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Benzo

From 12 weight to 12 gauge

There are those experiences in life that can’t be completely explained simply with words. These experiences are only truly taken in by being there. Whether from the bow of a flats skiff or behind a palm from in a duck blind, you take a step back and watch nature take it’s course, then become part of nature’s scene; be it watching a big laid up tarpon creep up on your fly cross-eyed about to slurp it or watching a flock of ducks with wings spread and landing gear deployed swooping down on a spread of decoys. The moments lead up to climax as you strip set steel into a dragon’s mouth or pull the trigger on your 12 gauge as a duck is directly down the sight atop your gun barrel. 2013′s end made way for a new type of inevitable obsession. The sport of hunting fowl that had passed me in childhood has come to my reality today. The crossroad I had taken at an early age to pursue Fly Fishing rather then hunting had finally merged into the same road. Admittedly, there are a few influential people in my life that helped encourage this final push. This is the beginning, the first pursuit all over again as I spent some afternoons at the trap/skeet field honing my shot, learned to distinguish between the different types of waterfowl, read up on regulations, and researched the type of gear used to travel down this path. As with most things you become passionate about, the more you learn, the less you realize you actually know. The journey down the road to become a better hunter or fisherman is always most exciting when you are just starting out. The new road ahead is clear… 12 weights and 12 gauges.

The few photos shared below from my most recent duck hunt can only partially describe the experience.

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Mosquito Lagoon Fish Camp

Winter time brings about that gypsy soul in some fisherman, urging us to travel and fish outside of our realm through the cooler season. While northerners are migrating south to get away from the cold, some of us southerners travel north to find something different and some of us do it to get away from the northerners. While many options are open for catching redfish in the winter time, I always find the fishery in the Mosquito Lagoon to be one of the most intriguing ones. The tailing redfish are always willing to bite a well place presentation and the giant trout that lay up in the shallows are an added wild card to crank the difficulty up a few levels. So with a couple boxes of flies, a few spools of leader, a hand full of fly rods, and a Yeti cooler filled with beverages in the back of the Jeep; Capt. Jeremy Alderman and I drove north to meet with our buddy Capt. Willy Le, who was currently testing the new Maverick Mirage HPX-S in the Lagoon. We decided to use Mosquito Lagoon Fish Camp as our home base for the weekend and put the HPX-S through it’s paces in the Mosquito Lagoon; meeting with slick clam mornings, wind chopped lagoon afternoons, and weary fish in shallow water.

The amenities at Mosquito Lagoon Fish Camp were all you could ask for… clean, rustic feel, very scenic, and conveniently located.

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R&D is always better discussed under the moon and stars.

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After all the theories and a list consisting of “let’s try this tomorrow”… The next morning comes and the dawn’s blue and orange hues fill the skies that were once filled with stars.

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Bronze tails fill the void between the glassy waters and blue skies, beckoning to be casted to.

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And when the bite get’s “tough”… the “secret” fly comes out of the box.

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A day of poling, catching, filming, and mischief comes to an end but plans for the next outing are in planning stages.

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Stay tuned for another of Capt. Willy Le’s productions highlighting some of our fishing and what we put the HPX-S through.  For more information regarding our home base visit http://mosquitolagoonfishcamp.com  

Heat of the Summer Doldrums

The summer heat isn’t the only cause for anglers perspiring at the thought of our National Parks right now.  The recent National Park closures have sparked some heat among us fisherman who really enjoy this great resource we have in South FL. Times like these leave me reflecting on the great memories raising Hell in the Everglades and Biscayne National Parks this past summer. Law Enforcement is now patrolling the boundary line entering the ENP from the Keys but I can’t help but feel tempted to cross over and pole some of my favorite flats until the blue lights chase us.

Fall is approaching now as we are adorned by NE winds following the last few storms of the year.  As the season takes a shift, so does our fishery.  The park closures have kept man out of the glades and there is no telling what we will find when the gates open up once more.  I, for one am anxious to get back to my slices of heaven… Everglades and Biscayne National Park.

