Family, Friends, Fish and The Fourth

Good Morning

Good morning on this July 4th. On this day we reflect upon the great freedoms we enjoy as citizens of the United States. The simplest and best is the freedom to enjoy family and friends.

My family has been the greatest blessing in my life. Anyone who knows the Rowe family is aware of what a unique cast of characters we are! I am sure my loving wife Lauri and my wonderful children would tell you they have many interests beyond fishing. However, many of my fondest memories are of times spent together fishing! I love you all so much!

My Mom started fishing at a young age!

A Sunday catch Mom and Grandpa Hessey!

A Sunday catch Mom and Grandpa Hessey!

My Dad helped carry on the fishing fun.

Frank Rowe

Dad and I Dressed To Catch…Not Sure What

Lauri and I have fished together since our honeymoon.

Fishing On Our Honeymoon!

Fishing On Our Honeymoon!

Nate Hands Dirty (00043426@xC4F0B)

Nate Avoids Fish Slime

Andy and I primed and ready in the Keys!

Andy and I primed and ready in the Keys!

Ginny Rowe

Ginny at Indian Lake

Pete Rowe

Pete Catches The Dreaded Rock Fish!

Seth Rowe

Seth Loves Batman and the Cane Pole

 

I confess to having great adventures planned for my future fishing buddies!

Izzie and Oompah have started already!

Izzie and Oompah have started already!

Ezra Rowe

Seth and Ezra looking for fish

 

Hudson Rowe

Huddy Is Always Up For An Adventure

Fishing is an activity which provides a foundation of adventure, success, and failure upon which family and friends can build a lifetime of memories. This picture of Capt. Steve Huff and Lee Mitchell was taken this spring in the Everglades.

Lee and Steve salute a great day on the water!

Lee and Steve salute a great day on the water!

Their friendship is indicative of how time on the water with a fishing rod in hand can lead to a lifetime of memories and a phenomenal friendship. Lee first fished with Captain Huff as Steve’s career was beginning in the Florida Keys over 40 years ago. They have fished together for at least 500 days. Oh the stories they share!

As you reflect upon your freedom, remember that nurturing family and friends is free of charge. The investment necessary is your time. A phone call to friend and family today would be a great way to show your appreciation for your freedom to love your family and friends!

Have a great Fourth of July.

The photo tribute below is my way of saying thank you to all of my fishing friends for a lifetime of memories!

Ralph the golfer (00048013@xC4F0B)

Ralph Walls Could Play Golf

Frank Catchpole - What a name for an angler. We miss you Frank!

Frank Catchpole – What a name for an angler. We miss you Frank!

Chuck Sheley You are one of the best guys I know! You also are a great dresser!

Chuck Sheley
You are one of the best guys I know! You also are a great dresser!

Friends getting ready to fish!

Friends getting ready to fish!

My first fishing friend- Grandpa Hessey

My first fishing friend- Grandpa Hessey

Bob Hamilton and I double on Permit

Bob Hamilton and I double on Permit

Junior, let's go fishing!

Junior, let’s go fishing!

Pedro! That wahoo hides the fact that you forgot your shirt!

Pedro! That wahoo hides the fact that you forgot your shirt!

Larry LaFleur and Guide Dustin Huff with a gorgeous permit

Larry LaFleur and Guide Dustin Huff with a gorgeous permit

Dane McCarthy and I ready to bonefish in Roatan

Dane McCarthy and I ready to bonefish in Roatan

Doc Wight,  I will catch you with a fishing rod in hand sometime in this lifetime

Doc Wight, I will catch you with a fishing rod in hand sometime in this lifetime

Tom Blake

Tom Blake Still Wet After Lure Retrieval

 

Of course, celebrating a great day on the water is essential!

Dinner at Key Colony Inn with Frank Catchpole, Steve Huff, Ron Souder, Lee Mitchell, Sherry Walls, Rich Mealy, and Ralph Walls!

Dinner at Key Colony Inn with Frank Catchpole, Steve Huff, Ron Souder, Lee Mitchell, Sherry Walls, Rich Mealy, and Ralph Walls!

 

Washing Dishes With My Father, Frank Rowe – Happy Father’s Day Dad

Fishing Photo (00045552@xC4F0B)

Dad and I headed to the Keys!

In honor of my Dad on Father’s Day, I post this story written by my Dad to his Great Grandchildren! Lauri and I have just returned home from dinner with my Mom and Dad. I love them so! I post a story of his about washing dishes. I hope you enjoy it!

Good things happen when you’re washing dishes with someone you love.

And bad things don’t.

Just yesterday at “Rib City” we saw this little ditty:

“No husband ever got shot doing dishes”.

The fact is your Great Grandpa, romanced your Great Grandma helping her do the dishes. I would sing her this little romantic ditty:

“Washing dishes with my sweetie at the kitchen sink,
Gosh I get so excited that I can hardly think!”

Then I’d kind of nuzzle her with a little kiss on the back of her neck. Heck, think whatever you want, it worked. I’ve been doing dishes ever since.

You can even have good man-to-man talks with your son, and maybe even a daughter, doing dishes. When your Grandpa or Uncle Steven Douglas Rowe was 6 or 7 years old, your Great Grandma was working afternoon and evenings at a department store to help put her hubby thru college.

Your Great Grandpa had to get supper for the boys, and Stevie was big enough to help with the dishes.

The thing is…doing dishes is a great time to talk with your kids, one on one. On that happy evening doing dishes, with Stevie just out of the blue he said: “Dad, isn’t boyhood wonderful!” “I guess so,” I responded, “but I think father-hood is pretty wonderful too”. “Yes Dad, but just think where you’d be if you never had a boyhood.” “Okay, but where would you be if I had never had a father-hood?

After a short pause, Stevie Douglas said: “Huh, I’d still be in my Mother-hood!”

That was one of my best talks with anyone about the “birds and the bees”. A person can learn a lot from his or her kids.

Maybe sometime I’ll tell you the story of what else and how I learned about the “facts of life”.

The thing is…I really just want you to learn to enjoy a lifetime of doing dishes. It was even more fun B.D.W. Back Before Dishwashers-I mean, the electric kind. Maybe you can do dishes with your “sweetie” and your kids, “when the dishwasher breaks down or the electric goes off”. It’s even more romantic doing dishes by candlelight. When the electric goes off-just set a candle in the kitchen window, sing your sweetie a little romantic ditty, kiss her on the back of the neck and soon you’ll have a kid to help you do the dishes. Enjoy those man-to-man, or if it’s more politically correct, those person-to-person talks with your kids, or is it, with your children.

The Bible does say…”My son, be wise, and make my heart glad.” Proverbs 27:11 and “A little child shall lead them”. Isaiah 11:6

Lessons from Frank (00043843@xC4F0B)

Dad Still Teaching Lessons To All Who Will Listen

Cardinal Coaches Go Fishing!

 

Greg Garris, Ray Noe, and Eric Gussler joined me for a half day fishing trip with Capt. Keith Logan of North Myrtle Beach Fishing Charters. As you can see in the photos and video below, a few of the coaches were under dressed for the chilly runs on the 22 foot fishing boat of Captain Keith Logan. Despite warnings, suffice it to say that the younger members of the coaching staff were dressed for wind chills in the 80s when in reality the wind chills were in the 50s.

There is great joy in seeing someone catch their first fish. Eric Gussler managed to catch this gigantic sea trout after a LONG battle. He was excited and quite proud of the very first catch of his life!

Gussler Puts Hurting On Gignatic Sea Trout

Gussler Puts Hurting On Gignatic Sea Trout

Capt. Logan began the trip by setting up on the down current side of an oyster bar where he expected that redfish might be swimming out of the shallow flats as the water fell with the outgoing tide. No redfish, but Eric did surprise himself by catching the sea trout.

