Early Christmas Tarpon Surprise at Wildflower Preserve

A Report on the Monthly Lemon Bay Conservancy Tarpon Net Pull:  Saturday,  Dec 10, 2016

by Jim Cooper, LBC President

It was the coolest morning in Placida this year at 57 degrees on Dec 10th as I drove north on Placida Road at 7.15 am and turned right onto Gasparilla Pines Blvd and again into LBC’s Wildflower Preserve. Looking eastward over the recently cleared exotic pepper trees, experienced Net Pull Team Volunteer and LBC Member Bo Hamrick and I noticed how beautiful the emerging blue sky was at that moment. The lowest cloud edges were brightly illuminated in amazingly beautiful patterns by the early sunrise’s penetrating morning rays.  It was the perfect foreshadowing of a very special Saturday morning for LBC’s fun loving team of Tarpon Net Pull Volunteers.

By 7.40 am LBC’s Wildflower Preserve parking lot quickly filled with more than a dozen vehicles and a least 17 diverse and multi-talented men and women Volunteers varying in age from 16 to 80. The first order of business connecting the jon boat trailer to volunteer local businessman Jim Bennett of Bennett Marine services’ versatile pickup truck. Next at least 8 experienced team members quickly loaded up LBC’s huge 600 foot long custom designed Tarpon Seine Net into the boat and the testing equipment into Jim’s truck. By 8.20 am, after a vigorous 15 minute walk,  the happy, energized LBC Net Pull Team were all assembled at Wildflower’s Tarpon Pond One.  One group began unloading the boat from its trailer into the water. Next they prepared the net to be slowly and silently distributed out into the water along the edges of the plentiful natural mangroves surrounding the shoreline of this Tarpon and Snook natural habitat tidal pond.

John Henningson,, Tim Siegner, Bob Cooper, Becka DeRosa (all LBC Members) & Jamie Darrow (Florida Fish & Wildlife)

John Henningson,, Tim Siegner, Bob Cooper, Becka DeRosa (all LBC Members) & Jamie Darrow (Florida Fish & Wildlife)

The Jon boat team of 2 employs a small electric trolling motor so as minimize the boat and net’s sound presence in the mud colored low oxygen content pond estuarial water and to lessen possible boat movement impact on the easily spooked snook & tarpon safely and naturally hiding there. At the same time on the other side of the pond LBHS Aqua lab STEM science teacher Mia Conlon, FL Fish & Wildlife Net Pull science leader Jamie Darrow and professional lady local fishing guide & LBC team member Rebecca DeRosa quietly performed water quality testing so as not to spook the fish.

The net pull on LBC’ biggest open Tidal pond One went smooth with many fat Mullet captured yet quite adept at jumping out from the net.   Upon landing the big net, the custom 10 foot long by 6 feet deep retrieval pocket at the shore line, contained a few mullet.  Fortunately one heathy 12 inch snook (picture attached) was captured, measured and released.  At this pond, as in previous visits, No tarpon were retrieved, yet several small clusters were seem heading up into shallower water under thick mangroves where they were safe from the net.

By 9.00 am the LBC Net Pull volunteer team had reloaded the jon boat & net and relocated to the nearby and connected, narrower and always productive Wildflower Tidal Tarpon Pond 2, near several Fiddlers Green II condos. Again the 3 ladies described above, Mia, Jamie and Rebecca went down the shoreline to quietly perform the scientific water quality sampling away from the boat area, while the LBC volunteer Net Pull Boat team readied the boat in the water and 600 foot long Tarpon seine net for the second long pond net pull.

Mia Conlin and Jamie Darrow measure a juvenile tarpon before returning it to Lemon Creek

Mia Conlin and Jamie Darrow measure a juvenile tarpon before returning it to Lemon Creek

Our early Dec 10th Merry Christmas surprise was the volunteer LBC Pull Team’s smooth coordination produced a record Monthly Net Pull for 2016 of 138 juvenile tarpon.  A photo of the 138 juvenile tarpon swarming together in the big 10 foot net bag is enclosed.  There were so many tarpon in the net it required 2 adults, Jamie Darrow, FL Fish & Wildlife and Mia Conlon. LBHS STEM Aqua lab teacher (see photo attached) to both measure the tarpon at the same time and safely hand the fish to other team members to release the plentiful supply of tarpon that morning. The team was careful to keep the tarpon in the water until measurement documentation by FL Fish & Wildlife’s Chuck Idelbeger, a retired volunteer was accomplished. The 138 Juvenile Tarpon fish captured, measured, and safely released all were sized from about 5 inches long to 9.5 inches long. Jamie Darrow the FL Fish & Wildlife research team leader surmised they were most likely a product of the annual Spring Summer off shore birthing called spawning which occurs about 100 miles offshore from the Boca Grande Pass. When first born eggs hatch the infant tarpon are in a small larvae form. In the next few weeks when they get to about 1 inch or so long these millions of tarpon larvae use the tides, wind and swimming to reach their natural nursery habitat areas, the murky backwaters in mangrove lined tidal creeks steams and ponds, like those LBC’s Wildflower PreserveLBC is actively engaged in the protection and enhancement of these natural tidal backwater mangrove creek nursery areas as they are rapidly diminishing due to development. LBC has taken a leadership role working with public and private partners in an effort to sustain and increase the population of two regional vitally important sport fish Tarpon and Snook. Our monthly winter fish net pull events over the past four years have scientifically validated both juvenile Tarpon and Snook naturally grow and thrive in Wildflower Preserves tidal low oxygen content mangrove lined estuarial nursery habitat ponds.

LBC Free Educational efforts: LBC invites local adults, STEM students and those interested in helping to protect our important Tarpon & Snook sport fish to visit and observe and even help pull the net at Wildflower Preserve during the remaining 3 winter months: Jan, Feb and March. PH: 941-830-8922.

Next LBC Net Pull: Our next monthly Tarpon & Snook Net Pull will be held on Sat. Jan 14th at Wildflower Preserve beginning at 7.45 AM.  

More information on LBC’s exciting major wetlands and fish habitat expansion project at Wildflower Preserve where we increase the tarpon habitat by 3X and increase the freshwater habitat by 2X, plus a schedule of our many free Nature Tours and amazing plant and wildlife nature enhancing projects can be seen on our LBC Website:  http://www.lemonbayconservancy.com.  We invite the public to come out and to get involved and have fun learning more Lemon Bay Conservancy and its proactive role sustaining and protecting our key coastal lands and wildlife.

Lemon Bay Conservancy

About Lemon Bay Conservancy

Founded in 1971, Lemon Bay Conservancy is a not-for-profit land trust based in Englewood, Florida. Our long-range vision is: "To forever protect and preserve the natural features of Lemon Bay, Charlotte Harbor, their surrounding waters and uplands, and vital fish and wildlife habitat, through property preservation, environmental education and advocacy for sustainable land and water conservation policies and practices." To support that long-range vision, we focus our mission in three areas: Saving Land; Environmental education; and Advocacy for sustainable environmental policies.

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