TACKLE THE FISHING TO-DO LIST

Make the most of a day on the water

Ernie Martin with a boat from a local bass pro during the Outdoor Education class at Crestview High School.

Ernie Martin with a boat from a local bass pro during the Outdoor Education class at Crestview High School.

By ERNIE MARTIN

Hook & Trigger

When headed out for a day of fishing, there are certain safety precautions one needs to take in order to have a great fishing experience. Knowing what to take with you and what to expect from Mother Nature will assist in a positive fishing adventure.

When you head out for a day on the water during the summer months in the Florida Panhandle, first get an up-to-date weather forecast. Understanding that “pop-up” thunderstorms are always in play during this time of the year, keep an eye out for changing weather conditions – especially in the afternoon hours. 

If you get caught in the rain, you will get wet and getting wet during a summer thunderstorm should be the least of your worries. Lightning kills people in Florida every year. Lightning strikes can occur on partly cloudy days. It can be detected by several good weather apps that you can add to your phone. The only catch is: are you fishing where your phone has cell service? 

Don’t take any chances with thunderstorms; get to a shelter and stay safe there. Remember that when the thunder roars, head indoors!

Beat the heat

Let’s talk about the heat. The heat indexes are measured by temperature and relative humidity. The temperature may be 92 degrees but when you factor in the humidity, the heat can feel like 104 degrees. That’s hot, too hot for anyone who has not acclimated their bodies to perform in the temperature range. It takes time and exercise to prepare your body for extended periods of time outdoors in excessive heat.

There are tips to help stave off heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Always start by correctly hydrating your body several days prior to your fishing trip. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated liquids. Caffeine is a diuretic and it will remove much-needed fluids from your body. Remember: the more you sweat, the more fluid you must drink in order to keep your core temperature stable.

Proper attire is also key. Light-colored and loose-fitting clothing is a must when dealing with the high temperatures. I try to take Dri-fit shirts on my trips to keep the sweat from filling up my shirts and making them water-logged. I have several friends who will take extra cotton t-shirts because they don’t like the way the new Dri-fit shirt material feels next to their skin. I say to each his own, wear what keeps you the coolest and is the most comfortable to your skin. Hats and sunglasses are a must as well; don’t leave home without having these with you.

Living in Florida, we should know the importance of wearing sunscreen. The younger you start, the fewer the trips to the dermatologist when you get to be my age. Wear your sunscreen! Always cover your skin, especially the vulnerable skin on your face, head, ears and hands.

Safety first

For safety during an outing aboard a boat, always have the proper safety equipment on board for your vessel. This includes life jackets that are the proper size for everyone on the boat. Make sure all life jackets are free of broken snaps or zippers and that there are no holes or tears in the material. The label found on the inside of your life jacket should be legible. If you can’t read the instructions because it’s faded, then that life jacket is no longer seaworthy. Make sure that small children are properly fitted and have a strap that holds them in the life jacket. Life jackets can be very affordable and can get expensive depending on your taste.

If you are the skipper, make sure everyone on board knows the placement of each piece of safety equipment and how it is used in case of an emergency. As skipper of the boat, you are responsible for the lives on board. Don’t take this responsibility for granted. When on the water your word must be the law. You should anticipate problem areas in the water and have a plan to navigate around them.

When you are on the water this summer, have a safe and memorable experience. Catch some fish for dinner and release some for the future generations.

Until next time, God bless and great fishing.

TAMING THE ROAR

With a ZooKeeper lionfish containment unit by his side, lionfish hunter Tristan Lennard shows off his haul from a recent dive – including this personal best 17-inch fish.

With a ZooKeeper lionfish containment unit by his side, lionfish hunter Tristan Lennard shows off his haul from a recent dive – including this personal best 17-inch fish.

Spear fisherman targets lionfish, the Gulf’s most nefarious tenant

By Michelle Farnham

Hook and Trigger Magazine

Stalking the depths of the ocean blue lurks a nearly invincible predator: venomous, rapidly multiplying, and seemingly hell-bent on destruction.

Bearing the spines of an untouchable warrior, the lionfish has been wreaking havoc on the Gulf of Mexico since it was inadvertently introduced to the underwater biome in the 1980s. With no natural predator, a population that continues to skyrocket out of control (one female can spawn 27,000 to 100,000 eggs every 2.5 days), and a voracious appetite, oceankind relies on one brave species to eradicate this unwelcome inhabitant.

Humans.

