I've spent 25 short years, or long years depending how you look at it, living on, fishing on, and all around reaping the benefits and unfortunate disadvantages of being raised on the Caloosahatchee River. North Fort Myers was and continues to be a little known secret in Southwest Florida, and happens to be where my pops set up camp back in the early 1990's before the housing boom really took off in Southwest Florida. I was fortunate that I was afforded the opportunity to grow up living on a river that offered so many unique experiences to me as a kid, but was unfortunate that I had to see the river I had grown to love turn into a massive green-slime coated, above ground sewer every few summers.
My pops moved to North Fort Myers from Miami, following a law suit headed by the Sierra Club and other conservation organizations after the near demise of Florida Bay due to, you guessed it, polluted run off from Lake Okeechobee entering Florida Bay. As a result of this case, the state reduced the amount of polluted water running into Florida Bay and enacted the Florida Land Use Plan which prohibited development of land East of I-75 and west of I-95. Fast forward just a few short years, and we began seeing the effects of Lake Okeechobee now running rampant in our backyard due to the decreased volume of water being sent to Florida Bay and increased volume of water into the Caloosahatchee.
I remember nights when we'd jump twenty-five tarpon in the 100 lbs range; sight fishing a 45" snook right behind my neighbor's house -- still my largest to date; watching schools of redfish, jacks, and black drum swim underneath the fort that we had built in the mangroves. You could watch the snapper, sheepshead, finger mullet, and pinfish snake their way through the entanglement of mangrove roots just below your feet. For a kid, there was no better place to grow up. Unfortunately, today it is not the same.
We now rejoice and pray for the dry season where we might have enough saltwater creep into our part of the river to temporarily clear up the coffee-stained water, so that we may be afforded the opportunity to relive our childhood days of sight-fishing the mangroves behind our family house. During heavy rainfall, we shake our heads knowing the certainty that lies ahead: our once pristine river will once again fall victim to the detriment of man.
Today, I write this article following one of the driest springs we have on record, followed by one of the heaviest periods of rainfall on record. A month ago, we were catching flounder, bluefish, snapper, redfish, ladyfish, trout, and snook all on the same shoreline in the Caloosahatchee. A reminder of what the river can once again be, and sadly the likely result of fish being pushed out of Estero Bay due to Red Tide to the south. As I sit here listening to Tom Petty's "I won't Back Down", a childhood classic to me and many of my early 90s born friends, I reminisce on the goods times had but I can't help but worry about the future of our fisheries for the sake of my future children and grandchildren. I am reminded that this is as worthy of a fight as any, and one that neither I, nor Florida Fishing Products, will back down on any time soon.
- Ty Nelson, FFP Co-Founder
For more information on the issue at hand, check out our conservation partner, Captains for Clean Water.
To help make a difference, please call your local representatives and let them know that we need to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges and no longer allow it to be a dumping ground for Agriculture in south central Florida: Find Your Elected Official