26
Jun 18

Florida’s Red Tide Taking a Toll

Approximately 140-pound tarpon photographed by Capt. Tommy Locke outside Cayo Costa

Things are not going well in Southwest Florida… not well at all. Below is BTT’s press release about what they are seeing.

Red Tide is Causing Unprecedented Fish Kills in SW FL

Once again, Florida’s fisheries are suffering from the legacy of long-time mismanagement of Florida’s water resources. Southwest Florida is plagued by an unprecedented red tide that is causing kills of gamefish. Reports from those on the water estimate that tens of thousands of snook are dead – all of them adults in the peak of spawning season. Breeding-size redfish, as well as tarpon, which usually seem to avoid red tide, are also being reported dead. The ongoing red tide is a sign of the ‘new normal’ in Southwest Florida because too many nutrients are entering Florida’s estuaries and coasts due to water mismanagement. Here are the facts:

  • The organism that causes red tide, Karenia brevis, has been present in southwest Florida as far back as written records go – the Spanish wrote about it.
  • Karenia brevis does not benefit directly from the extra nutrients flowing down the Caloosahatchee from polluted Lake Okeechobee, or from the extra phosphorous entering Charlotte Harbor from phosphate mining. This is because other plankton organisms are better initial competitors for those new nutrients.
  • Karenia brevis DOES benefit secondarily from the extra nutrients – once the nutrients have been used by those other plankton species, and then are cycled back into the ecosystem when those organisms die and decay, Karenia brevis goes to work. Consider this the Legacy Effect of water mismanagement.
  • The ongoing red tide is unprecedented in modern times in intensity and duration.
  • Although red tide has always been in the region, the frequency and intensity of red tide events have increased, and red tide events last longer. This is becoming a new pattern, which means events like the ongoing red tide will become more common.

The excess nutrients in Southwest Florida waters are from two sources. First, they are from the high-nutrient water from Lake Okeechobee that is discharged into the Caloosahatchee River as part of water mismanagement in South Florida (the same mismanagement that is killing the Everglades and St. Lucie River). Second, the phosphate mining industry in the Charlotte Harbor watershed produces runoff high in phosphorous, which feeds red tide and other plankton organisms.

Southwest Florida is home to Boca Grande Pass, part of Charlotte Harbor, the Tarpon Capitol of the World. Tarpon gather in Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor during May and June in association with spawning. It is likely that this red tide will negatively impact tarpon spawning.

Charlotte Harbor is also home to an amazing snook and redfish fishery. During summer months, snook spawn in passes and along beaches. This red tide is impacting spawning snook directly, which will impact the region’s snook population.

This red tide event is the new normal unless the state’s water management policies are changed. This is about the future of Florida’s $8 billion saltwater recreational fishery.

We urge readers to contact their political representatives at the local, state, and federal levels and tell them that policy change is needed immediately.


25
Jun 18

Simon’s Revenge – A post by Nick Denbow

(This post is written by guide Nick Denbow, who I had the pleasure of fishing with in 2017 down in his home-waters of Mahahual, Mexico)

I first met Simon Chapman over 25 years ago Carp fishing in the south coast of England. Even in my youth, it was obvious to me he was a thinking, methodical and patient angler respected by all of the local angling community for his fishing accolades. I was thrilled, after our lives had taken us so far apart, when he got back in touch. Simon, now living in Canada, had a gap in his work schedule and had picked up a copy of my cowritten book as he was planning a trip to the Yucatan. He recognized my name, picked up the phone and we were planning his trip immediately.

Simon’s trip coincided with one time client now friend for life Ryan from Colorado. We met the evening of Simons arrival which coincided with me buying a large Cobia from a local spear fisherman. Over the ensuing banquet we hatched a plan to fish that next morning on a lake I hadn’t launched in for 15 years. I knew the put in would be bad, far worse than I could take most clients, but I also knew these guys were the ones to do it with me.

How Nick gets it done.

