Jon Ain Passes

Jon Ain PermitJon Ain, whose love of permit fishing and obsession with catching as many as he could on fly marked him as one of the true aficionados of the sport, died yesterday of complications from cancer, which he had been battling for several months.

Jon–whose professional life was spent as a physician and diagnostic radiologist–was the organizer and tournament director of the popular March Merkin tournament in Key West.  He was also a member of the board of Bonefish and Tarpon Trust.

Jon’s love of permit fishing was infectious.  He once told me: “I simply cannot get enough.”  A lot of us understand that feeling, and Jon will be sorely missed among the fraternity of permit fanatics.

Hal Chittum on Everglades Conservation

John Kipp

John Kipp

We conducted our first interview with boat builder Hal Chittum yesterday and ended up talking about more than just how naval architects and small-boat fanatics can produce interesting hull designs.  Hal and I spent a lot of time off the record discussing the state of Everglades conservation, and in particular what is happening with the establishment of so-called “pole-and-troll zones” in Everglades National Park.

He described a monumental effort by guide John Kipp–who virtually took two years off from guiding to work on management plan issues, attending public meetings and working to create compromise, while moving guides and others toward a better understanding of the need to protect the fragile flats of the Park.  Kipp and Chittum both worked hard on the issues, and met stiff opposition from commercial interests and even in some members of Park management.  But the scientists, he said “were always on our side.”

“What’s the status of the plan now,” I asked him.  “It’s moving forward, but the lack of funding means it is happening more slowly than it should.”

It’s just another reminder that the people who are most enchanted by the culture of small-boat performance also are often the most obsessed, and careful, about the environment we are privileged to enjoy.

Tideline: Bill Curtis

Tideline“Our friends had told us we should start this book project with Bill Curtis. They said most of what we would see in the coming months had been, at least in part, created, improvised, explained, or experienced by Curtis. He is, by unanimous account, one of the fathers of saltwater flats fishing, and one of the last living legends of this game.”

That’s how Kirk Deeter and Andrew Steketee–newcomers to saltwater when they co-authored Tideline: Captains, Fly-Fishing and the American Coast in 2004 — introduced flats guiding legend Bill Curtis.  Tideline is, in my mind, a true sleeper, worthy of any saltwater angler’s bookshelf, and a book that you’ll come back to more than once, not only because of the luminous photography by Marco Lorenzetti, but because the essays have an objectivity that can only come from authors who were looking at the sport mostly from the outside in.  Unfortunately the book is often in short supply and might go out of print, as did the authors’ other book, Castwork.  I’d suggest snapping one up if you get the chance.

Meanwhile, here’s a bit more from the MidCurrent excerpt:

“WE LAUNCH from the outside ramp and run past Palm and Cormorant Keys into the northern reaches of Florida Bay, then Bill sets up in a channel near a mangrove island swarming with roseate spoonbills. He wants to see if we can fish before he starts talking. It seems we are on the spit to start out, as he begins to interview us with rods, not words. As he eloquently explains, “There’s chicken salad and chicken shit, and you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.”

We find a mixed bag of small jacks, spotted seatrout, ladyfish, and pompano, throwing gaudy, rattling ‘Cajun Thunders’ and shrimp-tipped jigs into the channel with spinning rods. In doing so, we extract some of Bill’s basic history. He tells us he is from eastern Oklahoma, and learned to fish in New Mexico in 1934, throwing Adams flies with split-cane rods on the San Juan River under the guidance of his uncle. He even held the world record for rainbow trout on six-pound tippet for a fish he caught up in Alaska, but could care less, when we ask, about its length and weight.”


Sierra Club Scientists Say Everglades Needs Skyway

According to the Sierra Club, which has been active in Everglades restoration for more than 30 years, an “11-mile section of the 1928 road must be elevated into a ‘skyway’ if Everglades restoration is to succeed. The skyway will be an important first step in returning the historic water sheet flow through parched Everglades National Park and into Florida Bay.”

Permit Hook Secrets

Partridge Sea PrinceThe closing of the last hook shop in Redditch, England this week reminded me of a semi-secret hook style I’ve always used for permit flies.

For those who don’t know, Redditch was the center of British hook-making for what is likely to have been hundreds of years.  It all likely started with needle-crafting technology, which then translated to fine hook-making.  As the Partridge of Redditch Web site notes: “It is not easy to establish when this started, but according to one likely theory it started with the existence of a large monastery at Redditch. The monks were reputed to have been skilled artisans, and when Henry VIII dissolved the brotherhood the monks were taken in by leading Catholic families in the area, who obviously put their skills to use. From there processing of steel and specialised metal work were developed and refined.”

