In this series, BUFF and Flylords have partnered to highlight some outstanding members of the greater-angling community who are taking action to drive change, in their communities, and throughout the world. In highlighting these unique individuals through the lens of their own struggle, perseverance, and passion; we aim to share the stories of these anglers as they push to inspire activism in their communities and future generations. This is, “Anglers Driving Change”.
In this episode, we’ll be highlighting Dr. Ross Boucek, the Florida Keys Initiative Manager for the non-profit conservation group: Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (Also known as ‘BTT’).
About Ross and BTT:
(Via: BTT) “Ross is a second-generation South Floridian. He grew up fishing for tarpon and snook out of Everglades City. Ross earned his Masters and Doctoral degrees at Florida International University, studying how weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts, and extreme cold events, impact sport-fishes in Florida Bay and Everglades National Park. After his schooling, he worked for Florida Fish and Wild Conservation Commission, researching fish movements and migrations, and applying that information to conservation actions. Now based in Marathon, Ross spends most of his time in the Keys, either conducting BTT science, or working with anglers, and management agencies to turn BTT science into meaningful management and regulatory changes that improve our Keys fishery”.
Since Ross was just a child, he’s been on the water. In an interview with Rail Riders, he recalled his first memories of fishing, “My dad got me out on the water when I was three. The first real fish I remember catching was a Black drum in Everglades National Park”.
As Ross grew up, he spent more and more time on the water, searching for salt-water game fish like; Bonefish, Tarpon, and Snook. Once he was in high school, he had taken a job at a local tackle shop, where he spent his weekends guiding for the same fish he had become infatuated with. By the time the decision of whether or not to attend college rolled around, Ross had built up a consistent client base, and was at a crossroads of pursuing a full-time career as a Florida Keys Guide or continuing on with his formal education.
Eventually, Ross decided to continue on with school. However, this was far from the end of his fishing-focused lifestyle. Ross enrolled in Virginia Tech with a declared naval engineering major. However, after 2 years of engineering work, he decided to change his major to fisheries science. Ross told Railriders, “After about two years of engineering classes, I realized that naval architecture is about designing oil tankers and gas platforms, not skiffs that float in 6 inches of water. That following summer, I decided it was time for a change, I got my captain’s license and was ready to start a career guiding. By chance, my aunt came across a brochure for the school of fisheries science at Virginia Tech, she sent it to me. The program looked awesome, I switched majors, and after my first semester in fisheries science, I knew that this career was for me”.
Once Ross had finished his undergrad, he continued on to Graduate school at Florida Internation University, where he continued his fisheries science research. In 2016, Ross Graduated and was awarded graduate scholar of the year for the entire university.
Since then, Ross now works full-time with Bonefish & Tarpon Trust where he conducts and facilitates research on Permit, Bonefish, and Tarpon in the Florida Keys, as well as works in partnership with the angling community and management agencies, to pass regulations or put other conservation measures in place that protects and improves our fisheries. He spends the majority of his days in the field, capturing bonefish, either with traditional tackle, or a fly rod (his preferred method), tagging them, and releasing them back into the wild so that he and his agency can monitor their behavior and gain a better understanding of how these fish behave (Where they eat, where they spawn, etc). As Ross states in this film, “From that [data], we can learn so much about their environment that we can use to form conservation measures down the road.” He describes this process as, “Science, driving conservation, driving an improved fishery”. Ross has also adopted the nickname: “The Mad Fish Scientist”.
Today, Ross models his lifestyle after his old man, and has taken up full-time residence on his boat, a 1977, 31 foot sea runner trimaran named, “Barbara Jean”. Over the last few years, Ross has been involved in some pivotal Bonefish and Permit protection projects, one of the most notable being the, “Save the Horny Fish” initiative, or “Project Permit”, which took place over the course of many years, and has since greatly shifted the tide of the rapidly declining Permit habitat of Western Dry Rocks. You can learn more about this project in a 2020 interview with Ross and Captain Will Benson, HERE. Over the last week, Ross has had a chance to share continued Bonefish, Tarpon, and Permit research with attendees of the 7th International Science Symposium & Flats Expo.