Category Archives: Saltwater Fishing

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What Is the Bonefish Conservation and Restoration Program?

Bonefish Conservation and Restoration Program
This feature came to us from the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, www.bonefishtarpontrust.org.

Jon Shenker, Ph.D., Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Institute of Technology

Paul Wills, Ph.D., Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Florida Atlantic University
from The Fishing Wire

Though the Florida Keys are still a world-class fishing destination, the decline of the region’s bonefish population over the past decades is a tremendous concern to anglers, fishing guides, scientists and resource managers, and a threat to the Keys economy. Bonefish & Tarpon Trust is leading the way to answering the vital questions of what might be causing the problem and how the population can be restored to healthy levels.

An important part of BTT’s efforts are focused on evaluating potential sources of the problem by funding multiple studies, including the sources of larval bonefish that may be coming from locations in the Caribbean; changes in prey abundance in the Keys; chronic long-term responses to toxicity and environmental stressors in the changing Keys environment; changes to habitats.

These critical studies will help identify the causes of bonefish population decline in the Florida Keys. As the causes are discovered and plans formulated to fix them, helping the bonefish population recover will be equally important. In recent years, our understanding of bonefish reproduction in wild populations, primarily through field research in the Bahamas, has grown significantly. We are using that knowledge to drive a major new project to spawn bonefish in aquaculture systems, rear their larvae, and produce juvenile bonefish. This five-year program, funded by a partnership between BTT and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), seeks ultimately to provide partner organizations with a new restoration tool in the form of stock enhancement—a tool that will be available in the event that the Florida Keys population needs a boost to sustainably return to its once abundant levels. The project is being conducted at the Aquaculture Research Park at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI) in Fort Pierce, Florida. HBOI has one of the preeminent aquaculture programs in the southeast US, with facilities, experienced research scientists and technical support all ideally suited to this ambitious undertaking.

The goals of the program include learning what controls production and survival of larval and juvenile bonefish in culture systems and in natural habitats. Juveniles produced in culture can be used to identify optimal juvenile habitat in the Keys, and to help target habitat restoration efforts in the natural ecosystem. While we don’t anticipate releasing large numbers of juveniles into the wild, having the ability to produce those juveniles is a very handy tool to have if needed in the future.

Pioneering studies by Dr. Andy Danylchuk (University of Massachusetts) and Dr. Aaron Adams have given us a great start on understanding when and how bonefish spawn. Their efforts have led to discovery of half a dozen sites in the Bahamas where bonefish gather in huge schools just prior to spawning. Building on their initial studies, we’ve caught fish from those schools, implanted them with sonic tags, released them back into the schools, and followed them offshore on their nighttime spawning run. Other fish have been established in temporary tanks on land, where we’ve attempted to get them to spawn so we can start to learn how to incubate their eggs and grow their larvae. The research team is close to obtaining viable embryos, which will be a focus of upcoming trips to bonefish spawning sites in the Bahamas.

The program at HBOI started in March 2016 with the reconfiguration of existing tank facilities to hold adult bonefish for broodstock. Procedures were developed to capture fish and transport them to HBOI, to maintain them in captivity, and to induce them to spawn in our culture tanks. With the assistance of Captain Bob Branham, we caught two fish from Biscayne Bay in late spring. The fish readily handled the transport to the lab, and quickly began feeding on shrimp in a large aquaculture tanks. That success led to a larger broodstock collection effort in July. BTT’s Brooke Black coordinated a five-day effort in the Middle and Lower Keys that enlisted the efforts of Captains Richard Black, David Denkert, Bo Sellers and angler/BTT friend Rob to catch 20 fish, hold them in tanks at the Keys Marine Lab on Long Key before bringing them to HBOI, where they readily adapted to captivity.

With spawning season upon us (bonefish spawn between late October and April), we examined the reproductive condition of the fish at HBOI in early November 2016 by extracting gonad samples from the bonefish. Several of them were indeed producing eggs. Our team will monitor their development carefully in upcoming months, and perhaps use injections of reproductive hormones to help them get ready to spawn. While waiting for spawning, new larval rearing protocols will be developed, so we’ll be ready to tackle the next major challenge.

2017 promises to be an exciting year in our growing knowledge of bonefish reproduction and our capacity to spawn and rear fish in a laboratory setting.

Step Up For Sailfish Tactics with Raymarine

Step Up For Sailfish Tactics
By David A. Brown
from The Fishing Wire

The speed of a sprinter, the grace of a ballerina and amazing aerial pageantry befitting a Cirque du Soleil performance — that’s Istiophorus platypterus. They go by “sailfish,” in Florida’s southeastern waters, where massive fall-winter migrations deliver banner day potential.

Ranging from the Gulf of Maine to Brazil, sails migrate northward during the spring-summer months and return southward along the warm Gulfstream when autumn’s cooling hints of winter’s approach. Unlike marlin and swordfish, which favor deep water, sails are commonly caught within eyesight of the coast.

Raymarine pro Capt. Quinton Dieterle, who runs the 45-foot Hatteras “Cutting Edge” out of Key Biscayne’s Crandon Park Marina, said fluctuating conditions typically chops the southern run into incremental pushes. Sails like that 75- to 80-degree water temperature with light current and moving bait schools, but the sea remains a dynamic canvas.

“The funny thing about sailfish is you can sit out there one day and not catch a single thing; but you can go the next day and catch 18, 19 fish,” Dierterle said. “It’s not that the fish disappear; they go into a lock-down mode.

“They only move when conditions are right for them to move. Otherwise, they burn up too much energy. Instinct tells them they have to get south by a certain time, so when the current is light, they’ll move. Otherwise, they’ll lock down and stay.”

Based out of Hillsboro Inlet, Capt. Art Sapp runs the “Liquid”, a 39-foot Sea Vee with quad Mercury 350 Verados. For him, water clarity factors greatly in sailfish pursuits.

