The fishing reports for tarpon in the Whitewater Bay region of the Everglades National Park didn’t look promising due to several late cold fronts that recently swept through south Florida. Despite Mother Nature’s late spring curve-ball, the Ault lab took to the field for a long planned multi-day fishing trip during what is typically a period of ‘hot tarpon fishing’. We actively sought and fished for tarpon using the TBRC’s flats boat in tandem with Captain Bruce Ungar’s boat, while using the R/V Endsley as our mother ship and source of coffee and gourmet meals for the trip duration (http://www.curtasea.com/home).
We split our team into two fishing groups with Chris, Jerry and Bruce scouting for tarpon while Jiangang and I range tested the hydro-acoustic receivers and fine-tuned the placement of the array. We wanted to detect any movement of tagged tarpon in and out of the whitewater bay region of the Everglades National Park. To do so we deployed receivers in six locations that we felt would best detect tarpon movements. It is critical to the success of employing this technology that each receiver can effectively receive signals across each channel that we are trying to monitor. One of the challenges we faced was the strong tidal current that flows through some of the channels. At one of our sites, we were unable to detect any acoustic signals during our range testing exercise due to the current creating a ‘bubble curtain’ that extend from the surface to the seafloor and blocked the signal.
While range testing on the first day, Jiangang and I found a pronounced ‘hole’ in the bottom topography, right in the middle of a high flow area. This looked promising and potentially a good fishing spot given the right conditions. As evening set in, we anchored up-current of what we now call ‘Tarpon Highway’ and dropped our bait into the water. Shortly after sunset, we hooked-up a 110 lbs fish, on a dead mullet. As the battle ensued, Jiangang maneuvered our boat down current while I fought the fish. Bruce’s boat prepped the tagging equipment and we brought the boats close together so that I could jump over to Bruce’s boat to land and tag the fish.The fight continued and after approximately 30 minutes, we had the fish alongside the boat where Bruce successfully tagged and released our first fish of the trip.
Over the next two days we continued to fish Tarpon Highway at sunrise, sunset and into the night and continued to get bites but were not able to land any more fish. One of the more enjoyable aspects of our time at Tarpon Highway was watching flocks of Egrets cruise past on their daily migrations to-and-from their feeding grounds. During the day we scouted many of the typically productive tarpon fishing spots but unfortunately we didn’t find any more. I think the cold weather may have kept the majority of the tarpon out of the system.