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Great Lakes 'Awash in Plastic'

NOAA photo

At least three of the five Great Lakes “are awash in plastic,” according to Scientific American.

Make that micro plastic, which mostly consists of tiny beads often used as abrasives in personal care products.

 The big questions now are what effects these tiny pieces of pollution are having. The plastic itself could be harmful when ingested, but it also adsorbs chemicals, some of them toxic. That means the health of both fish and the humans that eat them could be at risk.

  “We don’t know what’s going on yet with the fish or the organisms eating the plastic with these pollutants in the Great Lakes,” said Lorena Rios, a chemist with the University of Wisconsin-Superior. “I plan to study whether the endocrine system of the fish is damaged and whether the problem stops there or moves up the food chain in harmful amounts all the way to humans.”

 During 2012, Rios and other researchers found 1,500 to 1.7 million plastic particles per square mile in Lakes Superior, Erie, and Huron. About 85 percent of that was micro plastics, with pieces averaging less than one millimeter in diameter. With more people and industry around it, Erie, not surprisingly, had the highest density.

 Rios didn’t find any plastic in the fish samples that she tested, which were all from Superior. But the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has found plastic in Lake Erie yellow perch during ongoing diet-analysis studies, and is sending samples to the chemist for analysis.

Researchers decided to look at the Great Lakes because micro plastics also are commonly found suspended in ocean waters. That marine pollution already has prompted some companies to announce they will phase out micro beads from their products.


Escape the Cold, Catch a Tarpon in Belize

(Much of the country is in the deep freeze. Where I live, we had 10 inches of snow yesterday and today's expected high temperature is zero. With that in mind, I thought that Activist Angler readers might enjoy a vicarious trip to the tropics, specifically Belize. I fished there a few years ago, and this is a variation of the article that I wrote about the trip for Stratos Magazine.)

“It’s going to take some plain, dumb luck for us to catch a tarpon,” says Dave, my fishing buddy.

Dave is infamous in angling circles as “Senor Suerte”--- Mr. Lucky. But his “luck” closely relates to his skills; he could pull a halibut out of a rain barrel.

If Dave’s not optimistic, I know that we’re in trouble. And we have just one afternoon left out of five days fishing from historic Belize River Lodge (BRL).

Blind casting, we’ve managed to hook and jump 10 tarpon as we fish the flats, mangroves, channels, and river. But we’ve yet to see one roll, and persistent winds, along with frequent showers, have made sight casting all but impossible along the mangrove edges.

Now, though, the wind has died, and the late afternoon sun is chasing the last gray clouds from a cerulean sky. Roseate spoonbills wade nearby, flashing brilliant pink plumage. Guide Raul Navarrette poles our skiff into a 30-foot wide channel between two islands, where the water is flat and still.

“There! There!” he whispers excitedly, and sure enough, we see them. Twenty- to 30-pound tarpon hold along the edges of the mangroves, just waiting for baitfish--- or maybe our lures--- to swim by.

I defer to Senor Suerte. He’s much better at casting under low-hanging branches than I. He moves to the front deck and begins elegantly pitching a Yum Dinger soft jerkbait. The Silver Kings see the bait and grow excited. They dart and flash around it.

But they won’t take.

Raul poles delicately forward, pointing out more targets to Dave.

Wanting to stay well out of the way on this, our final opportunity to boat and photograph a tarpon, I step to the back of the 23-foot boat. I toss a red and white 52M Mirrolure into the deep water of the middle of the cut, well away from where Dave and Raul are at work.

As I work the lure back to the boat, though, my attention is with my friend, as he tempts and teases the tarpon. Suddenly a hard jolt nearly rips the rod from my hands. “Barracuda!” Raul yells from his higher vantage point. It fights hard, leaping and running and churning up the water all around us.

Barracuda is just one of many species swimming the coastal waters of Belize.

We boat and release the toothy critter and resume our quest. I cast once more from the back of the boat.

Wham! Another heavy hit, but this time the fish misses my bait. “Tarpon!” Raul says. “It was a tarpon. Cast again!”

Wham! A second strike and this time the fish goes airborne before I can put the steel into its tough jaw. We are devastated. Yet another narrow miss, as the sun grows ever lower.

The water settles and we pole on, with Dave sight casting to fish. I keep throwing from the back.

Wham! Could it be? Yes! This time the tarpon stays buttoned, as it tailwalks back and forth across the cut.

“Drop your rod! Drop your rod!” Raul cries. “Bowing to the king” is essential when a tarpon jumps, and, in the excitement, I had forgotten. I immediately comply, as the fish leaps three, four, five more times, its scales glittering like silver dollars in the afternoon glow.

Finally, it comes to the net and the camera. Mission accomplished, and, just as Dave had suspected, we needed “plain, dumb luck” on this thoroughly enjoyable, but difficult fishing trip. While Dave and Raul were working the fish the way that it is supposed to be done, I caught a tarpon where it was not supposed to be.