After about an hour, Capt. Logan ran the boat to a spot 3 miles offshore. He set up over an artificial reef created by sinking barges and other outdated ships in 30 feet of water. The Captain lowered the trolling motor which has the capacity to be programmed to engage the propeller as necessary to keep anglers over a GPS designated fishing spot. Logan’s fish finder showed scads of fish. We began to catch sea bass immediately.

Not only did Eric Gussler catch the first fish of the day, he also caught the first sea bass. Eric using a 6 1/2 foot spinning rod loaded with 15 pound test braided line, struggled mightily with a hooked fish screaming at the top of his lungs about how tough his second fish was to land. He cranked the handle of the spinning rod as if he was creating hamburger from hunks of beef in an old-fashioned meat grinder. Profanities flew. Everyone peered over the side of the boat waiting eagerly to see what monster was putting such a whipping on Gussler. When he landed the fish, the boat went crazy. I would post the video but the audio is not for all audiences. However, the fish was so remarkably small; we decided that any fish caught of similar size should be called an “Eric”.

Black sea bass are excellent to eat but a 13 inch minimum size is required. Steve Rowe caught one bass which measured 12 and 7/8 inches but none of the some 50 sea bass we landed were legal to keep so we returned to the dock with what I affectionately refer to as fishermen luck – an empty stomach and a wet tailbone. And we did have wet tailbones taking a few waves over the bow which soaked us to the bone!

The bet on the boat was “rarest fish”! You be the judge.

Greg Garris

Surprise Sting Ray For Coach Garris

 

 

The action was hot and heavy at times!

Sharing time on the water with good friends who are open to adventure is one of a fisherman’s great pleasures. It was a fun and enjoyable day!

For any of you traveling to Myrtle Beach, I would highly recommend Capt. Keith Logan of North Myrtle Beach Fishing Charters. He is an accomplished angler, very supportive of people who are new to the sport, and a great conversationalist. All are traits of an excellent captain.

Tight lines and Go Cards!

Catching Tarpon By Hand at Robbies, Islamorada, Florida Keys

Midway through the Florida Keys you can find a charming gulf side bar where my fishing group stops en route to our final destination of The Ranch House Motel in Marathon, Florida. At that point of the journey we need something for our lips – a Matecumbe fried grouper fish sandwich and an ice cold beer. The restaurant is known as Robbies. To the rear of the of the bar is a small marina which is famous for selling buckets of dead fish with which tourists (such as myself) can use to feed a group of tarpon who have come to depend on the free fish from Robbies for an easy meal.

Tarpon Robbie's

The Dock At Robbie’s

It would be improper to refer to these tarpon as wild but seeing 100+ pound tarpon up close and personal is something I cannot resist. So, in spite of my fishing buddies shaking their heads in disbelief that I would pay two dollars for a bucket of fish so I can throw them at what really amounts to tarpon in a large aquarium, I always do so.

Scan0028 (2)

The tarpon compete for every fish chucked into the water. The water boils and occasionally a super quick jack can out run a tarpon for the bait. However, one must be careful. Strange people, no crazy people are often on the dock with you and will try the strangest fish catching techniques.

Scan0039

Beautiful Tarpon – The Quarry

There is always a good fish sandwich, cold beer and adventure waiting at Robbies.

Stephen Gussler – Coach, Teacher, Inspiration

Tarpon Steve Rowe

Fighting A Big Florida Keys Tarpon

 

Fighting fish such as the unseen tarpon in the photograph above is fun. In the whole scheme of life, however, I fully understand that fishing is recreation and a passion for only a handful of people.

For the last sixteen years, I have been blessed to know Coach Stephen Gussler whose passions are far broader and more important than fishing. His unquenchable fire for coaching young men the game of baseball is unsurpassed. His grasp of how to embrace the moments of each day and his dogged determination to be the best person he can be even when besieged by illness has inspired not only his players and the kids he teaches at Thomas Worthington High school but all the rest of us who have been given the opportunity by his example to learn how critical it is to cherish every day and live it to the fullest dimension our health allows.

For me, an angler and baseball coach, there are undeniable parallels between the experience of fighting a great fish with the fabulous guides of the Florida Keys and my personal experiences with Coach Gussler both before and after he began his fight with colon cancer.

For a fisherman, a fabulous fish fight begins with the hunt for a fish to which the angler can cast. When fishing the flats of the Florida Keys for bonefish, permit, or tarpon, I slowly scan back and forth across the water ahead and to the side of the skiff. I thrust my vision through the surface to the sand, turtle grass or coral bottom looking for signs of fish. Perhaps the water surface appears nervous, moving in the wrong direction. Sometimes a puff of sand known as a mud streams down current indicating that a fish is feeding somewhere ahead of the milky colored water. Occasionally, a moving shadow or the sun glinting off the tail of the fish probing the bottom for food in very skinny water provides a clue to the presence of the quarry. The hunt is a time of observation with no direct connection.

A Sign - The Tail Of A Bonefish

A Sign – The Tail Of A Bonefish

Similarly, I observed Coach Gussler with no direct connection before I met him. While coaching as an assistant for Worthington Post 123 Legion baseball team, I observed this young, handsome, smiling, passionate baseball man while he stood in the third-base coaching box managing the Southway Legion team. As I observed his coaching style, Coach gave signs which made it clear to me that this was a man with worth knowing. His spirited yet friendly style demonstrated his passion for the game of baseball and enthusiasm for young people.

I chuckled to myself as I observed the lanyard of the stopwatch sticking out of his back pocket indicating an attention to detail which in this case was his attempt to determine the precise time it took for a catcher to receive the baseball from the pitcher and release it while throwing to second attempting to nail a stealing base runner.

When I performed the eye test on his players, it seemed that the performance of his team outstripped the athleticism of his kids. These and many other signs made it clear that a connection with this fine young coach would be worthwhile.

When fishing the flats, once a worthy fish is observed, it is time to cast a bait or fly in front of the fish so connection can be made. One learns quickly that being timid or hesitant does not produce results. Because we fish in very shallow water, there is an irresistible temptation to baby the shrimp or fly as you cast so as not to spook the fish. If I had a dollar for every time Guide Steve Huff shouted “don’t baby it, chunk it in there”, I would not need to head to work on Monday. Do not hesitate, get the bait in front of the fish is the rule.

As my son, Pete, was beginning his senior year at Thomas Worthington, I knew the athletic director was looking for a new baseball coach. I did not hesitate! I picked up the phone and fired a verbal cast at then athletic director, Rich Seils. I asked Rich if he had a resume from a young coach named Stephen Gussler. I could hear him rustling papers on his desk. He replied that he did. “Have you interviewed him?” I asked. “No”, was the reply. “Well, I know he’s young, but I have seen him coach. You should interview him.” Apparently, the interview went well because Rich Seils bit and Coach Gussler was the new TWHS baseball coach.

One of the keys to fishing the flats of the Florida Keys is patience. As I often say to my law partner, Michael, as he bemoans the effort it takes to catch walleye on Lake Erie, “Even I do not eat 24 hours a day.” Patience is rewarded when fishing the flats. If you put a shrimp,crab or good-looking fly in front of a feeding fish you will be rewarded with a bite. But you must be patient. Not every encountered fish is hungry.

Coach Gussler’s first team wasn’t very good. He was frequently called upon to demonstrate patience throughout that first year and often since. His patience was memorably demonstrated to our family in a most startling way in the second game of a doubleheader at Marion Harding High School. On a brisk but clear spring Saturday afternoon, the mighty Cardinals managed to lose two ball games. Both by the score of 13 to 12. Pitching and defense were in short supply.

