Thursday, December 3, 2009

Interview with Aaron Adams

For those of you who don't know of him, Aaron Adams is a fly fishing marine biologist.... or marine biologist who fly fishes. He also writes books, which I highly recommend.

Here is an excerpt of his formal bio from his website (I tend to like the informal one better though) -

"Aaron holds Master’s and Ph.D. degrees in marine and environmental science, in addition to a Captain’s license, and has studied marine fish ecology throughout his professional career. A life-long angler, Aaron had the great fortune of cutting his fly fishing teeth on the flats of the Virgin Islands, while working there as a fish biologist."

This gentleman flat out knows fish, knows fly tying, and I would advise you to read his books, articles, and anything else you can find if you're remotely interested in becoming a better saltwater fly fisher.

Aaron is also Executive Director of Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, where the Mission Statement is:
"We support education, conservation, and research to help understand, nurture, and enhance healthy bonefish, tarpon, and permit population.
We serve as a repository of information and knowledge related to the life cycle, behavior, and well being of the species.
We support research and the gathering of information related to the condition of these fisheries as well as their behavior and life cycles.We provide educational materials to fishermen and the public.
We work with regulatory authorities and the public to assure the passage and enforcement of laws protecting these species.
We interact with government agencies to assist in the management and regulations related to bonefish, tarpon, and permit". and Aaron Adams are also involved with the new Pirates of the Flats series on ESPN2, featuring Tom Brokaw and Michael Keaton.

Without further ado, Dr. Aaron Adams.....(APPLAUSE)

Q. I often wonder why snook don’t pay attention to any of the flies that I present to them under dock lights at night and often times on a flat .This is including all sorts of presentations to not spook the fish. They tend to just ignore, not spook. Is there a scientific explanation for this? Do they really only eat when they feel like it as opposed to when they see an opportunity like largemouth bass?

A. If I knew the answer to that one, I’d be rich! You might be surprised, but largemouth can be selective, too. There are a lot of reasons that a fish might not eat – whether a fly, lure, or bait. Weather, tidal stage, time of day, predators nearby, etc. Some of what I think are at the top of the list of why they might not eat are below. Sometimes the fish are keyed in on a specific prey, and don’t seem interested in anything else. This is probably a big reason for those snook under the lights at night. They are often focused on very small prey, so only small flies (size 6 or even 8) will do the trick. Other times, I;ve found these nightlight snook to be focused on larger prey like scaled sardines, and other times on shrimp. Sometimes it takes a few lights and multiple flies to find the right one for that night. Other times they seem to be aggressive toward anything that moves. I find this is most common at dawn and dusk and during fall, when they put on the feedbag some days as they get ready for the cool water temperatures of winter. Also, it takes hours for fish like snook to digest prey, so if you happen to fish for them in the few hours after they ate heavily, they might not be hungry. In Florida, I think a lot of the snook response to flies and lures (and even bait) is due to the fishing pressure. Whenever I see fish just ignore a fly or actively swim around it, my first thought is that they are pressured fish. If you have a chance to fish for snook in Central America or some of the Caribbean islands, where they see less angler pressure, they tend to be more aggressive to the fly. Same with largemouth – the fishing on an unpressured lake or river is 99% of the time going to be much better than in an area that receives fishing pressure. Same for trout, bonefish, etc. That’s one reason I think it’s so important for anglers to fish carefully and responsibly – spooking the fish by fishing poorly is just as likely to ‘educate’ the fish as actually catching them.

Q. When you have those days where the fish won’t cooperate, do you ever toss something off the wall just to see if it’ll interest them?

A. Of course. Although sometimes I’m accused of tying flies that are kind of like that anyway. My tying philosophy is to try to figure out characteristics of prey that cause a gamefish to try to eat them, and to incorporate those characteristics into my flies. On days when the fish are not in an eating mood, I go through my fly box and try flies that have different characteristics, whether it’s motion, color, profile, sound, or size. The fish have to think the fly is food, so even if we think the fly is ‘off the wall’, it has to represent something they think is worthwhile to pursue. You can read a lot more about my fly tying philosophy on my web site

Q. I’ve read your book Fly Fisherman’s Guide To Saltwater Prey, which I really like and refer to it often and I’m currently reading Fisherman’s Coast which I should have read a lot sooner. Any plans to write another book in the near future?

A. I’m happy to hear that you like the books. Fisherman’s Coast is temporarily out of print while I negotiate with the publisher on reprint rights, etc. I expect that will be resolved and a new printing will be out in early 2010. Saltwater Prey is still in stock, so should remain available for a while. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to many guides and anglers who have told me that the books changed the way they fished, which is fantastic. The goal of the books was to persuade saltwater anglers to start to think about their fishing more in the way that trout anglers have for countless years – more analytically and more from the fish’s perspective. That positive feedback has me working on a third book. That’s all I’ll say about it right now, it’s still in the early stages.

Q. Is there a fly fishing/ research dog?

A. Sadly, there used to be – Lucy. A chocolate lab. Her favorite was when I fished the beach for snook, or when we lived in the Virgin Islands when we walked the beaches fishing for any fish we could find (snappers, barracuda, jacks, bones). She died earlier this year, she was almost 14 years old.

Q. Have you ever researched what effect a hurricane or tropical storm has on the fisheries? If so, What were your findings? Do fish stay put or do they relocate?