Enter lionfish hunters like Tristan Lennard, a Crestview native who has made the sport of deep-sea spear fishing into a conservation mission. Lennard grew up on the water, offshore fishing with his dad for as long as he can remember. He became SCUBA-certified in high school, and began diving as an amateur offshore underwater videographer.

“I dove anything from shipwrecks to Super Pyramids to live bottom ledges to barges,” Lennard said. “As I became more advanced, I sought out integrating Hawaiian slings and spear-gunning into my packing list.”

He tends to dive a few miles offshore, going to depths of 70 to 80 feet. There he encounters the likes of snapper, triggerfish, grouper – sometimes even slipper lobsters. But there was one species that always stood out the most: the loathsome lionfish.

“Unlike most fish, the lionfish was slow-moving, easy to spear, and just plain bizarre-looking,” he admitted. “Upon realizing what lionfish were and their negative biological impacts, I started to target them quite aggressively.”

Mission: Annihilate

As the lionfish is an invasive species, there is no season, no bag limit, and no license required, meaning Lennard and his fellow diving enthusiasts can hunt to their hearts’ content.

Armed with a trident spear tip attached to his 3-foot Hawaiian sling and a ZooKeeper (a harvesting container that protects divers from the fish’s venomous spines), Lennard found lionfish so plentiful and easy to catch, he would often spend his entire 30-minute dive focused solely on the breed.

“I pull forward the sling with my thumb until my fingers reached the top of the Hawaiian sling. This action loads the spear in order to engage your fish,” he demonstrated. “Upon a few inches of the target, I would release my fingers from the front end of the spear. This would propel the spear forward in order to penetrate the lionfish.”

If the spear hits pay dirt, Lennard shoves the tip into the ZooKeeper trap without touching the fish, cramming in as many as 20 per dive.

“With only two to three dives a day, it’s important to make every dive count,” he said. “I believe sports fishermen and divers of all experience levels should participate in this conservation effort because it is mutually beneficial for both the marine environment and the diver.”

Making things intere$ting

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hosts the Lionfish Challenge each summer, encouraging a statewide extermination. With the tagline “Be the predator,” recreational entrants have to produce at least 25 specimens to get in the game, while their commercial counterparts must submit a minimum 25-pound haul. Hunters compete for cash, dive gear, and the coveted Lionfish King/Queen trophy.

Over in Destin, the Emerald Coast Open Lionfish Tournament coincides with the Lionfish Festival, held along HarborWalk Village each May. For the 2019 installment, Team Florida Man brought home the $10,000 first place prize with a staggering 2,241 lionfish. In total, 19,167 of the spiny brutes were pulled from the Gulf. Prizes are awarded for the six largest fish, the six smallest fish, and the six largest overall hauls.

Lennard entered his first ECOLT as part of the Toes in the Sand team, but admitted they didn’t have their best showing. 

“We only logged three lionfish for the entire 6-dive, 3-day tourney. Not every day is glamorous being a spearfisherman. This was a great learning experience for my team for future tournaments,” he said.

Lennard pointed out that many of the top contenders utilized more resources than his team had available, including multiple boats, man-made spots, and trimix dives (combining oxygen, nitrogen, and helium to maximize dive times) – all fair methods – but the advantage was obvious. Personally, he prefers to be on the hunt in late June or early July, when the warmer waters bring the lionfish closer to Destin.

The 2020 Emerald Coast Open is slated for May 14 to 17 in Destin, while the 2019 Lionfish Challenge runs through Labor Day.

To the victor go the spoils

So what does Lennard do with his goldmine following a normal dive? He sets the table and fires up the stove – but not before breaking out his protective gloves.

“Cleaning the lionfish can be initially difficult for novices,” he acknowledged. “It’s very important to avoid contact with the venomous spines that protrude out the top and bottom sides of the fish. I’ve been stung many times and it’s not any worse than a really uncomfortable jellyfish sting.”

Lennard said they generally fry the seafood like you would any snapper or grouper, preferring very light breading. 

“We also broil it with oil and butter. It cooks similar to any other white fleshy fish. Just bear in mind that since lionfish are a smaller-sized species; it may take many fillets to make a meal for a single person.”

A senior in the Army ROTC program at the University of South Florida, Lennard is majoring in environmental science and policy, with a minor in military science. Following graduation and his time in the Army, he hopes to become a law enforcement officer with the FWC.

Carry on, brave soldier. Our oceans are counting on you.