Florida Tarpon, Bonefish to be Catch-and-Release Only

Today the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously to make tarpon and bonefish catch-and-release only in Florida. The new rules go into effect September 1, 2013.

Worms!

Palolo Worm

Taken about three hours ago near Key West, Florida. Note the highly visible white/black “filament” running down the center of this worm–it’s much more pronounced than normal. In every hatch the worms seem to have subtle differences in color and composition.

You’d be right to think that palolo worms appear mostly on low outgoing tides–though they also appear more often on low incoming tides in some locations.  You’d also be excused for thinking that it only happens on the full moon, though they appear (in somewhat lesser numbers) on the new moon as well.  You’d be mostly correct to assume that worm hatches happen in the late afternoon and early evening, and on calm days on the ocean side of the Keys; but worm hatches can happen in the middle of the day, and in the backcountry and on any hard coral bottom, even in a stiff wind.  Most palolo worms have greenish “heads” and pinkish red “tails,” but you’ll occasionally see worms with almost white heads or dark red tails.

The most common misconception may be that worm hatches happen only on one or two nights in a given area.  In fact, they can continue for five or six nights in one spot, changing their location as the tidal flow shifts around a set of flats.  For example, in the area I’ve been fishing them this week, they first appeared in two-foot seas at the end of a channel, then moved outside the channel on the next night, then further up the channel on consecutive nights as the wind lay down.  The only common ingredient was a bottom covered with loggerhead sponges, sea fans, and hard white limestone.

If you’re lucky enough to see one big worm hatch in a lifetime, you won’t forget it.  Treating them as events that you can fish for up to a week at a time greatly extends the excitement.  And don’t get up before dawn, fish all day in the heat, and expect to have the energy to find worms at dusk.   Finding this macro event with a full battery is a whole lot more fun and worth your full attention, even if the fish aren’t constantly eating your flies.  Being surrounded by the slurp-gurgle-slurp of tarpon completely abandoned to their task is worth almost any amount of effort.

Learning

will_polingTeaching is hard.  And there is nothing to remind you of how far you have come like teaching someone who is young to do what you do. “You don’t truly know your skill until you can teach someone else to do it,” someone said a long time ago, and even a few minutes of teaching will make you a believer.

Even though I am fortunate to have a son and daughter who both want to learn everything about what I know, I still find it hard to teach them.  There are more than a few challenges.  First, I am used to teaching adults. Most of the people I have taught to fish in saltwater have already been fishers, hunters, outdoors people.  They know stalking, they understand how conditions dictate strategy, and they are able to focus on the important things.  They trust me.   It’s funny, and odd, to hear my kids get nervous when I am driving through a 3-foot-wide wheel ditch or taking them through big seas or telling them that a big shark might take their bait.

The other huge reminder of how long it takes to get competent at fishing the flats is helping a young person learn how to react to what is happening.   Timing is difficult to teach to adults–most of whom have a library of real-life experience to draw from.  Kids have, at best, some fishing or hunting experience or some hours spent on YouTube watching celebrities and their highlights.  Throw them on a skiff and expect them to connect to what they are hearing and seeing is at best hopeful.  The timing is completely foreign.  The pace of a day is unlike anything in their experience.

On the other hand, kids have the advantage of time, and they know it.  They are not bothered by observations like,”Keep doing that for the next few years and you will be really good.”  As a teacher, I don’t write them off the way I might someone who’s been fishing for 30 years and still can’t see a fish.   Suggestions have results.

I suppose the real pleasure may be in the small successes, the very things that are so very hard for adults to appreciate.  Getting a fly line out 40 feet is an accomplishment for a 12-year-old, but it’s far enough to move them on to understanding the ready position and what happens when a fish eats your fly.  Most of the fish they catch in their lifetime will be hooked with 20 feet of that distance.  Seeing a child comprehend the importance of fly placement in current  or the importance of getting a good drift on a live bait is pretty incredible.  Witnessing them absorb the subtlety of poling or knot tying is sublime.  It reverberates.

I’d even say it supersedes the pleasure of learning something new myself, but that would be disingenuous.  When the drive to learn and see more becomes secondary, we become poor teachers.  We are there to give them the taste, describe the path, tell them what it is that make us want to get up in the morning or stay out late.  What we are teaching them the ability to experience the same pleasure of discovery that we know.

Most kids want to learn to fish just like everyone else.   But what we  should show them is that there will be no fisherman just like them, ever, and the surprise will always be waiting.  Just for them.