Don Kirk Elected to Hall of Fame

Founder and publisher of Southern Saltwater Fly Fishing Magazine Don Kirk was enshrined in the Legends of the Fly Hall of Fame in a special event at the Atlanta Fly Fishing Show the first weekend of February. Prior to starting SSFF, Kirk was recognized as an expert on trout fishing in the Smoky Mountain region of the southeastern states, and also founded Southern Trout Magazine.

Southern Saltwater Fly Fishing Magazine Publisher Don Kirk (center) with the other members of the Legends of the Fly Hall of Fame class of 2019.

Southern Saltwater Fly Fishing Magazine Publisher Don Kirk (center) with the other members of the Legends of the Fly Hall of Fame class of 2019.

Sweetwater Brewing Supporting Tarpon

SweetWater Brewing Company’s Jake Basnett recently joined the staff of the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust for a baby tarpon tagging venture. The group spent a day seine-netting fish that averaged 12 inches to be fitted with Passive Integrated Transponder tags. The tagging completed a four-year tarpon nursery habitat project by BTT in an abandoned residential development in southwest Florida.

Tagging a baby tarpon at Coral Creek Preserve.

Tagging a baby tarpon at Coral Creek Preserve.

The Coral Creek Preserve is made up of six canals feeding into a main canal that has an inlet on Coral Creek. The PIT tags and antenna arrays for tracking the baby tarpon are provided by SweetWater Brewing and other sponsors.

SweetWater’s Goin’ Coastal tarpon cans.

SweetWater’s Goin’ Coastal tarpon cans.

Thanks to the support of SweetWater’s #fishforafish campaign, BTT has been able to tag a juvenile tarpon for every photo of SweetWater’s stacked Goin’Coastal series of tarpon cans tagged on social media. 

Red Tide Stock Recovery Enhancements Have Begun In Southwest Florida

Along with Duke Energy and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Coastal Conservation Association Florida began releasing more than 16,000 juvenile and adult redfish in southwest Florida counties this month. The program was announced in the fall of 2018, and includes the donation of the hatchery-reared redfish from the Duke Energy Mariculture Center in Crystal River, Florida.

 

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Each of the releases include approximately 2,000 juvenile fish and 25 to 30 adult redfish per county, all hatchery-reared at the Duke Energy Mariculture Center. Releases have already occurred in Pasco County at Brasher Park on Feb. 5 and Hillsborough County at the Cockroach Bay Ramp on February 7.

Though date have not been announced additional releases will happen in Charlotte, Collier, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota counties.

 “We’re extremely excited to begin releasing these fish now that the waters are determined to be safe,” said Brian Gorski, CCA Florida Executive Director. “Between these releases, encouraging anglers to catch-and-release and promoting conservation, we’re going to see this fishery improve, and we’re honored to be a part of it.”

“Duke Energy is committed to helping protect and preserve Florida’s natural environment,” said Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy Florida president. “Our Mariculture Center advances environmental stewardship throughout the state by partnering with state/local agencies and universities on restoration projects. The redfish we are donating will have long-term positive environmental impacts in the affected areas and we’re proud to play a small part in the solution to the recent red tide occurrence.”

“We are thankful for the leadership and efforts of CCA and Duke Energy on making this redfish enhancement possible,” said Eric Sutton, FWC Executive Director. “We are proud to be a partner.”

Anglers can become engaged by joining CCA Florida at JoinCCA.org.

Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Tarpon Study

Tarpon, frequently referred to by anglers as “silver kings,” are a prized game fish of saltwater anglers along the Gulf Coast. In the early 1900s, future presidents flocked to coastal cities across the Gulf for a chance to catch one of these magnificent fish. However, as tarpon populations in the northern Gulf of Mexico began to decline in the 1960s, so did the number of tarpon fishermen.

Tarpon declines are thought to result from a combination of fishing pressure and coastal development altering rivers and estuaries where juvenile tarpon reside until adulthood. Today’s tarpon fishery is primarily catch and release, with few tarpon kept as trophies. Although tarpon are not consumed in the United States, they are harvested in many Latin and South American countries for their meat and roe, and are considered a delicacy in some African countries, where it is served during special occasions such as marriage ceremonies and festivals.

Photo by David Hay Jones

Photo by David Hay Jones

Tarpon are an ancient fish, and aspects of their biology further contribute to their vulnerability. They are slow growing and can live for over 80 years. During this time, tarpon can grow to over 8 feet long and well over 200 pounds. Tarpon are one of the most fecund fish species; once mature (about 10 years old), an individual female is capable of producing over 20 million eggs per year!

