I can't think of anyone who took the cold snap this winter more personally than Pete Frezza. A widely published National Audubon biologist, the research manager at Tavernier Science Center, and reputable catch and release fly fishing guide, he has nurtured an intimate relationship with the Everglades and South Florida since high school. During the second week in January temperatures reached and sustained an all time low in the Florida Keys and Everglades National Park. The sudden freeze affected local fishing businesses, agricultural industries, and most notably, fish and wildlife within the Florida Bay and Everglades National Park area. For an entire month, dead fish, endangered American Crocodiles, turtles, and manatees continued to wash up on the shores. Although exact numbers are impossible to glean from such a large area, while accounting for variety of species scientists estimate the death toll in the hundreds of millions... Ahhem... That's Hundreds of Millions.
Even larger species of fish like this tarpon could not escape the cold. We found this one washed up
at the boat ramp on the C-111 canal at Manatee Bay. I've never held a fish this big, which would explain the schoolboy smile.
For conservation biologists like Pete Frezza who have spent their lives trying to preserve the fisheries and wildlife of the Bay areas, this event seemed, simply, unfair; especially for such a self destructive catastrophe to come from Mother Nature herself.
Finally, after two dark months of reflection and acceptance, Pete has returned to the Everglades optimistic and yet, patient. I had a chance to go out with him this weekend to scout for pockets of surviving snook and redfish in the backcountry of the Everglades. It would be my first official saltwater fly fishing trip.
Pete and I explored all afternoon boating and pulling through the rivers and clandestine creeks finding small groups of healthy (but not hungry) fish. We spotted a total of 4 redfish and around 30 snook in places Pete had seen completely decimated only one month prior. While no fishes tugged at the end of our lines, we were both excited to see survivors and hopeful for a slow but steady recovery.