Our son, Pete, was playing left field as a Marion Harding batter lofted a lazy fly ball in his direction. As he settled under the ball, Pete raised his glove in perfect position to make the catch. Just as the ball arrived, Pete stepped in a shallow depression in the outfield grass. His body went down, his glove went down, and the ball hit him square on the top of his large head giving off a resounding thud that sounded as if an observant shopper was thumping a watermelon in the grocery before deciding to buy it for a family picnic.

Pete shouted a familiar profanity which was no doubt heard in Worthington some 40 miles away. Patience? Oh yes. The rookie Coach Gussler did not cause any bodily harm to his startled and embarrassed leftfielder as the parents and players from both teams laughed.

Throughout my 23 years of fishing flats of the Florida Keys, I gradually through observation and trial and error became a little better at my craft. The title of my blog “Front Yard Fishing” is taken from one of the steps which I took to become a better angler. I practiced my casting on dry land in my front yard.

Similarly, Coach Gussler’s teams gradually became better. Through his relentless efforts to teach, encourage, and support his athletes, his teams went from a collection of players who did not want to be in the field to make the last defensive play, or at the plate to knock in the big run, or on the mound to get the last out to teams that expect to win ball games with players who want to be on the field with the game on the line.

Coach Gussler has demonstrated the uncanny ability of creating an atmosphere in which a young baseball player can begin his freshman year as a project and complete his senior year as an accomplished baseball player with the character and ability to contribute to a memorable and rewarding team experience.

Stephen Gussler

Pregame Speech – No One Did It Better

 

Just as my experiences in the Florida Keys have been made remarkable by the quality of the guides who helped make fishing memories for me and my buddies, Coach Gussler has surrounded himself with people who love baseball and care about one another. He has developed a remarkable coaching staff comprised primarily of young people who have played for him. They love the program, they love him.

Stephen Gussler Nick Pauley

Nick Pauley Chats Up Coach

 

Just as a fishing guide in the Keys must permit his angler to catch the fish while providing quality instruction and support, Coach Gussler has developed the willingness and ability to delegate responsibility and allow those who coach with him to take responsibility for various areas of the program. I know there are times when Stephen would coach or instruct a skill in a different fashion than his assistant. However, he has the wisdom to allow the assistant do it his way without interference knowing the team will be better off if he trusts his assistants to deliver the message.

Steven Gussler

TWHS In St. Pete’s For Spring Trip

 

All anglers who have had the privilege of fighting a hooked bonefish, permit, or tarpon should appreciate the experience as a connection to a wild creature of nature willing to do anything to live another day.

Fighting Tarpon

Fighting Tarpon

Coach Gussler has that same irrepressible determination to live. His fight against cancer has been waged during a time when his teams have had their most on field success. Two league championships in a row. Two district championships in a row. State Coach of the year in 2013. Winning has been fun. But learning from Coach Gussler about living, loving, and passion has been more rewarding than championships.

Remarkably, the most fun I had in my many years of coaching at both the youth and high school level came after our regional semifinal defeat last year. We lost to Hilliard Darby 15 to 13. It was a terrible baseball game. We made six errors. We could not get anybody out. The game lasted a draining three plus hours. Dreams of going to the state tournament were unfulfilled.

The ride home on the dreaded hard seated yellow school bus although short in distance seemed like it would never end. The silence on the bus was thick with disappointment. Once the bus parked in front of the well-worn batting cages adjacent to the ball diamond, Coach Gussler and his assistants hugged and thanked the players as they trudged down the steps of the bus and headed off for the last time in 2013.

Coach Gussler was not well that day. He was in pain and clearly exhausted. Regardless, he sat down on an island of grass in the parking lot as the rest of us gathered around him. Within minutes, the defeated varsity coaches were revisiting how terrible the team played despite how “great’ we were as coaches. Smiles emerged.

Stephen Gussler Eric Gussler

Sometimes The Battle Was Exhausting

 

And then we began to talk of the future. Coach Gussler spoke of the starting lineup for next year’s team. He demonstrated for those of us who assisted him a most important human quality, the ability to hope. Coach put down his physical pain and the anguish of a lost opportunity for his team and cast his gaze to the future with optimism and excited anticipation. We joined him with the joy of a future worth contemplating in our minds.

In two weeks, that future becomes the present. Practice begins, games will be played, and Coach Gussler will be our leader.

Water, Water Everywhere – But Of What Quality In The Florida Keys?

Egret Hunting The Flat At Low Tide Islamorada, Florida Keys

Egret Hunting The Flat At Low Tide
Islamorada, Florida Keys

In ninth grade, I first studied poetry. My imagination was stirred by the images and words contained in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”. I was required to read and memorize portions of this poem first published in 1798 by the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The poem relates the experiences of a sailor referred to as the Mariner who has returned from a long sea voyage with a tale to tell. He tells his story to a man who is on his way to a wedding ceremony. The wedding guest’s reaction starts with amusement but quickly moves through fear and fascination as the story progresses.

The Mariner’s tale begins with his ship departing on a journey to the south. Although the trip begins well, the ship is driven off course by storm eventually reaching Antarctica. An albatross appears and leads the troubled ship away from the ice but as the albatross is being praised by the ship’s crew, the Mariner shoots the bird. The crew is angry believing the bird had brought the South wind which gently blew their ship out of the icy Antarctic.

The sailors change their minds, however, as the weather warms and the mist disappears “Twas right, said they, such bird to slay/that bring the fog and mist”. However, shooting the bird was a grave mistake. The unnecessary killing arouses the wrath of spirits who pursued the ship “from the land of mist and snow”. The South wind which had initially led them from the land of ice sends the ship into uncharted waters where the wind dies and the water falls deathly still. The poet writes:

Day after day, day after day
We stopped, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
nor any drop to drink.

The sailors blame the Mariner for the torment of their thirst. As a result, the crew forces the Mariner to wear the dead albatross about his neck to illustrate the burden he must suffer for killing it. Eventually, after encountering a ship of death, all the crewmembers die. The Mariner lives on but he is cursed. For seven days and seven nights the Mariner sees the last expression on the face of each dead crew member. The curse is partially lifted only as he begins to appreciate the sea creatures swimming in the water. Despite his cursing them as “slimy things” earlier in the poem, “Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs / upon the slimy sea”, he suddenly sees their true beauty and blesses them. As he manages to pray, the albatross falls from his neck and his guilt is partially forgiven. The bodies of the crew possessed by good spirits rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks in a whirlpool, leaving only the Mariner behind. The Mariner is saved by a hermit but as penance for his killing of the Albatross, he is forced to wander the earth telling his story to each individual he meets.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

Pondering those words, I can only conclude that God loves water. Water is necessary for human beings to live and for fish to swim. As a fundamental requirement of being a human being living in this marvelous world each of us should recognize and take responsibility for protecting as best we can the essential elements of life. The water we consume and in which the bonefish swim is such an element.

As I began this series of blog notes concerning the plight of the Florida Keys bonefish, I raised the question of what an individual angler could do to make a difference. The words “water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink” have run through my mind like a broken record. Without habitat, including seawater, of appropriate quality, the bonefish will disappear. That bonefish and other species thrive in healthy saltwater and provide anglers with unparalleled opportunities to catch remarkable fish and make memories that last for a lifetime, can be seen in the pictures below which tell the story about the need for life giving salt water in which bonefish can thrive.

The parallels with the tale of the Ancient Mariner are clear. Our Albatross is water itself. If the actions of human beings kill the quality of water, there will not only be no water to drink, there will be no life. And so the question of caring for the resource extends far beyond an anglers hope that bonefish will have water habitat in which they will swim, spawn, and thrive.

And the bonuses anglers will receive from sustaining the quality of saltwater are profound. When we fish, we experience the uncanny beauty of nature and stories of great friends and fish.

A double on permit with a great friend, Bob Hamilton.

