From the muddy bottom of Lake Mitchell

Published 1:40 pm Saturday, June 6, 2009

Just a few years after the confrontation with the net fishermen, another group from the Tennessee Valley introduced us to harvesting mussels from the muddy bottom of Lake Mitchell! What? I couldn’t believe it when I saw the divers begin to come in.

This was normally a one-man operation, using a small air compressor and a rather long air hose with a mask on the end. Of course, the boat was adrift with the diver on the bottom of the lake, searching the muddy bottom for mussels. Because of visibility and that the mussel was in the mud, they found them by feel—mostly with feet. Yep, mussels, the same ones you used to see along the riverbank.

The divers were not restricted to any particular species. I was surprised to learn that we had 10-12 different species just in Lake Mitchell.

Imagine a boat adrift out in the middle of the lake or creek, obviously nobody in the boat. Then you notice air bubbles, they keep going from you, and suddenly a strange looking creature breaks the surface, very much alive, screaming a not so welcome greeting, “Are you trying to run over me?”

Dangerous? By all means! That’s the reason the boating law requires that, if there is a diver down, a flag must be displayed with red background and a white diagonal stripe. This tells the boats in the area that a diver is down and to keep 100 feet away. The danger is obvious: If the diver surfaces and there is a boat over him, he gets chopped up!

I would like to say that all boaters know this, but I doubt it. Anyway, while you are trying to protect him, some do not display the flag or maybe hang a red shirt over the seat, etc. You can imagine how many of the flags I sold—imagine running all over Clanton looking for a divers flag [on Sunday]. A what?

Now those mussels have been here since the Coosa was a branch, but why are they suddenly so sought after? The major market, I was told, was Japan. The big thing was, now get this, they punched little pellets out of the shells, implanting them in their mussels, thus they grew cultured pearls and made everything from jewelry to cosmetics! Since they were packing them in refrigerated trucks, I asked, “What is the market for the meat?” I got an answer of smiling faces. Oh, well.

By the way, someone asked me how I got the diver to come up to give him a ticket. It’s amazing how fast you get him to surface when you crimp his air hose! Worked every time, and he didn’t have that silly grin on his face, either.

After retirement, Lavada and I made a couple of trips to the northeastern shoreline, up there where they have all that fancy seafood. Know what their favorite was? Steamed mussel. Smelled terrible! Try them? No way.

Came in from work one day, and Lavada was speechless as she tried to tell me that there was an empty boat just outside the kitchen window, just floating around. She thought someone had drowned. After a long period, a person climbed into the boat, and she almost fainted.

Now, here we go again. Several species of mussels have become endangered. There are some folks that can give you a good argument that removing all those mussels from Lake Mitchell has upset the ecology of the lake! God placed those things in our lake for some purpose.