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Entries in Florida (135)

Thursday
Apr022015

Jacksonville Extorted to Join Campaign to Destroy Rodman

Several years after I became a conservation writer for B.A.S.S., the Rodman debate prompted me to question some environmental groups and their causes. As I did so, I realized that facts mean more than ideology for me, and that the facts supported not destroying the impoundment on the Ocklawaha River.

Two decades later, those facts tell me the same thing:

Florida’s Rodman Reservoir is a world-class fishery, a popular recreation area, a wetlands-rich ecosystem, and an invaluable water storage basin in a state that shows no sign of slowing growth. But for the environmentalists, ideology continues to trump reality. That ideology holds that man is not a part of nature and anything that he does defiles it.

Many times, the latter is true. But Rodman is the exception that makes the rule, as man’s meddling combined with Florida’s unique topography and climate to create a resource richer and more diverse than the river above and below it. Environmentalists, however, refuse to acknowledge the value of this 9,000-acre remnant from an ill-conceived canal project that was cancelled 50 years ago. They want it gone. Period.

Their latest effort involves extorting the City of Jacksonville to join them in their quixotic quest. For economic gain, the city’s leaders want to dredge the lower St. Johns River so that the port can accommodate larger mega-container ships coming through the Panama Canal. The St. Johns Riverkeeper threatened to sue to stop the dredging unless . . . .

That’s right, unless Jacksonville gets on board with the mission to destroy the reservoir on the upstream tributary of the St. Johns, 60 miles away, the Riverkeeper will oppose the project. Of course, the city has absolutely nothing to do with the reservoir or its management. Its value lies in its lobbying power in the Florida Legislature, which has steadfastly refused to authorize destruction of the fishery.

The argument for this unholy alliance is that taking out the dam at Rodman will somehow mitigate the damage done to the lower St. Johns by dredging. The hypocrisy is staggering. But the tactics of environmental zealots no longer surprise me. They pursue their causes with religious fervor and nothing --- not facts, not common sense, not popular opinion --- will deter them in their mission, whether it is to create no-fishing zones in our oceans, stop fracking, or destroy Rodman Reservoir.

"Make no mistake, when our economic development team is trying to recruit businesses to come here, they are selling the quality of life in Northeast Florida," said Daniel Davis, president and CEO of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. "The St. Johns River is key to that quality of life and we need to pull together to protect it. The business community now is fully a partner in this effort to clean and protect the St Johns River."

Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, meanwhile, added that the millions of gallons of water that would flow into the river once the dam is breached will mitigate the decreased water quality and other aquatic impact of dredging the ship channel from 40 to 47 feet.

"For nearly three years, we have worked diligently to protect the St. Johns River from the inherent risks of dredging," she said. "This unique partnership creates a new opportunity to fortify our river. While restoring the Ocklawaha will not address all of the dredging impacts, it would provide significant ecological benefits to the St. Johns."

Even the Times-Union newspaper joined in the misinformation campaign, editorializing that, by taking down the dam, “the water level would drop and a total of 20 springs stopped up by the reservoir would flow again. Also, wetlands would be restored.”

The truth is that no springs are stopped by the reservoir, nor is the Ocklawaha prevented from discharging into the St. Johns. The dam simply regulates flow. Blowing it out would result in a huge, but brief slug of water cascading downstream. After that, flow would return to essentially what it is now. Long-term effect would be minimal at the mouth, where the dredging would occur.

Additionally, far more wetlands would be destroyed than restored, as would fish and wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, and millions of dollars in economic benefits annually to the communities near Rodman.

Of course, all of these mean nothing to the true believers because they are the ill-gotten by-products of man’s defilement of nature.

Still, I suspect that this gambit will be no more successful than previous attempts to destroy Rodman, thus negating the agreement. And, if that is the case, I’m really looking forward to seeing what the Riverkeeper has to say about the city’s plan to dredge. 

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

Sunday
Mar082015

'Environmental Extortion' Used in Attempt to Destroy Rodman Reservoir

 

Over the years, environmental groups have tried many tactics to destroy Rodman Reservoir, a world-class bass fishery and popular outdoor recreation area in Florida.

Their latest, however, arguably is the most creative. They have enlisted the aid of the Jacksonville business community to help them put pressure on Florida’s legislature to remove the dam on the Ocklawaha River, a tributary of the St. Johns.

Terms of their odd-couple alliance do not sit well with many, including Save Rodman Reservoir (SRR), which accuses the St. Johns Riverkeeper of using the 9,000-acre impoundment in Putnam County as ransom.

SRR spokesman Kae Andry said, “It is also very troubling and inexcusable that no one in the Putnam County Commission or Putnam County Chamber of Commerce was included in the discussions that led to this coalition of business and environmentalists. Do Palatka and Putnam County not count because they are poor?”

