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"Oil Spill" & the fate of the tarpon off west coast of Florida

Capt. Mike Locklear
August 29, 2010
Homosassa - Saltwater Fishing Report

For over 15 years I have been plying northern waters of Homosassa Florida. About 120 miles as the crow flies and a few degrees cooler, that comes in real nice during the summer months. The place is "The Forgotten Coast". In fact, the human population has decreased since five years ago when Hurricane Dennis storm surge made a mess of the coast, then the real estate bubble popped. Then the gas prices went sky high and now we are in a doubled dipped recession at the changing of the Commander and Chief.

Times have been rougher than usual pertaining to the charter boat industry. But we are surviving just fine so far. a lot to be thankful for.

Florida's Big Bend and Panhandle tourism businesses took a big hit with the "oil spill" in these parts of the gulf. Although the oil did not reach the Big Bend or "The Forgotten Coast" (kindly the two title names share or overlap the same places) the oil booms were set out as a precaution and distorted the migration of summer tarpon. We were very fortunate the oil did not reach the beautiful beaches this side of Panama City Beach. Just take it from this Florida Cracker, that our gulf waters are clean, the seafood is still great tasting. I just ate fried mullet that I caught myself and it was so very good tasting.

My profession and thoughts has taken a turn from depending fully on the gulf's natural fin fish population resources totally due to the oil spill and the thought lingers that future ones may crop up like hurricanes! I sure hope not! What a wake up call.

I will continue to fish and guide clients for tarpon next year, Lord willing the fish will be back. Speaking of which Danielle and Earl are tropical depressions and pose no real alarm to Florida.

Each summer beginning in late June to early September schools of migratory tarpon make there way around Bald Point and continue to St. George Island. Some tarpon remain here year round and some go into the rivers to cool off. But the tarpon that kept going west are the ones that concern me. I just hoped they smelled the oil and turned away.

--------------------------------------------------

Highly acclaimed UAM professor, Dr. Jerry Ault of Miami's Rosensteil School was quoted in an editorial wrote by Mike Mazur of FLY FISHING IN SALT WATERS Magazine concerning this very serious situation. Mazur wrote that Ault was troubled and murmered the DH oil spill as "ground zero" for migratory schools of tarpon.*

Those thousands of tarpon have possibly passed through the oil plumes that BP would like everyone to think is 80% removed by skimmers, wickers, volunteers, evaporation, disperment breakdown or otherwise eaten by micro-bacteria. Ault is more certain that the tarpon did in fact enter the plumes. I read in FFSW where Mazur wrote "they are headed right smack dab in the middle of it." This is where they fish come to feed after spawning.

So this has added to my worry level from yellow to orange after reading the magazine. A client and fellow tarpon nut brought me the magazine from Mayport. Just what I needed is more crap about Evans record tarpon bashing on page 12 of the S/O2012 issue. One reader asked what they did with the carcass. I heard on the tarpon telegraph that the head was put into a crab trap. But that could have been Bayport Inn bar whisky talking. My best guess is that Captain Dopirak towed it out into the gulf for the sharks to enjoy. At least I hope he did not leave the carcrass in the river.

Most people know my feelings about killing any huge tarpon and I passionately release them back into the wild. Mike will be hearing from me about the "kill". I hope I can get in on the deadline for the next issue. But eventually it will be published. We certainly can not bring the fish back to life or convert Tom Evans into a non-head hunter.

There were some noble comments made about the ability to catch such a tarpon on a light tippett such as 12-pound tarpon "Shame on Evans he should have stayed home on the phone by Linda from Reno. What's that all about? Is she a friend of Evans?

I get mad when people kill Homosassa tarpon for records. Why don't they go to Africa and fish over there where the real challenge is? I stay mad at Evans because he does this and Pate when he did it. Apte when he did it but back then there were so many fish around you never gave it a second thought. And Malzone, the beast of a man killed a tarpon for recognition. Then there's Clyde and he is a good guy and old enough, like Tom he can do WTF he wants to. It is not that big of a deal to catch one of the monster herrings. My Dad killed thousands (when it was show and tell) and when one dies on my boat it is a bad call but none the less a "kill". Call me a killer too if you want.

Evans has released more tarpon than all of the complainers combined have even seen. Like I say, go smoke your dope! I really feel different since this BP oil spill and I just found out today thanks to Wayne Saunders of Mayport, a regular guy with a new Hells Bay and subscriber to FFSW that Jerry pinpointed the direction of our tarpon to ground zero to the BP oil spill and some of Mike's readers were p-ode at Evans photograph and big kill.

