Several months later, while reviewing our project budgets, I noticed that my boss had added the conference attendance to our planned budget for the year (best boss ever!). I calmly didn't freak out, and tried to play it cool. Anyway, long story short, I submitted an abstract so I could give a talk at the conference, and as the time drew nearer, and hotels were booked, and plane tickets were purchased, I finally allowed myself to accept that it was going to happen!
So it was that in the latter half of August 2017, I found myself stepping off of an airplane in Florida! I of course immediately began sweating. It's hot there. More on this in a bit.
I've always enjoyed attending AFS meetings. It's one of the ways that biologists from across the country connect with one another, and learn of the fisheries research being conducted all over the world. Basically it's like the world championships of fish nerdiness. For four straight days. Plus it was air conditioned inside the conference center which I appreciated. I won't bore you with more details about the conference, since this is a blog about fishing after all, but if you want to learn more about AFS (and I encourage you to do so), you can visit their website: https://fisheries.org/. I've written similar blog posts about my trips to AFS conferences in Seattle WA, St. Paul MN, and Little Rock AR as well if you're really bored.
As for the fishing portion of the trip, my days were tied up in the conference, but I would have the evenings free to explore and catch as many new species as I could. For somebody like me who has never fished in Florida before, I fully expected those few hours per day to be like drinking from a fire hose.
The view from my hotel did not help to calm me down when I got there.
|Things looked promising! Water everywhere!
One helpful fellow at the grocery store pointed me toward a nearby bridge, where I was greeted by my first manatee sighting of the trip. The shrimp was a good call, and shortly after arriving, my pole nearly got pulled into the water. It is very satisfying to hook a fish knowing that no matter what it was, it would be a new species; that does not happen very often. The first fish to kick things off was the hardhead catfish.
|First Florida Fish, and first new species of the trip!
|This'll keep the sweat away for sure.
|LIES! That was clearly false advertising. Florida is still a sweaty, damp place! Don't worry, I promise this is the only bathroom selfie I'll ever post.
|That's 2 new ones!
|How's that for efficiency!
|The pinfish was the first out of the water.
|Followed 0.1 seconds later by this pigfish
I rounded out the evening by adding two more to the list: the white grunt and the lane snapper:
|I liked how almost everything down there was colorful. This one had a bright orange mouth also
|These obviously get bigger than this, but the small ones count just as much as the big ones on the list!
The next couple evenings, Ryan was busy, so I was on my own. I tried a couple different piers and caught some more stuff. The hardhead catfish were ever-present, and these would become the resident pest of the trip.
I've caught many catfish before, and I've handled many thousands of fish in my life, so I assumed I knew what I was doing while handling the catfish down there too. However, as I mentioned earlier, the fish gods do not like it when you get cocky, and they're quick to call you on it.
As I was unhooking one particularly feisty hardhead catfish, I zigged when I should have zagged, and ended up with his pectoral spine firmly lodged deep in the middle of my palm.
One local onlooker suggested that I sleep that night with my hand firmly pressed on a nice juicy steak. It hurt, but there was no need for quite such drastic measures. Apparently I was lucky I didn't stab myself with the other common catfish species (which I finally caught shortly thereafter), since the gafftopsail catfish are not only every bit as sharp and poky, but they're venomous as well.
|Species seven of the trip. And this one is venomous just to make it interesting! Gaftopsail catfish. Say that five times fast.
|Atlantic spadefish. That's Eight!
|Southern Puffer. Nine!
|Daily thunderstorms, just part of life in the promised land.
We pulled up to his spot, and there was a small break in the clouds, but the there were still ominous rumblings from some uncomfortably nearby thunderheads. We weren't sure how long we'd last, but we had to give it a try. We were greeted at the dock by a variety of bait thieves:
|I'm not exactly sure what Flipper was doing but he hung out in this same spot for about an hour.
|Sure the egrets and herons are pretty, but turn your back for one second and they'll steal any unused bait left lying around!
In no time at all we both began bringing in fish on our sabikis, including a new species, the tomtate grunt:
|Yep it's tiny, but it's species 10 for the trip and that's huge!
|This one also had a bright orange mouth.
|Yep we're going to say it... Shark Bait! Ooh Ha Ha!
|A wiser man may not have put the fingers quite so close to the business end, but these don't have quite the same dental weaponry as other sharks so it was ok. All the fingers are still intact.
|Species 11 for the trip, and by far my favorite one of the bunch!
|Its skin felt like tiny pebbles. And check out the weird eyeballs!
The good news is 11 new species were caught, making it my most species rich trip ever; pretty darn good for only having evenings to fish! But the bad news is; now I've seen Florida, and I know what fishing is like there. Now I'm going to need to spend about a month there getting all the species that I missed out on, no matter how sweaty it gets. I don't know when that'll happen but maybe someday.
|It's fair to say I'm just as hooked as the fish were.