It was far worse than I feared. It took 3 trips each. Mud to the knees, a Mangrove tunnel the prefect height to hurt anyones back and hungry Mosquitos intent on getting inside your ears. Finally we launched just after dawn. We all drank a beer. I motored until i saw a shoreline that was more pole worthy. Only one cruising fish in 200 yards and I wanted more. We were in the wrong place. I knew they would be there in numbers and didn’t want to waste the early morning advantage. We motored to the southern end of the lagoon. We quickly spotted fish rolling off the shorelines in open water and poled out to investigate. The light was still too flat to spot beyond 20 feet from the Jon boat. We poled passed them and turned our back on the rising sun and were quickly rewarded by a rolling fish coming at us at forty feet. He was visible. Simon led the fish, an immediate and aggressive response, a visual grab and after an explosive fight the first fish came to the boat.

Nice lagoon tarpon.

Ryan took over and raised many small fish to a gurgler until it was flushed into a bigger mouth and Ryan brought a cookie cutter 20lb fish to the boat.

Ryan’s poon.

Having located the cenote (cave entrance) we found it to be alive with fish. The guys went on to land two more nice fish each though the real story was when a huge push of water came up behind Simons fly, was engulfed by a fish in the 60 to 70lb range that jumped, blitzed twenty yards, jumped again and spat our Clouser Minnow high in the air. This was the key moment. That fish threw down a gauntlet Simon’s way and he was going to pick it up. He said nothing at the time apart from sharing the obvious jubilation of having such a close up, visual fishing encounter with a fly rod, but it turns out he was already planning a return.

Both Simon and Ryan went on to land more fish that day amongst the birds and Crocodiles who were as surprised to see us as we were delighted to see them after a 15 year rest.

Simon fished Chetumal Bay and the Mahahual coast catching Jacks, Snappers and many, many Bonefish for the next few days. He had time to plan and the lake had time to rest, it worked both ways.

Simon was staying in my guest house next door and, as he often does, after fishing he came round for a chat. He told me what was on his brain. He had unfinished business in that lake. I should have seen it coming. He had a score to settle and knowing that I was working (and unwilling to go through that launch again) he asked to rent a paddle board and go back solo. With two other boards out, I set him up with everything except an anchor. I said “it doesn’t take much to stop a paddle board so take this spool of 50lb line and find yourself a rock”. He was happy with that. We both thought it would work.

I heard Simon leave at around 4.30 in the morning. I didnt see Simon until 6pm. He had a smile on his face and beer in his hand. The story began well. He carried all the gear on his own in just one trip down the muddy Mangrove tunnel. He fished around, caught a couple of fish and ended up back at the cenote where the one that got away was last seen. He hooks a fish of similar size and as he clamps down to set and begin the battle the 50lb anchor line gives. He’s not free floating though, he’s being dragged. Ive been there to help many people in my boat with fish that size but really don’t know how it must be on a personal watercraft with nobody to help to stop or position the boat and above all without an anchor. After a great fight recorded on Simons GoPro video he gets it board side and they part company on good terms. He had done it. The battle won, the score settled he is now free to move on feeling triumphant. A really big fish to catch from an SUP, another memorable accolade well deserved. Simon is now at the down wind end of the lake time 11.30.

After a long upwind paddle it was 1.30pm when Simon approached the take out. Happy with his achievements but exhausted nevertheless after the paddle. Feet from the gap in the trees he needs to go through, a Tarpon comes cruising casually yet purposefully through the gin clear, 2 feet deep water along the tree line. Whats an angler supposed to do? He swaps the paddle for his rod. Casts, feeds the fish at close range and is attached once more to another good sized fish. Once more he is at the mercy of the fish on his personal lightweight and anchor-less watercraft. In moments the fish runs into open water and Simon and his SUP are back in the wind in water too deep to wade to try to put any sort of meaningful brake on the fishes numerous charges and runs. He’s back to the wind, sailing and being dragged so its not too long until he finds himself all the way back to the bottom end of the lake again. Every yard he paddled hard for on the way back up was stripped from him in seconds on the return. It wasn’t until the water shallowed again at the down wind end of the lake until he was able to take more control. The fish came onboard for a couple of quick selfies and was measured at 44” to the fork before it kicked back off into its domain.

The tarpon that pulled Simon allllll the way back down the lagoon.

Simon, almost out of water in the cooler, now had to make the paddle back up wind to the take out. I am sure the adrenaline from the fishing had worn off before he was even half way back. He arrived to the exit exhausted at 3.30pm. This time it was not guarded by a Tarpon but a Crocodile which he needed to persuade to leave before he could drag himself and the kit back out. Question is… if he had seen a Tarpon instead of a Crocodile, would he have cast?