Double On Permit 100 Permit Bank Marathon, Florida Keys

Double On Permit
100 Permit Bank
Marathon, Florida Keys

Tranquility as calm sea meets gray sky creating an infinitely distant horizon.

Horizon Disappears Water, Water Everywhere

Horizon Disappears
Water, Water Everywhere

Mangrove islands caressed with bright rays of sun reflect off life-giving seawater.

Mud Key Channel Keys

Mud Key Channel

 

Vistas from singular highways and bridges within sight of schools of daisy chaining Tarpon.

Daisy Chain of Tarpon Seven Mile Bridge Marathon, Florida

Daisy Chain of Tarpon
Seven Mile Bridge
Marathon, Florida

Mirrors of sand in shallow water reflecting the beauty of a sharply blue sky and providing avenues of travel for healthy fish.

Sandy Highway For Fish Key West

Sandy Highway For Fish
Key West

A wild Tarpon.

Tarpon On Schooner Bank, Flroida Keys

Tarpon On Schooner Bank, Flroida Keys

So what can I do? Here is my plan and promise.

Even though I live in Ohio and have not visited the Florida Keys for two and half years, I will treat water wherever I am as if it represents the sea creatures which the Ancient Mariner begins to appreciate which appreciation causes the albatross to fall from his neck.

The salt water in which the bonefish swims is a resource. The water I use in my daily living is the same resource. I will demonstrate my commitment to the bonefish, by conserving the resource in which it swims. Regardless of where that resource is located. And here is how I have begun.

Perhaps you agree there is nothing better than a hot shower. Personally, I favor long, long hot showers. In fact, after a day fishing on the flats of the Florida Keys, there is nothing more pleasurable than a long hot shower which rinses away the speckles of salt which cling to your body as a result of boat spray, fish slime, and the perspiration of an angler standing on the bow of the skiff for eight hours in a hot benevolent tropical sun.

Despite my love of long hot showers, for the last three weeks I have been taking “Navy showers”. They are simple enough. Turn the water on. Get wet. Turn the water off. Shampoo your hair. Soap your body. Turn the water on. Rinse off. Turn the water off again. I have no idea how much water is saved by a Navy shower but the commitment to the resource is more important than the quantity. I am convinced that if we all do just a little bit better with whatever resource we care about, the resource will make exponential gains because many people care enough to do a little.

When I shave, I turn the water on and off. When I brush my teeth, I turn the water on and off. When I do dishes, I turn the water on and off. Before, I let the water run while each of those simple daily tasks were completed.

My wife and I have had our first conversation about what kind of chemicals we will put on our lawn when the snow melts and the sun angle rises high enough in the sky to grow grass. I hope we can come to an agreement that whatever chemicals we use, if any, will not do damage to the water flowing in the Olentangy River where I fish for smallmouth bass not 300 yards from my home.

The Senators and Representatives from Ohio will receive letters from me. These letters will request that they explain why the subsidies continue for Big Sugar which uses fertilizers to grow sugarcane in Florida. These fertilizers release their chemical components into the groundwater that ultimately flows through the Everglades attacking water quality in Florida Bay. Florida Bay is the astounding but besieged estuary which provides life to bonefish and an infinite variety of saltwater creatures. Of course, I confess to a high level of skepticism about whether or not a letter from an individual citizen will make any difference. On the other hand, what harm can it do? Clearly, it is not realistic to expect Congress to have the necessary political will to make changes for the better of the country unless I have sufficient political will as a citizen to stay informed and express my opinion in a constructive way to those who can make a decision and a difference.

And so I pledge to continue to take steps to conserve on the amount of water I use as a human being. I also pledge to refrain from putting chemicals in places where water will carry those contaminants to rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans.

I have also resolved to take the time to become informed about water quality issues and to ask my political representatives to make decisions based upon a fair balance between the needs of the citizens of our country and the reality that our water resources are limited and tainted.

Finally, I urge you to conserve any resource about which you deeply care. If not water, then something else. I also ask that you keep yourself informed about issues which will affect all of us now and our families and nation in the future.

The Ancient Mariner bore a curse generated by a mindless disregard for the value of the albatross. His shipmates bore a terrible price. The poet concludes that the penance of the Ancient Mariner was eternal.

Let us be mindful of the natural consequences of our choices as we care for the water we use so that neither we nor future generations will have an albatross of responsibility hanging from our neck.

Sunset Bonefish Alley

Sunset Bonefish Alley

Grandma Rowe Was Wrong : God Did Not Create Bonefish To Eat

Catch and Release I Must Grandma

Grandma Mary Ella Rowe

Grandma Rowe Loved To Fish Even If He She Had To Use Her Wheelchair

My Grandma Rowe was the most beloved member of our family. She died at 102 years of age and is missed by all who knew her. A preacher’s wife, her life’s mantra was serving others. As a young child, I struggled being able to imagine Grandma chasing chickens around the barn yard of a family with a new baby. The story went that she caught the chicken, wrung it’s neck, scalded the carcass, plucked the feathers, prepared a fried chicken dinner, served the family, then did a kitchen full of dirty dishes which had accumulated as the new mother recovered.

Grandma broke my heart when she told me as I unleashed my early teenage attitude, “Steve, you have become quite a smart aleck haven’t you?” But forgiveness quickly granted was her style.

All of her Grandkids loved spending time with her even if it meant losing a game of Aggravation to this highly competitive woman.

As I began fishing we had an activity we loved in common in addition to the bond of love which kept us close. Every year before heading to the Keys to fish I believed it would be good luck if I called Grandma to tell her I was headed to Florida to go bonefishing.

Steve Rowe Tom Blake

Grandma Gave Me Her White Hair

She would always ask, ” Are they good to eat?”

” I don’t know”, I would reply.

“Why not? What do you do with them if you catch one?”

“Release them,” I would sheepishly respond.

Tarpon release (00045371)

Andy Rowe’s Tarpon Released

“God, put fish on Earth to eat you know.”

Grandma, you may well be right about the grand creation plan of God, but when it comes to bonefish, I release what I catch. All who love any aspect of this earth should enjoy the resource while at the same time treating it with respect. The term “catch and release” is not new to the fishing world. I can honestly say that I do not know of any bonefish kept by my fishing buddies in Florida. Every bonefish we caught since 1988 was released. As of September 1, 2013 bonefish caught in Florida must be released which is a measure long over due.

Chuck's large bonefish (00045556)

Captain Dale Perez Before Releasing Possible World record Bonefish

Releasing a caught bonefish is only part of the battle. The whole process of catching the fish affects chances of survival. A few tips.

Fight the fish with appropriate tackle. Fisherman seem to thrive on bragging rights. It goes something like this. “I caught a 10 lb bonefish on 4 lb test mono or tippet!” So what? Use sufficient line or tippet strength as well as an appropriate rod and reel to land the fish quickly. The shorter the fight, the higher the survival rate.

On many occasions while in the Keys my buddies would return to share stories of a bonefish being eaten by a shark or barracuda. Trust me, it is hard to want to break off a hooked bonefish when a shark is in the area. Why? Ego, the heat of the battle, focus on the catch…no matter. If you see a predator start to chase your bonefish, break it off immediately. Or if an already streaking hooked bonefish suddenly accelerates as it peels line of a smoking drag, clamp down on the line and bust him off. A shark or cuda is surely chasing the fish whether the angler sees the predator or not. Or if you have landed the fish with sharks in the area, move to another location before releasing the fish.

Once you have a fish at the boat there is a simple equation. The math works like this. The less exposure, the less handling equals the best release. I have many pictures of bonefish. Some of these fish were out of the water too long. And handling the fish for a picture will inevitably remove some of protective slime of the bone. The slime is the coat of armor of the fish so leave the fish armed. Take the picture while the fish is in the water or do not take it at all.

