Get Reel

Editor's Blog by John Brownlee
Jake Gibson (right) gives a big “thumbs-up” as John Brownlee prepares to release his tarpon.

Tarpon Time

The tarpon have arrived early this year in the Florida Keys, making those of us who eagerly await their arrival very happy. The fish are swarming in the backcountry of Florida Bay and moving through the bridges to swim along the oceanside flats as well. It’s my favorite time of year in the Keys, made more special, I think, because it’s temporary – the fish stay only a few months, so you have to take advantage of the situation while you can. They will be gone before you know it.

Fly fishermen are already scoring on the silver kings, both in the backcountry and out front in the ocean, and the live bait action around the bridges has been quite good too, depending on the tides. I fished a small tournament out of the Islamorada Fishing Club weekend before last with SWS contributing photographer Richard Gibson and his son Jake, who caught his second tarpon right off the bat that morning in Indian Key Channel. Jake caught his very first tarpon last year, fishing with his Dad and me at Channel 5.

The fish ate a live pilchard and put on a fantastic leaping display before settling down and dogging us hard, but Jake prevailed and we released the fish after a lengthy fight. It’s very cool to see kids get fired up about fishing, and even cooler to see them take pride in letting the fish go. When I was Jake’s age (11), most fish were killed and brought to the dock for bragging rights, even game fish like tarpon and bonefish sometimes.


It’s good to see that things have changed, while they also stay the same. The tarpon still show up in Keys waters each spring as they undoubtedly have for thousands of years. I caught my first tarpon 45 years ago, right here in Islamorada, and after all these years I still look forward to seeing them again, but now, we’re a lot smarter about taking care of this very special and unique fishery. Hopefully, fishermen 1,000 years from now will feel the same way, and the fish will still be here for them.

Fired Up on Facebook

While putting together the recent issues of Salt Water Sportsman, we’ve been testing potential magazine covers on the SWS Facebook page, asking Facebookers to vote on one cover or another. We always ask them to choose a cover, but we also ask them to tell us why they prefer one over the other.  We get a wide variety of comments, which usually run from goofy and funny to insightful, and all points in between. But in the latest competition, we managed to rile up a great many North Carolinians when we decided to not use the cover they preferred.

That cover, the one on the right, was a shot of a bluefin tuna taken by veteran SWS contributor Ric Burnley, who has had more photos grace our covers in the past three years than any other photographer. The other, a blackfin tuna shot, came from photographer Brian Grossenbacher of Bozeman, Montana, and our staff eventually decided to go with his photo.


This enraged the Carolina faithful, mainly because the guy in the bluefin photo is their buddy. If you go to our Facebook page, you can read their comments: “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO,” said one.  “The blackfin looks dull and it has no oomph to it whatsoever!” said another. “It’s [the blackfin] the WORST picture of a fish that I have ever seen!”

You get the picture, pun intended. It turns out one of the posters was engaged to the guy (Kenny) on the bluefin cover, and another is his current roommate. Kenny, I don’t know you, but you must be one helluva guy to inspire such passion in two different women. I tip my hat to you, sir.

It’s good to know you’re all out there, paying attention. Keep those votes coming, and next time, we’ll try to get it right. Stay tuned for the next SWS cover competition, coming soon to


Just Back from the Presidential Challenge

I just returned from fishing the Presidential Challenge of Central America tournament in Carrillo, Costa Rica, where my team members and I enjoyed some great fishing for sailfish, blue and striped marlin, and large dorado. Joan Vernon runs the PCCA, and it’s a great series –  a lot of fun, and also for a good cause, since she donates the proceeds from the tournaments to The Billfish Foundation to support conservation efforts in Central America.


My team included Dr. Russell Nelson, chief science advisor to TBF, and Texan Steve Orr, fishing with Capt. Sonny Kocsis on the Wetass II, a beautiful 31 Bertram. We were in third place going into the last day of the tournament and feeling pretty good about our chances, but the entire field got smoked by the crew on the Sea Angel the last day, when that boat caught two marlin and 11 sailfish to run away with the top prize. What a performance by a great crew.


No matter, we all had a great time, and supported conservation, two worthy goals. To learn more about PCCA, log onto

The Gulf is Back

Welcome to my blog. As you may remember, I used to do a video blog here on, but I’ve decided to branch out and do a traditional blog with video and photo elements mixed in, a combination of mediums if you will. Anyway, here we go.

For my first topic, I want to tell you about last week. A group of us traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi as guests of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Tourism folks. My good friend Bobby Carter of the Isle Resort and Casino in Biloxi  put us up, and we all got to ride a float and throw beads in the Biloxi Mardi Gras parade on Fat Tuesday. Many people don’t know that Biloxi has the third oldest Mardi Gras festival, after Mobile, Alabama (the original), and New Orleans (currently the largest). This was the 103rd year of Biloxi’s celebration. What a trip that was! SWS field editor Karl Anderson came along for the ride, as did Chris Fischer, my buddy who catches 4,000-pound sharks on the National Geographic Channel for fun.

While Mardi Gras was a terrific party, the Mississippi tourism folks were attempting to get out a serious message – that the Gulf coast has rebounded from the double body blows of hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, and is open for business. The people of the Gulf coast are a resilient bunch, and we came away impressed by their infectious optimism, and their sense of humor.

After our stay in Biloxi, we traveled down to Venice, Louisiana for a few days of offshore fishing, where we enjoyed great action for yellowfin and blackfin tuna, wahoo, grouper, snapper and more. The legendary fishing in this part of the world is back, and you’ll be reading all about it in detail in a future issue of Salt Water Sportsman.

We finished the trip with a night in New Orleans, where we caught the incredible Rockin’ Dopsie (pronounced “DOOP-see”) and the Zydeco Twisters at the House of Blues. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, and the crowds of people in the streets, fresh off Mardi Gras and anxious to begin celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, made it hard to remember the horrors the city suffered through a few short years ago.

The bottom line is, the Gulf is back! You owe it to yourself to get down there and see it again, or for the first time, for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.