Thursday, August 12, 2010


Friend, and occasional contributer to the pages, David Bagwell, a lifelong Alabaman, currently practicing law in his beloved Fairhope has sent this vignette of life on the Gulf Coast. I hope you enjoy.

We had a “Jubilee” this morning at Point Clear on the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay, Alabama.

Point Clear has been a summer resort since about 1826, when Mobilians came by steamboat to avoid the stagnant heat of the city, and at least since then “Jubilees” have been locally famous. It’s a unique natural phenomenon in which very early on rare mostly-August mornings, for a very short time, lots of flounder and crabs and shrimp and stingrays and mullet and other fish swim right up to the very edge of the beach, where a wading fisherman can net or gig a limit of fish and just about all she can use of the rest of the creatures.

Mobile Bay is a brackish [mixed salt and fresh water] estuary, and marine Scientists think the “Jubilee” results from lower-oxygen salt water coming in with the rising tide into more highly-oxidized fresher water, and the salty water pushes before it the bottom-dwelling species until they get right up on the beach and have nowhere else to go, and lie there in lethargy. Not just everybody knows that the Gulf of Mexico has only one daily high and one low tide, for unusual hydrologic reasons; whether this contributes to the phenomenon is hard to say.

Old-timers know “the signs”, and “the signs” are the things which keep the water calm and not oxygenated: an East wind off the shore; an evening rain leaving the water calm; and hot weather. Some people get out of bed several times during a likely night, to check for one; some people might even stay out most of the night to check regularly.

In the old days, very early in the morning or late at night the cry would go out: “Jubilee!”, and in times before air conditioning, most everybody would hear it and wake up and go out. Sometimes people would ring a bell. Nowadays, it is more common to make a few discreet calls on a cell phone to friends who really want to come. Not just everybody wants to get out of bed at 4:00 AM just to get a bunch of fish and crabs that have to be cleaned before work or play.

The traditional equipment includes a “flounder gig” or just “gig”, which is a spear with one single [usually un-barbed] steel spike; the frog-gigging type would work, but would make thrice as many holes, with three barbs to boot. Also necessary is “a floundering light” [a gaslight with twin mantles and a shiny concave back reflector, to see into the water], a “crab net” on a pole, and some container in which to put the treasures: a washtub or a canoe or a kayak or a plastic bucket or a long fish stringer, pulled behind like a surf caster does it, at least where the sharks won’t get him.

This phenomenon might be unique to “the Eastern Shore” of Mobile Bay, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast [attention Marylanders: other bays than the Chesapeake also have “the Eastern Shore”; fact is, a chunk of crabs sold in and from Maryland actually come from “the Eastern Shore” of Mobile Bay]. We sometimes hear that a “Jubilee” happens someplace in Burma, where the dawn also comes up like thunder oe’er the bay, but evidence of that is at best third- hand hearsay, which puts it even below the dreaded level “ancedotal” which, say the scientists, is mostly worthless as evidence, even though “anecdotal” evidence is fully admissible in Court and is used everyday by everybody to make important personal decisions.

Until maybe 2008 there wasn’t even a limit on the Jubilee flounder, but now a Jubilee fisherman with a gig must have a saltwater fishing license and must obey the limit: twelve, and the size minimum: twelve inches.

Why do it? Well, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s communal. And there is nothing like ending up with several gallon-sized plastic zipper bags full of shrimp, crab bodies and claws, and flounder filets or bodies. Boiling the crabs and cleaning the fish is not so bad, and there is still a legend of the local chef who would clean his friend’s flounders just to end up with the carcasses for fish stock for his restaurant.

“Jubilee!” It’s one wonderful thing about August, on “the Eastern Shore”. Of Mobile Bay, Alabama.

David A. Bagwell

LAT/LON: N 30 ̊31'21", W 87 ̊54'10"

web site:

On a personal note, Happy 10th. Anniversary to #1 Son and his bride Amy.



James said...

I spent many happy times in Mobile in my youth. Duck hunting, crabbing, fishing, eating and drinking all were plentiful there. I supposed it all had changed in 30 years, glad to see some things haven't.

M.Lane said...

Fairhope is a lovely place. I have spent many a fondly remembered time at the Grand Hotel there.


Dominique said...

What a wonderful post; I am so glad to know there are still things people wake several times in the night to check--whether a jubilee of crabs or meteors--and I love the image of hooting and hollering and feasting! Forget the cell phones! Everyone should get out of bed!!! Dominique

JMW said...

What a great way to spend time with people in your community! And then, enjoy a fabulous meal!

SouthernProletariat said...

Fairhope is still a wonderful town, and one of the better parts of my home state. I shall have to check out Mr. Bagwell's sounds delightful! Glad to know that the horrid heat we have been experiencing can be useful for something!

SouthernProletariat said...

Oh, and Happy Anniversary to your son and his bride!!

Patsy said...

I wish we had a jubilee here at 42.51°N 70.88°W!

My stepson is on his way to the Gulf today, with the USCG. We don't know where yet, so now I'm going to wish for Mobile.

andrew1860 said...

Beautiful post and photo. I'm from Mobile and did not know about a Jubilee until a few weeks ago when I was visiting a friend in Daphne next to Fairhope. He has a beach front home and had caught scores of crab and fish on his pier.

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Anonymous said...

great post I have seen many jubilee in my life and 2 this year hope to see another!