Tropical Smallmouths by Mark Usyk
Photos by Andrew Bullard
Invasive fish. They’re a bad deal, but sometimes we fisherman seem to give them a pass if they’re something we think is worthy somehow over other fish. You’ll hear more complaints about carp in any given conversation than you will about brown trout, but, guess what? If you’re talking about our waters here in the U.S., they’re both invasive. Yet the brown gets all the accolades, all the praise, and even has nonprofit organizations with missions to protect them and help the wild populations grow, while no one seems to care about bow fisherman who love to stand on the bow of a boat and kill carp after carp, or the fisherman who feel it’s right to toss a carp on the bank to die because it’s an invasive fish that doesn’t belong in their waters. Oh, that’s right, it doesn’t have pretty spots.
Sometimes, a fish being introduced can have horrible consequences. Like say, the bass and pike introduced into many Adirondack lakes. Lakes in which once upon a time, a two pound native brook trout (meaning its blood line was the same as the brook trout there since the end of the last ice age, not just wild) was normal. Considered average, not a trophy. The same lakes where you’ll find no brook trout today.
A lot of the stuff I see online lately, people posting about catching invasive species, is in south Florida. On one hand I could see it being a blast going out and having a fish like snakeheads to chase, which is quickly becoming a popular game fish down there, even though there are strict regulations set by the state that when caught, they’re to be killed. I’ve also seen a lot of sail fin catfish on the fly shots lately, fish I’d originally thought were large Plecostomus, those little sucker fish that people keep in aquariums. I’ve got one here at home that’s 27 years old and almost 20 inches, so naturally, while he’s my writing room mascot… Of course I wonder how he’d fight. The sail fins are a close relative and seem to be a common catch these days.
As a matter of fact there’s always more and more fish that you’d find in someone’s fish tank at home popping up on the different fly pages on Facebook down in southern Florida, making me a little jealous of the variety of fish you can find at the end of a line because their waters seem to be perfect environments to match the ones they’re taken from, but at the same time glad we have such hard winters up here where fish from warmer climates could never survive. The latest rumors I’ve come across on a couple south Florida fishing forums are about arapaima. Is it a fish at the top of my list to fish for on the fly? You bet. But do I think it’s great that there’s a good chance in the future I’ll be able to take a flight to Florida instead of a trip to South America for them? There are some invasive species that seem to be able to move in and get along fine with their new neighbors, but many that don’t, and finding out the hard way is never the right way when it comes to nature. People don’t seem to get this and there’s always someone who’s willing to mess it all up because of a lack of caring about the consequences.
JP gets to interact with anglers all over the world through building beautiful and hardworking fly rods, and he’s gotten to see the whole invasive fish thing in other countries as well. Like the secret stream he stumbled on in Taiwan stocked with rainbow trout. Yea, some days when he tells me this stuff I don’t know whether to smile or cry, fully believing him and knowing I’ll never see it myself.
JP added me to a string of e-mails recently between him and a customer who lives on a tropical island. You know, one of those islands surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean…and my ideas of what fishing was like on one of those islands was all but destroyed. It’s not like I talk to fly fishermen every day who live on an island in the middle of an ocean, so most of my notions are actually nothing more than assumptions. Come to think about it, if you asked me what kind of fish you’d catch in a small fresh water stream on a tropical island five thousand miles from home, I wouldn’t have the first clue. So the only assumption I really made was thinking I might have an idea in the first place.
Andrew sent JP some shots of his rod in action on one of his favorite streams on this island surrounded by salt, and for a minute, looking though the photos, I thought maybe the wrong shots had gone out with the wrong e-mail. But then I was reassured, these were the right shots. Yes, Andrew was fishing a small stream with his 3wt Beaver Meadow for smallmouth bass. If it wasn’t for studying the leaves on the trees, I could have been led to believe it was a small stream anywhere around here, and I’d have been nosing around for clues for the location, wanting to check it out for myself. To me it’s perfect. My two favorite things together. Small stream fly fishing, and smallmouths. Add in a warm tropical climate and I’m really not sure why I’m not asking this guy for a job and moving the family as you read this.
But then I remember, these fish don’t belong there. I was told they were stocked in a lake sometime in the 1930’s, and like they always do, the fish found their way into other waters. I wonder, as great as the few people who know of the stream and what it holds think of it is as a fishery, what did the bass push out? Of the lake, of the stream? What were the ramifications to the species that were there first? And why do humans think they can control nature, that everything we do is fine, when we can’t even control ourselves.
All I know at this point is Andrew is fishing a 3wt Beaver Meadow, which happens to be my favorite rod for small streams. He’s fly fishing for bronze backs, which happen to be my favorite fresh water fish, and he’s doing it on a tropical island. The explorer and writer in me wants more answers. And it’s still winter here in NY. You can probably figure out where my head is right about now…