 

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Sneak Peak… New Maverick Mirage HPX-S

There is something brewing at Maverick Boat Company. With the revamping of the classic 17 Mirage HPX-V, the HPX-Micro retired to be replaced with a completely new concept. It was time to build a shallow water skiff to much better meet the demands of anglers in today’s market. Introducing, the Maverick Mirage HPX-S.

The HPX-S was redesigned from scratch and implements the latest in space aged material and construction technology that Maverick offers. This is a whole new breed of skiff, as evident by the evolved lines and chines. The new HPX-S has a target draft of less then 6 inches. Speculation suggests the “S” designation either stands for “shallow” or “sub 6″. In today’s world of power choices, it seems a 60 or 70hp motor suits this type of skiff best for holeshot, load carrying capability, and speed; therefore the new HPX-S will carry a 60hp or 70hp max rating. There is much more bow entry on the HPX-S, making for a soft smooth ride when tabs go down and the entry is used to dampen the ride in a big chop. This is the classic sharp entry to near flat deadrise rear design that is very popular in Florida waters; yet this bow’s V is designed much like that of the HPX-V Mirage. At a total length 17ft 8inches, the extra length will allow for a better ride quality in bigger waters as well as help the skiff glide well when pushing from the poling platform. The fact that there are no sponsons will also allow the HPX-S to be very agile on the pole as well as allow the skiff to run with much more bow lift. The slightly rounded transom edges also help in reducing the pressure waves usually sent off when spinning a skiff. To deck configuration has also been updated to reflect the top of the rest of the Mirage fleet with huge bow storage, gas tank against the rear bulkhead, center livewell aft, and 2 side storage compartments aft. It will be very exciting to see the test performance results in the coming weeks as this skiff is set out to be an extremely versatile shallow water technical poling skiff.

Summary of Tech. Specs
LOA: 17’8″
Beam: 74″
Draft: <6"
Max HP: 60hp or 70hp
Hull Weight: 268lbs

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Stay tuned… more to come shortly.

Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-V2 Review: Chapter 2 – Making it mine

I made the choice to downsize my skiff this year so in the midst of selling my 18 HPX, I researched several v bottom poling skiffs in the 16ft to 17ft range. It really didn’t take long to make up my mind on which skiff would fit my needs. I spend most of my winters and summers poling for redfish and snook in the shallows; tarpon seasons running big open bodies of water to either sit on a wind chopped ocean or pole down laid up poons in backcountry basins; and some months stalking weary bonefish and permit on the flats when conditions get snotty. This required a skiff that is able to pole in less then a foot of water, move around quietly, and handle like a sports car on the pole while producing the least amount of pressure wake possible; all while being seaworthy enough to get there and back safely and comfortably when conditions get rough. Was there one perfect do it all technical poling skiff to get this job done?

After having tested the new Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-V2, it did not take me long to spec one out. It took an even shorter amount of time to get those ideas on paper and get in line to have one built to my specs. The first concern of mine was power. If I was still guiding, I would have opted for a 4 stroke motor; likely a Suzuki DF90, seeing it was the lightest in it’s class. But along came the opportunity to pick up a sought after Yamaha 90TLR 2 stroke (due to ridiculous tree hugging EPA laws, these simple 2 stroke carb’d motors are no longer brought to the states). This was the lightest 90hp motor I could put on this skiff so it was the choice motor. I needed some decent speed and load carrying capability but also needed the skiff to pole light when I arrived at my destination. With speeds into the mid 40s, the ability to spin a 13.5″ wheel, and less then 300lbs of motor on the transom, the Yamaha 90TLR was the perfect candidate. What I will lack in 4 stroke fuel efficiency, I will gain when the throttle is backed off and the push pole becomes the means of mobility.

