Florida fisherman hooks, lands jumbo grouper

Spend any time talking salt water fishing and you quickly become aware of the “big ‘uns,” those deep-water behemoths that are the stuff of legends but almost never end up on the end of your line.

Earlier this month Brandon Lee Van Horn of Panama City, Fla., was finally able to stop dreaming and start bragging.

The longtime commercial fisherman, who began fishing on his grandfather’s charter boat at age 8, landed a 330-pound Warsaw grouper on Oct. 1. He caught the monster in 375 feet of water after a 25-minute fight to bring it to the surface.

“You have no idea how much that fish means to me,” he told the Panama City News Herald. “I will probably never catch another one that big ever again.”

Van Horn, who fishes for a “little bit of everything,” mostly seeks out smaller species like vermillion snapper. Bigger fish such as Warsaw groupers can be difficult to land because they often break off or straighten out hooks once they’ve taken the bait, he told the paper.

Warsaw groupers are among the biggest fish found in the Gulf of Mexico, growing up to eight feet in length and nearly 600 pounds. Van Horn missed the Florida state record by more than 100 pounds, to a 436-pound giant caught in 1985 off Destin, but he was still pretty pleased with his day.

“I will probably never, ever catch one in my life this big ever again,” he said. “Definitely a fish of a lifetime.”

(Top: Brandon Lee Van Horn shows off his 330-pound Warsaw grouper in Panama City, Fla.)

Getting the finger(ling): Adventures in big-game fishing

Beaver Dam Creek 8 13 2016 001

About the above photo: No, my hand isn’t so large that it makes normal-sized fish appear puny. Also, I have not taken up “tanago fishing,” which, popular in Japan, apparently involves the inexplicable sport of purposely catching very small fish.

Instead, it was simply a lousy day of fishing. The above largemouth bass would likely agree, even if I did free it shortly after snapping the photo.

It’s interesting that even at 1-1/2 inches, the fingerling possessed vibrant coloring and has the exact appearance, albeit much smaller, of a mature bass.

Less interesting was casting for more than an hour and having nothing to show for my efforts but the small fry.

Of course, the scenery in rural South Carolina is always spectacular this time of year, which helps assuage the aggravation of going home empty-handed.

(Below: Beaver Dam Creek, Newberry County, SC, where the behemoth was caught – and freed.)

Beaver Dam Creek 8 13 2016 028

Conservationist catches 14-foot stingray in Thailand

giant stingray

If you’ve ever had occasion to see a giant ray gliding gracefully through the water, you understand what stunning creatures they are.

Prehistoric in appearance, stingrays and other rays possess an elegance of movement that is rare on land or sea.

Most stingrays are relatively small, but nature conservationist Jeff Corwin caught a massive 14-foot-by-8-foot beast recently in Thailand.

The stingray weighed as much as 800 pounds and was caught on rod and reel, according to Corwin, host of Ocean Mysteries.

The catch may set a new world’s record for the largest freshwater fish ever caught. The current record holder is a Mekong giant catfish, according to Guinness World Records.

“It was an incredible moment of adventure and science,” Corwin told USA TODAY Network. “Multiple people were on the rod and reel trying to pull this monster in,” he said, adding that it took two hours to secure the fish.

The stingray, which was pregnant, was released after capture.

Corwin was on location filming an upcoming episode of Ocean Mysteries along with Nantarika Chansue, an expert on stingrays who has been studying them in the region.

An embedded microchip in the stingray revealed that Chansue had caught the same animal six years prior, according to Corwin.

(Top: Image of giant stingray caught by Jeff Corwin March 6, 2015, in Thailand.)

Tales from the Riverbank remain happy, contented ones

albert fitch bellows the river bank

Some of my best childhood memories center on a couple of years I spent fishing along the banks of the Colorado River.

Living in a rural Colorado town, my friends and I were able to make our way by bike to the river to while away countless hours fishing for trout and squawfish, poking through rushes and reeds, tangling with turtles and snakes, chewing tobacco and generally enjoying a Huck Finn-like existence

To this day, there is something about spending time along – and in – rivers that brings me great contentment.

When the weather is warm, which is often in South Carolina, I make a point to take my kids to rivers and streams across our state where we can swim, fish and explore, enjoying adventures that, unfortunately, too few American children seem to experience any more.

If I’m traveling across the state for work I’ll sometimes bring a fishing rod. On more than one occasion I’ve taken off my shirt and tie, rolled up my pants legs and waded into shallow rivers to try my luck.

More often than not I don’t catch anything in the 10 or 15 minutes I spend throwing a lure into distant pockets of water, but I always feel better afterward.

I was reminded of the serene beauty of gently flowing water when I recently happened across Albert Fitch Bellows’ painting The River Bank (above), at the Columbia Museum of Art.

