Museum to celebrate state's fishing heritage


Published: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2003 at 2:35 a.m.

Hundreds - and even thousands - of years ago a group of people controlled all of South Florida. These were the Calusa Indians, and they were primarily fisherfolk.

The Calusa prospered greatly from the resource of Florida's immensely rich estuaries, developing a politically powerful, socially complex, and artistically sophisticated society. As Darcie MacMahon of the Florida Museum of Natural History puts it, "The Calusa were hot stuff, and all because they were expert fishermen."

On Feb. 9 from 1-4 p.m., the museum will celebrate Florida's fishing heritage with an incredibly diverse display exploring the ways that Calusa fishing traditions have carried into the modern era. Many aspects of Florida fishing will be represented, from ancient relics to the most modern angling ideas.

The list of subjects and exhibits at the Fishing Heritage Day is long, and includes various aspects of the Calusa Indians' lives and technologies presented by Scott Mitchell, Irvy Quitmyer, Dick Workman, Robin Brown, David Meo and Merald Clark.

From all over Florida, experts will cover varied fishing subjects. Modern net-making techniques will be presented by St. Augustine's Stuart Pacetti, clam aquaculture by Leslie Sturmer of IFAS, sponge fishing by Nick Toth of Tarpon Springs, fly tying and fly fishing by Gainesville's Robert Craig, offshore tackle by Dick Tanner of Fort Lauderdale, today's commercial market by Scott Richardson of Northwest Seafood, and boating safety and habitat conservation by Karen Murdock of the FWC Patrol. Gainesville Offshore Fishing Club President and grouper fishing expert, Tommy Hines will be on hand, as will Dr. William Carr, inventor of the fabulous new synthetic bait, FishBites.

I'll be there, too with a display of fishing tackle made in Florida from the 1920s through the 1950s. In this day of embattled traditions, hearkening back to times when being a good fisher made you "hot stuff" sounds sweet, and the Fishing Heritage Day like a wonderful idea. Admission is free, and we hope you can make it.

Then on Feb. 15, don't miss the year's first Fishing for Success Family Fishing Day. In 2002, an amazing 4,313 people attended these events at UF's Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences off Millhopper Road and NW 71st Street, and it's a good bet that the great majority of them caught fish. The fishing begins at 8 and wraps up at noon.

A significant warmup on the heels of an extended cold spat has, in past years, brought fast freshwater fishing action. With that in mind, both bass and speckled perch enthusiasts prepare for what should be some of their best fishing of the year. Over the coming weeks, both species should move shallow to bed. Rodman, Alto, Santa Fe, Lochloosa, Wauburg, and Little Orange - among our best nearby lakes - are sure to get lots of fishing attention.

When crappie begin to bite well again on Lochloosa, it will be interesting to see where they are caught. The army of stocked Lochloosa specks has baffled lifelong panfishers with their unusual behavior. They moved into shallow cover to spawn as early as November - and stayed there throughout December, fully two months earlier than startled locals expected. Now that it's actually time, traditionally speaking, for specks to spawn, we wonder whether this batch will remain in the grass and pads or head back out to deeper water.

The saltwater variety of 'speck', the speckled trout, really didn't behave normally this season, either. Trout season in North Florida is closed through February, leaving anglers and marina owners to wonder just why the popular gamefish refused to make their annual run into Gulf rivers.

Henry Garcia, longtime owner of West Wind Marina on the Steinhatchee calls this the "worst winter season for trout since 1986." Offshore action, at least, remains good for grouper out in water at least 40 feet deep. The time is also right to find big, spawning sheepshead on the artificial reefs off Cedar Key and Suwannee in water about 20 feet deep.

Last weekend, while the sheepshead may have been present, they were not biting on the popular reefs. Richard Bowles, trying to figure why, took a water temperature reading twelve miles offshore. The water was an unbelievably cold 47 degrees.

Happily, the warm-up through this week should have changed all that, and next week's report should reflect a marked improvement in the appetites of fish in our nearby waters.

Gary Simpson is a veteran tournament angler who works at the Tackle Box.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top