A seasonal tarpon fishery like we have had off Homosassa the past 50 years has brought in millions of tourism dollars from purchases of boats and motors, motels, restaurants fly rod and reels companies, clothing companies and the list just goes on. So we still got a huge mess here and before the oil spill, business for guys like me make half their annual income in two to three months. So yes it has had an impact and we will just have to wait and see if the tarpon are smarter than what we give them credit for.

Because of the effect the oil spill has had on me, I am transcending to offer more fresh water nature tours of spring fed rivers and boat rides to the springs themselves. The ones I will be taking homage to will be the Wakulla Spring and those northwest and northeast of Citrus County.

A quarter of century is long time to work the same waters year after year. The charm has worn off and the excitement just is not there after experiencing a threat such as the "oil spill" coming as close as it did. After watching the thriller of "2012" last night, nothing would matter in nature anyway if you pay attention to Hollywood. Actually there is biblical prophesy that the year 2012 could be the beginning of the end for the world as we know it today. So folks it is time to do your "bucket list."

Just recently Capt. Gregg Arnold called me to talk about his quest for a blue marlin on the fly rod. This was not off the coast of Louisiana where he pridefully developed a new world record fishery for red drum called "The Land of the Giants" exactly where the oil came ashore this past summer.

About the whereabouts of where Gregg fished, I would rather not say where it was and how many striped marlin his friend the skipper put their friends on. Arnold called me and left a rare voice mail and all he said was, "I just caught a 400-pound marlin on the fly rod." Click.

This marlin feat using a fly rod has not been done to my knowledge. After about a week or two I was up on Facebook and saw Arnold was online around 11:00 in the evening. In the chat window I ask him what he was doing awake.. He wrote back "Commander". A new nickname he gave me with tongue in cheek. I wrote back "call me and that is an order". The phone rang as if I were really the Commander. It is fun pretending.

After about an hour, Gregg had already caught that huge Blue again. This is what good buddies do; listen to there freinds stories. Ahhh...he was so excited and relived every moment. And it got me all worked up and rekindled the thought of the challenge. One thing Arnold said that will stick with me for a long time. He was serious. "Mike, I know tarpon fishing is exciting and they are the silver king. But man, Blue Marlin on the fly rod, wow!"...well it is better.

Arnold, a victim of the oil spill and he was doing one of his "bucket list" to-dos he explained as I asked him why he was way down in the tropics. I said, "man you have done what I have always dreamed of doing. My turn is not coming anytime within the next two years as we are still raising one of two of our children. The good news is my wife Sherry wants to catch one, too!

Arnold, Travis Holeman and Steve Wardo spent five days in Homosassa the week Evans landed his monster. We had two shots in five days. The day after they left Lionel Ellercamp got three on and one might have been bigger than Evans fish. It was really slow this year. At least in May it was. June was better but not much. By then the fish acted strange and were migrating the wrong way. Headed south when they were suppose to be going north. I was wondering if the tarpon schools of anywhere from 40 to 50 fish had smelled the oil.

These fish were huge and world renowned Stefano Mantegazza of Italy along with Jed Duke from America hooked up twice during the first week of June. What was really cool when Dukes fly was cast just past the mass by maybe five feet and did not spook the lead fish. We were using a 12-foot leader so the fish were all right with that cast.

The black marks on the backs of the tarpon were vivid on the 4-foot gin clear grassey flats of the St. Martins Keys area. The school was wider towards the middle and they swam at a good pace under the fly line when a smaller tarpon about 80-pounds ate the fly from the front two-thirds of the school without Duke having to strip. Toad. The youngster poon spit the fly and big mama came in and just trashed th'mofunfly. It was freaking awesome.....!!!!!!

*You should buy the issue of FFSW. You will learn that the decimation of the tarpon are more
broad to include countries near Central America.

P.S. Also, you will learn from Jerry and Mike how more tarpon are missing from Homosassa and the west coast of the gulf. It is worth buying. If you are a shur in you can purchase online back issues of FFSW and many other magazines through Zino.

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To be continued.

Homosassa Fishing Forecast:

September redfish is the best on the west coast from the Apalachicola to Bayport. Homosassa and Crystal River being a little more easier if you know the country. Otherwise hier a guide like myself.

Target Species:

Redfish

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