“We like to see good clean water — preferably blue water — a northbound current and a show of ballyhoo, bonitos or whatever bait they’re feeding on,” Sapp said. “I think the clean water gets them excited. Generally, if you’re catching fish in dirty water it’s a very lethargic bite; they’re not really in a feeding pattern, but it’s just an opportunity.

“But when they’re feeding in the clean water, it’s generally an aggressive bite. You see them coming from a long ways off, because they can see the bait that much better. And our visibility is better too and that allows me to hunt them better in that cleaner water.”

As Dieterle notes, the sails’ southern migration takes them to warm tropical spawning waters. So, while biology plots the course, daily sea conditions set the pace.

Traditionally, fall-winter cold fronts delight sailfish anglers, as winds opposing the Gulfstream’s northward flow offers sails strategic benefit. It’s called “tailing” — riding wave tops like they’re surfing.

“As a cold front comes through and that wind goes around to the north, the wind goes against the current and creates a big swell,” Dieterle said. “Any of the fish that were hanging deep to get out of the current realize that they can flip to the surface and get on top of the waves.

“They look like they’re swimming, but they’re really just treading water. On top of the swell there’s less current than there is down in the water column.”

For anglers, this creates a target-rich opportunity. Spot a group of sails tailing on the swells and you can pick off several with well-placed presentations.

WHERE TO FIND ‘EM

For his day-to-day searching, Sapp relies primarily on his Raymarine gS Series unit, but he runs a compact eS Series HybridTouch in the tower. With either unit, Sapp said superior clarity and adjustability proves invaluable in locating sailfish.

“The reason I go with Raymarine 100 percent and always have is the maximum control over the bottom machine’s power output,” he said. “You can change the gain on any unit, but you can back that thing down and you won’t hear the transducer clicking or chirping if you actually get in the water and swim underneath the boat. With the majority of units, if you can’t back them down at all, they’re just thumping away.

“We’re fishing in less than 200 feet of water 90 percent of the time and I don’t want it banging hard as if we were in 1,000 feet of water trying to mark bottom. I want a very gentle, quiet ping and Raymarine gives that to you with very few button pushes so you don’t have to go back deep in the menus.”

For him, eyeballing fish is always preferred, but a good show of bait on his Raymarine units or at the surface also sparks hope.

“It’s frequently physically seeing fish, but it can also be a good push of bait — anything that says the sailfish might be there,” Sapp said. “I don’t believe they feed on flying fish very frequently, but the flyers certainly get out of their way when the sailfish are coming.

“So, if I see a push of bait, or little needlefish or ballyhoo skipping, I’ll try to get in line with that because it often turns into sailfish bites.”

Dieterle uses a Raymarine eS125 for his chart plotter and the CP570 for his sonar. The latter proves particularly helpful in dialing in sailfish location. His experience marking marlin on fish attracting devices (FADs) in the Dominican Republic helped him learn to identify fish on his recorder — a skill he now leverages off the Florida coast.

“Now, when I’m looking for sailfish off the Juno Ledge — a drop from 100 to 130 feet of water — I’ll go up and down that edge and look for the bait,” Dieterle said. “Occasionally, we’ll see what looks like sailfish and when we set up there we’ll get bites.

“It’s crucial when you’re fishing with 30-50 boats in a tournament and you’re going up and down the edge with hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line; some guys are just plopping out baits anywhere, but we’re going up and down the line looking for these pods of bait that sailfish have balled up, or any sailfish that are in the area.”

Complementing his sonar views, Dieterle keeps himself in the right neighborhood with ultra high-resolution chartplotter views of the contour lines. Spotting the drops, the pinnacles and any other fish-friendly variances prevents burning time in dead water.

“If you’re not sure where they are, at least pinpoint a spot that looks good, instead of just blind fishing,” Dieterle said.

THE NEW STUFF

New Raymarine Axiom family.
Ever eager to advance his game, Dieterle said he has great expectations for Raymarine’s new Axiom touch-screen multifunction navigation units. For him, the quad-core performance will be game-changing.

“It’s a major breakthrough when you can have everything launching from one transducer, as far as all your sonar stuff, the new Lighthouse 3 operating system, the availability of Navionics, super-fast quad-core processor… it’s amazing technology,” Dieterle said.

“That’s huge because if I get a bite, I want to turn around, mark the spot and keep fishing. I don’t want to sit there and wait for the unit to take forever to acknowledge everything. With the Axiom unit, you hit it, you save it, you go. The speed of this unit is one thing that will be a major help.”
Complementing the tactical advantages, Dieterle also sees Axiom units also enhancing comfort and security.

“When you’re out there and it’s rough and rainy, you’re opening up the console to plug in numbers and when a unit takes forever to load, you’re sitting there soaking things,” he said. “Also it’s a safety thing. When you’re reaching into the box to set up your course, you’re not in stance; it’s kind of awkward. So, when it all goes quickly, that’s great.”


SPREAD OUT

Sailfish fall for a diversity of tactics from trolled plugs and rigged ballyhoo, to bait-and-switch fly fishing techniques. For most, it’s hard to beat a spread of kite baits.

Summarily, a sturdy kite rod deploys a kite clipped to braided line. Snapping a release clip around the fishing line, anglers feed out line from the kite reel and fishing reel simultaneously until the kite’s height suspends a live bait barely below the surface. The bait’s frantic effort to dive deeper creates a constant commotion that sails recognize as vulnerable prey. When a fish grabs a bait, the line pops free from the clip and you’re clear to fight the fish right off the fishing rod.

Experienced crews often run two kites, each with three lines spaced at set distances by stoppers on the kite line. Sapp likes hardy goggle eyes (bigeye scad) on his longest kite lines, with threadfin herring or scaled sardines on the middle and short lines. If the sails show preference for the big baits, he’ll switch them into all positions.

