Pick up a newspaper, or tune in your television news and you’ll be hard pressed to avoid mention of the “environmental” effort circling our planet. Every activity is either “green” or it doesn’t rate on the scale as being ecofriendly. And all that is certainly good and necessary as we all take our roles as stewards of our world’s resources more seriously.
But, you know what? If you are an angler, you’ve been putting environmental issues in the forefront for years. Perhaps unconsciously, but nonetheless those issues are very evident every time you adhere to a regulation or custom in your chosen sport.
Not everyone knows that though! Especially youngsters who are in the vanguard of the learning curve of environmentalism, but are generally unaware of the gargantuan efforts in place to protect our marine resources.
We had all that come together, quite by accident, on a charter trip over the Thanksgiving break.
The guests, for this trip, were a couple, their teenage daughter, and two of her friends, all from school back somewhere on the outskirts of Boston. Nice folks, but I’ve learned over the years that a gaggle of young teens tolerate the trip with M&D to socialize and sightsee but not to fish. Today would become somewhat of an exception.
I kind of knew where we were going when, as I started the engine, one of the teenies squeaked “Eww, that motor smokes. It’s harming the environment!”
The engine quickly settled in and stopped “smoking” and off we went.
As we made our way down the river amongst fairly heavy boat traffic, the dolphins were busy showing off to all the boaters with their splishes and splashes. Our Bostonians were among the enthralled, especially the girls.
Our first stop on our fishing extravaganza was the Capri Pass. The Pass, for the last week or so had been non-stop action, and today would be no exception. Albeit it was mainly ladyfish action, there were enough Spanish mackerel and pompano to hold the attention of the dozen or so boats already assembled.
Mom and Dad got right into the action with tipped jigs; the girls just sat in the bow lathering themselves with sunscreen, that is, until one of them spotted a dolphin cavorting just astern of the boat.
Back they came in a stampede with “Ohs and Ahs” and cameras. Just then Dad hooked into a ladyfish and was struggling to get it to the boat. His effort accelerated as the dolphin took off after the hooked fish. The girls were all screams as Dad catapulted the ladyfish up and into the boat with the dolphin right on it’s tail.
The girls went bananas with pleas of, “The poor dolphin is hungry. Feed him the fish!” as we hurried to release the struggling ladyfish.
At that point we held and released the ladyfish on the other side of the boat as the dolphin tuned tail to stalk a fish caught on a boat close by.
It was time for a little instruction. I explained to the crew that, first of all, feeding a wild dolphin is against the law and subject to a major fine. That aside, the marine wildlife folks are very concerned that dolphins have learned that capturing a hooked fish is a lot easier than chasing one.
Net result, they are taking fish off the lines and ingesting the hooks, leads and lures. Any of those could severely injure the dolphin by perforating the digestive tract. That’s why we can’t feed dolphins. It’s just one of many environmental safeguards we have had in place for years.
The girls just sat there with mouths open absorbing the issue. So did the parents.
The holiday boat traffic continued to build in the Pass and made it almost impossible to stay standing with the rocking wakes. I suggested we go offshore on one of the reefs. With consensus and a flat sea off we went.
We found a quiet spot about five miles out where we were the only boat. Girls liked that they could soak up the sun with no disturbance.
After explaining to the parents that this reef would hold lots of mackerel and, if they were still in a catch and release mode, we would switch over to circle hooks to lessen the damage to the mackerel and insure their survival post release.
As I tied on the circle rigs, the gang from the front wanted to know about circle hooks. Back to the classroom!
I explained how a circle hook works and how it tumbles to catch the fish in the lip and save the damage caused when a fish strikes a hook. They were fascinated with the concept and asked me to rig up three more rods.
We set the chum and put shrimp on jig heads with circle hooks. As has been the usual over the past month, the mackerel action was thick and constant. The girls were hooking up regularly with constant squeals and screams. But they always stopped long enough to watch the hook removal that always was, as advertised, a clean hook up in the corner of the mackerel’s mouth.
Not wanting to let an opportunity for another marine environmental plug get away, I made sure they knew how extensive the circle hook usage was becoming and much of it at the sole discretion of individual anglers. People who fish have a great sense of the marine environment and its protection.
The mouths were closed this time but they absorbed the thought.
Mackerel fishing (catching) is exhausting and soon our crew began to rack the rods and sit down. That is a bad sign on a charter trip.
I suggested a little bottom fishing on a small reef nearby. They nodded.
With rigs changed over to weighted bottom rigs we began our exploration of the bottom. The fishing was slower here and the fish smaller. We put one of those little pinfish on a big rig and dropped it to the bottom. Out here you just never know.
We had been at the bottom fishing effort with marginal results when, all of a sudden, the big rod doubled over. A big fish had taken our pinfish!
Dad was the designated angler this time and struggled trying to get our big fish up off the bottom. With a damp brow and arms cramping, he brought his catch to the surface. It was a good size gag grouper well over the keeper size of 22 inches but another release candidate for these kind people.
We measured him and quickly returned him to the water boatside. You could readily see his swim bladder was inflated and he would not be able to return to the depths. “Now what do we do?” asked one of the girls.
Fortunately we had one of the deflator tools issued by the Sea Grant folks aboard and it took but a few seconds to insert the needle and deflate the bladder.
That ended our day and we headed for home. I asked the girls, now quiet, reflective and tired, how they liked the environmental protection efforts we have in place in the marine world.
They were all positive and surprised as to how much is being done. The daughter asked if I could e-mail her some information on the environmental actions that are already in place to protect and perpetuate the marine resource. She volunteered to use it as part of her term paper and share it with her class. Impressive!
I sent that e-mail earlier this week. With pride!
Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.