According to the museum, it’s unclear whether Fitch’s 1861 work actually depicts a river or, more likely, a mill pond. But the beauty and serenity of the scene is inescapable.

Viewing the painting took me back immediately to my time on the Colorado River, when my friends and I would fish, swim and hunt to our heart’s content, with the only evidence of human existence being the occasional distant rumble of a Denver and Rio Grande Western freight train and the steam whistle signaling shift changes at a local plant.

Most rock lyrics are nothing more than unimaginative clichés, but among those I’ve come across that actually captures genuine feelings that I can identify with is the hauntingly beautiful Tales from the Riverbank, by The Jam:

Bring you a tale from the pastel fields
Where we ran when we were young
This is a tale from the water meadows
Trying to spread some hope into your heart

It’s mixed with happiness, it’s mixed with tears
Both life and death are carried in this stream
That open space you could run for miles
Now you don’t get so many to the pound

True it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia
But it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to
That I’ll always run to
Won’t you join me by the riverbank

Paradise found down by the still waters
Joined in the race to the rainbow’s end
No fears, no worries just a golden country
Woke at sunrise, went home at sunset

Now life is so critical, life is too cynical
We lose our innocence, we lose our very soul

True it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia
But it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to
That I’ll always run to
True it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia
But it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to
That I always run to
Won’t you join me by the riverbank
Come on and join me by the riverbank

One of the blessing of my life is that I’m able to live in an area where I can recapture at least a little nostalgia of my youth, and also pass it on to my children.

Arizona angler hooks, lands lunker sunfish

hector brito

In the Southeastern US, the word “bream” tends to be a catchall term applied to any number of sunfish with such varied monikers as “bluegill,” “sun perch,” “shellcrackers,” “warmouth” and, my favorite, “stump knockers.”

These are what one catches when taking kids fishing from the shore or a dock, using crickets or worms as bait. And a fish that weighs three-quarters of a pound is not only good size and puts up a nice fight, it’s excellent eating.

The upper end size-wise for bream is typically 12 inches in length and 2 pounds in weight.

All of which makes Hector Brito’s accomplishment even more amazing.

On Feb. 16, Brito, using a live nightcrawler for bait, landed a 5-pound, 12-ounce shellcracker, also known as a redear sunfish, while fishing in Arizona’s Lake Havasu. Brito’s fish, which appears to be a world record, was 17 inches long, and nearly as wide.

“(He) said he thought it was a catfish,” said John Galbraith, who weighed the fish on a certified scale.

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How ants work together to survive floods

fire ant raft

Fire ants are a major hazard in the Southern US. Whether you stumble onto a colony of these tiny stinging demons or simply stand too near a nest, you’ll likely end up with painful reminders of how appropriately these insects are named.

The mounds – which can approach a density of 1,000 per acre – are usually 1 to 3 inches tall and made of soft dirt, but can sometimes approach a full 12 inches in height. It’s not unusual for a medium-sized nest to hold tens of thousands of ants.

Among environments fire ants like to construct nests is along riverbanks and around ponds. As someone who likes to fish, I’ve discovered many a fire ant nest the hard way.

So, while I have a soft spot for most living things, it is with a child-like glee that, after a day of fishing, I will take occasion to carefully kick ant nests into the water when the opportunity presents itself.

The way I see it, anything that can harm me or my kids – along with any other living creature unfortunate enough to blunder along – is fair game. And if I can help cut down on these invasive pests, even better.

One thing that always caught my attention was how the ants, after being punted into the drink, would cling together. This is no accident, according to a recent study released by scientists from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

When faced with a flood, ants use their own bodies to form a raft and rely on the buoyancy of the brood and the recovery ability of workers to minimize injury or death, according to the study, released earlier this week. In addition, the queen ant is placed in the middle and protected on all sides by the rafting ants.

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Stingrays: A face only a mother could love

hookskate

A Florida fisherman recently reeled in a 14-foot stingray so old it had barnacles on it.

The 800-pound behemoth was snared in the waters off Miami Beach and was initially touted as a hookskate, a little-known deep-water skate that inhabits depths of between 1,000-3,000 feet.

However, George H. Burgess of the Florida Museum of Natural History on Monday identified the creature in question as a roughtail stingray, according to The Big Blue blog.

Captain Mark Quartiano, a charter boat operator, posted a picture of the catch over the weekend.

“I’ve caught one like it before, but never that size, not in the last 30 years I’ve been doing this,” Quartiano told ABC News. “It’s a very rare fish. It’s like a big gigantic whipping stingray. It’s a dinosaur.

“It was very old. It had barnacles all over it,” added Quartiano, who caught the stingray while shooting a series of TV shows for a Japanese network.

He released the fish shortly after tagging it.

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