National Geographic : 1977 Jul
from mats of water lilies, wild rice, and maiden cane along the shore. At the town of Suwannee near the river mouth, we met Jake Colson, a com mercial fisherman whose sons help him net sturgeon and mullet, trap blue crabs, and gather oysters. "I got that river from here to the Santa Fe right here," he said, tapping his head. "I ain't got to think of it. I know every crook and creek." Suwannee River turtles, commonly known as cooters, are a great delicacy, and Jake sells them to restaurants. "You see a log that's loaded with ten or twelve cooters. Well, you just go up and run your cooters off, put your bas ket trap beside it, and be gone for thirty or forty minutes and then come back. The cooters climb back onto the log, and when your boat comes up the sec ond time, they jump into the basket." We asked him how he knew which side of the log to set the basket on, and he replied, "You got to think like a tur tle, that's what makes a good hunter." The vast swamplands at the mouth of the Suwannee are also good alligator habitat and were once a center of gator poaching. Some Suwannee residents still boast of their past exploits in hunt ing the big reptiles. "I'll tell you the truth," one man declared. "They wasn't nearly as extinct as they figured down there. They said there was only about five hundred gators in Florida, and some months I was killing five hundred. I got caught, and it cost me a thousand dollars." The game wardens never managed to stop the poaching, but elimination of domestic markets and laws prohibiting interstate transport of hides did. Alli gators are now increasing, adding to the wonder of one of the few undammed, free-flowing rivers in the Southeast, a river of swamps and springs, of history and legends. O tributary of the Suwannee, which is nourished by more than fifty springs.