The folks at Maverick Boat Co. welcomed my needs to personalize the skiff. I opted for a 2 tone white nonskid deck with whisper grey hull and slicks. The skiff is adorned with black powder-coated aluminum platforms and grab rails, as well as a black Edson steering wheel.  To keep the skiff light, I chose to go with a light weight Odyssey PC925 battery for cranking/house and house it in the center console. I went with the old reliable plastic Stiffy push pole holders to hold my Stiffy Guide push pole in place. I preferred the the plastic holders over the popular aluminum ones because the plastic holders have a little bit of give and thus are less stressful to a bouncing push pole or stumbling foot. Personally, I think they give a nice vintage look. Speaking of vintage, I kept my old black aluminum Pro-Trim cage ready casting platform to give a little extra height to the angler on the bow.  A Tibor push pole caddy and custom SeaDeck from Castaway Customs (http://castawaycustoms.com) finishes off the last bits of bling on this skiff.  The idea is to be as minimalistic as possible, keeping the skiff very light and balanced.

The HPX-VII sits on a dry launch specific AmeraTrail trailer with every option available: port side walk-board, dual rollers on rear crossmember, negative 20 degree torsion axle, upgraded wheels, and the works.  I wanted the skiff to sit low into the trailer like a glove.

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A long road of shallow flats that lies ahead is filled with endless possibilities. If the fish swim it, I’ll pole it.

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Stay tuned for the next chapter…

2013 Maverick Mirage 17 HPX-V2 Review Chapter 1

The Maverick Mirage line have certainly made their mark in the world of technical poling skiffs. Even with all the advancements in technology, it is hard to image how you could improve an already proven skiff design. But alas, as times are changing, so are demands of anglers. Even old reliable could use a facelift from time to time. The Mirage 17 HPX has gone through it’s evolution, each time raising the bar; Mirage, Mirage II, Mirage HP, Mirage HPX-V, and this year; Maverick introduces the Mirage HPX-V2.

 

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I had the opportunity to take a couple of weeks testing the new Maverick 17 Mirage HPX-V2 hull #1 earlier this last winter.  I ran the skiff through it’s paces stalking snook in the shallow back bays in the Everglades, gliding over the expansive grass flats of Florida Bay stalking tailing and floating redfish, and sneaking up on weary bonefish on the wind blown flats of Biscayne Bay.  Again, the new Mirage proves to be an extremely versatile poling skiff.  Like with others in the Mirage line, this new Mirage was exceptionally quiet… in fact, it may even be the quietest mirage ever produced.  The ride quality exceeds what you would expect from the previous Mirages.  Once you lay the hammer down on the throttle and get it trimmed just right, the little Mirage finds itself on the running pad softly gliding over the chop crest to crest, rather then riding through each crease in the water.  The V selectively breaks only what chop it needs to, in order to keep you dry and comfortable.  This particular new skiff was lighter, faster, drier, and rode slightly softer then previous 17 Mirages, which were already soft riding dry skiffs to begin with.  Construction was solid and we felt absolutely safe and planted while crossing big waters.  Speeds with the Yamaha F70 were in the upper 30s to low 40s depending on load with a Powertech NRS16 3 blade propeller.  I personally desired more power then the F70 as I found the F70 to be a bit of a slouch when the skiff was loaded heavy.  Yet still, the F70 powered 17 Mirage was able to push into the upper 30s with a heavy load.  Running a fairly light fishing load, I documented speeds up to 42.4mph.  With the light motor, poling draft is somewhere in the 7″ to 8″ range.  Poling dynamics were extremely impressive.  With a slightly lightened hull, the new Mirage spins on a dime and pushes with ease, gliding along nicely when you give it a push.  Being able to maneuver quickly is a big plus when fishing tarpon in the backcountry.

One can only speculate on what the reasons are for the bar raising performance.  Perhaps doing away with all holes and cheese graters which may have in the previous generation potentially created drag towards the back of the hull.  Perhaps it is the difference in weight distribution.  Or perhaps it is the larger spray rails.

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Here are some of the physical changes I was able to note:

Front deck space was extended about a foot, moving the front bulkhead of the skiff a foot aft.  Larger deck space was nice when fishing 2 anglers on the bow and also made it nice to kick up your feet when sitting on a Yeti cooler forward of the center console.

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Bigger and longer spray rails made for an extra dry ride.

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Front deck space in front of forward hatch is still large enough to accommodate a large Pro-Trim sized casting platform.  (bonefish size may vary).