Tarpon have been relatively well studied in other parts of the Gulf of Mexico (Florida, for example), but we know less about the tarpon we see off our coast. Given the cultural significance of tarpon, we sought to better understand their movements, migrations and habitat use in Mississippi and Alabama.

In July 2018, we deployed satellite tags on 10 tarpon as they moved westward on their annual migration. Over the past month, the tags have transmitted over 5,000 messages, and have generated nearly 1000 position estimates (note not all messages provide successful position estimates). In general, these tarpon are moving west, often stopping at the Chandeleur Islands; however, a few have ventured offshore before returning inshore and resuming their westward migration.

 

Texas Inshore Fish Spawn Despite Hurricanes

University of Texas/Austin

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Photo by Dave Harp

Even a Category 4 hurricane doesn’t kill the mood for coastal fish – and that’s good news for all species, as well as for a multibillion-dollar recreational fishing industry. As extreme weather patterns threaten to bring more and larger storms to the Gulf Coast, new findings from the University of Texas at Austin’s Marine Science Institute show some important fish species are able to continue spawning even in a severe storm.

“This data gives us a little insight into how key species will handle changing and unpredictable conditions,” said Christopher Biggs, a Ph.D. candidate studying fisheries ecology and lead author on a paper published this week in Biology Letters. “They are somewhat preadapted to this. They regularly deal with changing situations. They might be better suited to handle the changing climate in the future.”

Biggs and a team of scientists from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) and the University of Florida discovered that spotted seatrout kept spawning in late August 2017, even as the eye of Hurricane Harvey passed overhead, bringing with it windspeeds of up to 134 miles per hour and a storm surge of 8-10 feet.

“These fish are resilient and productive, even in the face of such a huge storm,” Biggs said. “On land, it was complete destruction, but these fish didn’t seem disturbed.”

Understanding the trout’s reproductive patterns and habitat needs is critical for the Texas coast, where sport fishing generates about $2 billion annually for the local economy, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The murky waters of the Gulf of Mexico can make tracking the seatrout difficult, so the scientists study spawning patterns and behavior by placing underwater microphones in known spawning locations and leaving them there to record what follows.

Seatrout are actually not trout but a type of drum fish, and males make a distinct pulsing noise when spawning. The sound allows researchers to map and observe changes at spawning sites — information that state and federal agencies can use to help maintain healthy, sustainable fisheries.

In reviewing recordings captured in 2017, the scientists were surprised to find that the fish were spawning every day during the spawning season. And when Hurricane Harvey hit, they were more surprised that the storm did not disrupt the spawning. The only difference was that immediately after the storm, the fish began spawning 2.5 hours early. Over the course of the five days after the storm, the spawning patterns returned to normal.

The time difference was possibly due to water temperature differences brought on by the storm, Biggs noted, as the temperature returned to normal at about the same rate as the spawning patterns.

“Seatrout are an important part of the ecosystem,” Biggs said. “They are one of the most popular recreational fish. They are a top predator in the estuary and a favorite food for dolphins.”

The data coming out of the hurricane is a bright spot for the Marine Science Institute, which had several other projects severely disrupted by Harvey. Most of the buildings on the campus were damaged, equipment worth millions of dollars was damaged or destroyed, and many experiments were lost or set back as a result of the storm.

Repairs continue on the MSI campus. The Estuarine Research Center, one of three main laboratory buildings, reopened for scientists and students in September. The campus is expected to partially reopen to the public in summer 2019.

Brad Erisman, an assistant professor of marine science based at UTMSI, and Susan K. Lowerre-Barbieri of the University of Florida contributed to the research. The research was funded by the Texas State Aquarium WCCR Fund; a Harvey Weil Sportsman Conservationist Award; a Mission-Aransas NERR Graduate Research Assistantship; the Jack and Valerie Guenther Foundation; and J. and T. King.

Chesapeake Dead Zone Holds Steady In 2018

 Bay Journal

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Photo by Dave Harp

 The Chesapeake Bay’s overall “dead zone” turned out to be average in size this year, but abnormal weather through spring and summer made for some extreme conditions along the way, according to reports from Maryland and Virginia.

