Keeping Up with The Angling Online

Turns out social media and Face Book in particular can provide more than just a way to keep up with what grandma is up to or a plethora of cat videos to watch. There are some FB sites that are quite useful to saltwater fly fishermen, too.

Down on the Gulf Coast the Texas Saltwater Fly Fishing page (facebook.com/groups/1619723661630709/?ref=bookmarks) provides information and fishing tips about the Lone Star State’s fishing. With 270 members the group can be quite useful in planning some fishing on the western Gulf Coast.                 

In Sunshine State the Florida Saltwater Fly Fishing Group page (facebook.com/groups/1514984708753492/) has 3,137 members that regularly offer details on fishing trips and conditions, plus gear and fly tying information

4.jpg

Conservation of South Florida’s Bonefish

5.jpg

From Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

When we think about promoting a healthy bonefish fishery we often turn our attention to protecting large schools of adult fish patrolling the flats. Often forgotten are the more vulnerable juvenile fish, those less than three inches long, that must survive a constant barrage from predators and a chaotic, rapidly changing environment. Nowhere are the challenges faced by juvenile bonefish more evident than in the Florida Keys.

Over the years we have seen a decline in the Florida Keys bonefish population, and an unusual absence of juveniles. The cause of this decline is still unknown, but it has coincided with changes to freshwater discharge in South Florida, increases in coastal development, and higher frequency of extreme weather events. These disturbances may be responsible for negatively impacting important nursery habitats and at least partially explain the bonefish population decline.

Nurseries are potentially the most important and complex habitats that a fish will occupy during its life. They provide protection from predators, abundant sources of food, and environmental conditions that allow for fast growth and an increased chance of survival. And since juvenile bonefish are too small to move to better habitats, taking the nursery habitat away is like pulling a table cloth out from under a castle of cards; the castle will fall.

BTT collaborating scientists have identified nursery habitats in the Bahamas, where thousands of juvenile bonefish are found in shallow, seagrass-free areas that are sheltered from strong waves. In the Keys, we have checked these types of habitats and have found only a handful of juveniles. Healthy juveniles are the future of the fishery, and we are teaming up with researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to figure out where juvenile bonefish are settling in the Florida Keys. Here is what we know so far about juvenile bonefish in the Keys:

1) Juvenile bonefish should be most prevalent in the early summer, following the winter through spring spawning season.

2) We recently learned that Bahamian juvenile bonefish use sandy or muddy bottoms with little wave action. Similar habitat in the Florida Keys is rare, and so far our sampling of these types of habitats has captured very few juvenile bonefish.

Identifying and protecting essential fish habitat is the first and most important step towards recovering the bonefish population in the Florida Keys. Once we identify bonefish nursery habitats, we can work with county, state, and federal managers to designate these habitats for protection. With a better understanding of the environmental characteristics that make for quality bonefish nurseries, we can work to restore degraded habitats, so they can become functional nurseries again. The future of the bonefish fishery may depend on the success of our habitat conservation efforts.

6.jpg

Carolina Beach Inlet Too Shallow For Safe Navigation

2.jpg

Channel surveys in 2019 show water depths in Carolina Beach Inlet channel are less than four feet in some areas, prompting the Coast Guard to remove aids to navigation that may mislead mariners.

On April 1, 2019, the Coast Guard will begin to temporarily discontinue 10 navigational aids in the inlet. The Army Corps of Engineers provided recent surveys, which expose significant shoaling between Buoy 1 (LLNR 30265) and Buoy 9 (LLNR 30305).

The buoys are intended to mark safe areas of passage with known depths. Leaving the buoys in place may lead mariners through an unsafe route. Boaters who choose to transit the inlet without buoys, do so at their own risk.

“The safety of mariners is our first priority,” said Cmdr. Heather Stratton, chief of prevention for Sector North Carolina. “Right now, the waterway is unsafe to navigate due to extreme shoaling and currents. Once it is safe to navigate the channel, we will reestablish the aids

Bonefish & Tarpon Trust Relocates Tarpon Ahead of Development

3.jpg

Recently, BTT was contacted by a group of concerned anglers regarding a development site in Tarpon Springs, FL that was inhabited by tarpon of all sizes. Most of these anglers had been fishing there for years, even decades. The water was being drained rapidly, which meant we had to act fast. After a few phone calls, we were able to contact the developer and their client to get permission to access the property and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) issued us a permit to relocate the fish.  After a grueling day of seining and cast-netting in the waist-deep mud and silt, we were able to relocate over 60 tarpon ranging from 12 to 40 inches. A huge success!  

