Telephone the fish:
My advice right now is toss this essay aside and run read The Creek by J. T. Glisson.  It is a true story full of affection and humor, adventure and sadness outlining the creation by local initiative of a fishing paradise and a tight local community and the later destruction of both by ill advised government meddling that in fact also did a deep disservice to their deep pocketed overlords.  You’ll love the story.  If I can get through this without annoying you with yet another digression, we shall both be lucky.

Ah so few now remember Cross Creek and its literary glory, far fewer the magic of Orange Lake, where in my childhood large islands floated about the surface and rabbits and wild pigs lived on the seemingly impossible bits of peripatetic geography and the fish practically leapt into your boat. 

One joyous evening now many years ago I and some family members actually met Mr. Glisson.  He is as charming as can be, as deft in repartee as with the written word and the artist’s pen.  As we chatted he mentioned that the friends of his youth used to telephone the fish.  I was a bit puzzled, but one of my brothers turned bright red and laughed, so I suppose it had remained a Florida prank for many years.

In the old days you didn’t carry your phone in your pocket.  It was attached to the wall and served the outside world through an ancient bit of technology called a “wire.”  The phone had a microphone into which you could shout, and if somebody were listening to a little speaker on the same line, it might even be intelligible.  But alerting others of your desire to talk needed a little more power than the trickle the wire usually carried.  You need a bell loud enough to be heard all over the house and even outside.  That required the power of a little hand cranked generator built into the wooden box of the phone. 

In those days it was not a good idea to try to use a phone during an electrical storm.  If lighting hit the wire it was conducted essentially straight to your head even if the strike was miles away, and in those days in the summer there was pretty much always an electrical storm somewhere.  I have no idea what technical change made it possible to avoid having your head fried, but for me it seems like a bigger improvement than all subsequent modifications. 

So as time passed the old phones were discarded, but the boys tended to keep the generators, with which they could call up the fish.  That meant dropping the wires into the water and cranking away until fish came up to be collected.  I don’t suppose it was ever legal, not for long anyway.

Another of the glories of ancient Florida was Marineland.  It was a research and educational facility rather than a simple tourist trap, although of course the tourist attractions that imitated it made a bigger splash so to speak.  My mother had a dear friend who was a marine biologist who visited us once.  She ran over to Marineland to introduce herself, and they gave here desk space and a microscope to work with, which was about the best setup anybody in the world had in those days. 

Once at Marineland there was an electric eel display.  A few large eels were lying in a tank maybe the size of a steamer trunk.  The only activity was a large voltmeter that measured voltages I think over 1,000 volts, although who keeps notes when it’s critical?  The voltages wandered up and down with no evidence of haste. There were no fish to be stunned.  I supposed the eels just sat there and put out there field just in case something wandered by.  It occurred to me that the eels might have been chatting using their electricity, but that seemed just too silly.

Well now somebody had given these scary beasts a better look.  (Kenneth Catania, The Shocking Predatory Strike of the Electric Eel SCIENCE vol. 346 no. 6214 December 5, 2014 page 1231)

To begin with the electromagnetic force developed by a single eel was not over 600 volts, so maybe in the tank more than one was stirring at a time after all.  Then the hunting strategies seemed to break down into two versions, each belying the lackadaisical attitude I thought I had witnessed.  In the one case the eel recognizes a fish, lays down a series of short hand shocks paralyzing the fish, and then eats it while it cannot get away.  The second approach is a bit cunning.  If the eel suspects a fish but cannot see it, the eel may put out a feeler or two or three pulses.  This is enough to make the fish twitch violently, betraying its position to the eel, which now pours on the power and moves to collect its meal.

So there is still much being learned out there, I should think.

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