As you release the bonefish hold it by the tail in an upright position and be patient. Keep the bone upright and when it has sufficiently revived from the fight you will feel a surge as the fish is prepared to swim off. Only then should you release the fish. If the fish falters as it swims off retrieve it and start over.

Fly fisherman should use barbless hooks and bait fisherman should use circle hooks.

There is much more but the point is this. If you care about a fish, a plant, a pet, a forest, a beach…or anything in this marvelous creation, you have a duty to protect what you claim to love!

And so Grandma Rowe, I must say again. I do not eat bonefish. Yes, some creatures may exist to provide food. But God put some creatures on this earth to remind of us of the pure joy of the wild! Bonefish are just such creatures.

Would You Come For Thanskgiving Dinner If There Was No Turkey In The Oven? Not If You Were A Hungry Florida Keys Bonefish

Would you attend Thanksgiving dinner if there was no turkey to eat?

Americans love Thanksgiving. Family, food, and no shopping. How could a Holiday be better? I believe most of us would agree that Thanksgiving dinner is one of the most agreeable and enjoyable family holidays of our culture. And so I ask you a simple question, if you invited your family to Thanksgiving dinner this November and there was no food on the table when they arrived, would they return next year?

Hudson Attacks A Thanksgiving Turkey Leg

Hudson Attacks A Thanksgiving Turkey Leg

In my last post, I promised my amateur opinion regarding why the bonefish in the Florida Keys seem to be disappearing. I have reviewed scientific articles posted on the website of “The Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.” I have googled the topic and skimmed various other articles, but I think the answer is simple and grounded in common sense. Bonefish do not swim onto flats to feed where there is no food.

Flroida Keys

Bonefish eat shrimp, crabs, worms, Toadfish, and other living creatures which live in saltwater. Shrimp, crabs, worms and every living creature on the dynamically diversified and interesting flats of the Florida Keys must eat as well. Bonefish will return to flats where the saltwater hosts food. Bonefish are like our hungry family members at Thanksgiving. If there is no food on the table when they are hungry , next year, no one will come home to eat.

Islamorada Bonefish (00050668@xC4F0B)

Harry Spear Holds A Big Hungry Florida Keys Bonefish

 

I am not a political human being. My wife would say I am moderately informed. To her credit, she keeps herself well-informed as should we all. An ill-informed opinion is merely guess-work. However, I do know all of us engage in activities which are harmful to the environment.

A recent headline in the Columbus Dispatch reads, “West Virginia chemical floats past Ohio.” The article began with the following ominous statement; “As the Ohio River delivers a noxious chemical from a huge spill in Charleston, West Virginia, to points farther south and west, cities along the river are keeping tabs on their own water supplies.”

It is easy for me to criticize this spill of commercial chemicals. But come this spring, I will want a beautiful lawn. I will hire an invisible “Lawn Company” to put chemicals on my yard. I live approximately 400 yards from the Olentangy River. It is without argument that some of the chemicals on my lawn will make their way to the Olentangy. My Grandchildren will play in my yard this summer on the grass fertilized with these chemicals. On beautiful summer days, I will rig my fly rod or spinning rod and wade in the Olentangy and fish for smallmouth bass. Those fish and my grandchildren will be exposed to chemicals which I voluntarily put on my grass.

Front Yard Fishing Home Base

Front Yard Fishing Home Base

I drive a car. Most of you do as well. I ask myself and you the following question. Would you stand immediately behind your exhaust pipe and intentionally inhale your car’s exhaust. I would not. In fact, when it is cold out and I can see the exhaust, I intentionally walk around it if I am exiting my car for some reason while the engine is running. I expect some of you have done the same thing. And yet, when it comes to the effect of carbon on our atmosphere, our thinking is influenced by our politics, our view of business versus individual rights, and our take on whether the world and its resources are to be used, protected or both.

A recent article in the Columbus Dispatch was entitled, “Climate science should not be a partisan issue”. The commentary was written by Michael Smerconish who writes for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He opens his piece by describing his walk down 49th St. and the Avenue of the Americas in midtown Manhattan on January 6. At the time it was 57°. By early the next morning, New York City was reeling in -12° temperatures.

He wondered how the frigid weather experienced by 180 million Americans could support the global warming model for climate change. He called Jennifer Francis, a climate scientist at Rutgers University and she offered a compelling view which left him wondering how her profession ever became subject to partisan divide.

As the Polar Vortex slammed cold temperatures throughout the country, Rush Limbaugh wasn’t “buying it”. Donald Trump referenced “this whole global warming hoax” poking fun at the global warming scientists and their frozen ship at the South Pole. From the left, John Stewart was quick to respond by lampooning a number of Fox personalities and their failure to distinguish between opinion and fact.

Nothing new, the right and left do not agree. Why not, Professor Francis offers: “I don’t think it’s a clean political slice down the line, she said. “But that said, in certain parties there is more business interest related to fossil fuel industries and, of course, if we decide we don’t want to use fossil fuels anymore, then they stand to lose a lot of money, so there’s a big financial stake there. I think there may also be some religious component to it, and some people believe that humans could never do something like this, and perhaps God would not allow us to do something like this, so there are different beliefs out there that come into play that are difficult to change people’s minds when they’re so ingrained.”

In a somewhat humorous analogy, the writer points to a Pew Research survey that show that 60% of Americans believe in evolution, while a third do not. The latter number has remained constant in the past few years. However, just five years ago there was only a 10% difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue and that gap regarding whether or not humans have evolved has widened to 24 points at present.

As for why the extreme weather comports with her model of climate change, Francis pointed out that on January 15, Alaska was warmer than Atlanta, the former having had a very warm month of December. Lauri and I learned on our summer Alaska cruise that there remains only one advancing glacier in Alaska. The rest are in retreat.

A Retreating Alaskan Glacier

A Retreating Alaskan Glacier

In the January 19 Columbus Dispatch, an editorial reveals that Norfolk, Virginia is already spending millions of dollars on construction projects, to deal with the rise of sea levels in the area. There are billions yet to be spent. Residents are quoted as bring tired of driving through salt water.

Professor Francis writes, “So the connection to climate change, we think, is that what we are seeing is the jet stream taking these kind of very wild swings north and south more often now. And we believe that is related to the fact that the Arctic is warming so much faster than the rest of the country…. When we make this difference in temperature between the Arctic and areas farther south smaller, which is what is happening as the Arctic warms so fast, the jet stream responds to this by becoming more wavy, so we think this is at least one factor that’s connected to the increasing frequency of these kinds of extreme weather events all around the Northern Hemisphere.”

Interestingly, a friend and Client who knows I love the Florida Keys brought me a copy of the Key West Citizen from Christmas Day, 2013. A flats captain was describing the year fishing in the Keys and his words were that it was plainly “not good”. As you review the article, it becomes clear that the primary reason for the fishing not being good in his opinion was the inconsistent weather.

I reference climate change because of the tremendous bonefish kill of 2010. Some estimate that approximately 240,000 Florida Keys bonefish were killed because of a consistent low temperature. Most certainly, there have been fish kills in Florida on prior occasions. However, the cold temperatures in 2010 were colder for a longer period of time than any other periods of cold temperature in well over 20 years.

However, it is clear that some bonefish still exist. Most certainly, they will rebound, will they not? In my view, based strictly on an angler’s sense, the extent of recovery will directly relate to the quality of the water and the habitat. Keep turtle grass healthy and the flats free from oxygen choking algae blooms and the ecosystem will recover. I believe nature will heal itself if we let it return to the most natural and healthy state possible. For a more detailed analysis of the water related issues, read “The Angling Report: Bonefish Decline in the Florida Keys” by Bill Horn. It is a very well written article with a specific analysis of water quality issues.

