My Facebook pages

Robert Montgomery

Why We Fish

Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies

Pippa's Canine Corner 

 

 

Loading..
Loading..
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Loading..
Loading..
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Loading..
Loading..
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Loading..
Loading..
(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});
Get Updates! and Search
No RSS feeds have been linked to this section.

 

 

 

 

Entries in Florida (206)

Friday
Mar242017

Fisheries Are Changing Along With Climate

As climate warms, snook have joined bass in Florida's Crystal River.Out on the water, biologists observe the effects of climate change on fisheries. At conferences, they talk about its implications.  For example, at an annual meeting of the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society, concerns about its effects were discussed in at least seven presentations, several of them involving bass.

One abstract summarized this way: “Climate change is thought to be a leading driver in the erosion of biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability at all scales.”

Yet, some anglers deny the reality of climate change, and I speak from personal experience in saying that. I’ve met them.

So have the biologists. “When I explain what is happening (to fishermen), I have to tip toe all around the reasons for change,” says one.

Why is that?

Certainly a number of them do not believe.  But for most, I think that refusal to accept reality has more to do with blind rejection of what they view as the “party line” for environmentalists. And I can relate to that argument.

Much of the “green” agenda  is anti-fishing, as typified by attempts to ban lead fishing tackle, and campaigns to create “protected areas,” where recreational fishing would not be allowed. Let’s not forget, either, an adjunct of that, the animal rights movement, which now wants to use drones to stalk and harass hunters and fishermen.

But what anglers with tunnel vision fail to see is that enviros are beating the drum to end “manmade” climate change. Questioning the validity of that argument is where fishermen should make their case, not denying that the climate changes and, in so doing, affects fisheries.

Of course climate changes. It’s a dynamic force.

More than a century ago, Mark Twain reputedly said, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.” The reality, though, is that’s the case, no matter where you live. As fronts move in and out, weather changes --- by the minute, by the hour, by the day. And just as it evolves over these short periods, it changes during longer stretches of time as well --- by the year, by the decade, by the century.

“When we talk about climate change, we talk about changes in long-term averages of daily weather,” says the National Atmospheric and Space Administration.

Anglers who deny this fact of life damage our reputation as conservationists, and alienate some of our closest allies, the biologists. Instead of being supporters of enlightened management to sustain fisheries, they become barriers.

Most importantly, in rejecting climate change, they are disputing the idea that changes occur naturally in fisheries, changes for which there are no “solutions.”    

Still not convinced? Just look to the north and south, the front lines for fisheries altered by climate change.

In Florida, milder winters have allowed snook to move up the Gulf Coast. Eight years ago, the saltwater predator was an infrequent visitor to Crystal River. Now it seems to be a firmly established resident --- and a competitor with bass for forage and habitat. Long-time angler Matt Beck says that it’s not uncommon to catch more snook than bass when fishing for the latter. “Today, snook in the 20- to 35-pound range are caught on a regular basis,” he adds.

Florida biologist Allen Martin says the state has no data on the river’s bass population, but he doesn’t doubt Beck’s observation.

“With mild winters, snook have moved as far north as the Suwannee, about 100 miles to the north,” says the biologist, adding that degraded habitat and increased salinity because of lower flows of springs likely have contributed to changes as well.

“Peacock bass, armored catfish, and tilapia moved farther northern too,” he adds. “A couple of cold winters knocked them back, but they probably will start moving north again.”

Meanwhile, water temperatures have been warming for 47 years on New York’s Oneida Lake, a benefit for bass.

“It’s been particularly pronounced since the 1980s, when smallmouth bass really started to take off,” says Randy Jackson, a biologist with the Cornell Biological Field Station on the lake. “At Lake Erie, there’s a strong correlation too.”

Anecdotal evidence also suggests that largemouth bass, bowfin, longnose gar, and gizzard shad also are profiting from warmer weather, he adds. Concurrently, the cold-water burbot, on the southern end of its range, is declining.

“This is all consistent with what people are predicting,” he says. “No one can argue than we have warmer lakes than we did 40 years ago.”

I wish that were true, especially among anglers.

