The original Ozello Shrimper was invented by the late Don Kelly, a.k.a. "Kelly" over 30 years ago in Ozello, Florida.
Oftentimes, while night fishing for snook, Don would see the bright orange reflection of shrimp eyes floating through the channels or along the many grass flats of Ozello. Don immediately recognized that these shrimp could be caught and eaten. Never one to pass up a free meal, Don decided to catch the shrimp for his dinner table.
Initially, Don ventured out to catch shrimp much like everyone else. He grabbed a small dip net and tried to scoop them all up as fast as he could. With a sore back, few shrimp and a high shrimp mortality rate, Don knew there had to be an easier way of catching shrimp. An inventor at heart, Don turned his motivation for a cheap shrimp dinner into the original Ozello Shrimper.
Don originally set out to make a better dip net and extended the length of the handle to more than six feet in length using copper plumbing conduit. He also started dragging a bucket behind him to keep the shrimp alive. Still, he wasn't satisfied. A lot of the shrimp were jumping out of the dip net and the bucket. Plus, the net made a heck of a mess in the mud and tore up the grass flats.
So, Don decided to develop a rigid metal cage with a "no-escape" chamber to prevent the shrimp from jumping out and created a inward sloping lid for his bucket to keep his catch all the way home. The flats fared much better with such a nimble tool. It was a scalpel compared to a dip nets' broad sword. Thus the Ozello Shrimper was born.
Friends and Ideas
Don's invention remained much the same until the early to mid 1990's when his longtime friend Bob Worthington began to bring coworkers from Honeywell out shrimping with him. Many of these friends were space engineers and scientists who worked to create space probes and rockets by day. By night they walked the flats of Tierra Verde together looking for equally strange lifeforms.
Don's initial designs served us well but we quickly discovered that some materials just aren't suited to the job. The copper plumbing conduit Don used as a handle had three drawbacks: it corroded in saltwater, was electrically conductive and was impossible to store in your car due to its length. Combine these drawbacks with older lead acid batteries that sometimes shorted and you could have a jolting experience each time you put the trap into the water - a story told from experience. It was also fairly hard to explain to people at work why your hands were green for a third of the year. After they saw you leaving work for the beach with copper pipes hanging out your windows, they learned to not ask.
Along with their friendship and adventures came new ideas and improvements to the trap. The long pole of the trap became collapsible and more stable. The cage pivoted, gained corrosion resistant mountings and a closing trap door. Improved lighting was created and longer lasting, lightweight batteries were procured with the help of electronics savvy engineers. Comfort was taken into account and all the equipment created ultimately became easier to use and much lighter to carry.
This was the heyday of shrimping. The number of shrimpers that came out through the seasons grew large enough to spur annual "Shrimping Festivals" on the shoreline of Tierra Verde, back when you were allowed to park in such spots. Each shrimper and his/her family would arrive with a few "select" bags of shrimp caught during the season as well as their favorite shrimp dish to share.
The best recipe was voted on - Dr. Bill Martin's "Fort Desoto Salad" was a winner. Tents were erected along the side of the road and the Gulfport Fire Department, half of whose volunteer firemen were our shrimping partners, brought a fire truck for the kids. Aside from the shrimp, the event's highlight was Don Kelly's dog and leprechaun marionette shows for the children.
Recreational Shrimping Takes Off
With this rise popularity came a bit of fame for Don and his invention. Florida Sportsman wrote an article about the Ozello Shrimper and then the Tampa Tribune began writing annual reviews of the shrimping season.
As you can imagine, recreational shrimping became much more popular. Originally there were only Don and his close friends who even knew a shrimping season existed but with word of mouth spreading about the abundance of free meals out on the grass flats, it was inevitable that more and more people started getting into the action.
At the outset of our shrimping hijinks, the most lights on the late night horizon you could count was a maximum of 10. Today, it is not uncommon to see 100 or more shrimpers' lights on any given night of the seasonal shrimping season in a single spot. What an exponential change!
Ozello Shrimpers Take Off
You see, we didn't set out to create shrimping tackle, we just found ourselves doing it by accident. We also didn't set out to sell it but that too was just one of those things that happens when you have a good idea. Every time we went out for a night of shrimping, people would stop us and ask us where we got our trap and eventually, how we made it. Needless to say, those conversations got a little long and after explaining the process involved in making them, we usually ended up coming home with fewer traps than when we left.
After a while we began to anticipate that someone might want a trap and we kept a few extra in our cars "just in case." What originally started out being a "reserve" of one or two traps slowly turned into a seasonal stock in our garages that needed preparation months in advance. Phone calls started coming in and people literally just started dropping by our homes asking if they could buy the traps. This was flattering at first but after a few years and hundreds of traps sold, Don grew tired of having to deal with all of the work and was ready to throw in the towel.
A Website is Born
A website, he described, could handle all of the hassle of managing the sales of the Ozello Shrimpers and answer all of the questions that people had about shrimping that inevitably took up most of Don's precious time. With a little convincing, Don was onboard. Shortly thereafter, the Ozello Shrimper web site was born.
Originally a simple page with a small store that sold our famous Ozello Shrimper, the site become increasingly popular. With this interest in our invention and an ever expanding base of recreational shrimpers brought to the sport by stories of the joys of shrimping, our site grew to meet the demand placed on it. The first addition to our site was our ever popular forum, a place where recreational shrimpers from the various regions of Florida meet up to talk shrimping. The site was a hit and membership took off.
These upgrades and format served us fairly well until the summer of 2008 when the site reached peak traffic levels. According to basic information gathered from Quantcast, Google, Compete, and other popularity and traffic measuring sites, Ozello Shrimper became the #1 Recreational Shrimping web site in the country. While admittedly a niche market, this is still a title that surprised everyone. Today, the Ozello Shrimper website generates significant traffic and drives nearly 1,500 subscribed members to our doorstep.