Sapp’s rigging tip: “If the fish are up tailing or free jumping, we’ll switch from bridling them in the back to bridling them through the nose so we can pull them through the water quickly and get in front of sighted fish. You’re less likely to pull them out of the clips when they’re bridled through the nose.”

Complementing his kite baits, Sapp keeps a live herring or sardine rigged on a heavy spinning outfit for casting off the stern. Sight casting or simply throwing to a likely scenario (i.e. bait pushes) often yields the bonus bite.

Dieterle also keeps a live bait on a flat line, but his is more of a steady deployment. He may add a rubber core sinker to probe the water column for deeper sails.

“On full moon, the fish feed will feed more at night and in the daytime, they may not be in their feeding mode up on the surface,” he said. “They’ll sink down, so we’ll keep a bait in the lower two thirds.

“We’ll have one guy that fishes that one line by letting it out or bringing it up. We’ll use a smaller bait; something that can be reeled in a cast quickly if we need to,” Dieterle said.

Tip: Dieterle uses a system of permanent marker dashes on his line to quickly identify the bait’s depth and identify where bites occur. Replicating successful presentations often yields additional bites.

A hooked sailfish will unleash an unforgettable fury of fanciful feats. Hold on tight, Sapp says, and let the fish run its tank dry.

“Don’t horse them, take your time and be gentle, he said. “If you’re using circle hooks, which you should be, they won’t come unhooked.

“Back way off, let them do their thing and when they settle down, reengage.”

Now, sailfishing can be a rapid-fire adrenaline rush with the liquid playing field rapidly shifting moment by moment. That’s why legendary South Florida sailfish captain, Ray Rosher lauds the Raymarine screen clarity – and essential element for timely decisions like those that led him and his Miss Britt / Contender Boats victory in the Bluewater Movements, Inc. 2017 Sailfish Challenge with a total of 16 releases.

“When I’m in the tuna tower in full sun, at a glance, I can determine the depth that I’m fishing or see marks of baitfish or target species on the screen,” he said. “I can gain that information quickly.

“Also, my Raymarine units have a pretty simple operation, so I’m able to (effortlessly) change screens or get the data I need.”

Red Snapper Fishing

Alabama State Waters Open for Red Snapper Fishing Memorial Day Weekend through July
By Major Scott Bannon
from The Fishing Wire

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Marine Resources Division (MRD) has announced that Alabama’s waters will open for the recreational harvest of red snapper from 12:01 a.m. Friday, May 26, through 11:59 p.m. Monday, July 31, 2017. Alabama state waters extend 9 nautical miles from shore. The daily bag limit will be two red snapper per person, and the minimum size will be 16 inches in total length.

The federal red snapper season has not been set by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. For information concerning the federal red snapper season, call (727) 824-5305. NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office also indicated that they will send out a fishery bulletin once the federal season is established.

Fishermen are reminded that they are still required to report their red snapper harvest through Snapper Check to the MRD during this period as well as any other time red snapper are landed in Alabama. Only one report is required per vessel trip, and anglers can provide details via a smartphone app available under “Outdoor Alabama” in the iTunes or Google Play app stores; online at www.outdooralabama.com; or by paper forms available at select coastal public boat launches. The telephone reporting method is no longer available.

“We received positive feedback last year from the fishing public for the extension of state waters to 9 miles and the state red snapper season in 2016. The public felt that having the fishery open for Memorial Day weekend as well as the prime months of June and July allowed them to spread out their effort and have great family fishing days when the weather was most favorable,” said Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy, Jr. “We feel that setting a similar season for 2017 will give people ample opportunities to access the red snapper fishery in Alabama waters.

“We will continue to work with the federal government and the other Gulf States to responsibly manage this great fishery in federal waters while also allowing proper management in Alabama waters. However, the incredibly short federal red snapper seasons are uncalled for. We have support from our Congressional delegation to make changes in federal fisheries management legislation and we hope to make progress on that front this year,” Guy said.

“The federal red snapper season this year has not been announced but it is anticipated to be very short,” said Deputy Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship “Alabama will use the landings from the Snapper Check program as well as other fisheries information before making any decision on a possible additional red snapper season later in the year.”

A list of public artificial and natural reefs located in Alabama state waters as well as recent reef-building activity by MRD can be found at www.outdooralabama.com/artificial-reefs.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

Going with the Flow

Going with the Flow: Power and Passage
By Bill McDavitt, Habitat Conservation Division, NOAA
from The Fishing Wire

If you’re a fish returning from the ocean to lay your eggs in fresh water, you face some daunting challenges. You have to escape hungry predators in the ocean and in the river. You have to avoid fishing lines and nets. In the many rivers, you have to find your way past dams, up fish ladders, and through culverts. And you have to find just the right kind of river bottom for laying your eggs.

One of the many obstacles you might run into is a hydropower dam. These dams are built across rivers to harness the power of the moving water. Part of my job as a habitat biologist is to make sure that fish are able to get where they need to go to lay their eggs so that there will be more fish for the future. That often means making sure there’s enough water in the rivers. To do that, I work with hydropower companies on something called “minimum flows.”

Hydropower 101

All hydropower projects have a choice to make about the water that arrives at the dam. Do they put all the water through a powerhouse to generate electricity? Or, do they let some of that water spill over the dam? Some facilities also have a power canal—it diverts the river into a canal that goes into the powerhouse. These can increase the amount of electricity the facility generates because the difference in water levels above the powerhouse and below the powerhouse are higher than if the powerhouse was located right at the dam. All hydropower dams have a bypass reach. Bypass reaches allow water that isn’t going through the powerhouse to go around it. Bypass reaches provide safe passage around the dam for migrating fish.

Flows High and Low

The two pictures to the right are the same location on the Merrimack River, but taken at different times. You can see the power canal that feeds water to the powerhouse on the left sides. The bypass reach is to the right of the narrower power canal. Water is flowing from the top of the photo to the bottom.

