Anglers Driving Change: Dr. