Well, what did you expect when it rained for two weeks straight? As I write this, the Peace River stands a touch above 14 feet at Arcadia — three feet above flood stage. A friend who lives in PGI told me he thought his underwater fish light was burned out until he pulled it up and discovered the bulb was just fine. Another friend sent me photos of what he’s catching in his dockside crab trap: Freshwater plecostomus catfish by the dozens. Old black water, keep on rollin’.
We often forget what Charlotte Harbor really is: The lower end of the Peace River. Officially, the river ends at Marker 1, but times like these remind us that nature doesn’t care about lines we draw on maps. The river is running all through the Harbor, out through Boca Grande Pass, and right on into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s no denying it; you can see for yourself where that black water dominates.
A lot of fishermen don’t like this change. It moves fish around. While most of the species that call the estuary home have no problem dealing with varying salinity levels, some really prefer to hang out only when it’s plenty salty. Among those are scaled sardines (whitebait), thread herring, ladyfish and Spanish mackerel. All of these are important forage fish for predators of various sizes, and when they look for saltier seas, many of the hungry mouths follow.
Dark water also makes boating somewhat more hazardous. It’s not just the debris the river may carry — which sometimes includes things you really don’t want to run into, like 30-foot palm trunks. It’s also the way that sandbars are now able to hide under just a few inches of water. Instead of gleaming under the sun, they’re now just a lighter shade of shadow and very hard to spot.
But let’s take a different perspective. A strongly flowing river does some very good things as well. It brings land-based nutrients to the Gulf, kick starting the food chain by growing a crop of phytoplankton in what is otherwise often a wet desert. It flushes out stagnant areas and pushes life into new places.
Remember that this is a natural, normal and healthy cycle, one that has been going on for a very long time. All the life here has adapted to it. While we might wish to have clear turquoise waters year-round, if it actually happened then much of what makes our Harbor so productive would disappear. Black water, mangrove swamp and thigh-deep mud are all part of the equation. If you absolutely must have picture-pretty flats, the Bahamas are pretty close.
We still have about a month of rainy season ahead of us. Every year is different, of course, but the last week of September or first week of October is usually about the end. When the rains let up, the Harbor will slowly but surely start to clear up.
I know that knowing these things is no comfort to some of you. That dark water is ugly and that’s all there is to it. The best advice I can give you is embrace what is rather than pine for the way you want it to be. No matter how much you might despise it, that black water just keeps rollin’ down — year after year after year.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.