The Best Of Seasons by Frank Sargeant 3-3-2013

By Frank Sargeant, Editor

Tarpon show up along the beaches and on the flats in spring, but biologists say they head a hundred miles offshore when it comes time to spawn–and leave their fry to find their way back to the estuaries on their own!

Snook are also spring and summer spawners, tending to gather in large groups and get things done in a hurry around the new and full moons.

Gag grouper, like several other species, change sex as they age–all the largest males were once females.

Spring is a subtle season in the South; there’s no breakup of the ice on the lakes and rivers, no snow melt in the creeks, and even the wakeup of the plants is muted, with life sort of oozing into them-a green blush, it almost seems. Our spring usually arrives sometime between the middle of February and the end of April; if you’re in Florida, the first night you can smell orange blossoms is the beginning. Up through Alabama and Georgia, it’s when the dogwoods and redbuds start to show. Add a mockingbird singing outside the window at 3 a.m. and you know for sure.

It’s a time when you can’t make up your mind whether to grab your snook tackle and head for Chokoloskee, or your bass gear and drive to Guntersville. Of course the kingfish are straggling northward on both coasts, and tarpon are on the verge of showing up all down around South Florida. It gets you all conflicted. Somebody might even insist you show up for work several days a week, but you know there’s not going to be enough time for that.
If you’re a turkey hunter, and I like to think I am though the birds continue to prove me wrong, there is no finer time of year than when the woods awake to the distant rattle of a gobbler made crazy with the same nectar that drives you to the woods.

Spring is the mating season for many creatures who are so inclined only once a year. (I suggest this is why it is better to be a dog or a human than a turkey or a snook.)

They say that geese and sandhill cranes mate for life, but I wonder who’s in charge of the divorce statistics on birds.

I mean, it’s not like he’s going to get the house, the Benz and the 401k if Mrs. Gander decides to wake up some morning and move to California with Bernie the pool boy, become a performance artist and find herself, right? And Mr. Goose doesn’t care about visitation rights, definitely does not want the dog, and is not going to worry about alimony. There are no bird lawyers that we know of, though I have sometimes suspected vultures of having a connection to the legal profession.

Turkeys are much more lessazi ferrari , as we say in the French of Ruskin; swagger down to the strutting bar, show your stuff, make some noise, maybe have a little arm-wrestling contest with some of the competition, and then propagate your genes with any feathered lady who shows up. Whitetails have this down pretty well too, though they take example from redfish and wait for the fall.

Most fish are horrible parents. Either the dad immediately skips out, without so much as sending a Valentine’s Day card, or in many cases both Mom and Dad immediately head for a Caribbean vacation after the spawn. Occasionally, the parents eat the kids. All who have raised children will understand the impulse.

In some cases, it almost seems like the mating sequence is designed to kill off the species; how does it make sense for tarpon to go 100 miles offshore to drop their eggs, and then leave the little wigglers out there to find their way back to the estuaries-which they must do to survive-with no help or protection whatever? Salmon? Don’t even get me started. . . .

Of course, maybe this is what makes the survivors tough. But you have to wonder what evolution or Creative Design or whatever you call it had in mind with these programs.

Grouper are just as bad, spawning in 200 feet, letting the little shavers find their own way to the grass flats where they will spend adolescence. Besides which, the only way they get any daddy fish is by having momma fish turn into them. Trans-genderfication, you could call it. Male snook become drag queens as they age; the big guys are all girls. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

Bottom line is that the season that we love is the season of love, a time when it’s good to simply be alive and outside, whether you’re a fish or a bird or a human.

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Photos on flickr

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