Friday
Mar102017

Apopka Fishery Improves With Removal of Gizzard Shad, Bass Stocking

 

The water in Lake Apopka remains pea-soup green, a sign that long-term restoration of the once world-class fishery still has a ways to go. But water quality is improving, as evidenced by the fact that Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation felt confident enough to stock one million largemouth bass there last fall (See related article below.)  

One of the reasons that water quality is improving is the commercial harvest of gizzard shad, a joint venture by the St. Johns Water Management District (SJWMD) and local businesses. Shad feed on algae, which thrives in the lake because of its high nutrient load and, as they do, they absorb nitrogen and phosphorus. If they were left in the lake, water quality wouldn't get any better, as the forage fish simply recycled the nutrients with their wastes. Additionally, the fish stir up the sediment as they feed, further preventing penetration of sunlight, which is necessary for beneficial plants to grow.

But take out a million pounds of shad a year and you also remove 8,000 pounds of phosphorus. And that's just what the program has been doing since 1993, with the most recent harvest season ending in January.

"The lake has really rebounded remarkably," said Dean Dobberfuhl, a SJWMD bureau chief. "In terms of a restoration technique, it's very cheap."

The district estimates that nearly 25 million pounds of gizzard shad have been removed from Lake Apopka since the early 1990s. Combined with other efforts, including restoration of wetlands for filtering, the program has reduced nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the lake by more than half.

And as the shad are removed, plants such as eel grass are returning. Submerged plants were nonexistent in the late 1990s, but covered 48 acres by 2015, according to SJWMD. That's not much for a healthy 31,000-acre natural lake. But it's great news for Apopka, which was a world-class fishery before its demise decades ago, caused mostly by runoff pollution from farms established in what was once about 20,000 acres of wetlands along the lake's north shore.

Additionally, nearby towns contributed to the problem by discharging wastewater into the lake, as did citrus processing plants.

*     *     *     *

With recent stocking of one million largemouth bass, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues its decades long efforts to restore Lake Apopka as a sport fishery.

"The FWC’s Richloam Fish Hatchery staff spawned the genetically pure Florida largemouth bass at two separate times a year, instead of just once, specifically for Lake Apopka," the agency said.

"Pure Florida largemouth bass tend to grow bigger than other species found in other parts of the country. Stocking the lake earlier than usual ensures that larger bass are going into the lake, which allows them a better chance of survival, as there is a more abundant food source available."

Fifty years ago, the 31,000-acre lake was considered one of the nation's best bass fisheries. But municipal and agricultural pollution, along with muck farming that destroyed much of the lake's filtering system, sent it into steep decline.  Still today, it has a large organic sediment layer, dense algae blooms, and limited plant growth.

But significant strides have been made to improve water quality, including a marsh flow-way system, restoration of wetlands, and a commercial gizzard shad harvest program  that helps limit re-suspension of phosphorus from bottom sediments. Additionally, the Florida Legislature appropriated $4.8 million in 2012 for re-establishing beneficial aquatic plants and placing brush attractors, as well as dredging of access channels and bank fishing sites.

“It’s going to be important to get the fishery back. That was the original fame of Apopka,” said Jim Thomas, a member of Friends of Lake Apopka (FOLA). “I used to come here when I was 10 years old to fish in Lake Apopka. It’s been pretty amazing to remember how great it was and then see how terrible it was."

Since the early 1990s, FOLA has been dedicated to educating the public about Apopka's plight and generating support for restoration and conservation of Florida's third largest lake.

Monday
Mar062017

Okeechobee Bass Fishery Thrives as Debate Rages About Discharges

Debate rages about what to do with excess water from Lake Okeechobee. Laden with nutrients, it feeds algae blooms and kills fish when discharged by the Corps of Engineers into coastal waters on both sides of southern Florida

But what about bass in the Big O? They're an integral part of a recreational fishery worth about $49 million to counties surrounding the 448,000-acre lake that is half the size of the state of Rhode Island.

"This is an iconic fishery, and yet all you hear about are the massive discharges and the algae blooms. You don't hear about the lake itself, other than it is the source," said Gene Gilliland, B.A.S.S. National Conservation Director.

Not to worry.

"They're doing great," said Andrea Dominguez, fisheries biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).  "We're doing a survey now (early December) and are seeing a lot of fish over 16 inches, and a couple above 24.