When flows are high, everyone is happy!

The top photo was taken in the spring, when flows were very high. There is plenty of water going down the power canal. The powerhouse is receiving as much water as it can, and is near its maximum generation ability. The whitewater at the top of the photo is spilling over the dam and isn’t used to generate electricity. The spilled water is flowing down the bypass reach. There is good habitat for migratory fish, such as alewife and American shad, in this bypass reach. When there is plenty of water in the bypass reach, there is plenty of room for fish such as alewife, blueback herring and American to move upstream to reach their spawning habitat that is upstream of the hydropower project.

When flows are low, fish habitat shrinks.

The lower photo was taken during the late summer when flows can be very low. Water is still in the power canal, but very little is spilling over the dam—not much room for fish in the bypass reach.

Working Collaboratively

By working with the hydropower companies and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we figure out what the minimum flow should be for the fish that live in these rivers. That minimum flow is then required as a permit condition to operate the dam. Even when water is low, the facility has to keep a minimum amount of water flowing through the bypass reach.

Why Does It Matter?

In the state of Maine alone, sea-run fish—those that go back and forth from river to sea—have lost access to a staggering 90 percent of their historic habitat. Populations have declined dramatically, and some species, like Atlantic salmon, Atlantic sturgeon, and shortnose sturgeon, are endangered.

Access to river habitat for these fish, as well as American shad, alewife, sea lamprey, striped bass, rainbow smelt, blueback herring, and brook trout, is an important part of healthy freshwater and nearshore marine ecosystems. These fish have supported recreational and commercial fisheries in the past. They also are favorite prey of fish like cod, haddock, and striped bass.

Making sure that fish have enough water to swim, feed, and reproduce in will help restore some of these populations to their former healthy sizes. This will, in turn, help bring back other fish populations and feed marine and land mammals, too. For those that enjoy recreational fishing for these fish, it can also increase the chances of catching one.

Tracking Movements of Permit and Tarpon

Focusing the lens: tracking movements of permit and tarpon in the Keys and beyond
From www.moldychum.com
from The Fishing Wire

This tarpon and permit tagging project overview is the kickoff of a collaboration between Dr. Andy Danylchuk, Fish Mission, and Moldy Chum.

The research on this ambitious project includes Dr. Danylchuk, along with Lucas Griffin and Dr. Jack Finn (UMass Amherst), Dr. Jake Brownscombe and Dr. Steven Cooke (Carleton University), and Dr. Aaron Adams (BTT).

The Big Three

The ‘Big Three’ flats fish – bonefish, permit, and tarpon – support exciting and productive recreational fisheries throughout the Western Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, these fish are not immune to, as Sandy Moret once put it, the “weight of humanity”. Although predominately catch-and-release species, all of the ‘Big Three’ have suffered from overexploitation and disturbances related to coastal development. To manage and conserve these fish, it is critical that we understand how they make a living, what constitutes their essential habitats, and when and how they move – something scientists call their ‘spatial ecology’.

For bonefish, numerous scientific studies are completed or ongoing focusing on their movements and habitat use in The Bahamas. For example, a study published in 2011 identified an offshore spawning location for bonefish in Eleuthera. This type of information is essential for protecting key habitats for bonefish, for example, from the development of shipping channels or ports. In Florida, however, we still have much to learn about the spatial ecology of the Big Three – ironically, the putative birthplace of flats fishing. Although we have our own observations and anecdotes, information on the essential fish habitat for permit and tarpon is especially scarce.

Permit

While often targeting by anglers on the flats, conventional wisdom suggests permit spend the majority of their time in deeper water around natural and artificial reefs and shipwrecks, which are also essential spawning habitats. It is here, in deeper waters, where anglers and spear-fishers more commonly target them for harvest, often around their spawning aggregations when they are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, recent reports from guides and anglers suggest their numbers are declining. A Special Permit Zone was recently established around the Florida Keys including nearshore reefs and shipwrecks, which places greater restrictions on permit harvest, yet it does not prohibit it. Because we know so little about permit movements and population dynamics, it is uncertain whether the current regulations will conserve permit populations and support productive fisheries. In particular, it is unclear what proportion of the population migrates into shallow water flats to feed which in turn supports the flats fishery, and how frequent permit move between flats habitats and nearshore structures.

Tarpon

Although tarpon, like permit, are targeted between the flats and deeper waters, their complex movements between the two have left many guides and anglers ruminating at night: Just how much do fish move between various regions of the Gulf of Mexico and Western Atlantic? What proportion of tarpon are ‘residents’? Is there a certain size when tarpon begin to migrate, or is it some other trigger? Do tarpon use the same spawning sites each year? Do changes in freshwater flows into coastal areas, including the Florida Everglades, Apalachicola, St. Lucie River, Caloosahatchee River, and Indian River Lagoon, influence tarpon movements and determine the movement patterns and habitat use of tarpon? A few of these questions tried to be answered with satellite tags, but there are considerable limitations to this technology that limited insights into the spatial ecology of the silver king.

The Research

To answer some of these pressing questions, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, in collaboration with Carleton University, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Florida International University, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, are conducting acoustic telemetry studies to track permit and tarpon movements throughout the flats, nearshore reefs, shipwrecks, and coastal waters across the Gulf of Mexico and Western Atlantic. These projects involve surgically implanting ultrasonic transmitters into fish and tracking their positions using receivers (listening stations) throughout the Florida Keys and beyond. Along with BTT sponsored receivers, other scientists and research institutions have invested in identical receivers along the continental US coast, and this larger network of receivers greatly increases the ability to detect tagged permit and tarpon as they cruise coastal waters well beyond the Florida Keys.

These studies will enable us to understand the extent of permit and tarpon home ranges, the frequency with which they visit the flats and deeper waters, and the timing and locations of their spawning activity. With the collaborative help from anglers, guides, and scientists, the information gathered from these studies will be critical for the proper conservation of these two important members of the Florida Grand Slam.

