In past times I would not have even attempted serious fishing this time of year, at least not locally. If I did fish, I would have traveled well north up the Florida peninsula and targeted temperate species that are more tolerant of cold waters.
In fact, this time of year was usually relegated to other outdoor activities that while they may have included a fly rod, were pursued mainly to enjoy the cold air. It was a great time to hike and backpack out to remote campsites simply for the enjoyment of the environment, a campfire, sleeping bags, and sipping bourbon from a stainless steel cup. When I was president of the local fly fishing club, this time of year was always when we had our paddler’s camping outing. As above, fly rods were involved, but no one really expected to catch a trophy. It was all about the camaraderie around the campfire, and food, and drinks, etc.
Last weekend, however, I was curious about how the fish would respond to the unnatural warmth so I headed out with a buddy to investigate. The patterns I mentioned above were not a super secret that only I possessed. Many of the better anglers I know were on to them. We recognized them and made use of them, but everyone had a different suspicion as to why the patterns existed. Two common theories were based either on water temperatures or daylight duration.
While climate change may be responsible for the unusual warmth we have experienced over the last few years, the atmosphere does not change our planet's rotation around the sun, so the ratio of daylight hours to night darkness should be the same. I was curious to see how the fish felt about it.
And, as all “one-shot” science experiments go, there are no conclusions that can be made. But, there sure were some interesting observations!
The snook, those little winter darlings that torment me so much, were still back where we saw them last. Apparently, they know better than to vacate their safe hide-away. They seem to be rather fragile and are known to suffer large fish kills if subjected to just a few days of water temps below their comfort level. It is still quite possible that winter will return and waters may chill. The water temperature on the day we fished was in the 80s and probably had been up there for many days prior. If the temperature was their deciding factor, would they not have headed out? They sure have not abandoned their wintertime fasting! We saw so many big beautiful snook, but not one showed the slightest interest in eating our flies. Not one!
So, does that lend credence to the daylight hypothesis?
The other observation, which was quite unexpected, was the presence of small tarpon. We had seldom seen many tarpon in the areas we investigated. Sure, there were a few over the years, but even though the areas looked right it did not appear the tarpon thought so, for whatever reason. Well, this past weekend they seemed to have climbed out of the woodwork.
I have told people for years that once the cold fronts start getting to the ‘glades the small tarpon disappear. I never really figured out where they went, but I knew that once the cold fronts stopped, and the water warmed, they would appear again as if by magic. This weekend the rabbit showed up in the hat.
So, does that lend credence to the water temperature hypothesis?
We put a few small tarpon into the air and we caught a handful of smaller snook. We saw many more than we touched. In fact, it was a very unusual abundance of both species at the same time. Usually, you expect one or the other, or at least one in much greater concentrations than the other.
So, maybe if this is the new normal, it won’t be so bad after all?