"People are happy. They're catching fish, especially on the north end of the lake," she added. "Bass are healthy and growing."

But sadly for coastal fisheries and residents alike, the lake's eutrophic water must be channeled east and west when it rises too high, both to keep the 70-year-old dyke from being breached and prevent drowning of the marshes, which are key not just for the health of the fishery, but the entire Okeechobee ecosystem. Before the dyke was built and the Big O altered from a natural lake to a hybrid impoundment, high water flowed south. It replenished the Everglades, which absorbed most of the nutrients, before sending the water on to vitalize Florida Bay.

The dyke was built to protect towns and farms south of the lake, following major hurricanes that struck South Florida during the 1920s, causing massive flooding and killing nearly 2,000. Additionally, the Corps installed water control structures to direct water via canals into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

With the lake walled off, much of the land around it was converted to agricultural use, with dairy farms and beef cattle ranching to the north and sugar cane and vegetable farming to the south. These added to the nutrient load of nitrogen and phosphorus already flowing into the Big O from the Kissimmee River watershed and developed areas to the north.

For decades runoff pollution has been a concern, both for the lake and the estuaries. But exceptionally high water, starting in January, forced heavier and more frequent discharges than normal, decimating the estuaries and garnering most of the headlines. In fact, an algae bloom covered 33 square miles  in the southern portion of the lake during May, no doubt nourished by that same high water.

Algae blooms occur regularly in many of Florida's southern freshwater fisheries, but usually they appear later in the year, when the water is warmer. "They are very difficult to predict," said Terrie Bates of the South Florida Water Management District. "They move with the wind. They can form and dissipate in a week's time."  

Fortunately, the Big O has proven resilient, thanks to its abundant aquatic vegetation, especially the fringe of bulrush on the lakeward side. It not only provides beneficial habitat directly, but helps dissipate wind and wave energy, allowing eel grass, spike rush, and pepper grass to grow in interior areas of the marsh.

And thanks to Corps discharges of dangerously high water.

"Excessive stages destroy this outer bulrush wall, which is then followed by damage to the interior marsh," said Amber Nabors, FWC's communications and marketing manager.  

"FWC puts high priority on efforts to maintain a healthy diversity, abundance, and distribution of aquatic vegetation in the lake to support the abundant fish and wildlife resources there.  We do this with both direct management actions and by closely working with partner agencies to influence water level management to include fish and wildlife benefits."

Those management actions include scraping, planting, and targeted herbicide treatments, as well as occasional burnings.

"We want the correct plants," said Dominguez. "We don't want stands of cattails to get too big, because we want the bulrush to grow."

Water hyacinths and water lettuce also are especially problematic because they grow so quickly and block waterways. The latter can be a problem both for navigation and for sustaining flow, which is critical for maintaining water quality.

High water and blocked flow are an especially lethal combination, as plants die and decompose, burning up dissolved oxygen in the water and releasing a "sewer gas" smell into the air. "It happens sometimes back in the marshes," said Sam Griffin, who grew up on the lake and guided for decades there. "When it does, the fish go around it to get back in the marshes to spawn."

Dominquez added, "We want to keep the waterways clear and we don't want just one plant (species). We want diversity, not monoculture."

Ideally, she explained, fall water levels will be high enough to allow bass to migrate back into the marsh. From winter into spring, they will recede, with stability during the summer, when fish can move out into the lake for refuge in cooler water if necessary.

Of course, storms and heavy rains in 2016 forced the Corps to intercede more than it does during a typical year. "Without those discharges, the vegetation would have been smothered," the biologist added.

Knowing the importance of Okeechobee's sport fishery and its ecosystem in general, FWC biologists talk weekly with the Corps, providing their opinions on what's best in terms of water levels, Dominguez explained. "We advocate if we see a need."

Nabors added, "FWC doesn’t only manage for fish, but also waterfowl, wading birds, alligators, and other species."

Additionally, FWC has an intra-agency team working on Okeechobee/Everglades issues, as the ecological disasters on both coasts during 2016 forced both federal and state officials to accelerate the search for a solution to the lake's high water. Should flow be restored to the south? Should reservoirs be built north or south of the lake to store excess water?