 

__

Thanks for the story Nick. Going to have to get back down there!


23
Jun 18

My first bonefish – Grand Bahama 2008

Soon I’ll be back in Grand Bahama fishing for a week at East End Lodge. This little slice of the Bahamas is the home of the memories created by catching my first bonefish. I’ve been a few times and have found wonders there. Here’s the story of my first bonefish, caught within 5 minutes of East End Lodge back before EEL existed, in 2008.

__

I had seen bonefish in Hawaii and they were unimpressed. The fish themselves were incredible specimens, to this day, probably the largest I have ever seen. I lacked the skills or knowledge to do anything more that gawk at them, but that was the spark.

This was the bonefish I caught in Hawaii.

Knowing next to nothing about saltwater fly fishing, I asked about the Keys and was told if I actually wanted to catch a bonefish I should look further East to the Bahamas. The Bahamas, I was told, was where a saltwater noob, like myself, could make it happen. A plan was hatched and I roped my dad into the trip, threatening future visits with his granddaughter if he didn’t come along.

We certainly looked the part, there in the Miami airport, kitted out in the flats anglers uniform… the quick dry pants, the long-sleeved muted color flats shirt, maybe from Columbia, maybe Patagonia, maybe from the Ted Fey Fly Shop in my home town along the Upper Sacramento River. You can spot a fisherman in the airport as much by the uniform as by the rod tubes. We know the members of our tribe.

Our guide picked us up early the next morning from a dilapidated, but cheap, motel in Freeport. He did not wear the uniform and did not look the part. His long white tee-shirt, his baggy jeans, the gold chain, the un-laced sneakers… he was not what we were expecting, but was recommended by a Florida guide I knew by reputation, so we were rolling with it.

I have vivid recollections of the van ride out to the East End and the driver and our guide carrying on an indecipherable conversation (I picked up every 10th word) intermingled with conversation directed our way, of which I understood everything. Bahamians have the ability to open the door to you, and to close that very same door, simply by choosing the version of English they employ.

The drive from Freeport to McCleans Town passes through hamlet sized settlements arranged sporadically along the only East-West road on the long, thin island. It takes about an hour to reach that eastern end and this drive was my first real glimpse of the Bahamas. The thin pines stood out as I couldn’t understand, in this land of hurricanes, how these spindly pine trees could possibly beat out all comers and climb their way up the evolutionary ladder.

I also remember seeing the half-built and sometimes half-destroyed homes along the road. I later learned that good years, when the sea proves especially bountiful, a family might lay a foundation or pour some concrete and then the family might need to await another good year to build the next wall or put the roof on. Rocket mortgage isn’t an option for a Bahamian lobsterman. Some of these homes were also the victims to hurricanes or too many down years.

McLeans Town is the largest settlement on the East End, which means maybe a hundred or two inhabitants. The dock was lively as we pulled in. A small boat arrived carrying passengers from Abaco which lay somewhere beyond the horizon. Other small boats were getting in or heading out. Our skiff was waiting and we were quickly away, my dad, me and our guide.

Since this first trip in a skiff I’ve had dozens more. Some rides are long, maybe an hour, and some are choppy, slamming down in the troughs as you try not to injure a back or a testicle. Few trips have been as short. That first run in a skiff was maybe 5 minutes.

The water we found ourselves on was like a spring creek flowing through mangroves. I didn’t have a notion of tidal flows and didn’t expect to be in a drift boat in the Bahamas, quietly gliding over sand and mud and grasses and weeds. It was peaceful and sunny and not too windy, perfect conditions.

I was in the bow for maybe 2 minutes when the guide called out the school of fish.

“Bonefish, 10 o’clock, 60 feet. Do you see them?”

Dumbfounded looking out at shifting currents and the light dancing on the shallow bottom, weeds rippling in the soft current… I saw no bonefish.

“No…”

“Bonefish, 11 o’clock, 50 feet. Do you see them?”

Still, my eyes straining, feeling a bit dumb, knowing there were maybe a dozen bonefish within casting distance and I had no real notion of where they are outside of these pronouncements from the guide standing fifteen feet behind me, three feet above.

“No, I don’t see them.”

Here, he must have spun the boat, because I don’t recall this as a 12:00 shot, although, this was a decade ago now and the details may have slipped some.

“Bonefish! 11 o’clock, 40 feet. DO YOU SEE THEM?!”

Panic rising in the back of my throat now, I still don’t see them.

“No, I don’t!”

Ray Charles could see those fish mon!”

Then they were there, in front of me. I saw them all at once, a school, almost too many to see an individual fish, 11 o’clock, 40, maybe 35 feet.

I made the cast. The guide told me to strip, strip, strip. I did as instructed.

The fish ate and I don’t recall now, but I’m sure there was a little trout set in there. I don’t see how there couldn’t be, but I don’t remember the set. What I do remember, and what strikes most people on their first bonefish, was the raw power of the run. Only large steelhead had ever made my reel howl like that and nothing had shown me my backing as quickly. It felt like the biggest fish I’d ever had on, ever.

It was maybe a pound.

First bonefish ever caught, horrible handling, I know.

That was it. I was hooked. I loved the visual aspect. I loved seeing the fish as opposed to casting at the place you think the fish will be. I loved the wind in the mangroves and the clear water and being barefoot and the pull of the fish, the power.

More fish were caught that day. The guide proved to be excellent at his craft and truly horrible at making polite conversation. He served us one of the best meals I have ever eaten anywhere. It was memorable in so many ways.

There were more.

That trip and that first fish were an inflection point. Prior to that I thought mostly of large trout, steelhead, with a dream trip being for taimen. I knew rivers. I tight-line nymphed for countless trout.  From that point on I have been pre-occupied by bonefish and saltwater flats, improving my casting, learning to cast in the wind and how to tie gotchas in endless variations.

Since that day, I’ve had bonefish on the brain.


14
Jun 18

Something might happen, but it might also not. All cleared up?

So… the government might “strengthen” the fishing regs. But, ya know, they might, at some point and, well, yeah… that’s about it.

Two new stories out of the Tribune on the issue.

Gov’t Mulling Amendments To Fly Fishing Regulations

and

Gov’t Told: ‘Strengthen’ Fly Fishing Regulations

That clears up all that, right?

One thing the govt. is trying to address is the mother ship issue where some operations bring in skiffs and have their crews act as guides for paying clients. That, pretty much, sounds not good. Bahamian waters should be guided by Bahamian guides. I have only seen one person opposed to that during this whole debate and any such restrictions would not be opposed by 99.8% of the fly fishing public. The 2:1 guide ratio was trying to get there, but also caught up the guy who built a home, retired, paid the duty on his on skiff and would be prevented from taking his wife out with him. Clarity and specificity here would be good to address.

Where the rest of this goes… we shall see, which is something it feels like I’ve been saying for about two straight years.


I’m less than a month from my return to Grand Bahama where I’ll be visiting East End Lodge. I can’t express how much I’m looking forward to all of this. It has been a while since I’ve had that many days dedicated to bonefish. It’s been years.

I don’t even need to close my eyes to see the flats. I straight up daydream of those waters with my eyes wide open.

Let the adventure commence!


07
Jun 18

Next up… Grand Bahama and East End Lodge

My next trip is NOT going to sneak up on me. I started tying for it last night for East End Lodge in Grand Bahama.

I’m tying some meat flies. #2’s. Some with lead eyes, some with bead chain, all with more material that two #6’s use.

The fish of Grand Bahama, to my memory and from my limited experience, are just bigger than most places. The may average around 4 pounds and I’ve seen the photographic evidence of fish will into the 10+ pound range. Hawaii, the West Side of Andros and Grand Bahama seem, to me, to be the best places to look for your 10 pounder.

This trip is going to be an interesting one. I may finally get to meet BTT’s Justin Lewis and I’ll be accompanied on this trip by Elliott Adler, who produces The Drake Cast (the Drake’s podcast, which I highly recommend). Elliott has never caught a bonefish before and he’s going to be in the waters of my first bonefish.

Should be interesting.

A Grand Bahama Bone


06
Jun 18

Kenny Karas guides the blind (me) in Hawaii

The weather was… well… less than ideal for my day of fishing with Kenny Karas in Oahu. That’s how it is, mostly. The trade-winds do their thing and the island creates its own weather (read “clouds”) and that’s how it is more than it isn’t. The winds blow, the rain rains and when you have one day to fish out of 7, you just never know what you’ll end up with. It’s an adventure.