My personal experience makes clear that Florida Bay is sick. In part, the source of its illness is the impure water which reaches Florida Bay from the Everglades. The quality of this water is markedly affected by the fertilizers and runoff caused by the substantial sugar plantations of Florida. These plantations receive substantial governmental subsidies at a time when our government should be balancing its budget.

PB100118 Fishing (00039967)

Lee Mitchell Fighting A Florida Bay Tarpon

 

In a recent editorial, Froma Harrop warns,
“Sugar program a sour deal for US taxpayers”

Sugar Program

She begins the editorial as follows: “Ever notice how some government programs draw the ire of almost everyone? Conservatives, liberals, environmentalists, libertarians, business, labor, consumers and grouchy taxpayers are all opposed. Yet these programs go on as though directed by an unstoppable particle beam from a neighboring galaxy. The public rarely sees who in Washington keeps the outrage in motion, and that’s how “they” get away with it.”

The sugar–support program is one such curiosity. She offered the opinion that the reason the sugar industry is supported even though Americans pay about three times the world price of sugar, because of a farm program designed to enrich US sugar growers and processors – in actuality, a handful of families. Among other things, it limits imports of cheaper sugar from Caribbean countries. It provides taxpayer backed loans: if prices slip, the borrowers repay their loans with sugar, which taxpayers must sell at a loss or store at their own expense.

Several years ago, Lauri and I took a helicopter ride while in Kauai, Hawaii and the guide noted the growing coffee fields below us. He noted that coffee has replaced sugar cane as “We cannot compete with off shore sugar.”

In summary, the support policy provides a government guaranteed income to cane sugar producers in Florida and sugar beet growers in Minnesota and Michigan. The manipulated price of sugar amounts to a tax estimated at $3 billion a year.
The domestic sugar industry argues that 142,000 jobs will be lost if the sugar program ended. But the Commerce Department reported in 2006 that inflated sugar prices kill three manufacturing jobs for every sugar growing and processing job saved. For example, the Atkinson Candy Company of Lufkin, Texas recently sent most of its peppermint candy production to Guatemala. “It’s a damn shame.” Company President Eric Atkinson told The Wall Street Journal. He had to move 60 jobs to Central America that in theory could have stayed in Texas.

The key for me of is that Florida giant sugar plantations – propped up by taxpayers and consumers paying higher than necessary prices – dump fertilizer runoff into the Everglades. Water that filters into the Everglades from agricultural concerns ultimately flows into Florida Bay. Florida Bay is one of the most dynamic, beautiful and wonderful estuaries on the planet. I have been fishing in Florida Bay when a glance down through the surface of the water to a lush green turtle grass lined flat would reveal a galaxy of sparkling reflections as the sun shone on small bait fish perfectly camouflaged in their sandy sanctuary. Or more simply put, the bait fish reflected sunlight like my three-year-old granddaughter Izzy’s new shoes which sparkle every time she takes a step.

Tarpon release (00045371)

Andy Rowe’s Tarpon Released

Years ago, I flew from Miami to Marathon on a puddle jumper in order to join my fishing buddies for a week in the Florida Keys. The route taken by the 12 seat plane was over Florida Bay. What could have been a stunning spectacular sunlit view was ruined by the sight of the green murky soup of an algae bloom which stretched as far as the eye could see, hundreds of thousands of acres.

Ms. Harrop concludes her editorial by examining the cause of the continuing success of Big Sugar to gain congressional support dollars. She writes that it should not surprise anyone that the American Sugar Alliance greatly outspent confectioners to win the affections of the elected representatives.

As I see it, Republicans are not solely to blame. Democrats are not solely to blame. Followers of partisan politics should be intrigued to know that so-called liberals came together with so-called conservatives to join their votes for the continuing support of big sugar. On the Democratic side, Florida representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings both voted for the program. On the Republican side, House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Frank Lucas, of Oklahoma and chair of the House Agricultural Committee, also voted in favor. As he backed the government shutdown, Lucas called for a budget “that reduces spending and eliminates waste and abuse in government programs.” Apparently, big sugar subsidies are not waste to Rep. Lucas.

I cite this issue not only to point out the devastating effect of fertilizer runoff from Big Sugar into the Everglades and then on to Florida Bay, but also to point out the simple truth Ms. Harrop describes at the end of her editorial: “How the politicians get away with this is simple: the voters are not paying any attention. Only when they do will this absurdity stop.”

So for me, the question remains. Am I paying attention? Are my friends paying attention? Are my fellow anglers paying attention? I know the answer. Sometimes yes and sometimes no. When the issue affects us personally, then we pay part attention.

The dangers to the Florida Keys bonefish are clear. If the quality of the water does not support the abundant life of an ecosystem, there will be no dinner on the Thanksgiving table. And when that happens, no one comes home to eat.

Ginny Rowe

Ginny bakes an apple pie for Thanksgiving.  Hey Family, I cannot wait until next year. There will be food and I will be there to help eat it!

Ginny bakes an apple pie for Thanksgiving.
Hey Family, I cannot wait until next year. There will be food and I will be there to help eat it!

The Florida Keys Bonefish Are In Peril

Bonefish Ghost Of The Flats

Bonefish
Ghost Of The Flats

Are the Florida Keys bonefish disappearing? In my last post, I promised some photographs and stories in support of my conclusion that the Florida Keys bonefish are in peril. From 1988 through 2011, I experienced an annual weeklong trip to the Florida Keys with good friends and great guides. Every fishing day, our guides carefully considered the many variables that determine the best possible fishing location for that day. Although our home base was in Marathon, our guides would actually launch their flats skiffs from Key Largo to Key West or anywhere in between based upon their conclusion as to what fishing venue offered the best possible chance for fishing success depending upon the sun, wind, tides, and weather. Over the 23 year history of our trip, we fished for bonefish throughout the entire length of the Keys. One of the largest bones we caught is pictured below.

A Duck Key 13 1/4 bonefish caught by Chuck Sheley Guide Dustin Huff

A Duck Key 13 1/4 bonefish caught by Chuck Sheley
Guide Dustin Huff

Our connection with guides such as Steve Huff, Dustin Huff, Dale Perez, Nat Ragland, Jose Wejebe, Harry Spear, and Ray Fetcher always provided us with the best guides the Keys had to offer. Their knowledge, experience, eyesight, skill, and effort gave us what we refrer to as “plenty of shots” to catch bonefish, permit and the occasional tarpon. Our trip was typically in early November. We thought enough of these professionals to capture a few pictures.

Steve Huff and Jose Wejebe at Hall's Bait and Tackle 1990

Steve Huff and Jose Wejebe at Hall’s Bait and Tackle 1990

A Boot Key bonefish caught in June 1995 Guide Dustin Huff

A Boot Key bonefish caught in June 1995
Guide Dustin Huff

Guide Dale Perez on the pole on Newport News Flat, Key Largo

Guide Dale Perez on the pole on Newport News Flat, Key Largo

Islamorada Bonefish (00050668@xC4F0B)

Content Keys Bonefish With Guide Harry Spear

 

Nat Ragland holding a baby tarpon caught off Big Pine in 1989

Nat Ragland holding a baby tarpon caught off Big Pine in 1989

Ray Fetcher Guide

Ray Fetcher Baitin’ Up For Bones

 

Not only were we blessed with great guides from a technical point of view, they were known to go above and beyond the call of duty!

Dustin Huff Seven Mile

Guide Dustin Huff Swims Seven Mile Bridge To Free Line With Permit On The Other End

 

Rowe falls in trying to hook a bonefish in Long Key Bight, I can hear my words as I fell in, " I still have him!!!"

Rowe falls in trying to hook a bonefish in Long Key Bight, I can hear my words as I fell in, ” I still have him!!!”

I can also hear Steve Huff’s quiet yet terse reply, ” No…..you don’t.”

