Conservation Captain Of The Month: Capt. Bob Branham

201408_BobBranhamThis 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.

Click here to visit Capt. Bob Branham’s website

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.

Traveling Angler Trip Report: Belcampo Lodge, June 2014

AAdams-3496It’s odd to wake with a smile to what sounds like someone being killed outside of my bedroom window, but in this case it was a good thing. I was waking up in the rainforest of southern Belize, awakened by two troops of Howler monkeys trying to yell one another down at the boundary between their territories. Although another hour of sleep would have been nice, this meant that in just a couple of hours I would be scanning the water for permit.

I awoke to the sounds of the Howler monkeys numerous times over the next week, as did my fellow traveling anglers, all of us lodging at Belcampo Belize, our host for this Traveling Angler trip. Our goal was to catch and tag AAdams-3547as many permit as we could with “spaghetti tags” as part of a project to track the movements of permit. One of the main questions we hope to answer with the tagging program is – are the existing protected areas (Paynes Creek and Port Honduras Marine Reserves) large enough to protect the permit population?

Another goal, an ambitious one at that, was to catch a permit larger than 18 pounds so we could fit it with a mini-satellite tag. (In 2013, we tested whether a permit of this size could physically handle the tag by fitting a tag on a permit that was kept in a large tank, AAdams-3969and it handled the tag without a problem.) The tag will record light level, time of day, water temperature, and salinity, so will provide some clues about the permit’s daily movements onto and off of the flats, and in and out of the estuaries.

The daily routine was to board the shuttle in the morning for the ride down the hill to Garbutt’s Marine in Punta Gorda, where we boarded the pangas for the day of fishing. The Port Honduras and Paynes Creek areas are a short ride from Garbutt’s, and the Pangas made for a AAdams-1001comfortable ride even when seas were rough.

Eight permit were caught during the week, each one of them tagged with a spaghetti tag. One captured permit was estimated at 25 pounds, but unfortunately the chase boat with the satellite tag was too far away. This healthy permit was released with a spaghetti tag.

The Traveling Anglers on the trip were a fantastic group, Belcampo Belize did a fantastic job hosting the trip, and the guides were top notch. We’re looking forward to another trip next year.

Traveling Angler Trip Report: Palometa Club, May 2014

By: Dr. Aaron Adams

It never ceases to amaze me how a fish so large can disappear in water so AAdams-3746skinny. But that’s exactly what had just happened. The cast was in the air and both the guide and I lost sight of the permit just 50 feet away. I fished the fly as if the fish was still there, but it showed itself one more time, at 70 feet and moving away, before heading out of sight for good. That was the way the week went for me – the permit somehow knew where I was and where I was casting…and went the other way. But this was to be expected, I’ve been in a bit of a permit slump of late, and this was par for the course.

AAdams-3694Still, the Palometa Club, in Ascension Bay, Mexico, is a good place to work out the kinks. If the permit are acting snotty, there are plenty of bonefish on the flats, and tarpon and snook in the backcountry. This is why we were hosting a Traveling Angler Trip at the Palometa Club for the second year in a row, the permit fishing is fantastic – just a week prior a guest landed the 1,000th permit landed at the Club – but there is a lot more to chase as well.

The permit fishery is primarily within Ascension Bay, though sometimes the guides will make the run to Espiritu Santo Bay. All of the fishing grounds are within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, which has strict controls on everything from AAdams-0989development (very little is allowed) to the number of tour guides (including fishing guides) that can be licensed. The combination of habitat protection and limits on effort are what have kept the fishery healthy. In fact, since nets were banned approximately 15 years ago, the number of size of bonefish has increased.

AAdams-3727The goal of the anglers on this Traveling Angler trip was to tag permit with “spaghetti tags” external tags with identification numbers. By tracking where permit were tagged and then the locations of their recapture, we can get a better idea of their movements. The key question is – is the protected area large enough to protect the fishery, or are permit moving outside of the Reserve into unprotected areas?

Given my current slump with permit and the fact that I didn’t catch any during the trip, I’m a bit fuzzy on who caught what. But I have it on good authority that 7 permit were caught and tagged during the week, adding to the impressive total of permit caught (many of them tagged) at the Palometa Club.

Maybe next year I’ll tag one too.

BTT President Matt Connolly Interview on Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World Radio

BTT President Matt Connolly recently sat down with Rob Keck, host of Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World Radio, to discuss his storied career, BTT’s history, and some of our current initiatives. Click on the media player below to listen to each segment of the show.

Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World radio airs on Saturdays at 9 a.m. Central time on RURAL RADIO, channel 80 on SiriusXM.

Young Tournament Angler Awarded BTT’s Sportsmanship & Conservation Award For Reviving Overstressed Redfish

RedGhost Stalk anglers (ages 9-25) took their best handling skills seriously while fishing the one-day redfish and bonefish tournament on July 28th.

In the late July heat, fish were under more stress than usual and required extra care after a hard fight. As a result of his strong catch and release ethics, Fifteen year old angler Michael Shea of Islamorada dove in to revive a nice-sized redfish and secure its healthy swim-off. For his actions, Shea received the Sportsmanship & Conservation Award sponsored by BTT.

