It was quiet and still.
So still in fact that the steam from my coffee cup gave great indication to the wind forecast - or lacktherof. Better yet, a glowing east sky provided a beautiful backdrop silhouetting palm trees on the barely present bank to the hum of an idling engine. The Northern Mosquito Lagoon is a wonderful estuary. Ever since I was a little kid, Flip Pallot’s words brought to life this majestic place during an episode of Walkers Cay Chronicles. I’d watch from my childhood home in New Orleans and let his narrative guide my imagination to a place I’d thought I’d never stand. Fortunately, life never stops and through a twist of fate, I got to see Flip’s words in the flesh.
As a faint orange light turned into a golden glow, my partner’s Hells Bay responded intently to his gentle command as he navigated the channels of the lagoon. Like we often do, we had trout on the brain. With each turn opening into a new body of water we effortlessly glided into the unknown leaving a trail of breadcrumbs signified by crab traps in a bubbling wake. Knowing we had to key on grass, he knew just the right spot and in no time the engine turned off and the push pole came out. As we perched on our stands and squinted down it was evident that the water was clear. Sand, the primary structure, provided eloquent bottom angulation which eventually gave way to the lifeblood of the lagoon – seagrass.
As we carefully drifted into a cove, mullet and other forms of prey dimpled the motionless water. Actually, my MirrOlure Top Pup created most of the surface action and for the next hour did most of the talking. Fortunately the language it spoke wasn’t appreciated as it drew discontent from a few of the big trout present. Unfortunately, my line wasn’t so much up to the task and decided it would break from its sole purpose – such is life. For the next several hours we grinded out a few areas, with only a handful of trout willing to say hello. However, with clear water and clear skies, each drift we made my partner nodded in disgust. It wasn’t our inability to catch fish or the level of commitment each trout lacked but the simple absence of grass on each flat we drifted. What was once pastures of flowing grass has now been reduced to pockets of stubble and filmy green algae - disheartening to say the least. I can empathize with his heartbreak, mainly because I’ve witnessed the ebbs and flows of the water quality issues that plague the Florida East Coast. In merely 2 years as a resident, I’ve witnessed the Banana River rebound from the largest fish kill on record only to turn back to a brown tide rust-like body of water caused by raw sewage and fertilizer runoff. A once flourishing estuary, with world class trout, has recessed into the great depression of fishing. Year after year brown tides bloom, and although it’s a natural response, it’s biologically fueled by greed from Big Sugar among other things.
Unfortunately I wish I could stop there, but 4 of our 9 states that have speckled trout possess fundamental issues that shake the foundation of their fisheries. From North Carolina and Mississippi’s commercial netting issues to Louisiana’s Public Land Access it’s clear that many challenges exist and threaten a pastime that shapes the fabric of how we live. As a recreational angler and licensed charter captain, I also shoulder some of the blame. Ego and industry-assuredness has led me to poor judgement on many occasions. Fueled by social media status, speckled trout casualties line docks and boats for the simplicity of a “like” or a share. In short, I’m not perfect, and I don’t claim to be, but I’m trying to do better. Not only am I challenging myself to be a better angler, but I’m challenging myself to be a better steward of the resource.
I have a tremendous passion for speckled trout fishing and chances are if you’re reading this, you do too. As a result, I would encourage you to do the same and educate yourself on issues or challenges that stare us in the face. Exercise your right to vote those politicians that share your vision and discipline yourself to attend public hearings or town halls. In addition, join or attend local chapter meetings for established organizations like CCA or Captains for Clean Water. Strength in numbers from the recreational side never hurt, but if that’s not your intent you at least have a forum to share concerns with other like-minded fisherman.
Unlike that day in the Northern Mosquito Lagoon, a gale force of concerns threatens our speckled trout fisheries. The choppy, undesirable conditions present a host of unforeseen challenges unlike the smooth calm seas I witnessed with every bend of the Florida landscape. Yet I’m still encouraged. Never in my life would I have ever imagined I’d pitch a bait to an 8+lb Florida trout, but fate brought me here to be inspired to ensure my children have the same opportunity in whichever fishery life takes them too.
So in closing, breathe deep the salty humid air, challenge yourself to be a better steward of the resource and pushpole your way to making a difference.
Tight lines and God Bless!