Veteran outdoor writer and Jacksonville resident Bob McNally added this at Jacksonville.com:

“To me, this type of political deal-making is nothing short of environmental extortion, using Rodman Reservoir as a pawn to appease those who want the dam removed, while business and political forces get their way by dredging the lower river from 40 to 47 feet.”

Business interests in Jacksonville want that dredging done so that the city’s port can accommodate new and larger mega-container ships coming through the Panama Canal. The Riverkeeper, however, threatened to sue to prevent the dredging because of environmental concerns.

Discussions followed, and the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Jacksonville Port Authority, and the City of Jacksonville agreed to work with environmentalists to destroy Rodman in exchange for a go-head on dredging. In other words, taking out the impoundment will be “mitigation” for the damage done on the lower river.

One of the first to sound the alarm about this new threat was Roger Weaver, president of the Jacksonville Johns Bass Trail, a club for jon boats only. He and his members made phone calls and sent e-mails sounding the alarm, including to SRR and B.A.S.S.

“We also went to the Rally for Rodman at the dam,” he said. “And we are putting on a tournament at Kenwood boat ramp on Feb. 15, with 80 percent as prize money and 20 percent going directly to Save Rodman.”

Additionally, the 19th annual Ed Taylor SRR Bass Tournament is set for April 18 at Kenwood Landing, and, with this new attack on Rodman, robust attendance is critical for this annual fund-raiser.

The tournament is named in honor of SRR’s long-time leader, who died in late 2013. Larry Harvey, the new president admits that filling Taylor’s shoes as Rodman champion will be difficult, but he looks forward to the challenge.

“We are reorganizing many areas of Save Rodman,” he said. “We have a great board and great support people ready for us to call when the battle begins.

“The battle that I am speaking of is the battle to stop those who want to tear up this wonderful ecosystem . . . The reservoir is vital to the residents of Florida, Putnam County, and Marion County. It provides jobs, recreation, food, a beautiful place to live, and a peaceful existence.”

Additionally, he added, Rodman features abundant wetlands that act as a filter for the water before it flows through the dam and into the St. Johns River.

More than 50 years ago, Rodman was built as part of an ill-conceived Cross Florida Barge Canal, which was intended as a shortcut for ships going from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico. The project was killed well before completion, but the reservoir on the Ocklawaha River remained.

For more than two decades, environmental groups have lobbied and petitioned for the dam to be destroyed and the river “restored.” SRR was created to defend the impoundment which has become a wildlife magnet, one of the state’s most popular recreation areas, and  a trophy bass fishery. Additionally, it appears more and more likely that reservoir will be needed for public water supply as the state’s population continues to grow.

But all of those benefits mean nothing to the St. Johns Riverkeeper, Florida Defenders of the Environment, and now, evidently, the City of Jacksonville.

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

Thursday
Mar052015

Cue the 'Jaws' Theme and Take a Look at What These Florida Anglers Caught

Florida great white shark

Thinking of heading down to Florida to escape this never-ending winter? Maybe do a little sunning and swimming at the beach?

I’d confine my swimming to daylight hours, and, even then, I might think twice about doing it. That’s because a nearly 10-foot great white and a nearly 11-foot mako shark were caught from shores of northern Florida during the past two weeks.

Appropriately enough, the mako was caught from the pier at Navarre Beach, where much of “Jaws 2” was filmed during the 1970s. The great white came from the surf off Panama City Beach to the east.

And, oh yeah, Joey Polk and his cousins caught an even larger mako at Navarre back in April.

The trio who caught the great white tagged and released it. Polk usually does as well with the sharks he catches.

"We're definitely more on the conservation side of everything," Gabriel Smeby said. "We use big tackle and mainly circle hooks so it puts as little stress on the fish as possible and we can get a tag in them and get them on their way.

"I would say we probably release between 95 and 98 percent of all the sharks we catch."

Florida mako shark

Polk usually releases his sharks as well. But scientists wanted a closer look at a large mako. Anglers kept the meat, while researchers took the backbone, organs, and stomach contents.

No bathers or boats were found inside.

Bighorn River northern pike

Meanwhile, up in Montana . . .

A  Kansas City man caught a 38-inch, 16-pound northern pike while fly fishing for trout on the Bighorn River.

Northern pike are rare for that stretch of the river, especially ones that big. For about 30 miles below Yellowtail Dam - the stretch where the pike was caught - the Bighorn flows cool and clear, making it a productive and popular trout fishery, well-known around the world for rainbows and brown.

How did the non-native pike get in the river? Learn more here.

Wednesday
Feb112015

Plastic Better Than Brush for Attracting Bass in Florida Study

FWC places plastic fish attractor in Lake Griffin as part of three-year study.