Support

Photo: Fish Mission/Andy Danylchuk
These integrated projects would not be possible without the generosity and expertise of local guides. Many thanks to all the great Captains including Will Benson, Brandon and Jared Cyr, Danny Flynn, Travis and Bear Holeman, Sandy Horn, Rob Kramarz, Jordan Pate, Zach Stells, Jason Sullivan, J.R. Waits, and Newman Weaver, to name just a few. Additional support for these projects comes from Costa Del Mar, The March Merkin Permit Fishing Tournament, Hell’s Bay Boatworks, Mavericks Boats, Cabin Bluff as well as from private donations. Donors may sponsor individual tags or receivers, and in return receive information on their tagged permit or tarpon, as well as updates on its movements over time.

If you are interested in supporting these projects, please click on the following links.

For Permit

For Tarpon
You can also contact Mark Rehbein, BTT Director of Development and Communications at 703-350-9195 or mark@bonefishtarpontrust.org

Written by Dr. Jake Brownscombe (Carleton University), Lucas Griffin (University of Massachusetts Amherst) and Dr. Andy Danylchuk (University of Massachusetts Amherst).

See more like this at www.moldychum.com.

How To Catch Redfish

Redfish Bonanza
By Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau
from The Fishing Wire

Venice Louisiana has to be one of the best if not the very best location in America for both inshore and off shore fishing! Factor in the ability to pursue inshore species all year long such as Redfish, Sheepshead or Tripletail and these three alone are enough to entice most anglers. However, inshore angling in Venice has many more species to offer within its shallow grassy contours, such as Speckled Trout, Flounder, Black Drum and even largemouth bass.

October can be primetime to target both larger Bull Reds as well as smaller more palatable Juvenile Redfish within the Mississippi Rivers backwater estuaries. Better know as the ‘Marsh’ these shallow water areas are filled with wildlife activity and spawning Redfish. (The Redfish spawn occurs from August into November.)

Cruising through the narrow channels framed by tall walls of canes sends flocks of various bird species to flight. Then without warning these narrow channels open up to backwater ponds ranging in size with varying depths of crystal clear water. Scanning the pond areas reveals thick clumps of vegetation scattered throughout the opening. Pockets and coves filled with matted grass intertwined with lily pad fields and stalks of cane beckoning anglers to cast in every direction.

The Venice tidal water environments comprise of twisting and turning salt marsh channel networks offering forage and predatory species an abundant assortment of mixed vegetation for shelter and ambush points alike. Schools of Mullet’s are endlessly on the move, leaping out of the water, while swimming full speed through the channels and around the backwater ponds.

If you have experienced the heart throbbing thrill of hard pulling striped bass making long never-ending runs, then you will surely enjoy battling Bull Redfish. Just when you think these Bull Reds are ready to come aboard they suddenly peel drag from your reel making long head thrashing runs over and over again. Patience is the key to success with Bull Reds!

Bull Redfish are normally 30 inches or longer and may range anywhere between 15 to 40 plus-pounds. While Bull Redfish normally are attracted to rocky jetties, outcroppings, manmade structures and oilrigs, during the winter months it is not uncommon for bulls to move near-shore or inshore. Juvenile Redfish (Under 30″.) mostly occupy inshore estuaries all within the ‘Marsh’, cruising sand bottoms and grassy areas feeding on oysters, crabs, shrimp, mullets, pinfish and mud minnows. However, these energetic bottom feeders have been known to inhale topwater baits.

I utilize the same tackle arsenal for either bull reds or juvenile redfish. Long rods are imperative for keeping pressure on redfish and your hooks pegged. Reels with larger spools holding more line eliminate being spooled, while the parabolic action of your rod absorbs the hard thrashing runs of a big bull red.

I prefer St. Croix IPC Avid Inshore 7’6″ medium heavy power fast action BC III graphite spinning rods, saddled with a Diawa 3000 Laguna spinning reel, spooled with Seaguar 40 lb. Smack Down Braided line. The vegetation within the marsh can be unforgiving to most lines braided line on the other hand has the ability to cut through most vegetation eliminating break-offs. (www.StCroixrods.com, www.seaguar.com)

When it comes to preferred redfish baits, most seasoned anglers keep it simple. Plastic 3″- 4″- 5″ MinnowZ and DieZel MinnowZ impelled unto pointed jigheads such as the TroutEye and RedfishEye jigheads are most common. The pointed jighead allows your bait to come through vegetation and canes easily when pitched or flipped into pockets. Retrieve speed varies depending upon the activity level, at times a slow crawl with a sudden hop in your cadence triggers strikes.

The advantage of ZMan’s ElaZtech buoyant material to float up off the bottom when impelled unto ZMan’s Redfish Eye Jigheads, TT Lures HeadlockZ HD, Jig HeadZ, or Top Brass’s ‘Super Spike’ Jighead (www.TopBrass.com), all make for the perfect natural presentation when chasing bottom-feeding Redfish.

A few other baits that produce well include; ChatterBait’s, Z-Man’s DieZel ChatterBait, DieZel Spins and one of my ‘now’ favorite hard baits Rat-L-Traps. More often than not all of these baits favor long cast to trigger reaction strikes, especially when sight fishing or when redfish blowup on schools of baitfish.

When it comes to eating redfish they are delicious! And, as with most edible fish there is a slot size that offers the best taste. Louisiana limits an angler to five-redfish per day, with a minimum length of 16 inches and only one of these five redfish may exceed 27 inches. Anglers anticipating a redfish dinner prefer redfish within the twenty to twenty-five inch lengths.

