Fish like I’ve not seen before

The lakes, ponds and rivers of Shelby County contain a variety of fish, but nothing to equal anthias or wrasses.

Or bannerfish or scrawled filefish, for that matter.

For many years, I’ve fished in salt water out of south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle and in fresh water in Alabama but never had I run into such fish until last week.

And, where are such exotic species, you ask, and how do you catch, clean and cook them?

You can go snorkeling in waters around coral reefs and other salt-water habitats around the world, or, less expensively, you can visit an aquarium.

I had made several trips to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina with the expectation of seeing black bears, deer or other wildlife indigenous to the hill country of that part of the South.

However, never would I have dreamed of going to the Smokies to see 10-foot sharks, stingrays, horseshoe crabs, the fish listed above or thousands of other sea creatures from around the world.

It seems so incongruous, to go to the mountains to view salt water creatures, but there they are &045; regal blue tang, poison dart frogs, blue chromis, batfish. It had been several years since my last visit to Gatlinburg, one of the gateways to the Smokies, and I had no idea that salt water fish could be found in such a place.

They are there, however, in the Aquarium of the Smokies, which boasts that it has the world’s longest underwater aquarium tunnel.

I’m always leery of superlatives, but the tunnel is fascinating, whether it is the worlds longest or not.

Visitors ride through the tunnel on a continuously moving path, all the while looking at those large sharks of various descriptions, plus dozens of other type fish.

The big question I had was why the sharks didn’t eat the other fish, but perhaps they aren’t on the sharks’ diets, or perhaps the sharks are so well fed by their keepers that they don’t bother their fellows.

Their fellows include Achilles tang (whether they have heels, I don’t know), lion fish and cownose rays.

Now, if any of us good ole boys want to fish for any of the creatures in the aquarium, we sure can’t do it in Shelby County. We’d better stick to crappie, bream and bass.

Besides, I have no idea which of those exotic fish are on endangered lists, which are edible or, if they are, how to clean or cook them.

Some of them are so ugly no one in his right mind would want to think about them arriving on a dinner plate.

Speaking of dinner plates, at one of the aquarium’s exhibits, visitors can watch an employee enter a giant tank, pull delicacies from a bucket tied to his waist and feed the rays, whose mouths on their under-sides.

It’s quite a show, especially for one who for years has been wary of pulling rays into a fishing boat, what with their barbed, poisonous stingers located under their tails.

One fascinating aspect of the aquarium is how the mechanical equipment provides the correct water and salt mixture, plus the right temperature, for the various occupants.

But it works, even for salt water creatures jammed right up against the Smokies