They were likely entertained by the dolphins, but most of the area fish were surely swimming towards calmer waters!
A canoe or kayak is the best bet for exploring our tidal creeks since there are hidden oyster bars and sandbars that can prove challenging for a boat propeller. Launch sites are numerous and can be found on the Natural North Florida website: http://www.naturalnorthflorida.com/north-florida/boat-ramps. Make sure to check on a tide chart before embarking because some of the creeks are inaccessible at low tide: http://www.saltwatertides.com/dynamic.dir/floridagulfsites.html. Plan ahead, and you’ll have a great time exploring this world of oyster beds, mud flats, marsh prairies, tree islands—and dolphins!