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Like the 18 Mirage HPX-V; the Rear hatch configuration has completely changed, featuring storage on the sides and a center livewell.  Rear bulkhead as been brought forward slightly improving balance on the pole and being able to fit a full cushion atop a clear deck in front of the hatches.  There is no more need to lift the cushion up to access storage.  Like with the 18 HPX, the cushion folds down flush under the rear bulkhead.  On a personal note, if I had one, I would do away with the removable cushion and opt for a permanently mounted cushion like the custom one I had on my previous skiff.

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Rod gunnels are finished throughout now, giving the option to easily install OEM Maverick carpet or optional custom seadeck.  The old foam injected rod holders have gone the way of the do-do bird as more durable plastic injected rod holders are being used in today’s Mirages.  The LED lighting also provides for very impressive cockpit lighting.  Switch panel (not pictured) is also lighted.

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Wiring in the console has been cleaned up, making for a very clean look and ease of troubleshooting.  The old raw fiberglass inside the bilge and console have now been coated with awlgrip for easier cleaning and aesthetically providing for a smoother more finished look.

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The single center livewell replaces role of both the side crustacean well and side release well found on previous generation 17 HPX-Vs.  As time goes on, the need for a release well during bonefish tournaments as well as other Keys tournaments is becoming obsolete.  More and more tournaments today are favoring measure and release for scoring, thus eliminating additional stress from weighing in your tournament catch.  The mainstream redfish tournaments still Impliment the same catch and weight in methods, but with most of those anglers using artificial lures anyways, the center livewell can be large enough to accomodate a pair of tournament sized redfish.  The center livewell also makes for better balance and is much more ergonomic.  Whether fishing crabs and shrimp or a well full of mullet or whitebait, this livewell setup was generally preferred over the previous set up by most anglers I’ve spoken to.

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Deeper gasketed gutters throughout makes for drier compartments.  Drainage has also been improved to flow faster.

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Larger and deeper storage underneath the front deck.  Whether storing a small cooler or downsized casting bucket, the increase in storage depth is a big plus.  Fuel cell is now mounted behind the front storage right up against the bulkhead.

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Deeper gutters on the rear hatches as well with smaller diameter and lighter aluminum frame poling platform.

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Rear hatches are sized to be able to store the popular average size Simms or Patagonia tackle bags with room to spare.

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Options are limitless as any good idea can be implemented by Maverick to build you your dream skiff.

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To partially quote myself in the past; “The last time I was this impressed …” Well you know how the rest of that goes.  The next chapter is around the corner… stay tuned.

Many faces of Tarpon.

The only regret I have about tarpon fishing with light tackle and fly is that I did not really get into this sport sooner. It was maybe only a few years ago that I started chasing tarpon on a flyrod, but after that first fish that tracked my fly, crossed his eyes, slurped the fly, and took off into an incredible aerial display as flyline zipped through my fingers; I was absolutely hooked. From that day forward, I lived, dreamed, and talked about tarpon fishing to no end. The many days dedicated to tarpon fishing, be it bageled or successful was well spent as learning about these incredible fish has been quite a journey on it’s own. Perhaps it is the humanlike characteristics or the way a serene bay can erupt with a hooked tarpon that draws so many anglers to chase the silver king.

This season’s journey has brought us through rain storms, cloudy days, sunny days, frustrating days, and a few epic days mixed in. I think all that there is to write has been written in previous write ups I have done, so until the inspiration to write a lenghty piece hits me again, I leave you all with the images from this year that will always stick in my mind.

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For Sale: 2011 Maverick Mirage 18 HPX-V

2011 Maverick Mirage 18 HPX-V
- Mercury Optimax 115 ProXs (less then 200hrs) with Mercury throttle and SmartCraft gauge
- 35 Gallon Fuel Tank
- 2 tone custom Whisper Grey nonskid and deck with Ice Blue Slicks
- Custom Seadeck poling platform pad and Tarpon design Under-gunnel pads
- 2012 updated wiring schedule from Maverick
- Custom Permanently mounted cushion (color matched deck with black piping)
- Stiffy Push Pole Holders
- Motor Bracket for Power Pole mount
- two 12volt batteries in console (one for cranking one for trolling motor)
- Garmin 546 GPS
- Stereo System by Shallow Water Customs
- Minnkota 55lb Thurst iPilot Trolling motor with capability to mount on bow or transom
- Full equipped Livewell with recirc, raw water, high speed pickup, and bubbler
- Custom Dry Launch Ameritrail Trailer (Never dunked in Saltwater and no rust at all on hub or axles)
- negative 20 degree torsion axle
- Port side walk-board
- Carpeted side support bunks
- Dual rollers on rear axle