Had the weather been stable, even for just a day or two, we likely would have caught several tarpon and even more snook as we fished from the picturesque lodge that Mike Heusner and Marguerite Miles have owned for 25 years.

Tarpon are year-around residents here on the Caribbean coast, and typically the biggest draw, especially in early spring when the larger fish are in.

“By mid February, the big tarpon will start moving into the bay and river,” Navarrette says. “That’s when the water starts to clear and the bait moves in. The tarpon follow.

“Big tripletail of 25 to 30 pounds will come in too. You see them floating on their sides. They will hit both plugs and flies.”

Awhile back, three older men came to BRL, wanting to catch a 100-pound tarpon before they die, Heusner adds. “They all did it. It’s a very rewarding feeling to know that you’ve helped with that.”

Dave and I came wanting to catch smaller tarpon and snook on light tackle. Snook are common here too, with some approaching 20 pounds.

“You can catch them anytime, but November and December can be the best,” the guide says. “That’s when they start migrating down the coast.”

But only one snook was brought to our boat as well. Fortunately, other species were biting, as they almost always are. We boated plenty of bonefish, barracuda, ladyfish, and several species of snapper. I also wore out my arms catching a jack crevalle that probably weighed close to 20 pounds. It slammed a topwater bait in shallow water and proved as hard-fighting as any permit.

“With bonefish, all you need is good light to see them,” Navarrette says. “The wind is not an issue, except maybe for fly fishermen.”

The guide adds that tarpon are his favorite when he fishes for fun, but he usually goes after bonefish because they are plentiful and cooperative, either on fly or with jig. “If you can find bonefish, you usually will catch them,” he says. “Snook and tarpon don’t always bite when you find them.”

Belize River Lodge

Added Attractions 

“Even here, you can’t always have a good day of fishing,” says Miles. “But you can have a hot shower, a cool room, and a good meal when you get in.”

That’s especially true at BRL, just 425 miles south of Miami and 650 miles south of Houston, which is run more like an intimate bed and breakfast than a fishing camp. Up to 16 guests are accommodated in eight rooms spread among three buildings on the lushly tropical shoreline of the Belize Olde River. All guests gather in the main lodge, built of mahogany in 1960, for communal breakfasts and dinners. Before or after the latter, a comfortable screened porch provides the setting for sharing of drinks and fish stories, as well as tying of flies for the next day’s fishing.

“We’re rustic,” adds Miles. “And we were the first fishing lodge built in Belize.”

Miles is the guiding force behind some of the best meals you will find at any fishing lodge. Shrimp Creole, Chicken Imperial, and Key lime pie are among her specialties, but she has mastered enough recipes to offer new menus every day for 20 days.

“I try for something different every day,” she says. “But I try not to be too strange. We offer a mix of Belizean, American, and English cooking.

“And, no, I don’t serve iguana,” she says with a grin. “They are to look at and enjoy. They are Mike’s pets.”

Iguanas are NOT on the menu at Belize River Lodge

While Miles and her staff fill bellies with tasty food and limeade, a Belizean specialty, Heusner regales with tales, mostly of the fishy variety. There’s the sawfish story, the Jimmy Buffett story, the killer bee story, and the shark story, just to name a few.

“A shark attacked our guide Jose and bit his leg,” the congenial host remembers. “Eight years later, the scar on his leg got infected. His wife squeezed it with her fingers and a shark tooth popped out.”

Yes, sharks do swim these waters, as do crocodiles and manatees. In fact, this coastal area is rich with wildlife, from tiny bats and giant butterflies to gentle tapirs that wander into camp from time to time.

Up The River

Although most of the fishing is done out in the flats, mangroves, and channels, as well as along the reef, a side trip up the river and on into Black Creek is well worth the day that it requires.

Up and back, we see crocodiles, howler monkeys, toucans, brilliant blue morpho butterflies, and dozens upon dozens of giant iguanas. The male lizards sport bright breeding colors as they strut on open ground or sun themselves on branches.

We found this small crocodile waiting for us at the lodge's dock after a day's fishing.

In addition, we jump seven tarpon, getting two leaps out of most of them. Watching their acrobatics is the next best thing to bringing one to the boat.

“I’ve had 11 tarpon jump in my boat,” says Navarrette. “Some hit my shoulder, but no one was hurt. I’ve had even bigger ones jump in and out. They didn’t stay.”

Lots of non-fishing related side trips are available as well from BRL, which is just minutes from Belize City. Guests can tour the city and its famous zoo, as well as explore Maya ruins, snorkel a coral reef or go birding or horseback riding.

Additionally, guests can stay on a mother ship, instead of at the lodge. This allows anglers to visit a variety of areas up and down the Caribbean coast.

“For sheer beauty, variety of fishing grounds, and number of species, there aren’t many locations that rank as high as Belize,” says Heusner.

BRL guests agree. “We come to fish for the cubera snapper,” says Rand Saunders, who visits the lodge annually with his friend Bruce MacLear. “They share the same water with the snook and tarpon, which makes fishing for them even more fun.”