Anglers looking for an exciting excellent winter fishing trip would be wise to contact any of the following outstanding Professional Guide Services:

Captain Mike Frenette at www.RedfishLodgeofLouisiana.com or call Captain Mike @ 1.504.78.0924.
Captain Scott MacCalla at www.RedFishonFly.com or call Captain Scott @ 1.321.795.9259

Best Bassin’

Billy “Hawkeye” Decoteau

Alabama Adds to Vast Artificial Reef Zone

Alabama Adds to Vast Artificial Reef Zone
By David Rainer
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Another artificial reef was deployed off the Alabama Gulf Coast this week in Alabama’s vast artificial reef zone. While a reef deployment may not seem like news, this was indeed special because it could change the way industrial and corporate entities view options for recycling materials.

(Billy Pope, aerial courtesy of Alabama Power) A 195-foot barge loaded with two 100-ton boilers from Alabama Power Company plants in Washington and Mobile counties became the latest artificial reef to be deployed off the Alabama Gulf Coast last week about 25 miles south of the Sand Island Lighthouse.
The new reef deployment was the result of a multitude of partners. Alabama Power Company provided a pair of boilers that had been taken out of service from plants in Washington and Mobile counties. Cooper/T. Smith provided a barge and transportation of the reef material. Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) worked as liaisons to start the process and complete the deployment.

“One thing I’m so excited about with this Alabama Power reef project is that it just shows that the more we’re involved with the community, community leaders and business leaders, there are a lot of great things we can do as partners,” said Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship. “Tim Gothard with the Alabama Wildlife Federation and Matt Bowden with Alabama Power are the ones who reached out to us with this idea. Then it grew with the work with Angus Cooper and Cooper/T. Smith. They had a barge that had neared the end of its useful life, and we needed a barge to transport the material to the deployment site.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities out there to get companies to rethink the ways they’ve always dealt with materials that have reached the end of their service life. The more we get involved with these organizations and companies, the more we can show them there are other opportunities to partner together. It’s good for the companies and good for the marine habitat. That’s why we think it’s important to get the word out about this project, because it can show what we can do with other private companies. I also hope this is a long relationship with Alabama Power as they continue to provide service for their ratepayers and, at the same time, enhance the environment.”

The new reef is located about 25 miles south of the Sand Island Lighthouse in a depth of about 120 feet in the Tatum-Winn North General Permit Area. The boilers are about 18 feet tall and about 40 feet long and weigh about 100 tons each. The barge is 195 feet long.

“A reef this size would take at least a dozen of our super pyramids,” said MRD Artificial Reefs Coordinator Craig Newton. “So this reef is a big cost savings for our artificial reef program. Alabama Power is experiencing cost savings as well because they don’t have to hire skilled personnel to disassemble the boilers and salvage them.”

To prepare for the deployment, Newton said holes were cut in the sides of the boilers to expose an array of small tubes inside the boiler.

“That’s really going to increase the surface area for encrusting organisms to attach to the reef,” Newton said. “It increases the complexity of the reef by providing refuge for small fish, and it’s really going to be easy to find on your bottom machine.

“Within days, the reef will have red snapper on it. Within months, it should have mangrove (gray) snapper on it. Then we’ll start to see the blennies and damselfish and all the little critters that will help support that ecosystem. By the time the season opens again on January 1 (2017), you could see amberjack on the reef because of the vertical relief.”

Blankenship said Cooper/T. Smith’s donation of the barge is a significant enhancement to the reef.

“The barge is part of the reef,” Blankenship said. “The barge and two 100-ton boilers will make a reef that’s going to be there for decades.

“This is the kind of partnership we’re looking for in our reef program. A company like Alabama Power can realize some savings by partnering with us as they upgrade their equipment. That material doesn’t go to the landfill or get cut up for scrap. Instead, we use it for marine habitat. It’s really a win all around. We want to reach out to other companies that might have these same opportunities.”

Angus Cooper III of Cooper/T. Smith said during his time as AWF president, he was able to witness the work Alabama Power is doing to enhance wildlife conservation in the state.

“Alabama Power is truly one of the leaders in our state when it comes to water quality and wildlife conservation,” Cooper said. “We at Cooper/T. Smith are extremely excited to partner with them on this reef project, our first such collaboration. We look forward to seeing the success of this project, both to the ecosystem and in providing a source of outdoor entertainment for our community.”

Wes Anderson, a team leader with Alabama Power’s Environmental Stewardship Projects, said the boilers had reached the end of their useful service, and it was time to either scrap them or find another useful purpose for the material.

“We became aware of other possibilities through our work with Coastal Cleanup and Renew Our Rivers programs on the Alabama Coast,” Anderson said. “Some of our guys said, ‘We sank 60,000 Christmas trees in our freshwater impoundments. Why don’t we make some nice saltwater reefs with some of this salvage equipment?’ When we approached our bosses with the idea, they were very supportive and thought it was a great idea. We were able to show a cost savings for our ratepayers and a great addition to the marine environment.”

Alabama Power Vice President of Environmental Affairs Susan Comensky added, “Being involved in the construction and deployment of this reef is especially exciting for us at Alabama Power because it’s a first for us. In the past, we have simply disposed of old equipment like these boilers, so seeing them repurposed to create a habitat for marine life is very gratifying.”

AWF Executive Director Tim Gothard said the organization’s commitment to Alabama’s artificial reef program made it easy to help foster the partnerships that led to the deployment of the Alabama Power reef.

“We were just glad to be able to connect the dots between all the key players,” Gothard said. “It’s a great public-private partnership for Alabama Power Company to be alerted to a piece of equipment they were retiring and its possible use as an artificial reef. Then Marine Resources was able to evaluate the material to make sure it was suitable for an artificial reef. And, finally, Cooper/T. Smith was able to make transportation available and add a barge to enhance the whole project.

“To me, the exciting part is to see the public and private entities work together with the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to accomplish a project that will be great for the reef system. It will provide really great opportunities for our citizens and general public who like to fish our offshore reefs.”