Performance features include a 7.5in draft. Top speed in mid 50s and cruise around 40mph. Very fuel efficient (between 5mpg to 9mpg depending on cruising speed).

The 18 HPX-V has proved itself to be the best all around skiff for fishing in Florida. It has the ability to travel long distances and through rough water safely and comfortably. You can carry a ton of bait or a few fly rods on a given day…heck even both. The skiff excels in being able to stalk weary bonefish on the shallow flats one minute, then net some bait and go fish a nearshore wreck the next. Versatility is what the 18 HPX-V was built for. Skiff is what in tip top shape… 9.5 out of 10 rating. Must see to believe. She is ready to fish.

SOLD

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Gear Review: RCI Optics

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Optics play an important role in the game of sight fishing. In this game, if you can’t see the fish, you are not catching them, whether you are searching for green or pink backed laid up poons in dark Everglades water or the slight blue off the fin of a pale white redfish in the sandy bottoms of the Islamorada flats. Picking up on these slight signs of life make the difference between getting your shot or blowing it. Having the best lens on the market has always been my top priority. Without bringing in names of other brands, I have tried every amber/copper based polarized lens on the market and I seem to settle for one until I find a better one on the next round.

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During the Salty Fly in Tampa this year, I was able to pick up a pair of RCI Optics Monster Hole frames with the Copper based Sunrise Gold Mirror Lens shades. It became evident that they cut through the glare and repelled water very well. The lenses had just the right amount of contrast and did not over-contrast. While bonefishing, the first thing I noticed when comparing side by side with my old preferred lens was that the RCI lenses cut through that white glary stuff much better… I would say at least 30% better. This made all the difference in the world during one of my last bonefish missions where white clouds dusted the horizon. The frames I preferred was the “Monster Hole”, conveniently named after a popular surf spot. They fit my wider asian face very well and temples remained very comfortable around the tops of my ears during and after a day of fishing. Needless to say, I was very impressed and have now made the switch.

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The Techy geeky stuff…
“Made in Italy” speaks for the great quality of the frames. The frames are extremely durable and light weight. The lenses are made of a material six times harder then poly lenses and pass the ANSI Z78 rating (I think this is where they shoot the lens at point blank with a low caliber round).  Together, these components make for what I feel are the best fishing shades I have ever fished.

For more info visit http://rcioptics.com or give the guys at Shady Characters Sunglass Emporium a shout at 321-953-9875.

Protecting the Bone, use a rubber…net!!

Suggestive techniques for handling a bonefish boat-side.

Importance of a single species.

Albula Vulpes; better known as the bonefish, is a species worth protecting. Theories of where our local Floridian bonefishery is headed in the not too distant future still remains a topic to be discussed as different groups can debate on and on about this to no end.  Groups like the Bonefish Tarpon Trust have devoted many hours and dollars to research these important topics and back them with hard scientific evidence.  Either train of thought can not deny that water quality, habitat change, the 2010 winter, fishing pressure, and predation have definitely effected the bonefishery in a negative manner. The fishery is changing indeed but this write-up is not about where the fishery is headed or whether there is a primary cause for why the fishery is what it is today.  This article will discuss techniques for a healthy bonefish release.

I truly believe that each and every single bonefish we release is just as important as the next.  Bonefish directly and indirectly bring millions of dollars to our sport fishing economy, as well as help in keeping us locals sane when we feel the need to stalk a truly challenging species on the flats. Though they are scrappy fighters at the end of your line, bonefish are actually quite delicate and fragile fish. Depending on how a bonefish is handled boatside, harm can come immediate or minutes later if handled for too long outside of their comfort zone. If we are to help the survival rate of each bonefish released, we must find it within ourselves to take the extra step to make sure they are released healthy and able to evade predators that may have picked up the trail of distress left by the battling bone.

