Vol 6 No. 25 - March 15, 2006
A Window into
Tampa Bay�s wonderful wildlife
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Above, Captain Brian Chamberlin holds a large Tampa
Bay redfish caught on the fly.
By Rusty Chinnis
One of the pleasures of outdoor writing is experiencing
the varied flora and fauna of Floridas landscape.
While fishing remains my main focus, the experience of
what I like to call the real world makes the time spent
in the outdoors special.
Photography started out as a way for me to capture the
images of fishing to share with my readers, but has become
a prime motivation for many outdoor adventures. Now, taking
a picture of a fishing experience is as important as catching.
With an image I can capture the fish, the moment and all
the excitement of a fishing trip. Over the years, my angling
adventures, as well as my photography, have been greatly
enhanced by my association with guides.
One of the best ways to enjoy Floridas many marine
resources is to hire a knowledgeable guide. These men
and women have their fingers on the pulse of outdoors
because its their office. They follow the fish,
know their habits and understand the relationships that
combine to produce good fishing.
Captain Bryon Chamberlin is one these guides. He is well-versed
in the habits of fish and extremely knowledgeable about
Tampa Bays flora and fauna. After graduating with
a B.S. in zoology from USF, he worked for two years with
Tampa Bay Watch, (www.tampabaywatch.org), an organization
whose mission is to protect and restore Tampa Bay through
community stewardship. After Tampa Bay Watch, he was hired
by Hillsborough Countys Environmental Lands Acquisition
& Protection Program). For the past three years hes
helped manage and restore 46,000 acres of environmentally
sensitive lands through prescribed burning, exotic plant
control and habitat restoration. The program contains
a wide variety of different lands, from coastal preserves
with mangrove forests, to river systems and upland scrub
A trip with Chamberlin promises great fishing, as well
as a look into the natural world through the lens of an
environmental steward whose knowledge has been incorporated
into his love for fishing. "I think that understanding
the relationships between different species has made me
become a better fisherman. The scientific method is a
great way to prove or disprove your fishing ideology,
which through application makes you a better angler."
Besides his innate ability to divine the comings and goings
of redfish, snook, trout, and cobia in Tampa Bay, Chamberlin
is also an excellent photographer. This past Saturday
I met him at the Williams Park boat ramp in Gibsonton
for a day of photography and fishing. The plan was to
meet just after dawn and spend the early morning photographing
a bird rookery near the mouth of the Alafia River in upper
Tampa Bay. When the sun was too high for photography,
we would pole a flat in search of redfish and early season
We loaded the boat with camera gear and fishing rods,
and ran the river to a small shallow cove near the rookery.
There we set up our tripods in the shallow water and photographed
a wide variety of birds as they fed on the flats, and
brought reeds and sticks to the mangroves for their nests.
Pelicans, roseate spoonbills, oyster catchers, willets,
curlews, ibis and many other birds danced in the shallows
and soared over the mangroves as we took image after image.
It was a wonderful experience watching the nest building
and feeding, especially the deft work of the curlew as
it plumbed holes with its long curving bill, easily catching
and feasting on fiddler crabs.
When the sun reached overhead at 11 a.m., we loaded our
cameras and headed around the island to a nearby shoreline,
where I broke out my fly rod as Chamberlin mounted the
poling platform. I chose a green and white Clouser in
hopes of getting a chance to fool a snook, and stripped
60 feet of line from my eight weight outfit. We had only
poled about 100 yards when Chamberlin spotted three dark
shapes moving towards us along the shoreline. I made a
cast in front of the fish, and stripped the fly about
four feet in front of them. The lead fish broke off and
began following the fly, taking a swipe at it no more
that 15 feet off the bow. Unfortunately, seeing the take
made me respond a split second too soon, and we watched
as the redfishs mouth opened in a flash of white
as I pulled the fly from his eager lips. Regrouping, I
recast and stripped the line to my feet for another cast.
I didnt have to wait long as another trio of reds
slid along the mangrove edge, no more than three feet
below the surface. This time the cast was true, and the
biggest of the three reds engulfed the fly. Waiting a
split second, I made a quick, sharp strip strike, and
felt the line come tight.
Taking my eyes off the fish, I concentrated on clearing
the line as the red took off for a nearby channel, taking
all 100 feet of my fly line and 30 yards of backing. I
knew this was a big fish because of the length of the
run and the deep bow in the rod. This powerful fish made
four long runs before we were able to get it close to
the boat. After several surges around and under the boat,
we landed, weighed, photographed and released the redfish.
It was my largest to date on the west coast, weighing
in at 13 pounds and 34 inches. We completed poling the
shoreline, casting at several more fish before deciding
to call it a day. We had a terrific morning of photography,
had several shots at cruising redfish, and landed one
of the largest redfish usually encountered in local waters.
Tampa Bay and its many rivers and bays provide a wealth
of opportunities for anglers, photographers and naturalists
alike. A day on the water with a well-versed guide is
a window to this natural wonderland. Chamberlin can be
reached by calling 813-361-8801 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Check out his web site at www.barbedsteel.com
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