Dark and stormy

We started early, meeting at 6, and were out on the flats a few minutes later. It isn’t a long haul, no 45 minute ride here. We waded out on the un-sun-soaked flats for a while before we found our first bone, which was uncooperative. These fish tail, which is great, as I’d have very little luck finding them with the lights out. Kenny, on the other hand, sees fish. He just, ya know… SEES fish, man. The first three opportunities I did everything right and the fish were not on the same page.

After that, I reverted to putting the fly too close to the fish and freaking them the F out. This is the land of the 9 foot lead. Eight feet doesn’t do it. Nine or nothing.

Our first pass through the flat didn’t produce and we went around to hit a different part of the flat, walking the long and skinny ridge of flat some of you will know well. By this time our early morning wind advantage was over and the clouds were unrelenting. We’d get a window of sun every 20 minutes or so that would last for 3-20 seconds. As we were walking Kenny spotted a fish, in fairly close (a 20 foot cast) and walked me into the fish.

I never saw it. It ate about 15 feet in front of us and I never saw the fish. At all.

The eat did happen though and the fish ran, dutifully avoiding a bit piling, and came to hand. It was a nice, solid and fat five pound bonefish. We were on the board.

A nice o’io on a cloudy day in Oahu.

The rest of the day was mostly Kenny seeing fish I only had the faintest notions of. We walked the edge of one flat where Kenny must have spotted 5-6 fish that I never saw. I have plenty of excuses. The lights were off, the wind was at about 20 mph and the edge of the flat was a but churned up, but despite all of that Kenny kept finding fish. Sometimes I’d see just that faint light green bonefish back, sometimes I’d see nothing.

I had maybe 3 or 4 shots that seemed like they were going to come tight, but in the end it was just the one fish that ended up in the W column.

That one fish was hard won and I’ll take it.

This was a family trip, not a fishing trip and the family part was pretty much kick-ass.

Chilling at the pool.

Much respect to Kenny. He worked hard for me and found me fish on a tough weather day. I’d bet I had 20 shots, maybe even 30 if I round up. I went 1/1 on hooked:landed and it was still a triumph.

Thanks Kenny. See you next time!


29
May 18

Sneaking up on me… Oahu 2018

I leave tomorrow for Oahu and while I’m there I’ll manage a day of fishing with Kenny.

Now, years past I would have been talking and writing about this trip for weeks. This year it kind of jumped out from a corner and yelled “SURPRISE” and I may or may not have wet myself a little bit.

These things are now fast movers. It seemed years away when I first booked the trip and now… we leave tomorrow!

Luckily, for this trip, I need little else beyond the rod/reel and shades. Kenny has the flies he wants to throw and I’m not going to get a chance to get out on my own.

Looking forward to it.

Last year I got a few on the board. Hoping to do likewise this week.


24
May 18

This is what the voice of reason sounds like

Clint Kemp from Black Fly Lodge in Abaco and the Bahamas Fly Fishing Lodge Association spoke about the regulations battle today. He didn’t have any updates or news to share, but he did have some perspective to share and I think it is worth listening to. So… here’s Clint.


07
May 18

FYI for you Bahamians

There is sometimes some confusion about what fishing regulations are like in the States.

Pretty much, in the US, you can fish where you want to fish. If the season is open and you can get on the water, you can fish it.

You don’t need a guide to fish in Florida, not even for Tarpon at the height of the migration.

You don’t need a guide to fish for redfish in Louisiana or Texas.

You don’t need a guide to fish for trout in Yellowstone.

You don’t need a guide to fish the Big Horn or the Big Hole in Montana.

You don’t need a guide to float the Green River in Utah.

You don’t need a guide to fish the Deschutes for steelhead in Oregon.

You don’t need a guide to fish for cutties in the Snake in Idaho.

You don’t need a guide to fish for salmon or trout in Alaska.

You don’t need a guide to fish for bonefish in Hawaii or Puero Rico.

You don’t need a guide to fish for rainbow trout in California.

You don’t need a guide to fish for stripers in Montauk.