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Talk amongst colleagues

I have had many conversations with friend and avid bonefisherman Dr. J.A. Llera, about the state of our bonefishery as well as different tactics he’s explored when carefully handling these delicate fish. Bonefishing makes up 98% of Dr. Llera’s recreational time and he has spent countless hours studying the species from the eyes of an angler. He has gone beyond studying how and where they can be caught (which he has pretty well figured out accounting the many bonefish he successfully releases on fly while fishing solo), but also how to release his caught fish back into the wild giving them the best chance of survival. Dr. Llera has even devised a sling device used to measure the weight of large fish that does not remove the important slime coating that protects a bonefish from disease and bacteria.  He has also concluded that it is just as important to have the fish in the water revived before attempting to handle it, then it is right before releasing it. The best analogy for this is letting a marathon runner catch his breath after he has just run a marathon. That is a wise analogy that has stuck with me since hearing it.

So here I stand on my soap box…

So we have touched base on the 2 things to keep in mind; protecting the vital slime coating on the bonefish, as well as keeping the fish healthy and energized before handling it. I personally am sure that a simple quick out of water and back in photo op isn’t too harmful to a bonefish but I beleieve it is best to keep the bonefish in the water as much as possible unless you have a memorable fish you absolutely have to photograph or have to run a weight fish back to the tournament scales in an oxygenated well. I mean how necessary is it to have 50 in the skiff grip and grins of the same person with a 5lb bonefish.  I won’t claim to be a saint in this matter as I have made my mistakes in the past when it comes to handling these fish but through mistakes, time, and proper education, my school of thought has definitely changed.  I share these thoughts with others hoping to make some sort of difference, as little or big as it may be.

 

So if you absolutely have to remove the fish from the water for a photo op, keep in mind the 2 things discussed… slime coating and fatigue. Make sure a bonefish is revived before removing it for a quick photo op and keep your hands wet (or even use a rubber glove) when handling the fish. The biggest slime remover and bonefish killer of all time is the bonefish bear hug with a dry cotton or microfiber shirt. If you really care about the fishes survival, try to avoid that at all costs. Handling the fish as close to the water as possible will also lessen any damage inflicted to the fish by dropping a strong wiggling fish onto the hard deck of a flats skiff. If you release a bonefish and it turns belly up, it will likely succumb to predation or disease, even if you poke it with a push pole to “motivate” it to swim off.  I’m sure most of us have been down that road.

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Rubber usage…

Rubber gloves and nets with rubberized meshes are great tools for controlling a bonefish boat side. Keeping a fish in the water inside a big net with rubberized mesh will keep the fish in the water and swimming into the current without rubbing off it’s slime coating. I have personally witnessed that a bonefish releases much healthier when using these types of net and keeping the fish in the water in the current boat side before, during, and after handling. You know a fish is healthy when it just shoots out of your hand and darts off instead of waddling off. These nets with rubber meshes can be found at most local and retail tackle stores today. You can even purchase retractable versions for those in skiffs with limited storage space. They range anywhere from $20 to over $200.

The most reasonably priced and great functioning nets I have found thus far is actually a net I found at Bass Pro Shops. This net is actually made by their own in house store brand. Here is a link to the net…

http://www.basspro.com/Bass-Pro-Shops-Gold-Series-Folding-Landing-Net-with-35-Fixed-Handle/product/10210370/

Other options are also available as companies like Frabill and Stowmaster make a premium net for such applications.
http://stowmaster.norsemenoutdoors.com/shop/category/stowmaster/saltwater
http://frabill.com/3444.html

No matter what you choose, just keep in mind storability, functionality, and durability. In my experience, with proper maintenance, even the cheaper nets can last a long time.

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Now that all the tools and techniques have been discussed, it is up to us to find it within ourselves to take action in protecting these magnificent gamefish for not on their future, but also for the fishery we hand down to the next generation.