What can be done to lessen the nutrient load from agriculture and upstream development?

The target phosphorus level for Okeechobee is 105 metric tons annually. In 2015, it was 450. About 37 percent of that came from land that drains into the Kissimmee River, according to the South Florida Water Management District. Sources include citrus groves, dairy farms, and neighborhoods as far north as the Orlando suburbs.

Whatever the solution, FWC intends to make certain that it will not negatively impact the Big O and its world-class bass fishery.

"All of the efforts in Everglades restoration, including reservoirs, water management north of the lake, discharges, and moving more water south, should ultimately allow flexibility and better management of the lake for ecological benefits, including sportfish management," said Nabors. 

(This article appeared originally in Bassmaster Magazine.)

Monday
Feb132017

Young Angler Chases 'Bucket List' of 71 Species

 

At just age 11, Tristan Hill already has a "bucket list." That's what he calls the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Saltwater Fish Life List. His goal is to catch all 71 species,  and he is already off to a great start.

Last fall, Tristan submitted photos of himself with 10 of the species on the list, allowing him to join the first tier of the Saltwater Fish Life List Club rewards program. He received a T-shirt and certificate for his efforts.

For Tristan though, participating is about more than earning prizes and recognition.

“I hate seeing fish wasted. When I saw my first fish, it was gorgeous and my mind was blown,” said Tristan. “I don’t think I can give up on that. I think it would be amazing to catch all of them with my family.”

Tristan caught his first fish when he was 2 ½ years old in Fairbanks, Alaska. Living in Colorado at the time, his father, Josh, noticed that when Tristan wasn’t fishing, he just wasn’t happy. So Josh took matters into his own hands and began looking for a job near the water.

The family of four, including Tristan’s little sister, moved to the Florida Keys in June 2016, purchased a boat and Josh began working at Lower Keys Tackle in an effort to learn more about the sport his son had taken such an interest in. Shortly afterward, they found out about the FWC’s Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs via Facebook.

“Tristan has a love and respect for fish, and is very passionate about them,” said his father. “He is the real deal. He is a master of fishing.”

Today, they fish every chance they get, and Tristan continues to mark fish off his list.

“It is way more fun than video games, and it is free food right off the water,” Tristan said.

So far, he has caught a bonnethead shark, blue runner, black grouper, white grunt, cero,   great barracuda,  tarpon, and reef shark, as well as gray, lane, yellowtail and mutton snapper.

FWC hopes you will join Tristan in participating in not only the Life List, but also two other Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs: Saltwater Reel Big Fish, which celebrates memorable-sized catches, and Saltwater Grand Slams, which awards anglers for catching three different specified fish species within a 24-hour period.

You can keep track of Tristan’s pursuits on his Facebook page or at the Catch a Florida Memory Facebook page.      

Friday
Jan062017

Restoration of Lake Apopka Continues With Stocking

With recent stocking of one million largemouth bass, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues its decades long efforts to restore Lake Apopka as a sport fishery.

"The FWC’s Richloam Fish Hatchery staff spawned the genetically pure Florida largemouth bass at two separate times a year, instead of just once, specifically for Lake Apopka," the agency said.

"Pure Florida largemouth bass tend to grow bigger than other species found in other parts of the country. Stocking the lake earlier than usual ensures that larger bass are going into the lake, which allows them a better chance of survival, as there is a more abundant food source available."

Fifty years ago, the 31,000-acre lake was considered one of the nation's best bass fisheries. But municipal and agricultural pollution, along with muck farming that destroyed much of the lake's filtering system, sent it into steep decline.  Still today, it has a large organic sediment layer, dense algae blooms, and limited plant growth.

But significant strides have been made to improve water quality, including a marsh flow-way system, restoration of wetlands, and a commercial gizzard shad harvest program  that helps limit re-suspension of phosphorus from bottom sediments. Additionally, the Florida Legislature appropriated $4.8 million in 2012 for re-establishing beneficial aquatic plants and placing brush attractors, as well as dredging of access channels and bank fishing sites.

Since the early 1990s, FOLA has been dedicated to educating the public about Apopka's plight and generating support for restoration and conservation of Florida's third largest lake.