This month’s Conservation Captain is veteran guide Capt. Joe Gonzalez of Funnybone Charters. Joe has been fishing out of the Biscayne Bay area for nearly 27 years. He is one of BTT’s most proactive fish taggers and he has been featured in numerous television shows, magazine articles, and blogs. Read below to learn more about Capt. Joe.
Click here to visit Capt. Joe Gonzalez’s website.
Where do you guide and how long have you been guiding for?
I primarily guide out of Biscayne Bay, Miami, FL. I have been guiding since 1987, approximately 27 years. In my earlier guiding career, I guided some in the Florida Keys and the Everglades National Park.
How did you become a fishing guide?
I became a fishing guide after becoming passionate with flats fishing in my late teenage years after spending much time in the Keys and the Bahamas.
How many days per year do you guide?
I am currently fishing over 250 days a year and I must say, it has not always been that way.
What species do most of your clients want to fish for? Why?
Most of my clients want to fish for bonefish, permit and tarpon, not always in that order.
Tell us about how the fishery used to be, compared to today.
The fisheries are dependent on times of the year. For example, tarpon fishing is best from March through mid-July. Permit fishing I would have to say is best April through November and bonefishing, here in Biscayne Bay, is an all-year fishery. However, I especially like the transitional seasonal months such as March and April (spring) and November-December (Florida fall) for bonefish. I used to think that there were yearly cyclical changes in the fisheries however, I have certainly seen a decline especially in bonefish, but not so much in tarpon and permit. It was not uncommon in years past, perhaps 15 years ago or so, to catch 5 to 8 bonefish per day, making that a good day in comparison to 2 or 3 for a good day today. I can remember fishing in the winter time when fish congregate, and seeing several hundred bonefish, if not more. Now, such a site is not as common.
In your opinion, what is the most important conservation issue facing the Keys fishery right now and what can be done to help fix it?
In my opinion, the most important conservation issue is awareness. All who contemplate the sport of fishing must be educated to respect and understand all factors necessary for the fisheries to thrive and survive.
Despite some of the negative things happening to our fishery, why do you love it so much?
One of the reasons why I love the sport so much is because of the degree of difficulty in catching bonefish, permit and tarpon. Unlike exotic locations such as the Bahamas, Mexico, the Christmas Islands just to name a few, we have, in South Florida, a quality fishery, not a quantity fishery. Our fish are larger, for the most part, and the skill level necessary to prevail makes for better anglers and better guides.
Why do you support Bonefish and Tarpon Trust?
I support BTT because the organization helps us understand the migratory, spawning and overall behavioral aspects of these species, provides insight to enhance and protect the fisheries while understanding the economic impact these species have throughout Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico, just to name a few. BTT’s goal is to ensure that the fisheries become and stay healthy to regain the numbers that once were prevalent.
Why should a fisherman that doesn’t live in Florida or the Caribbean care about BTT?
A non-resident fisherman would appreciate and support an organization such as BTT that strives to preserve and maintain a vibrant sustainable fishery for sportsmen of all backgrounds to enjoy for generations to come.
You have the day off. What species are you going to fish for, where are you going to find them, and what are you going to use to catch them?
On my day off, I will still get up at 4:30 a.m., have my Cuban coffee, load my fly rods and still be antsy to wait for bonefish to tail in slick, calm waters at sun up. As the morning breeze picks up and the sun rises to 9, 9:30a.m., while the tide rolls in, you might then find me sight-casting permit. Later that afternoon, on the flood tide, you will probably find me up tight on a bank waiting for ocean-side tarpon. Oh, gotta go…here comes a string!
Tell us one (or two) of your favorite fishing stories.
In 1992, just before Hurricane Andrew, I was invited up to Homosassa to help a friend chase a world record tarpon on 12lb test. I was on the poling platform most of the morning and I watched as my friend hooked a half dozen nice fish that he immediately and deliberately broke off exclaiming that the fish were too small. As a young captain, I was only used to tarpon in the 30 lb – 100 lb range and having an angler on the front of boat consistently break off so many nice fish was just heartbreaking. Later in the day it was my turn to fish and it wasn’t long until we found a nice group of fish. I made my cast and set the hook into a fish that easily tipped the scales at over 150lbs. It took off like a rocket, peeling off nearly 175 yards of line before making its first fantastic jump. Being such a green fisherman, it took me nearly 2 hours to land the fish. It wasn’t a world record, but I had never experienced something quite as amazing as that tarpon. It is truly a fish I will never forget.