Researchers with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science determined via a computer model that the total volume of “hypoxic” water in the Bay, with oxygen levels low enough to stress fish, crabs and shellfish, was on par this year with that of 2017, taking up about 7 percent of the mainstem Chesapeake.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, using water-quality data gathered in sampling cruises from June through September, reported similar findings for the Maryland portion of the Bay. The DNR said that 17 percent of its waters had low dissolved oxygen levels — which matched the long-term average from 1985 through 2017.

But the DNR also found that abnormally wet weather through the first nine months of this year caused the low-oxygen zone in Maryland to gyrate in size from above-average in spring to near-record size by late June. It then plummeted to a record low in late July as a result of strong winds, followed by a rebound to higher than average in August and near-record again by late September.

"It’s fascinating how the hypoxic volume was so low in late July and so high in early September, but overall the hypoxic volume was basically the same as last year," said Mary Friedrichs, a VIMS research associate professor who co-developed the dead zone model. Originally developed using federal funding, the 3-D, real-time model draws on 30 years of water-quality data collected by the Chesapeake Bay Program. Daily wind and river-flow information is also part of the calculation.

Scientists had predicted the dead or hypoxic zone would be higher than average this year, based on high spring flows from the Susquehanna. The river, which normally furnishes half of the Chesapeake’s freshwater, was expected to pump unusually large amounts of nutrients into the Bay. Those nutrients — nitrogen and phosphorus — feed algae blooms, which die and decay, consuming oxygen in the deeper waters in the process.

The dead zone grows in warm weather, which encourages algae growth, and the general lack of wind during summer usually prevents much mixing of relatively oxygen-rich surface waters with the oxygen-poor depths.

Maryland experienced double the normal amount of rainfall in May, which the DNR said likely brought additional nutrients and sediment into the Bay and accounted for the larger than average dead zone in June. July also brought massive rainstorms in the Maryland and Pennsylvania portions of the Chesapeake watershed, resulting in near-record freshwater flows. But the high flows were accompanied by sustained winds of 20 knots that mixed oxygen into the Bay’s depths, just before the late July sampling cruise found a record-low size dead zone.

Winds abated and river flows eased up in August, and the volume of low-oxygen water grew again and exceeded the long-term average by late in the month. By mid-September, the zone had reached near-record size, the DNR reported.

The DNR said the fluctuation shows how weather can influence short-term conditions. Long term, it added, the dead zone has been shrinking, which a 2011 study attributed at least partly to pollution reduction efforts. High river flows pumping extra nutrients into the Bay, as they did this year, can buck that trend, the department noted.

While the VIMS model indicates that the Baywide total amount of low-oxygen water for 2018 was similar to last year, Friedrichs said the seasonal patterns were clearly different this year.

Low-oxygen waters averaged about 7 percent of the Bay’s entire volume during summer, with hypoxia more pronounced in Maryland, affecting nearly a fifth of its waters. This year, though, the dead zone occupied 14.4 percent of the Bay’s mainstem waters on July 5, Friedrichs said, but by July 26 — just three weeks later — had fallen to 0.14 the of mainstem water.

Friedrichs noted that low-oxygen conditions generally started earlier and lasted longer than in recent years. Other research suggests climate change could make such early onsets of the dead zone more common, she said.

Eel Grass Project Shows Promise on Caloosahatchee River

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Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program

Efforts to restore lost seagrasses in the Caloosahatchee River are proving promising, with planting taking hold, growing and flowering. The toxic algae bloom prevented monitoring of the plantings for months; however, surveys of them last week revealed the following:

Site 1: (furthest downstream site): Eelgrass was observed in four of the five GrowSAV Herbivory Exclusion Devices The protective coverings were not removed during the initial inspection, but most likely has grazed upon grass inside as well.

Site 2 & 3: Eight of the ten planting sites had very dense Eelgrass! The grass is expanding outside of the GrowSAV Herbivory Exclusion Devices and flowering inside. A total of two flowers appeared to have been germinated and are producing seeds. It is believe that this is the first time in the 21st century where there has been seed pods growing in the lower river!

Site 4: The one planting site (of five total) where the GrowSAV Herbivory Exclusion Devices was secured to the bottom had eelgrass growing. The other four sites were compromised by grazers.

Site 5 (furthest upstream site): Sparse eelgrass was present, though this area appears to be negatively impacted by water depth and grazing from Blue Crabs.

