This month’s Conservation Captain is veteran guide Capt. Bob Branham. Bob fishes the Key Biscayne and South Biscayne Bay areas and he has 35 years of guiding experience under his belt. Whether he is volunteering his time and boat for a research mission or sitting on the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust board, Bob has been an invaluable asset to the BTT team.
Where do you guide and how long have you been guiding for?
I fish mostly out of Key Biscayne in South Biscayne Bay but I occasionally fish the Keys and Flamingo. I have been guiding for 35 years.
How did you become a fishing guide?
I worked for Publix back in the day and would fish every chance I got. A good friend of mine did a story on Bill Curtis for the Miami Herald and introduced me to Bill. Bill would occasionally send me a charter that I would take on my day off. Soon I was getting too many trips and had to call in sick now and again. When I got busy enough to struggle by on just guiding I retired from Publix. I took my retirement and bought a new Hewes Bonefisher.
How many days per year do you guide?
Before I entered my declining years I would sometimes fish 80 to 90 days in a row during the season and would log 270- 280 days a year. Back then I prayed for bad weather so I could get a day off. These days I take a day or two off after working 6 or 8 days in a row.
What species do most of your clients want to fish for? Why?
My clients know that I am a species snob and only fish for bonefish, tarpon, and permit. I used to travel to Flamingo to fish for redfish and snook but don’t do it anymore. Redfish are OK but they don’t hold a candle to bonefish.
Tell us about how the fishery used to be, compared to today.
The fishery has changed a great deal in the last 35 years – not for the better. There are still lots of fish but fewer spots that hold them. There are many more guides and a huge amount of private boaters fishing for a declining number of fish. When I started hardly anybody fished on their own for bonefish. I blame many of our current fisherman population problems on the Internet.
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?
Water quality is probably the biggest problem in the Keys. Hopefully the new sewer system will help that down the road. Re-plumbing the Everglades should also be a priority. There are many laws on the books to protect the fishery but enforcement is largely nonexistent.
Despite some of the negative things happening to our fishery, why do you love it so much?
All you have to do is witness one sunrise on the flats and you will understand why I love this. The fish are just a huge bonus.
Why do you support Bonefish and Tarpon Trust?
BTT is currently our last best hope for turning around our declining fish numbers. They have grown into a well funded, science based, politically potent organization of truly motivated folks who love what I love and want to get it back.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that BTT does and why?
I think BTT’s strength lies in its research-based format. It is nice to know that the fishery is being looked after by people motivated by a love of the sport.
Why should a fisherman that doesn’t live in Florida or the Caribbean care about BTT?
Anybody that fishes anywhere in the world has heard of bonefish and wants to catch one someday. If he or she wants to realize that goal they need to pitch in and help return these fish to their historical range and population.
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?
When I have a day off I am heading to Biscayne Bay with a buddy or two and my fly rod and will look for bonefish.
Tell us one (or two) of your favorite fishing stories.
Years ago in March we had a strong cold front pass through. It was a sunny and windless day but the air temp was low 30′s- I had ice on my windshield when I got in my car. My customer was from Toronto and when he showed up I told him it was a no-go – water temp was 54 deg. and there was no way we would see a bonefish. He looked at me and said that he had to get out of the house as his kids were out of control and his wife had some honey-do’s lined up if he stayed home. He mentioned that it looked like a beautiful day to him – he was in shorts. I put on my down parka and off we went. We were headed south in hopes of maybe catching a cuda or something and when I got to Stiltsville, I couldn’t believe it. Bonefish mud was all over this flat. It seemed like every bonefish in the Bay was there, feeding hard. We stayed on that flat all day and hooked 30 fish on fly – none was less than 7 lbs. It did warm up a bit. Air temps hit 65 deg. and water temps came up to the low 60′s.- still way too low for bonefish or so I used to think.