Search for Juvenile Tarpon and Permit

Last week Chris and I were on the hunt for juvenile tarpon and permit. On Tuesday we met Bruce in Port St. Lucie and headed to Hutchison Island to look for young of the year tarpon. We had some ideas of where to look from previous research conducted at Florida International Institute but our timing was a little off. We saw a few one year old fish but it was too early in the year to find any younger ones. We are going to try again in a few months.

On Wednesday, Julie (a graduate student at RSMAS) joined us on a quick trip to Key Biscayne to catch newly settled permit (< 1 inch and likely less than month old). This work is part of an ongoing project to better understand the timing and potential locations of permit spawning events by aging newly settled fish. We can use oceanic models to predict how many days it would take larvae to reach our beaches from different locations and check with the age of the fish that we find to see if it matches. We caught, measured and released over 150 permit less than 4 inches in two hauls but did not catch any of the really small ones that we hoped to find.

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Tarpon and Permit in the Virgin Islands

Last week I was working in St. John and St. Thomas as part of a large cooperative effort to survey the reef fish and benthic communities of the US Caribbean coral reef ecosystem. One evening after work, I went out for a snorkel to investigate some of the nearshore reefs just out from our apartment. Low and behold I came across two of our favorite species here at TBRC, tarpon and permit. The three tarpon were all small (<40 lbs) and I saw them on two consecutive days working a point where there was considerable amount of bait in the water. As we have not yet tagged a fish in these waters, I couldn’t help but wonder from where did these tarpon come and where are they heading as the mature. Hopefully we will get a chance in the future to tag a few larger fish in the Virgin Islands to better understand their migratory behavior.

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Tarpon fishing in Islamorada

We headed to Islamorada to board the R/V Endsley for 2 day trip tarpon fishing expedition!  Members of the Ault lab including David Bryan, Jiangang Lou, myself and Jerry Ault were on hand to participate in this effort.  The results of our first night out, yielded a blacknose and a blacktip shark, and no sign of a tarpon.  We headed back to Miami with optimism that we would do better the following evening.  The second night, Julie Brown, a new graduate student in Dr. Nelson  Earhardt’s lab came with us to see what tarpon fishing was all about and to observe how we tagged fish.  It turned out we once again caught a shark, a tiger shark in this case, but the only tarpon action we had occurred near the end of the night when we jumped a large tarpon.  It didn’t take the hook and we ended our trip with an appreciation of the beautiful sunsets of the Florida Keys.

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Boating through the Everglades

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Peace River Tag Recovery Trip

Dave and I headed to the Charlotte Harbor region to recover a satellite tag.  Our mode or transportation for this mission is a bit different than what we’re used to as we rented a canoe to access small backwater tributaries where we expected to find the tag. The tag started transmitting its location at noon, and as it turns out we happened to be sitting right in front of where the tag had settled on the shore.  The signal we received with our transmitter indicated the tag was within 20 ft. of us.  I dropped Dave off in the dense foliage on the shore and inside of 10 minutes, we had the tag in hand!  Storms were popping up around us and it looked like we were going to get hit, so we went back to the boat launch and had lunch at the Nav-a-gator, where we enjoyed swamp cabbage, alligator and fried Twinkies!

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Little Shark River and Mud Bay Data Download

Chris and I headed back into the Everglades on Tuesday to download data from our hydro-acoustic receiver array and look for yet another satellite tag that had come off a tarpon. This was going to be the first time that we have tried to locate and retrieve the receivers that we deployed this spring. Since we are not able to use surface buoys to mark the locations we needed to get in the water and snorkel around to find each receiver. We had a low tide for most of the morning which was helpful but the visibility was about a foot making the snorkeling pretty sporty. Once on the bottom in 6-8 ft of water, I was able to use a boat pole to feel around for the receivers and we were able to find and download data from 5 of our 6 Little Shark River receivers and 4 receivers in the Mud Bay region. Unfortunately we only had a little data from our tarpon but we did find that several bull sharks that had been tagged by FIU had been down in Mud Bay. In fact, several bull sharks had been in the area that morning while I was snorkeling. Good thing the visibility was bad.