"Making progress in restoring the seed source for the lost seagrass beds in the tidal Caloosahatchee is a tremendous achievement. Seagrasses are the base of our aquatic food chain, supporting everything from crabs to endangered manatees. Continuing this project to learn how and where we can replenish them will have a significant impact in improving our ability to restore water quality and the ecology in the area." said Jennifer Hecker, Executive Director of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.

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Water Resources Bill Goes To Trump With Big Win For Everglades Restoration

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From the Fishing Wire

Water infrastructure package with benefits for fish, wildlife, and the outdoor recreation economy heads to president’s desk with bipartisan support

In a 99-1 vote, senators acted overwhelmingly in support of water resources and sent landmark legislation to the president’s desk that would expedite restoration efforts in the Everglades. The “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018” (S. 3021) also takes important steps to advance nature-based infrastructure solutions—like restoring wetlands and dunes to reduce flood and storm damage—that are more cost-effective for the American taxpayer.

The House passed the bill unanimously last month.

“This is the biggest step forward for natural infrastructure that we’ve seen this Congress, and it builds on recent momentum to restore critical habitat and water quality in the Everglades,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “American sportsmen and women should be heartened to see this level of bipartisanship for conservation, especially at a moment in the political calendar when both sides typically retreat to their own corners. We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Barrasso, Sen. Carper, Rep. Shuster, and Rep. DeFazio.”

The legislation advances two critical projects that will improve clean water flows throughout South Florida and supports the development of technologies to reduce harmful algal blooms that infamously killed fish across the state this summer. It will also provide for more advanced research on preventing the spread of invasive species like Asian carp and zebra mussels, whose growing populations threaten many popular fishing destinations.

“Today is a great day for America’s Everglades and the people of Florida. Construction can now begin on a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that is vital to reconnecting the lake to the Florida Keys. The economic benefits of this project cannot be overstated, as Florida’s economy depends on clean water, thriving fisheries and a robust real estate market,” says Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.

Indeed, improving habitat and supporting predictable fishing opportunities will benefit Florida’s $2.9-billion recreational fishing industry.

“Passage of America’s Water Infrastructure Act is a monumental step in restoring the Everglades and providing clean water for Florida’s fisheries. This legislation is crucial to reducing the ongoing estuary discharges and algal blooms affecting the state, and we greatly appreciate the leadership of Florida’s Congressional Delegation in securing its passage. We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that sufficient funding is available to carry out the Act’s provisions,” says Kellie Ralston, Southeast Fisheries Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association.

The bill also greenlights a feasibility study for habitat restoration projects in the Lower Mississippi River region. These projects could produce multiple benefits for fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities across six states.

Another important provision of this legislation will help to give higher priority to natural and nature-based infrastructure solutions that reduce storm risks, enhance public safety, and conserve fish and wildlife habitat near Army Corps of Engineers project sites. Lawmakers supported requiring the Government Accountability Office to examine the costs and benefits that the Corps considers when authorizing projects. The current process likely underestimates the long-term cost savings of natural infrastructure projects, and bringing greater transparency to project deliberations is a positive step toward righting this imbalance.

Saltwater Fly Fishing History Exhibit On The Road

On Fly in the Salt: American Saltwater Fly Fishing from the Surf to the Flats

The American Museum of Fly Fishing exhibit On Fly in the Salt: American Saltwater Fly Fishing from the Surf to the Flats, is going on the road. It travels to the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, VA (10/12/18-3/3/19), the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, CT (5/6/19 – 10/13/19) and the Florida Keys History and Discovery Center in Islamorada, FL (11/10/19 – 2/29/20).

“There has never been a single exhibition that has compiled the comprehensive history of saltwater fly fishing,” says AMFF Executive Director Sarah Foster. “Since its early beginnings the saltwater discipline has graphed a continuing upward climb in popularity. In terms of new techniques, tackle development, cultivation of new fishing grounds, and advancements in biological and environmental knowledge, this branch of the sport may be unequalled in the overall history of fly fishing, and we are excited to bring this story to life through this exhibition”.

On Fly in the Salt: American Saltwater Fly Fishing from the Surf to the Flats traces the sport’s progress through interpretive display cases containing artifacts from the outstanding collection of the American Museum of Fly Fishing. Flies, reels, historical photographs, paintings along with an interactive video component containing interviews with some of saltwater fly fishing’s greatest legends illuminate the history of a pursuit that serves up a potpourri of mental and physical challenges that engender sheer, primal excitement for participants that navigate the glassy mosaics of clear water flats and the fierceness of the open ocean.

