Not A Fish Story

From November to early spring, the warm water discharge canal at the Chalk Point power plant on the Patuxent River can provide calm and productive fishing for catfish, striped bass, and white perch.
Last year, in mid-November, I ended up way up the discharge outlet, anchored below the floating scum barrier that crosses the canal.
That evening was dedicated to enjoy a solitary peaceful fishing trip prior to embarking upon what has been a brutal campaign year.  As the sun was setting, I hooked up and boated a ten pound channel catfish after repeatedly and unsuccessfully throwing a rattle trap lure for striped bass.
While I gingerly unhooked the baited rig from the catfish low in the stern of the boat, I heard a snort come from the starboard side of the boat.  This sound was recognizable to me as either a porpoise or a big turtle exhaling.
I saw no sign of such a creature when I looked over the side.
Quickly, I jumped up on the cuddy cabin of my 20′ Shamrock inboard to see a large swirl on the surface in front of the anchor line.
Much to my amazement, I saw a horizontal black round tail about two and a half feet across rise above and behind the swirl.  The flat tail then pushed down below the murky water.
I knew what I was witnessing but could not believe it.  There is only one creature I know of in the United States that has such a back end.  I had just seen a manatee in the Patuxent River in November.
For ten minutes, I waited to see the marine mammal rise again upstream but it remained submerged.  Then, as darkness enveloped the boat, I wondered if the creature could survive the winter in the power plant hot tub that flows into the Pax River.
Also, I wondered how I could tell anyone that there just might be a manatee hanging out in Southern Maryland.
I have been known to tell some pretty tall fish tales but I always include a witness or two who can verify the veracity of my narrative.
Alone in the boat, I pondered my predicament with the manatee’s plight.    I told my wife and a couple very close friends about the close encounter of that evening.
This was an experience that was too unbelievable to talk about.
I figured the guys at the power plant would spot the critter if, in fact, I had actually seen what I thought I’d seen.
Remember the cold nasty winter this year.
Thousands of sub-tropical fish and many manatees were killed by the sustained frigid winds that plagued the East Coast all the way down to South Florida.
That flat black horizontal tail slipping below the surface was filed away as a snapshot memory when I passed by the 7-11 news stand in April.  “Dead Manatee Found on Patuxent Shore” was on the front page of the Enterprise.
According to Doug Alves, the Calvert Marine Museum curator who I talked with following the public disclosure, the manatee was spotted in the Patuxent in September and was filmed in October.  The decomposed carcass was found in April.  Evidentially, the warm water in the power plant was not warm enough.    There is no real lesson to this story.
Nature can be cruel.  Personally, I am grateful to have witnessed such a rare event as a manatee sighting in Maryland, but I second guessed my own observation from the moment I saw it.
After Election Day November 2, I look forward to spending a few peaceful evenings fishing in the quiet warm waters of the Chalk Point discharge canal.  I do not expect to ever see another one of those animals in there again, but I do know now that anything is possible.
Maybe, there is a lesson to be found here after all.
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