What do you get when you put a marine biologist who also happens to be a passionate—if not opinionated—angler in a boat with a carefree artist who would just as soon catch a redfish on a hunk of stinky crab than on a hand-tied fly? Some great conversation, that’s what.
Jason Schratwieser, IGFA Conservation Director, and Derek Redwine, the Creative Director here at BD Outdoors, love to fish together. Join this “odd couple” as they explore the marine world together—sometimes side by side, and sometimes through candid, often controversial conversation.
D: Jason, so we recently fished the Florida Everglades together, more specifically an area named Hell’s Bay, coincidentally in your Hells Bay skiff. It’s easy to see why this is one of your favorite areas in the world to fish. Is there any cool history about the area?
J: There really is Derek. The early pioneers called this area Hell’s Bay because it was considered “hell to get into and hell to get out of”. In the last century, some very tough men accessed these remote waters using hand propelled skiffs to hunt gators and bird plumes as well as run moonshine. A guy named Herman Lucerne was one of the first, if not the first, people to unlock some of the great fishing in this country. I love this place because very few people venture far back in its recesses.
D: I was thinking back on one particular fishing moment, when that dark snook was sitting motionless and you pulled the fly close to it a couple times. The fish seemed like it could see the fly fine yet it didn’t react at all. On your last cast, you pulled it across its nose and the fish decided to have it. I will remember that bite for years to come. Why do you think he didn’t strike until you got it so close? Do you think fish are programmed to store energy, using their energy only to chase down a sure bet? Or do you think this is simply a case of reaction?
J: Well, you have to remember it’s winter and fish are cold-blooded. Therefore they need to maximize the energetic return from eating something with the energetic cost of pursuing a prey item. On my last cast I was literally able to slide the fly within 3 inches of the fish’s face, which the snook might have considered a pretty good deal. All it had to do at that point was open its mouth and flare its gills to inhale it. My other explanation is that it was simply tired of looking at my ugly fly and wanted to kill it.
D: One thing that sticks with me about the Everglades is how much of it looks incredible but is literally void of (predator and bait) life, and yet some unremarkable areas are loaded with fish. Have you noticed any hints as to what makes the fish come together back there?
J: Fishing the Everglades backcountry is definitely tough. This entire area is held together with very fishy-looking mangrove shorelines. However, as you correctly stated, a great deal of it has low densities of fish (snook and redfish, that is). I think there are fish back there year round, but fall/winter is the best time to fish it because water levels are lower. I think this area is attractive for fish in the winter because the water is more protected from wind, is relatively shallow and has dark bottom which allows it to heat up quickly. However, fishing the area isn’t that easy. You really have to pay your dues back there on the pushpole to figure it out. But once you start opening some of its secrets, it’s incredibly rewarding. Besides being a bit tough to learn, this area is also really tricky to navigate. When I first started fishing this area, I gauged the day’s success not so much by the number of fish that I caught, but by the fact that I didn’t get lost and have to spend the night. All of this makes it less frequented by other anglers, which is fine by me. You know me, I hate people.
D: That sawfish we caught together was an incredible memory for me. I had only ever seen one sawfish before in my life and I think you and I saw about six of them this last trip. I don’t know much about them. Do you? Has the IGFA ever recognized them for world records? Have you ever seen so many in one trip back there?
J: Haha. Do you mean what you thought was a big redfish??? I’ve seen more sawfish on that stretch of shoreline than probably anywhere else I fish in the Glades. As you saw first-hand, the little guys rooting around in the mud almost look a lot like redfish. I’ve seen small ones like that almost schooled up on that same shoreline. These fish are critically endangered and shouldn’t be messed with intentionally. The one you unintentionally hooked was a smalltooth sawfish (Pristis pectinata).
D: Can’t wait to fish with you again J. I had a great time and I appreciate you sharing such a special place with me. Oh, and you need to give me that lobster recipe we had!
J: It was my pleasure having you in my favorite fishing place. Not everyone gets how special this place is but you really seem to dig it. Plus, you’re kind of amazing at skipping DOA shrimp under mangroves. I’ll be happy to give you the pasta recipe, but I’m not telling you squat about where we fished or why I decided to fish there!