A big cubera, which could weigh 25 pounds or more, “is like a diesel when you hook him,” adds Saunders. “And you have only a second to get it right before he gets back into the mangroves on you.”

If you want to use spin and/or baitcasting tackle to battle any of these hard-fighting saltwater fish, you’d be wise to bring your own equipment. BRL has a limited amount available.

Dave and I found that G.Loomis 3-piece rods worked exceptionally well. Plus, they break down small enough to stow in a hard-bottom duffel bag. We used 6-9 Escape baitcasting rods and 7-6 GLX Mag-light Travel spin rods.

We caught bonefish and snappers on swimming jigs in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink, and brown. Spooks, Jumping Minnows, Rat-L-Traps, Mirrolures (52M and 65M), and Yum Dinger soft jerkbaits attracted the larger fish.

If you want your fish on fly, take 7- to 8-weight outfits for bonefish and 9- to 12-weight for tarpon, snook, permit, and barracuda. You’ll want floating line for the flats and mangroves and sink tips for the river. Make sure that you spool your reels with plenty of 20- or 30-pound backing.

You can tie or buy flies at BRL, or bring your own. Popular patterns include Cockroach and Red/White for tarpon, Deceivers and Clousers for snook and jacks, and Crazy Charlie, Gotcha, and Bonefish Slider for bonefish and permit.

Whatever species you pursue and however you want to catch it, you’ll find that the fish are but a part of what makes a stay at Belize River Lodge so enjoyable.


Why We Fish Continues to Please


Some great publicity and some more kind words recently for my new book, Why We Fish.

Here is a review at Michiana Outdoors News.

And following is the 27th five-star review at Amazon:

"Having been an avid bass fisherman for most of my life, and a member of BASS, I am very familiar with Robert Montgomery's conservation articles in BASS magazine and other outdoor publications. His name has always been synonymous with thoughtful advice on enjoying, protecting and educating this wonderful past time for future generations.

"His book, entitled Why We Fish, digs into the deeper reasons that we anglers enjoy spending so much time seeking our elusive prey, and hits the nail on the head. Through a series of short stories, Robert and his contributing writers, all give great insight.

"If you enjoyed fishing as a child but maybe have gone away from it, this book will bring back those wonderful memories. Or maybe you have never learned to fish, but wondered why some of your loved ones spend such long hours on the water in poor weather, this book will shed light for you. Perhaps you are an active fisherman like myself, but never stopped to consider why you really love the sport, or the impact of your actions on the the water, this book is meant for us as well.

"Great job, Robert, you are welcome in my boat anytime!"


Catching Fish Isn't the Only Reason . . .

Thanks to Louie Stout for his commentary about my new book, Why We Fish, in the South Bend Tribune. Here's an excerpt:

Have you ever paused before making that first cast at dawn, taken a deep breath as your eyes scan across the water and said to yourself, “this is why I fish!”

If not, I feel sorry for you.

There’s no better way to initiate a day on the water than putting it in proper perspective before you get at the business at hand. Sadly, most of us are too preoccupied with getting to our hot spot, tying on the right lure or bait and pursing our dream of having a “successful” day of catching fish.

Sure, catching fish is important. Those successes, regardless of how frequently they occur, are what motivates anglers to get up early, spend long days on the water and disregard any bad weather they encounter.

But when you get right down to it, catching fish isn’t the only reason we fish.

I also did a radio interview with Duran Martinez at Wild Michigan Outdoors Radio about the book which has 26 five-star reviews at Amazon. Don't know yet when it will air.


Asian Carp Adapt as They Spread East and 'Corps Clueless'

As if Asian carp weren’t a problem before, now they are adapting to become even more of a threat, according to a Purdue University researcher. In an editorial, meanwhile, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland calls the Corps "clueless" about how to stop the invaders. 

From research in the Wabash River (Indiana), Reuben Goforth said that he and his team have discovered that the gills of the invaders are growing stronger, allowing them to thrive in a greater variety of habitats.

“They are not tied to specific water levels like we thought they were,” he said.

Additionally, he revealed that they are spawning more prolifically. Previously, his students had found as many as 1,000 eggs during a five-minute net collection. But in June, they found 300,000 eggs in three minutes. Concurrently, anglers reported seeing a ¾-mile stretch from bank to bank exploding with spawning carp.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Goforth said. “Fish are doing things here that they haven’t in their native distribution, which frankly scares me.”

He added that the adaptations remind him of a line in the movie “Jurassic Park”: “If there’s anything that the history of evolution has taught us, it is that life will not be contained. Life breaks free and expands to new territories . . .”

Meanwhile, studies are underway to develop an Asian carp-specific toxin, which would not affect other species, according to John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

“It could be expensive, but it could be an effective tool in a small area,” he said.

Unless the carp adapt.

(This article appeared originally in B.A.S.S. Times.)