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.


  1. http://Mitch%20Howell says

    I wish I could agree with Rick but there is a noticeable decline of bones in the lower keys now. Also how does that explain the virtual absence of bonefish between Garden Cove in North Key Largo and Ocean Reef?

  2. It is absolutely the case that the bottom is much more sandy then it used to be. Partly due to hurricanes and partly loss of grass. Harry and I discussed this at length and I think it has significantly changed the fish behavior, and the fishing dynamic. Strangely though, this year I saw a lot of open patches in the grass where there used to be bloom but it died. Also, I’ve never seen this much bait in my life. Unbelievable how much bait is everywhere this year!