A. Oh boy, that brings back memories. I’ve had three research projects interrupted by hurricanes – two in the Virgin Islands and one here in Charlotte Harbor (Charlie). The answer to your question – it depends. Small fish, like mosquitofish and killifish, as well as fish that are territorial, like a lot of coral reef fish, generally stay put. Their populations can take a hit from strong hurricanes, but they often bounce back quickly. One exception to the pattern of bouncing back was with some of the mangrove creek fish in upper Charlotte Harbor. It took those fish populations years to rebound, and I don’t think they are quite back to the numbers they were just before the hurricane. Larger fish like snook, reds, etc seem to head for deeper water. And colleagues working on sharks saw sharks leave the Caloosahatchee River the day before Charlie and return the day after. Remember, these coastal ecosystems have been through this thousands of times, and are able to respond. We (people) often don’t handle it so well. In the Caribbean, though the hurricanes can be devastating, the preparation and response by people is more even-keeled than we tend to see in Florida, probably because they’ve been through it so many times before. One final note – often, a week or so after a hurricane, the fishing can be out of sight. Typically, you don’t hear about it because everyone is concerned with more important things.

Q. Do you ever use the “Gurgler Technique” when fishing redfish in heavy grass?

A. This is the approach that I use most of the time in this situation. As a matter of fact, the gurgler is my favorite fly for redfish because it is so much fun. And in late summer and fall when the juvenile (finger) mullet are abundant, the gurgler is a perfect imitation. You can read more about my gurgler approach here:

Q. Where is your all time favorite place to fish for yourself, no research involved?

A. It’s tough to choose just one place, but I’ll give it a shot. I’ll answer the question by species. For striped bass – the sand flats of Cape Cod. For bluefish, Cape Cod beaches in the fall. For bonefish, Bahamas, probably South Andros. For tarpon, hmmm…The Everglades for the backcountry aspect, Cuba for numbers. For permit, Belize. For snook, Belize, though I hear other parts of Central America are far better. For reds, right here.

Q. Tell us about – do anglers still keep bonefish and tarpon? What can we do to assist in preserving the fishery and the species?

A. Bonefish &Tarpon Trust, previously known as Bonefish & Tarpon Unlimited, was founded in 1998 by anglers, guides, and scientists in the Florida Keys concerned about apparent declines in the bonefish and tarpon fisheries. Their plan was to start a conservation program, but they soon learned that very little was known about the biology of bonefish, tarpon, and permit. Having an effective conservation or management plan isn’t possible without at least basic biology information on the fish. So the group became, and continues to be, a science-based conservation organization. BTT has created a framework that summarizes the status of knowledge for each species, as well as the top research and conservation needs, and then funds (or conducts) the necessary research. All funds are from memberships, donations, or grants from foundations.
The assumption is that bonefish, tarpon, and permit are in fine shape either because they are catch and release fisheries or because they are primarily recreational fisheries. But the truth is that there are problems. Based on anecdotal information from anglers who have fished the Keys for 40 years, there are 85% fewer bonefish in the Keys now than there used to be. Habitat loss and water quality declines are probably part of the problem. In other locations, harvest by netting is a problem. This occurs in many places in the Caribbean, including Belize, Cuba, Bahamas. In some places, bonefish abundance has declined significantly because of netting. Similarly, tarpon are harvested in many locations throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean. Since recent research has shown that tarpon migrate long distances (such as Florida Bay to Chesapeake Bay), our concern is that this is one large regional population, and heavy harvest in any location may be detrimental to the whole region. The keys to conserving these fisheries are: 1) learn enough about their biology to manage the fisheries; 2) push for conservation and restoration of their habitats; 3) to push for halting of netting in the places where it occurs, and for additional conservation measures; 4) use responsible catch and release practices; 5) fish responsibly and respect the habitats; 6) join BTT.
For permit, harvesting occurs throughout their range. Although the population should be able to handle reasonable harvest, no fisheries management agency has ever done a stock assessment of permit, so they have no idea what the population looks like and how it is (or might) respond to fishing pressure. Unfortunately, the fisheries management record is full of collapses of fisheries that came about because of a lack of information on the fishery. And since locations of permit spawning aggregations have been identified, we are concerned that harvest of these aggregations may be problematic (as has happened in the Caribbean for Nassau grouper and mutton snapper).
The real challenge is that BTT is being proactive in their research and conservation approach. If we wait until fisheries collapse before taking action, it may be too late. And just like proactive medicine, proactive conservation is much more effective and cheaper.

Thank you Mr Adams!


  1. Great interview skills Rob~

    Fantastic interview Mr. Adams. While I am an Idaho native and my experience with salt anything is currently set at -0- I found your answers and knowledge fascinating. Just one more push for me to head South and discover the magic you all talk about. From reading your interview, it's really sinking in that I'm missing out.
    (Plus, it would give me an excuse to buy another fly rod)

  2. In my best Palpatine voice -
    Yes Rebecca....yesssss....i can feel you slipping towards the dark side. Pick up your weapon....outcast me with it....only then will you feel the true power of the dark side!

    Or something like that...

  3. Thanks Ken! Glad that you liked it!

  4. Good interview! But the fishing in Florida still! Hope you have got moved in ok!