Steve Huff lends a hand

Steve Huff lends a hand

By 1989, I began to record every fish that my buddies and I caught during our annual Keys trip. In 1991, Ralph Walls, Lee Mitchell, and I fished for four days in late November. Our guides were Steve Huff and Harry Spear. In four days, the three of us caught 30 bonefish and lost 8 more. My journal for November 14 tells the following tale which I quote verbatim:

November 14, 1991 Warmest day yet! I fish Harry alone and Lee and Ralph fish with Steve. It is apparent early on that Harry feels he has gone to the well one too many times. We fish Rodriguez and Tavernier Keys and have a few tough shots. I do catch a 5 pound bonefish before lunch. Harry seems tired and actually a little depressed but still is working hard. At the end of the day, I can tell Harry is grasping for straws. We start poling a flat we name Lee Mitchell Flat, due to Mitchie’s great ability to catch small bonefish. Well, I outdid him on his own flat. In 15 min. I caught two 3 pound, one 2 pound, and another 1 pound bonefish. Had one eat a half shrimp that had been bitten off. Had several more shots but didn’t catch any. Put in that day at Harry Harris State Park. For the four day fishing week, I caught 8 bonefish and four permit for a great week of fishing. I have written the last page while waiting for Huff, Lee and Ralph to arrive. My prediction – they had fabulous fishing. We will see. Well it was! Mitchell caught a nice bonefish in the morning as did Ralph. They were fishing outside of Big Pine after putting in at Bahai Honda State Park. Next move to Huff’s permit flat. Fished there but conditions were tougher. Ralph caught his first permit, a 20 pound fish. They next moved to the Content Keys. Right off the bat they saw some baby tarpon. On his first cast, Mitchie caught in 8 pound tarpon. No other tarpon caught. As they were gathering their wits, a school of bonefish came up a channel of deeper water and began tailing on the flat. After these fish blew, they looked around and were surrounded by bonefish. Huff didn’t know where to pole next. At least 1,000 bonefish 200 casts. Lee caught two bonefish and had three break off. Ralph didn’t catch any. Both of them were terribly frustrated but excited at the same time. We had the fishing of a lifetime. A total of 36 fish. We each caught 12. Ralph: 11 bonefish – 1 permit; Lee: 11 bonefish – 1 Tarpon; Steve: 8 bonefish – 4 permit.

A year later, our tournament had grown to six anglers who fished for four days. Our guides were Steve Huff, Harry Spear, and José Wejebe, the now deceased host of the television broadcast, The Spanish Fly. In four days, we caught 42 bonefish and lost 8.

From that point forward, there was a steady decline in the number of bonefish we caught with the exception of 2004. In 2004, six anglers in five days fishing with Steve Huff, Dustin Huff and Dale Perez caught 24 bonefish. By 2010, that number had been cut in half to 12 and in our last visit to the Keys six anglers in five days caught three bonefish.

Long Key Bight Bonefish (00050663@xC4F0B)

Steve Huff And I With A Long Key Bight Bone

 

Of course, some readers might reasonably wonder whether the anglers were not very good. Indeed, several of the participants changed as the years rolled on. However, I offer this up for your consideration. Below is a beautiful bonefish caught by good friend, Frank Catchpole who passed away several years ago. Frank was a mainstay in our group in the early years. The bonefish which he holds in the photograph was caught on Ted and Mary’s flat outside of Marathon, Florida.

Ted and Mary’s was a go to spot when bad weather descended on the Keys. When the wind was out of the North and there was very little sun or it was raining, our guides would often head to this dependable flat. Below is a journal note from a day spent in terrible weather on Ted and Mary’s with Capt. Steve Huff.

November 6, 2001. Great start! Frank and Chuck fished with Steve. Stayed at Marathon the whole day and water was a little muddy. Frank caught a 13 and 7/8 pound bonefish right off the bat. They caught 10 bones, Chuck 6 and Frank 4. They lost three. Chuck caught a 5, 6, 7, 7, 8, and 10 pound bonefish. Frank caught a 13,8,8, and 6 pound bonefish.

Frank Catchpole bonefish (00050658@xC4F0B)

Frank Catchpole With A Ted and Mary’s Beauty

I tell this story because I admit my fishing partners and I are amateur enthusiasts in every sense of the word. However, I can say with utmost confidence that not only are Steve and Dustin Huff unbelievably good fishing guides, they are equally good fisherman. In August 2011, I went by myself to the Keys to fly fish for permit. I was not successful in catching one but that’s a story for another day. The day before I arrived, Dustin Huff and Steve Huff, father and son, took turns poling every flat Oceanside of Marathon, Florida, including Ted and Mary’s, High School Flat, and around the corner to what is known as Boot Key. They spent the better part of six hours poking around looking for a single bonefish. They caught nothing. They saw nothing. If there was a bonefish around they would have caught it.

During our trip of 2011, 6 anglers fished for 5 days and we caught 3 bonefish. This was the last year for the trip. For over 20 years, at the end of each trip, I would ask Steve Huff whether he would be willing to take us fishing again the next year. The question was typically, “same place, same dates next year?” For 20 years the answer was “yes”.

I spent the last day of the 2011 trip fishing Key Largo where in years past squadrons of bonefish would stream down the edge of Key Largo. Or after a long run towards Miami, we would encounter one school after another kicking up mud as the bones feasted in Biscayne Bay. Or at the south end of a Key Largo trip, we would set up the skiff on the outside edge of the huge expanse of Newport News flat as hordes of feeding bonefish would stream off the flat on a falling tide pushing wakes that resembled a tight flock of migrating geese.

On this last date for our group in the Keys, good friend, Jim Milam and I fished all of those flats and many others in between.

Jim Milam

A Young Jim Milam At Lake Erie

 

Huff poled his tail off. For the day, we saw one group of two cruising bonefish which were swimming directly at the boat. For me, having one cast in a day makes that cast very difficult. I am just not that good. Needless to say, my cast was terrible and the fish took off.

As we approached the dock at John Pennecamp State Park to take the skiff out of the water and say our goodbyes for the year, I asked Steve Huff the same question I had asked 20 previous years. “Same place, same dates next year?” His answer was, “I don’t think I want to do this again.”

A fishing guide takes the success of his anglers very personally. A catch of an angler on their skiff is their fish. Our guides always apologized when we had a rough day as if our ineptitude or a lack of fish was their fault. If they see no fish, they cannot exercise their laser like vision, poling power, coaching prowess or the infinite number of other skills which empower them in helping their anglers make vivid memories. When a flats guide shares the news of a days’ fishing with their fellow guides, the question is always – “how did you do?” When the answer is nothing too often, something has to change. In 2012, we went with Steve Huff to the Everglades to fish for snook because the Keys bonefish are most certainly in peril.

In my next post, I will offer my opinion on the cause of the peril to the bonefishing in the Keys.

The Lorax Asks: Where Did The Bonefish Go?

Lorax (00051591@xC4F0B)

 My Granddaughter, Izzy, calls me Oompah. One of the great privileges of this Oompah is reading books which I have not touched since my five children were little. One of my favorite children’s authors is Dr. Seuss. Over the last several months, I have read “The Lorax”, first published by Random House in 1971, to Izzy several times. The last occasion was upon my return from the Everglades fishing trip about which I have previously posted.

The Lorax Through The Eyes Of A Young Artist

The Lorax Through The Eyes Of A Young Artist

As I read and thought about Dr. Seuss’ warnings of the dangers progress poses to our world, I thought back to a dream I had while on the Everglades trip. On day 2, Guide Steve Huff and I were talking about how the great bonefishing of years gone by had made fishing in the Florida Keys so much fun.

A Great Bonefish Caught on Ted and Mary's Flat in Marathon, Florida

A Great Bonefish Caught on Ted and Mary’s Flat by Frank Catchpole in Marathon, Florida


Two years ago, the annual November fishing trip I take with five of my fishing buddies ended. Four of us continued the fishing adventure by retreating from the Florida Keys to the Everglades. In part, the decline of the number of bonefish and the quality of the bonefishing in the Keys played a substantial role in that difficult decision.