BTT's Brooke Black and Angler Michael Shea. Photo credit: Bob Royall

Recent Florida Keys Baby Bonefish Search a Success

For the second year in a row, scientists, guides, and volunteers from Bonefish and Tarpon Trust went on the hunt for baby bonefish in the Florida Keys. By “baby” we mean juvenile Albula vulpes less than 5” long or bonefish larvae. In the past, BTT has funded research in the Bahamas to identify preferred nursery habitats for the juvenile bonefish. We are now taking that information and applying it in the Florida Keys to identify similar habitats.

In our previous search during the summer of 2013, we were unsuccessful in finding any baby bonefish in the Keys. Their absence obviously raised some concerns and we were eager to see if sampling a year later would yield a more positive result.

After revising our search strategy based on the previous year’s results and new information from the Bahamas, BTT set out for the week long Baby Bonefish Blitz in June. We are happy to announce that this year we were successful in locating juvenile bonefish in one location of the Upper Keys where BTT staff and volunteers seined a shoreline that had been identified as likely juvenile bonefish habitat. The juveniles were found with a couple hundred mojarras, something we’ve come to expect based on the previous BTT research conducted in The Bahamas. We are currently awaiting genetic analysis to confirm that these were juvenile Albula vulpes, and not one of the other species of bonefish that aren’t caught in the recreational fishery.

In many of the places where we did not find juvenile bonefish, we located beautiful habitat that seemed ideal. We will continue to refine our sampling techniques to locate juvenile bonefish nurseries in the Florida Keys and further our understanding and conservation of the Florida Keys flats fisheries.

We thank a long list of volunteers who donated their boats, backs and brains to BTT: Nelson Padron, Carmen Perez-Padron, Capt. Richard Black, Charlotte Berry, Rob Preihs, John Preihs, Natalie Flinn, Al Flinn, Derke Snodgrass, Arthur Black, Patrick Pace, Joseph Cross, AJ Juliano, Bryce Wheaton, Chris O’neill, Capt. Will Benson, Linda Denkert, Tim Henshaw, Andrew O’Niell, Capt. Simon Becker, Bill Stroh, Sebastian Palay, Capt. Bob Branham, Kyle Velunza and Jessica Wietsma.

If you find juvenile bonefish like the ones in the photo, please let us know the location and date (email: info@bonefishtarpontrust.org). Please do not collect the juvenile bonefish; a research permit is required to collect.

Permit Satellite Tagging: Costa’s Project Permit

On April 7th, 2014, as part of Costa’s Project Permit, we ventured out and successfully placed the first ever satellite tag on a Florida Keys permit! Costa’s Project Permit is joint effort between Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and Costa Sunglasses to address data shortcomings specific to the permit species. The catch and recapture data will finally inform us on permit movements in Florida waters and provide managers with new data that might be applied to management zones. For more information visit http://www.btt.org or http://www.projectpermit.com

The Bahamas Initiative Addresses Threats to the Bonefish Fishery

The Bahamas have some of the best bonefish fishing in the world, thanks to many miles of shallow flats, and to a community of fishing guides that act as stewards of the fishery and its habitats. In a study conducted in 2009, during the height of the Great Recession, the recreational fishery for bonefish in the Bahamas had an annual economic impact exceeding $141 million (USD).  With more recreational fishermen traveling today as the economy recovers, that number is certainly higher. The fishery not only supports jobs, but also allows a culture that relies on the sea to continue.

Despite its economic and cultural importance, the fishery faces trouble. The trouble comes in the form of gillnets, resource extraction, and coastal development.

Gillnets:  Despite regulations that prohibit the capture of bonefish with nets, the use of nets to target bonefish is increasing. The most troubling case is on Long Island, where gillnetting on the flats has already negatively impacted the bonefish population, and is threatening the future of the fishery. Despite these illegal acts being reported by fishing guides and others, enforcement has been lacking. Whether the bonefish are being used for bait or are illegally sold at market, their capture brings significantly less economic value than if those fish remained alive and part of the recreational fishery. Nevin Knowles, head of Long Island Bonefishing Lodge, said, “If this keeps up for five years, our bonefish population in Long Island will be gone.  They’re using, at the last estimate, a $58,000 bonefish to catch a 90 cent snapper, and they’re killing our industry”, referring to the estimated value of a single caught and released bonefish given the overall value of the fishery. He continued, “The tourists go to the Out Islands for the fishing. That’s the only thing that attracts tourists to Long Island. They’re killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.” The complete story about the ongoing gillnetting on Long Island is summarized in an article from The Tribune. Click here to read the article.

In the recent past, similar episodes have been reported on Grand Bahama Island and South Andros.

Dr. David Philipp, Chair of the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, sums it up well: “Bonefish are very susceptible to capture by netting, and removal of those fish could crush the Long Island bonefish population for years to come. This would destroy an extremely valuable industry that benefits the entire community. Everyone in those communities should act to prevent those irresponsible persons from stealing the Bahamas’ natural resources for their own purposes.”

Harold Brewer, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust board member and Managing Director of the Bahamas, with Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie during a meeting about conservation of the bonefish fishery at Deep Water Cay in 2013.

