Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 11 September 2018
One year ago today I sat on my front porch, facing NW, as hurricane force winds from the SE tore leaves and branches from my yard’s hammock and sailed them like dust and paper airplanes down the street. As wonder filled my eyes, concern for my other home, the mangrove coast of the Everglades, worried my imagination. In the year since I have been wandering about down there, looking more than fishing. At first, the damage I saw, especially along the coast, was depressing and far worse than what I had first imagined possible. The truth is, quite a lot of what I had thought to be permanent and invincible was not, and it will never be the same. Well, at least not in my lifetime.
Over the last week, I made a couple trips in short succession, by boat, investigating a rather specific environment – where the freshwater from the summer rain flooded prairies above begins to mingle into the tidal influences from below and thus becomes brackish. It is a curious and wonderfully picturesque area but not one particularly great for fishing.
It is not that there are few fish, in fact, they can be numerous, but they tend to be young fish. Snook, tarpon, redfish and mangrove snapper all can be found there. It is an environment where the little guys congregate or emerge from their rookeries and start to gain some weight. So, if you scale down your tackle accordingly the area can produce some very fun days. It is also an area where budding anglers can grow their skills. I spent a lot of years in areas such as this, and it is always nice to revisit.
The good news is we found all of the species above, and some were in almost normal concentrations. It was a very encouraging sign. There just might be a future with fish in it. These juvenile fish are captives because of their size. They are relatively bait sized compared to their older relatives and they do not have the physical ability yet to travel. There is a common saying that “fish have big tails”. It is a truism used to rationalize why today was fishless when yesterday the same area was full of action. The fish simply moved. The little guys in the brackish zone basically don’t have tails big enough to move very far.
Except for the obvious visual destruction above the water, and the algae-fueled turbidity below, it is very hard to draw any legitimate conclusions elsewhere. Did the bigger fish flee, or were they collateral damage? I guess only time will tell.
One of the biggest problems is trying to define a baseline. What actually was “normal”? Over the last few decades, there have been tremendous peaks and valleys in fish size, abundance, and location. There have been freezes, droughts, floods, and storms. Each of these extreme events has led to changes for the fish and the angler. It is easy to fall into the trap of “I remember when”, as the times when fish were quite numerous are the most indelible memories. It is much easier to forget the times when fish were scarce. So, if you are not careful, the memories used for your personal baseline can be a bit biased. Each and every past extreme event had both positive and negative effects.
It is probably the scientist in me that makes me crave more data. Until then I simply cannot make a call. Luckily, for me, I have no problem with the idea of doing more research! Cooler weather is right around the corner. Well, actually it will be about a dozen more weeks or so… but who is counting?