On Tuesday evening after talking bonefish with Steve, I had a dream. I dreamed Steve was piloting a helicopter in a shockingly beautiful sky over my favorite Keys fishing hole, Long Key Bight.

The Florida Sky

The Florida Sky

With the tropical sun creating infinite visibility of the flats below, I peered from the passenger seat. As the helicopter banked from left to right, we futilely searched every inch of the Bight looking for a sign of a bonefish. There were no muds, no wakes, no tails, no fish. As the copter approached the shoreline, we noticed a small creek running from the gorgeous turtle grass lined bay where we had often seen approaching schools of 20 to 30 bonefish suddenly appearing like a mass of black footballs searching for food over the dark green bottom. The small creek flowed into a crystal clear sand bottom pond. The overhead sun reflected green streaks from the backs of two bonefish which moved easily through the pond creating a milky cloud of sand or what is called a “mud” as the fish attempted to stir up crabs, shrimp, or buried worms for lunch. As we watched the happily feeding bonefish, they swam into a second creek which led to a larger pond which held a school of a dozen big gorgeous bones. As we hovered over this group, they bolted quickly as if spooked by the wash of the helicopter blades. The startled fish streaked off into an even broader creek leading to a larger stunning lake in which hundreds of bonefish were swimming.

Steve quickly landed the helicopter. We jumped out, took rigged rods which had been strapped to the landing gear of the copter, and waded in the pond intent on landing one of these bruiser bonefish. As we began to cast, a man approached the side of the pond yelling “Huff, why are you fishing in my lake?” Steve replied, “What are you doing hoarding all the bonefish?” I awoke. Frankly, I cannot afford the psychoanalysis necessary to determine the full meaning of the dream but I promise you this. If the bonefish were still plentiful in the Keys, our group would still be taking our annual trip. When adults give up something they love and are capable of doing there is often a compelling reason. For us, not enough bonefish was reason enough.

A Long Key Bight Bonefish Caught When A Man Could Wear Short Shorts

A Long Key Bight Bonefish Caught When A Man Could Wear Short Shorts

So I began to wonder, was there anything I could do to improve the Keys bonefishing. The dream, my perplexed curiosity about my own responsibility to do something, my missing bonefishing and our trip to the Florida Keys were on my mind as I read Izzy the Lorax.

The story begins as a young boy wanders up the Street of the Lifted Lorax. The boy is curious about just what the Lifted Lorax was. He has been told that an old man named Once–ler still lives deep in a former forest now covered by sharp edged gricklegrass. The Once-ler is suspected to know what the Lorax was and why Lorax used to make his home in a spot where now the “wind smelled slow and sour and no birds ever sing except old crows”.

After bribing the Once-ler with “fifteen cents, a nail, and the shell of a great great-great-grandfather snail”, the Once-ler whispers through a long sneggley hose which he lowered to the boy on the ground. Once-ler whispers the story of how the Lorax was lifted and taken away.

The old man described a time when the grass was green, the pond was wet, the clouds were clean and the Truffula trees were standing. The Truffula trees were cropped with bright colored tufts which blew gently mile after mile in fresh morning breeze. Under the trees ran playful Brown Bar-ba-loots who munched on Truffula fruits. From the adjoining “rippulous pond came the comfortable sound of Humming fish humming while splashing around.”

Hummin Fish A Hummin

Hummin Fish A Hummin

The Once-ler claimed he had searched for trees such as the Truffula trees his whole life because the “touch of their tufts was much softer than silk and they had the sweet smell of fresh butterfly milk”. With joy in his heart, the Once-ler got out an axe and with “great skillful skill” chopped down the first Truffula tree with a single chop. He plucked the tuft from the top of the tree and knitted a Thneed.

The instant he finished, Once-ler heard a ga-Zump! On top of the fresh tree stump Once-ler saw a “sort of  man. Shortish, oldish, brownish, mossy, the creature spoke with a voice which was sharpish and bossy.” The Lorax claimed to speak for the trees. Lorax inquired, “What’s the THING you’ve made out of my Truffula tuft?”

Lorax Speaks For The Trees

Lorax Speaks For The Trees

Once-ler made the case for Thneed as a “Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need”. He described it as a shirt, a sock, a glove, a carpet, a sheet, a curtain or a cover for bicycle seat! The Lorax warned of crazy greed. As the warning hung in the air, a man came by and bought the Thneed. Once-ler laughed and said “you poor stupid guy! You never can tell what some people will buy.” The Lorax cried, I speak for the trees”. But Once-ler shouted “I’m busy, shut up, if you please.”

 Once-ler recruited his family to work. They became adept at knitting and selling Thneeds and chopping down Truffula trees. As the trees disappeared, so did the Lorax. But as the tree supply dwindled to a precious few, the Lorax reappeared on behalf of his Brown Bar-ba-loots who had “the crummies because they have gas, and no food in their tummies!” There was no Truffula fruit to eat and so the Lorax sent the Bar-ba-loots away.

Bar-ba-loots Playing Under The Truffula Trees

Bar-ba-loots Playing Under The Truffula Trees

Dr. Seuss writes that Once-ler felt sad as he watched the creatures wander away. But, Once-ler knew that business was business. He boasted to the Lorax that “business must grow regardless of crummies in tummies, you know.” And although he meant no harm, Once-ler went right on “biggering” his roads, his factories, and most importantly, his money.

But as we know, factories wear out and on a day when Once-ler was fixing some pipes, the old nuisance Lorax came back with “more gripes”. Lorax complained of “smogulous smoke” in which the “Swomee-Swans could no longer sing. His dander was up because the Once-ler’s machinery created “Gluppity-glupp.” The Lorax showed Once-ler what he did with his “leftover goo”. Lorax explained that Once-ler was “glumping the pond where the humming fish hummed. No more can they hum, for their gills are all glummed.” With no other choice, Lorax sent the swans and fish away.

The Once-ler got mad! He yelled at the Lorax “now listen here, Dad! All you do is yap, yap and say, ‘Bad! Bad! Bad! Well, I have my rights, sir and I’m telling you I intend to go on doing just what I do!” And Once-ler kept biggering until the last Truffula tree fell. No more trees. No more Thneeds. Since there was no more work to do, Once-lers family departed and as they drove away under the “smog smuggered stars” all that remained was a bad smelling sky, empty factory, the Lorax, and Once-ler.

Dr. Seuss writes that while saying nothing, the Lorax gave a sad glance backward, lifted the seat of his pants and hoisted himself through a hole in the smog.

A Hole In The Sky

A Hole In The Sky

He left behind a small pile of rocks with one word… “UNLESS.” For years, Once-ler was curious about what that pile of rocks with the word “UNLESS” meant.

The Lonely Word - Unless

The Lonely Word – Unless

As the story of the Lorax ends, the little boy’s presence made the words of the Lorax clear. Once-ler declares:

UNLESS someone like you

cares a whole awful lot,

nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.

And with that, Once-ler drops the very last Truffula tree seed into the outreached hand of the small boy and says:

You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula seeds.

Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.

Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.

Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.

Then the Lorax and all his friends may come back.

And so my dream of rediscovered bonefish swimming from pool to pool of crystal clear water and the Lorax warning “UNLESS” spelled out with a pile of lonely rocks have challenged me to make an effort to explore the question of what a single fisherman can do for the bonefish. Is it possible for me to plant a Truffula tree for my favorite fish? In my next post, I will offer pictorial evidence and fishing stories of my friends to prove that the Florida Keys bonefish population was once significant but is now dwindling.

A Preview Of Coming Attractions

A Preview Of Coming Attractions