Resource Extraction:  The flats of Grand Bahama Island are world-renown for their large and plentiful bonefish. One of the first bonefish lodges in the Bahamas was located on the east end of the island, adjacent to the expansive sand flats that extend for miles to the southeast. This area has been proposed as a National Park to provide protections to the bonefish fishery and other fisheries important to residents. These sand flats are being proposed as a site for sand mining, with sand dredged to a depth of 16 feet. Of particular concern is the area near Bursus Cay. After a public meeting in McLean’s Town in May 2014, Eric Carey, Bahamas National Trust’s Executive Director noted, “The East End Communities, especially the fishermen, have made a strong case for this proposed national park. Noting the importance of Bursus Cay as to the sustainability of their fishery, and the threat that the proposed dredging represents, they have asked Bahamas National Trust to expand the original proposal, to include this important area.” In a story about a similar meeting concerning the proposed park and possible dredging project as reported in BahamasIslandsInfo.com, local fisherman Cecil Leathern said, “We all know what will happen if this dredging is allowed; how it could destroy not only the bonefish flats and our lobster grounds, but also affect them down in Abaco.  We need it all protected.”

A school of bonefish at a spawning site.

Coastal Development:  After years of research and working with fishing guides, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust researchers have identified a bonefish spawning location on Abaco. Early data suggest that this may be the only spawning location for bonefish that inhabit the world famous Abaco Marls. Bonefish that live in the Marls for most of the year migrate to the spawning location each winter, and return to the Marls after spawning. A proposed resort development along the migration pathway and near the spawning site would disrupt spawning, with inevitable impacts to the bonefish population and the fishery.

Bonefish Conservation:  Bonefish & Tarpon Trust has been working with collaborators to address these threats to the bonefish fishery in the Bahamas for the past 8 years. BTT is working with science partners, fishing guides, and lodges to conduct tag-recapture research to identify the home ranges of bonefish. We’re also working to identify the migration pathways to spawning sites, and to identify spawning sites. This information is then used to develop habitat and fish conservation plans to ensure a healthy bonefish fishery. We’re hopeful that information gained in recent years on Grand Bahama Island and Abaco is being used to enact protections for the bonefish fishery and habitats on those islands. We are now applying efforts to other islands, including Long Island, Andros, Great Exuma, Acklins, and others.

A crew comprised of scientists, guides, and volunteers tag bonefish as part of the Bahamas Initiative.

 

How You Can Help:  While the information from the work of BTT and collaborators is essential to enacting conservation strategies for bonefish and their habitats, it is not enough. Your help is needed to ensure a healthy future for the fishery. Visit www.btt.org and Contribute to BTT to help fund the Bahamas Initiative. Write a letter expressing your concerns about the threats to the bonefish fishery.  Email the letters to us, we’ll compile them and present them in the Bahamas.

 

Former President George H.W. Bush Honored For His Commitment To Conservation

Last week, conservation leaders from around the country gathered in Kennebunkport, Maine to honor former president George H. W. Bush for his commitment to conservation.

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris led the delegation and presented Bush with the Bass Pro Shops Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award. “President Bush is a remarkable man who has had an immeasurably profound and positive impact on our nation’s fish and wildlife resources,” Morris said. “He is a longtime and passionate fisherman and sportsman and that well-known love of fishing has made him one of the best ambassadors the sport of fishing has ever had. Most people don’t realize all that President Bush has done for conservation. During his presidency, he established 56 new wildlife refuges, more than even President Theodore Roosevelt who established 50 refuges. . . All of us at Bass Pro Shops are proud to pay tribute to him for everything he has done to uphold our hunting and fishing traditions as well as for his work on behalf of restoring and enhancing wildlife and fisheries habitat.”

During the celebration, Bonefish and Tarpon Trust president Matt Connolly presented a framed Monroe County Resolution and letter of support from Florida Governor Rick Scott to rename Islamorada’s “Little Basin” Flat to “Two George Flat.” BTT advocated renaming of the flat in honor of President Bush and his long time friend, fishing buddy, and legendary Florida Keys fishing guide, the late George Hommell, Jr. Hommell, who was a founding member of Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, was remembered last April with a sunset celebration at World Wide Sportsman where $205k was raised for the BTT George Hommell Florida Keys Habitat Fund. The two men shared a love of flats fishing and they were both deeply passionate about the conservation of the Florida Keys fisheries.

Mr. Connolly commented, “It was my great honor, on behalf of BTT, to present President George HW Bush with copies of the official actions of Monroe County and the state of Florida to re-name Little Basin Flat to “Two George Flat.” It stands as a living tribute to the late George Hommell and his long time fishing partner President George HW Bush as it was their favorite fishing hole. Their partnership is emblematic of BTT’s long tradition of working together with like minded partners and it is BTT’s goal to return the flats of the Keys to the bountiful vigor that first greeted these two American icons; one a committed citizen conservationist and the other a visionary conservationist president.”

In addition to receiving honors from Bass Pro Shops and BTT, former President Bush was also recognized by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the American Sportfishing Association and Ducks Unlimited.