After downloading the data and redeploying each receiver we started our search for the lost tag. In a little over an hour we found the tag about 10 feet into the mangroves in a small cove inside Mud Bay. Overall the bugs were surprisingly better than I expected (no mosquitoes) except for an incredible amount of no-see-ums at the launch in the morning and a steady barrage of horseflies whenever we got close to shore.

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Boca Grande Tarpon Tagging

I left Miami Friday afternoon to join Bruce over in Boca Grande to tag some tarpon. This weekend happened to be the culmination of the Profession Tarpon Tournament Series as well as a very popular weekend for local fishermen so there were tarpon anglers everywhere. Unfortunately there were sharks everywhere as well. During the two days that I was there, the ten guides that Bruce had talked with about helping us out were not able to land a single tarpon due to all the sharks. On Sunday, Bruce and I decided to head offshore to try to find a tag that had come off a tarpon tagged off Little Sable Creek, Everglades. It had been drifting for months and I was eager to recover the tag along with the hydro-acoustic transmitter that was attached to it. Within a few hours search we located the tag along with a crab that had been calling it home.

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Broad Key Weather Station Calibration and Tag Recovery

Jiangang, Neil Hammerschlag (http://rjd.miami.edu/) and I headed out to Broad Key to service TBRC’s weather station and try to find a tag that had come off a scalloped hammerhead. The broad key station is about 30 miles from RSMAS so we needed to picked a nice day to head there on our 16ft flats boat. The water in Biscayne Bay was flat, gin clear and the Broad Key station looked wonderful with royal poincians in full bloom. Jiangang had the station re-calibrated in a little over an hour and then we headed off the find the tag. Within 20 minutes of searching through the mangroves we found it and saw that a large portion of the float had been sanded off by the rough skin of the shark. Even though this specific type of tag does not log data, retrieval is extremely important for the never ending improvements that we make to ensure that we are using the best design as possible.

 

 

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Everglades Cheekie Adventure

Early May brings Dave and I back to the Everglades to complete the deployment of our hydro-acoustic array. In order to accomplish all of our work we decided to camp overnight  on a cheekie deep in the backcountry.  The  trip started with our standard protocol of stopping at ‘Robert is here’ for a fruit milkshake.  We drove all the way down to Flamingo and loaded our boat with sensors, camping gear, water and fuel and headed for our cheekie.  It was a about an hour boat ride to our site where we setup camp immediately to both offload the gear from the boat and to avoid the ever-present mosquitos we would encounter at dusk.  For those that have never ventured to The Everglades in the summer, the park service has a rating system for mosquito levels much like it’s system for forest fire danger.  The level we could expect on this trip was the highest, which the park service labels ‘hysterical’.  Once camp was established, we headed out to our predetermined sites to deploy and range-test our sensors.  This consumed our day and nearing suppertime we headed back to our cheekie to prepare our meal.  We wanted to make the most of our time in the Everglades and so earlier in the day we decided to do some night fishing after dinner.  Dave made an excellent concoction from pasta, black olives, and a jar of pesto, which we packed up and put on the boat and prepared for our nighttime excursion.  We chose to fish ‘Tarpon Highway’ as we were familiar with the site and had fished it at night on previous trips.  Using Rapela lures, we set our trolling lines out into the current and waited.  We didn’t have to wait long…for mosquito’s to make their presence known.  We donned raingear and head buffs in an attempt to keep them off of us, and finally I resorted to a thermocell.  It was like the ‘Iron Dome’ used by Israel.  The mosquito’s sounded like an airplane squadron just beyond the range of our thermocell.  About half an hour after putting our lines into the water, we had a strike.  The tarpon missed the lure.  Suddenly, we had one strike after another, for a total of 12  hits.  We jumped 6 tarpon, and caught one that was approximately 30 lbs. Most of the fish were less than 60 lbs but we did jump at least one monster fish that seemed over 150. Things got quiet after that brief swarm of tarpon strikes and we retired to our cheekie for the night.  The following morning we decided to try ‘Tarpon Highway’ one more time, and made a short trip to our fishing spot.  Nothing appeared to be happening, so after 45 minutes we returned to our cheekie and broke camp.  We needed to refuel the boat, offload our camping gear and pick-up the remaining hydro-acoustic sensors so we returned to Flamingo.  The rest of the day was spent deploying sensors and exploring the whitewater bay area and its surrounding water channels.  By late afternoon, we had deployed all of our sensors and explored both Tarpon Bay a new area with no sign of tarpon. We   returned to Flamingo before dark and departed for home.