The Alabama Power reef was deployed near the 70-foot Offshore Supply Boat Reef to provide additional habitat for species that anglers can target outside of the short red snapper season. MRD officials expect species like vermilion snapper and triggerfish will inhabit the reef as well as amberjack.

“The more diversified we can make the reef program, the more ecologically sound and more stable the reef system will be,” Newton said. “The size of this reef will make it better suited to handle storm events and other stresses that might happen.”

What Is the Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project?

BTT Tarpon Acoustic Tagging Project
from The Fishing Wire

BTT is pleased to announce that our new tarpon acoustic tagging project is beginning shortly. The purpose of this study is to obtain scientific data necessary for tarpon conservation that will be used exclusively to protect tarpon and enhance their habitat through improvements in fishery management. BTT will not distribute specific data to the public and will only describe tarpon movements and habitats in a general way in order to build public support for greater protections. This project will help answer the following questions:

Is the tarpon population large and robust or small and vulnerable? If anglers in a particular location are fishing for the same fish every year, then the tarpon population is probably smaller than we think, and issues like shark predation will become a bigger concern. If fish move among regions every year, and anglers are fishing for different fish each year, the tarpon population is probably large.
Do tarpon use the same spawning site each year or move among spawning sites? On average, ocean currents will carry the larvae from a spawning site to juvenile habitats in a specific geographic region. If it’s the same adults at the spawning site every year, then local adult losses will cause declines in juveniles. If tarpon move among spawning sites, then the population will be more resilient.
How do changes in freshwater flows into coastal waters influence tarpon movements? Do the problems with Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration impact tarpon? Are the water issues in Apalachicola causing changes in tarpon movements?
What are the movement patterns and habitat use of mid-size tarpon (20-50 pounds)? How will these tarpon be impacted by coastal water quality issues? This size class, which is the future of the fishery, is very vulnerable to changes in coastal habitats and water quality.

Why Acoustic Tracking?

Although satellite tagging previously funded by BTT provided valuable data, the tags typically only stayed on the tarpon for a few months at a time, which prevented long-term tracking. In addition, because of the large size of the satellite tags, their use is limited to tarpon over 80 pounds.

The new Tarpon Program will use acoustic telemetry to track tarpon movements.

acoustic tags come in many sizes
Advantages of acoustic tags are that they are smaller and less invasive and can remain with the fish and active for up to five years rather than a few months. In addition, because acoustic tags come in a range of sizes, they can be used on tarpon from 20 pounds and larger, not just the extra-large adults. They also cost significantly less than satellite tags.

How Acoustic Tagging Works

Tags are surgically implanted in the abdomen. Each tag emits an ultrasonic ping that has a unique code for each tag. These pings are detected by underwater receivers when a tagged fish swims in range. When receivers are placed at strategic locations like inlets, bridges, and schooling locations, they can be very efficient.

As part of this four-year study, BTT will place 20 new receivers in waters around Florida, to add to the 60 receivers we already have in the water. In addition, colleagues at universities and state and federal agencies are using this technology to study movements of other fish species. Their receivers will also detect BTT tarpon tags. With more than 1,300 receivers in the water in the Gulf of Mexico, and more than 3,000 along the southeastern US coast, this project will be able to examine both local and long-distance movements for many years. BTT will tag 50 fish in each year of the study.

How You Can Help

Sponsor a Tarpon: Sponsor an acoustic tag for $2,500. You can name your tarpon, and will receive a certificate with its name, photo and initial capture info (very general location and measurements). Each time BTT downloads data from the receivers (approximately every 6 months), a summary of the general data on your fish will be sent to you.

Sponsor a Receiver: Sponsor and name an acoustic receiver (listening station) for $3,000. Each time BTT downloads data from your listening station, you will receive a summary of the fish that have been detected by that station.

Help us tag tarpon. Prior to a tagging trip, our scientists will put out a notice about when and where they will be, along with contact information. If you are fishing in that area when we are tagging, all you need to do is call us when you catch a tarpon. We’ll come to your boat, transfer the tarpon over, and take care of the rest. Remember to always keep the tarpon in the water!

Contact Us Today!

For more information and to sponsor a tag or receiver, please contact Alex Woodsum, Director of Development and Communications at 617-872-4807 or alex@bonefishtarpontrust.org

The purpose of this study is to obtain data necessary for conservation. Data from this study will only be shared with the public in a very general sense to explain how the data is contributing to conservation. Specific data on tarpon movements, habitat use, etc. will not be shared. Our goal is to use these data for conservation, not to help anglers catch more tarpon. So rest assured, the data is highly confidential.

Where Is Tarpon Central?

Tarpon Central

The amazing silver king fishery at Boca Grande

By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

Boca Grande Lighthouse

Boca Grande Lighthouse

The historic Boca Grande Lighthouse marks the pass of the same name, where the world’s greatest tarpon fishery occurs from April through June each year. (Frank Sargeant photo)

There are many places to catch tarpon in Florida and throughout Central America, but there is no place where the silver king is so synonymous with the location as Boca Grande, the massive pass at the southern tip of Gasparilla Island.

For years anglers made wild estimates of how many tarpon swarm into this pass each spring, roughly between April 1 and the end of June, but nobody knew for sure until the state’s Fish & Wildlife Research Institute put counting devices on the bottom a decade or so back and came up with a reasonably accurate number.

The count was 10,000 fish–at one time! And the biologists who did the counting note that tarpon are coming and going throughout the season, so this number does not represent all the fish that visit the pass, only those that were there during the counting period.

It’s no wonder that the pass draws anglers from all over the nation–and from worldwide locations–to sample the action. There simply is no place on Earth where your odds are better, in one four-hour trip, of hooking up with one of these silver giants, which are typically about the length of a tall man and weigh 100 pounds or more. They are not only powerful, but they are given to aerial acrobatics that leave first-timers speechless–leaps near 10 feet into the air are not uncommon.