There are a few places that have special regulations, usually to relieve fishing pressure or to address boat traffic issues. There are some places you are not allowed to guide, like in some Parks.

In all of these places there are large and thriving numbers of guides. I’d be shocked if Florida doesn’t have more guides than the Bahamas. Most guides don’t go through special training, although many are required to get a guide’s license, which has more to do with liability insurance  than skill. To my knowledge these guide licenses are (mostly) purely administrative. They don’t asses if you know how to fish or if you know which end of the rod to use. You fill out the form and pay your money and you are a guide. Many guides are booked a year in advance by the same clients, year after year.

People use guides in all those places. They use guides even when they can fish on their own without guides. Anglers, in the US, use guides for many, many reasons. Maybe they don’t know the water well, or they are new to fishing. Maybe they are expert fisherman and just want to benefit from the guide’s deep knowledge of “place.” Maybe they just enjoy the experience of fishing with someone who knows the names of the birds and the trees and the flowers. Maybe they only have a few days to fish a year and want to maximize their time on the water.

Bahamian guides are no different. People choose to fish with Bahamian guides for many of the same reasons. You can let people choose how they want to fish and so long as people aren’t hurting the fish or the flats, many, many, many will chose to fish with a guide (and anglers are not harming the flats, by and large, as DIY anglers can only access a tiny fraction of the flats a guide with a skiff can access). I love fishing with a good Bahamian guide in their home water where they know the tides like the backs of their hands and can find fish even when the wind is howling and the lights are off. That’s worth a lot, and American anglers know that, and will pay for it, if that’s the kind of angler they are.

You want to regulate your own industry. Great. However, you also need to understand your consumer, the buyer of your product. No company can just ignore their consumer and then demand that they continue to buy their products. If you alienate your buyers, your buyers will go other places and become someone else’s buyer. That’s not a threat, that’s just how markets work.

In your particular case, the buyers of your products really don’t like being dictated to because they are rarely dictated to when pursuing their hobby in their own country. If you roll out dictates to them in your country they may not react well. I’m not talking about buying a license here, I’m talking about DIY. Almost all anglers have to buy a license in the US, but this is a fast and straightforward process, often done on-line or over the phone or through a business which is open on the weekends and holidays. We make it easy. It isn’t a barrier. There are also some places that don’t require a license, like Hawaii.

Bookings last year were up in Belize, from what I understand. Were your bookings up? I’m not talking about what someone told you about their bookings… I mean your actual days on the water. Did you do more than you did last year?

If your days were down last year, I’d bet the businesses who rely on the DIY anglers were hit even harder. The guest houses and the car rentals and the restaurants and shops. You start aiming at your anglers and it isn’t just the guides who suffer, it is all the other folks too, your neighbors.

It is true that Eastern Canada has some very restrictive rules on guides. They are the outliers, not the norm.

Regulate your industry, but know your decisions and how your decisions are communicated impact the willingness of your consumers to consume your products.


06
May 18

Minister for Fisheries issues crazy pants press release

“It was then agreed, among other things, that only Bahamian citizens should be permitted to be licensed as guides and authorized to offer guiding services for the fly-fishing industry; and that visiting anglers engaged in fly-fishing activities be required to use the services of a licensed guide.”

“As a consequence, I am happy to reiterate the continuance of the Flats Fishing Regulations, 2017, and I look forward to the input and continue support of stakeholders as we move this process forward.”

So… this came from Minister Wells (minagriculturemarine@bahamas.gov.bs) and it appears to contradict the Prime Minister, insisting the regulations ARE still in place and NOT suspended.

Additionally, the press release was either crafted with a great deal of care to say something pretty important, or it was crafted with absolutely no care and makes a huge implication without understanding what it had done. The statement says “…visiting anglers engaged in fly-fishing activities be required to use the services of a licensed guide.” That doesn’t call out the 2:1 angler:guide ratio for boats, but just says if you are fly fishing in the Bahamas you are going to need a guide. That’s DIY folks. That’s been what these guys have been after the whole time. So… was that just super careless or was that the first big announcement of DIY as a fight out in the open?

Truth be told… I have no idea. These guys were supposed to be the good guys, but they don’t seem to be all on the same page. This is a page straight out of the BFFIA playbook and a massive step backward for the industry and all those who care about the Bahamas.