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Three Day April Taging Trip to Everglades National Park

It’s been almost a month since our first tagging trip to the Everglades and the waters have warmed bringing the promise of a successful tarpon tagging trip. In addition to myself, Jiangang, Chris and Bruce from TBRC, we had three exciting guest anglers accompanying us; Adam Marton an experienced fly rod tarpon angler from Chicago,  Captain Dave Mangum, a guide and charter business owner from the Florida panhandle (http://www.shallowwaterexpeditions.com/) and angler and videographer Graham Morton from waterline media (http://vimeo.com/47187988).  Once again, we would be utilizing the R/V Endsley (http://www.curtasea.com/home) as a base camp enabling us to spend as much time as possible on the water fishing.

Day 1. After unloading our gear onto the R/V Endsley, all three flats boats made their way to Tarpon Bay.  Dave started up the action with a 100 lb. fish caught on fly and tagged by Bruce.  A few hours later, Adam hooked up a 140 lb. tarpon on fly which was also successfully tagged by Bruce. As the day progressed, each boat continued to jump tarpon but no other fish were caught and tagged

Day 2. Each boat went their separate way to look for more tarpon to catch and tag. Chris, Jiangang and I went to Tarpon Pond to see what we could find. As we first entered the system and starting idling up the main creek with our trolling motor, we saw at least a dozen tarpon rolling.  While unsuccessfully casting lures we followed rolling fish deeper into the system.  At one confluence there were dozens of tarpon all around us. I jumped a 150 lb right next to the boat, Jiangang jumped a fish, Chris jumped a fish, but it wasn’t until we were several hundred yards up a tiny creek that Chris got our first solid hook up. The creek was so small that I was not able to maneuver the boat and Chris had to circle the boat at least two times while fighting the fish and trying to keep it from breaking off in the mangroves. After twenty minutes we caught and successfully released the beautiful 40 pound tarpon, but it was too small for our tags.

Coordination activities in the Everglades is difficult as there is no cell phone reception and  marine radio communications are limited. We spent the rest of the afternoon  wishing that one of our professional anglers would find us in Tarpon Pond to help land a taggable fish. While we were fishing Tarpon Pond, Bruce and Adam tagged a tarpon off the mouth of Little Sable Creek.  Dave and Graham jumped fish in several different locations, but were unable to land any.  After dinner Jiangang, Chris and I decided to try our luck at Tarpon Highway. We arrived at slack tide and had constant action for over an hour, with tarpon busting the surface all around us. We jumped several tarpon and landed two bull sharks.

Day 3. We began day three fishing an outgoing tide in Ponce de Leon Bay where Jiangang jumped a nice tarpon that were unable to land it.  We took our time heading back to Tarpon Pond to allow Dave and Graham a chance to catch a tarpon with minimal boat traffic. Unfortunately, with a different tide cycle, the activity we witnessed the day before was non-existent.  Dave and Graham left for other fishing sites and we headed up to Tarpon Bay to look for fish and wait for the tide to change.  Jiangang caught a 50 lb. tarpon that we decided to tag as the fish looked very healthy.

As the day wore on we decided to start working our way back to Flamingo.  As we drove by Mud Bay we saw that the prevailing winds had created a perfect shelter and after drifting for a few minutes in the center of the bay we saw a few rolling tarpon. While I was retrieving a casted bomber lure, a tarpon nailed it and the fight was on.  Within 20 minutes, we had the tarpon boat-side and Jiangang and I worked feverishly to remove two treble hooks from its mouth.  Eventually, the hooks came free and we successfully revived and released the 100 lb. tarpon to end a successful tagging trip to the Everglades.

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