Mature tarpon

Mature tarpon

Mature tarpon typically weigh 100 pounds and up, with fish over 150 pounds caught with some frequency. Nearly all are released since the species is not considered edible. (Frank Sargeant photo)

Boca Grande has the added attraction of allowing anglers to see the fish before they catch them on most days–pods of 10, 20, even 50 at a time come rolling to the surface like schools of silvery porpoises, sometimes almost close enough to touch.

The fish apparently swarm here to feed prior to spawning–the pass is loaded with crabs and baitfish at this time of year, giving them a place to bulk up easily before making the journey offshore, as much as a hundred miles, to drop their eggs in the open sea.

Not surprisingly, a resource this amazing draws a crowd–it’s common for 50 boats or more to float through the pass in a loose fleet. When they reach the bottom of a drift, they return to the top and try again. Some anglers fish with jigs, easing close to concentrations they see on sonar screens and dropping into their midst.

Both live bait and artificials are successful, though the latter are less so since a device known as the break-away jig was banned a few years back. Either way, your chances fishing with a guide here are probably better than almost anywhere else–it’s common for a single boat to fight three or four fish in a four-hour charter.

WHERE TO STAY

The grand old lady of the island is the Gasparilla Inn, which has been housing anglers, captains of industry and movie stars for more than 100 years as they come to pay homage at the shrine of tarpon fishing, the blue-green pass that’s just around the corner from the harbor.

The Gasparilla Inn has been welcoming tarpon fisherman to the island and Boca Grande Pass for more than 100 years. (Photo Credit Gasparilla Inn)

The Victorian-style inn maintains the historic character of the early 1900’s, but it has been steadily upgraded and improved over the decades into a world class resort destination. An 18-hole golf course on the bayside, where you can occasionally see snook and reds swimming along the seawalls, welcomes a respite from the tarpon wars. And the inn is one of the few locations in the nation where there are still croquet courts–the Mallet Club–where the greens are as meticulously maintained at those on the golf course. There’s a beach side tennis club, and of course a marina for the anglers, and the whimsical Pink Elephant Restaurant, just across the street from the docks, where anglers gather to share tall tales–and where wild 3-foot-long iguanas occasionally peek out of the hedges. They’re an invasive species, but still very interesting to see at close range.

The town itself is still much like it has always been–tight zoning laws plus the astronomical value of the land here has kept the development that has ravaged much of mainland Florida at bay, and the toll bridge at the north end of the island is also a factor, forming a sort of mote that helps maintain the laid back tenor of the village and the island. It’s a place that welcomes walking and biking tours–there’s an island-length biking/jogging trail, and plenty of bikes for rent. It’s predictably pricey, both for accommodations and food, but for a weekend or a vacation splurge, it’s one place in Florida everyone just has to visit at least once.

For details on the Gasparilla Inn, visit www.the-gasparilla-inn.com.

Gulf Red Snapper

Gulf Red Snapper Fishery Management

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Editor’s Note: The following is an opinion piece by Louisiana Congressman Garrett Graves in response to a story that ran across the Gulf Coast recently (http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2016/01/kingpins_of_the_gulf_make_mill.html) . As you’ll read, Congressman Graves is among those quite unhappy with the way the Gulf of Mexico’s plentiful red snapper fishery is being managed.
from The Fishing Wire

How would you feel if the federal government took all of the gold in Fort Knox and gave it to a few dozen unelected, unaccountable people to decide how to manage it behind closed doors? How would you feel if that same small group unsurprisingly decided to split the country’s gold among themselves – each becoming multi-millionaires? If our government gave away the public’s property for free and allowed millionaires to be born overnight by diverting that public’s property to themselves, I’d be pretty upset – and I am.

As Ben Raines’ weekend article in the Times Picayune and AL.com illuminated, the federal government has hand-picked dozens of multi-millionaire “Sea Lords” by allowing them to control the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. While these select few “Sea Lords” are making millions from our fish, the season for recreational anglers – who used to be able to fish for red snapper all year long – has been absurdly diminished. In 2015, the recreational red snapper season was ten days.

The agency charged with managing our national fishery, the National Marine Fisheries Service, conducted a study on the health of red snapper fish stocks in the Gulf of Mexico. You’ll be shocked to learn that federal government’s methodology and results were grossly inadequate. Their analysis failed to include reef areas – the actual habitat of red snapper, a reef fish. Think about that. It’s like looking for polar bears in Louisiana, finding none, and declaring the population to be at risk of extinction.

Let me be clear, the sustainability of our fisheries is paramount. It is critical that we employ the best science to responsibly manage them and to support their long-term viability. It’s no secret that Louisiana is home to some of the nation’s top restaurants that rely on the supply of fresh, wild seafood to meet demand. Some argue that expanding recreational access would lead to overfishing and threaten commercial interests. This mentality has bred the current system of a government sanctioned oligarchy that monopolizes a public resource. And it has punished tens of thousands of families across the Gulf Coast that enjoy fishing in Sportsman’s Paradise. Luckily, there is another way.

In July of last year, I introduced HR 3094, the Gulf States Red Snapper Management Authority Act in the US House of Representatives. The bill simply gives the five Gulf States’ Wildlife Departments the authority to manage the red snapper that live offshore their coast. This approach favors local control and would transfer management decisions to the professionals who are closest to the fishery. In Louisiana for example, our Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has demonstrated a commitment to using the best science to sustainability manage our fisheries through efforts like the agency’s LA Creel program, which helps to provide an accurate count of red snapper fish stocks in our coastal waters. Today, HR 3094 has nearly 30 bipartisan sponsors from across the nation.

The fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico are public property and should be enjoyed by all – not managed like a long-abandoned “sharecropper” model that enriches a select few. Sometimes all it takes is a little sunshine on bad policy to fix things. To quote Herbert Hoover, “all men are equal before fish.” Let’s enact HR 3094 so we can ALL enjoy the Gulf’s bounty.

– Garret Graves, Member of Congress