The exhibition timeline charts the sport in America from the late eighteenth century, with a nineteenth-century surge of literary accounts of adventurers seeking an ever-increasing variety of fascinating fish. In the 1920s and into the 1930s and 1940s pioneers like Tom Loving (Chesapeake Bay), Homer Rhodes (Everglades), and Harold

Gibbs (New England) were beginning to attract the attention of inquisitive anglers. These groundbreaking fly fishers began their own explorations, bringing tackle designed for trout and salmon to the saltwater bays, estuaries, surf, and even deeper marine zones. It is their work, along with technological advances, that led to the near-explosive development of the sport from the late 1950s through the 1970s, sometimes referred to as saltwater fly fishing’s golden decades.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, the saltwater angling community turned its attention to the fisheries and their environment. Earlier human observations documented the decline of some fish species, and these observations led to the formation of conservation organizations that used scientific techniques to confirm these interpretations and to make direct links between the environment, the actions of mankind, and the state of the fisheries.

The American Museum of Fly Fishing was founded in 1968 by a group of passionate anglers who wanted to ensure that the history of fly fishing was preserved as an important part of America’s culture, industry, and history. In the years since its formation, the Museum has collected, preserved, researched, and exhibited the world’s largest collection of angling artifacts and the world’s largest reference library of fly-fishing publications. AMFF is proud to trace the evolution of American saltwater fly fishing with this landmark exhibit.

The American Museum of Fly Fishing is open from 10AM – 4 PM, Tuesday – Sunday from May through October and Tuesday – Saturday from November through June. In celebration of its 50th Anniversary, admission is free on Fridays in 2018.

Orvis-Endorsed Saltwater Fly Fishing Schools In Sarasota, Florida

 

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CB’s Saltwater Outfitters, 1249 Stickney Point Rd, Sarasota, FL has announced dates for their Orvis-Endorsed fly fishing schools for the upcoming fall through spring timeframe; Nov 17, 2018 and Jan 19, Feb. 23, Mar. 16, and Apr 13, 2019. Located on Siesta Key, named Best Beach in America, the schools will cover fly casting basics, line control, shooting line and the roll cast. Instructors, Capt. Rick Grassett and Capt. Ed Hurst, will also cover leader construction, fly selection and saltwater fly fishing techniques. The course, designed for beginning and intermediate fly casters, will focus on basics but also work with intermediate casters on correcting faults and improving casting skills. Cost for the schools, which will run from 8:30 AM to 2 PM, is $195 per person and includes the use of Orvis fly tackle and lunch. Contact CB’s Saltwater Outfitters at (941) 349-4400 or info@cbsoutfitters.com to make reservations.

Bahamas Creek Restoration Assisted By Bonefish Tarpon And Trust

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In collaboration with Bahamas National Trust and the local community in the East End. Grand Bahama Island, The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust has begun restoration of August Creek, blocked by a logging road since the 1950s. This restoration project is the first BTT has undertaken as part of its Bahamas Initiative, a nationwide collaborative effort to conserve the flats fishery. BTT designed a plan to reopen the creek and hired a local contractor to cut three strategic passes through the road. Almost immediately after the passes were completed, several species of fish, including bonefish, began utilizing the newly available habitat.

“Members of the East End fishing community have long lamented the loss of the upper reaches of August Creek,” said BTT’s Director of Science and Conservation Dr. Aaron Adams. “This strong local support made it easy to focus on this site as the first habitat restoration project. And, importantly, from an evaluation perspective, our research partners have data from this site prior to restoration. So as we gather data in the coming months, we’ll be able to evaluate the effectiveness of the project.”

BTT expanded its Bahamas Initiative this year to include a creek restoration component, which seeks to reconnect fragmented mangrove creek systems and restore both tidal flow and fish passage. Mangrove creek systems throughout The Bahamas have been impacted by past development, especially roads, reducing healthy habitat for bonefish. By restoring these fragmented systems, bonefish and other flats species will have greater access to healthy habitat.

“We appreciate our long and productive relationship with Bahamas National Trust and other partners who are concerned about conserving habitats so critical to the fishery,” said Jim McDuffie, BTT’s President and CEO. “This project, which follows years of collaboration aimed at protecting important bonefish habitats, extends our joint efforts to include restoration. This comprehensive focus on habitat bodes well for the future of the flats fishery in the Bahamas.”

With the first restoration project complete, BTT will begin the process of planning and fundraising for restoration on other creeks, contingent upon approval by The Bahamas.