This is not a typical practice for BTT, but it was an opportunity we couldn't pass up. Our studies in Southwest Florida are finding that tarpon in degraded habitats like these exhibit poor growth rates and can sometimes get trapped in these types of habitats that are hard to emigrate from once they get bigger. We are also finding that the majority of juvenile tarpon sites reported to us through our Juvenile Tarpon Habitat Mapping Project are in degraded habitats (golf course ponds, residential communities, mosquito impoundments). The misconception is that because tarpon are there, it must be good habitat. This is not always the case and does not bode well for the future of the tarpon fishery. This particular site had already been developed into a mobile home park, and with a lengthy culvert connection from the Gulf, could have trapped these tarpon for years. Relocation was the best chance for these fish to join the tarpon population.

We are very grateful for the site supervisor's constant communication and encouragement during this project. Because of the thick mud, we relied on the pumps to lower the water level so that we could more easily access the fish. A huge thanks to the anglers that have been watching this site for years and took immediate action. This would not have happened without your persistence and compassion. We'd also like to thank FWC for their swift action and the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center for use of their seine net

4.jpg

Maryland's Chesapeake Bay Sea Grass Exceeds 60,000 Acres

5.jpg

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources reports 2017 was the third consecutive record-breaking year for underwater grass abundance in Maryland’s portion of Chesapeake Bay.

An annual baywide survey showed 62,356 acres of underwater grasses were mapped in Maryland’s tidal waters, a 5 percent increase from 2016. This is the fifth straight year of expansion for Maryland’s underwater grasses, which surpassed the 2017 restoration goal of 57,000 acres in 2015 and continues to rise.

Baywide, the total acreage of underwater grasses exceeded 100,000 for the first time, reaching 104,843 acres?.

“The continued record growth of underwater grasses shows tremendous progress for Maryland and our partners in improving and restoring water quality throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “Knowing that the hard work by many Marylanders has gotten us here should provide the incentive to keep moving forward to a cleaner, healthier and more resilient bay.”

Underwater grasses respond quickly to improvements in water quality conditions, making them a critical indicator of restoration progress. Less nutrient pollution leads to improved water clarity, which in turn, allows for increased underwater grass growth. Also known as submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), underwater grasses are a critically important bay habitat that remove nutrients and sediment from the water column, reduce shoreline erosion, provide nursery habitat and protection for species like the blue crab and largemouth bass, and support and sustain migrating waterfowl.

“It’s exciting to witness this historic recovery of grasses in the bay,” said Brooke Landry, underwater grass biologist with the department who chairs the Chesapeake Bay Program’s SAV Workgroup. “Maryland’s commitment to improving the bay’s water quality is clearly paying off and it provides such a good example of what we can achieve with sustained efforts to reach our goals. While we’re only a bit over halfway to our ultimate restoration goal, we have surpassed our 2017 goal two years early and are on track to meet our 2025 goal.”

In Maryland, all or part of nine rivers surpassed their restoration goals. These included the Big Annemessex River at 155 percent; Chesapeake and Delaware Canal at 255 percent; the tidal fresh portion of the Chester River at 40,996 percent (the percent of the goal attained is so high due to a very small segment restoration goal); the Elk River at 113 percent; Fishing Bay at 186 percent; the Gunpowder River at 140 percent; the Manokin River at 168 percent; and the Northeast River at 113 percent. The mouth of the Choptank River reached 106 percent of its restoration goal in 2017, exceeding the goal for the first time since 1984.

An additional five river segments in Maryland reached 75 percent or more of their restoration goals. In the lower Nanticoke River, underwater grass was observed for the first time since the survey began in 1984.

The rise in underwater grass is attributed not only to a continued expansion of widgeon grass in the moderately salty mid-bay region, but to an expansion of freshwater grasses, like wild celery that grow in the upper reaches of rivers and tidal fresh portions of the bay. Maryland’s biggest and most iconic underwater grass bed, located in the Susquehanna Flats, has been steadily recovering since 2012, when grass beds were significantly reduced from high flows related to Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, and reached more than 6,100 acres (9.5 square miles) in 2017, showcasing the bed’s continued resilience.

The annual aerial survey was conducted by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science between May and November 2017 and covered 189 flight lines. The aerial imagery is used to identify the amount and location of underwater grasses in the Chesapeake Bay and tidal tributaries. For the first time in years, there were no air space restrictions or weather constraints, so a complete survey of the entire bay was conducted.

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.

 

red tide.jpg

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.