Aquatic vegetation is abundant in Florida waters, but it doesn’t provide the only cover for bass and other freshwater fish. In fact, more than 150 attractors have been placed in fisheries around the state by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

And now the FWC is trying to determine which types of attractors are the most effective. So far, plastic is winning.

“Preliminary results, from the first year of a three-year study indicate the plastic attractors typically are yielding more bass than brush structures,” said FWC’s Bob Wattendorf. “So, despite the additional material cost, they may be the wave of the future, especially if they prove as durable as hoped, because brush attractors need to be frequently refurbished.”

According to angler surveys, the four attractors with the highest catch rates were plastic. Additionally, fishermen took the most bass near plastic in four of six sample areas. Overall, anglers caught more fish around plastic than brush during 15 of the 22 weeks sampled.

Additional findings:

  • 78 percent of the 197 bass caught were taken on crankbaits.
  • 99 lures were lost in the attractors, but only 10 percent of those were in plastic.
  • Brush attractors with 50 trees had catch rates similar to those with 100, suggesting that more smaller ones might be preferred, at a cost and effort similar to what’s needed for fewer large ones.

 Electrofishing results, meanwhile, revealed that bass and black crappie abundance was similar at plastic and brush.

“Therefore, plastic and natural trees may concentrate similar numbers of bass, but the bass near plastic attractors may be more vulnerable to angling,” Wattendorf said.

Whether brush or plastic, attractors are marked with white or yellow buoys, and he cautioned that anglers should not anchor too near. “This is to prevent damage to the attractor by the anchor and to prevent brush or attractor panels from being dragged away from the main attractor site, reducing effectiveness.”

Both materials work by providing surfaces for algae growth. That draws in insects and other invertebrates, which supply forage for small fish. In turn, minnows and small sunfish attract larger bass and other predator species.

As FWC assesses the effectiveness of brush and plastic, it also continues to create gravel and shell attractors to provide spawning substrate for bass, bluegill, and crappie.

“These are especially effective at concentrating fish during spring in areas that otherwise have mostly muddy bottoms,” Wattendorf said.

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

Monday
Jan262015

Georgia Angler Catches Hall of Fame Bass at Rodman

Georgia angler Dwight Whitmore with 14-1 largemouth that he caught and released at Rodman Reservoir.

As the St. Johns Riverkeeper extorts the city of Jacksonville to help in a campaign to destroy Rodman Reservoir, the 9,000-acre impoundment on the Ocklawaha River continues to confirm its reputation as a world-class bass fishery.

Georgia angler Dwight Whitemore recently caught and released a 14-pound, 1-ounce largemouth there while fishing with guide Sean Rush.

“This lake is truly one of the best bass fishing and wildlife sanctuaries in the world,” said Rush, who added that he loves showing his customers the eagles and other wildlife that live there.

“During a remarkable three-day bass trip with Rush, the visiting Georgia anglers caught-and-released 66 bigmouths, which included two fish each weighing 7 pounds, 10 ounces; an 8-pound, 8-ouncer; and others weighing 9-pounds-2; 9-pounds-12; 10-pounds-10; 11-pounds-9; plus the massive 14-pound-1 behemoth,” reports Bob McNally in The Times-Union.

 “When I got hold of that fish I knew it was a monster, and we started going crazy in the boat,” Rush said. “I told my anglers it would weigh between 12 and 15 pounds, and they just went wild, high-fiving and back slapping. They knew it was a fish most anglers only dream about catching.”

Once boated, the fish immediately was entered in Florida’s TrophyCatch program.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports:

Although not required to verify a Hall of Fame fish (larger than 13 pounds), FWC fisheries biologist Travis Tuten came off holiday leave with his kids to witness the catch, obtain additional measurements and take a fin clip for genetic analyses. They were also able to video the live release of the first Hall of Fame entry for Season 3 of TrophyCatch (visit www.Facebook.com/TrophyCatchFlorida to see the video).

As a Hall of Fame entrant, Whitmore will receive a free replica of his bass, produced by New Wave Taxidermy, $200 in gift cards from TrophyCatch partners like Bass Pro Shops, a Fitzgerald rod and a sweatshirt-sunglasses combo from SpiderWire™. Right now, he also is in contention for the TrophyCatch championship ring that will be awarded by the American Outdoors Fund for the largest verified bass at the end of Season 3 (Oct. 1, 2014 to Sep. 30, 2015).

During their three-day trip, Whitmore also caught and released four additional bass that are eligible for other TrophyCatch awards, and his buddy caught two more.

People can participate in this citizen-science effort and help encourage live release of trophy bass by registering at TrophyCatch. Simply registering makes people eligible for a Phoenix bass boat, powered by Mercury and equipped with a Power-Pole anchoring system and Navionics charting.