Redditch was sold to Mustad in the 1990s, then later to another company, but they continue to produce my favorite permit hook of all, the Sea Prince.  I began tying permit flies on the Sea Prince #1 in the 1980s and have never found a reason to switch.  What makes the hook unique is its slightly recurved point.   Whether it is the recurve or the confidence I’ve had in the hook I’ll never know, but I’ve never had a permit come unhooked using this hook–except for once when a permit crushed the hook and spit it it out.  This hook also happened to be Jose Wejebe’s favorite tarpon hook for a number of years.

Del Brown and I were fishing Ascension Bay in the late 1980s and he was fishing his standard hook, a straight-point O’Shaunessy from Mustad.  During the first two days of our trip, we each hooked five or six permit.   He lost three, and I didn’t lose any.  (At which point I stopped fishing.  You know, guide/client relations and all.)  Del had many more fish come “unbuttoned” during the years we fished together.

On first glance, one might think that stainless steel, rather than carbon steel, would be too soft. It certainly is for tarpon hooks, in my opinion.  But for permit flies it has two advantages, especially in the Sea Prince. First, it doesn’t rust, and if you’re like me, you’re happy to throw a permit fly that works at more than one fish on more than one day.  Second… well, it sticks.

Why Keys Bonefishing Changed: Ruoff’s View

Rick RuoffRick Ruoff and I were talking skiffs yesterday–and in particular about the fine custom pirogues built by Brian Esposito–when the subject turned to the health of Upper Keys bonefish.

I noted something Harry Spear had mentioned a few months back: that fish were much easier to see in the Keys these days because of the absence of the deep, dark turtle grass that used to line most of the basins and flats.  “Makes sense to me,” Rick replied.  “The best theory I’ve ever heard was that we need a hurricane to come scour the grass clean every few years.  But since the algae blooms have become widespread and more regular, it may be that the grasses are already so week that any hurricane will just scour them off the bottom.  That’s what happened with Wilma in 2005. It left big sandy areas where there used to be lush turtlegrass and manatee grass.”

“What do you think is at the source of it all,” I asked Rick, who is a trained marine biologist.

“There are some people who don’t want to hear this, but I think it has to do with pollution, which may be why the Lower Keys have been mostly spared.  The prevailing wind in the Lower Keys pushes it all out to see.  But the prevailing wind in the Upper Keys just pushed it all back into Florida Bay.”

We’ll be interviewing Rick, who’s been guiding in the Keys now for 43 years, in the coming weeks.

Gator Tail Picadillo and Other Secret Backcountry Recipes

Carl Hiaasen ChompIt’s hard to forget the first time a gator comes up and challenges you over the redfish that you’ve worked so hard to get, hissing and humping and generally doing his most badass modern dinosaur imitation.   There is a form of revenge available, though.  Consider alligator what Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods, calls a “stunning alternative protein.”

Of course if you really want to help in the battle against invasive species, you could choose to hunt and cook what some South Americans call “the chicken of the trees.”  Heck, the residents of Gasparilla might even pay you to make a meal of their pesky invaders.

Not challenging enough?  Reports are that python meat is “chewy but sweet.”  And the first cook to take on a giant boa constrictor will get a free copy of Carl Hiaasen’s new book Chomp.   We might even be able to get Carl to sign it.

Blue and White East Cape Fury

A recent release from the East Cape shop is this blue and white Fury powered by a 60 Suzuki.  Go small motors! [Read more…]

Texas Advisory Group Recommends Seagrass Protection

Citing the importance of seagrasses to coastal ecology, the Coastal User Working Group has passed along recommendations on further protection of seagrasses to Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners.

The Secret Ramp

Cow Key MarinaEveryone needs a secret ramp.  They let you get in and out of the water without enduring a parade of bad launchers, discourteous boat owners and nosy fishermen.

My last secret ramp was at Cow Key Marina, a tiny and historically rundown entry point on the west edge of Stock Island.  I loved the history of  the place: Stock Island was originally called “Cow Key” because that was where the herds of cattle and other meat-providing animals were kept.  It wasn’t renamed Stock Island until entrepreneurs realized they’d never sell real estate on something with an unglamorous name (not that Stock Island was a major improvement).  Somehow this place held onto the old name. And the filming of the movie based on Thomas McGuane’s 1975  “Ninety Two in the Shade,” starring Peter Fonda and Margot Kidder, was centered at the marina and its bar.

From 1990 to 1997, no other skiffs launched there.  And as I was in the mode of waiting for all the other guides to leave and drive past my favorite fishing spots, it was the perfect setup, with the added benefit that there was no one at the dock at the end of the day asking how our fishing was.  In fact, no one cared at the Cow Key Marina.  And every day’s fishing was somehow more perfect when no one wanted to know where we had gone or what we had done.

Of course secret ramps don’t last forever. The marina’s famed bar was dismantled before I got there, and by the time I left the place was gussied up and filled with jet skis.  Still, the tiny ramp there holds lots of great memories–of stretches of months at a time without a day off, of many big fish caught and released, and of favorite clients, some of whom have now passed on.