Vol 6 No. 25 - March 15, 2006

A Window into
Tampa Bay�s wonderful wildlife

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 Florida’s 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 Florida’s many marine resources is to hire a knowledgeable guide. These men and women have their fingers on the pulse of outdoors because it’s 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 Bay’s 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 County’s Environmental Lands Acquisition & Protection Program). For the past three years he’s 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 habitat.

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 snook.

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 redfish’s 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 didn’t 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 bryon@barbedsteel.com Check out his web site at www.barbedsteel.com

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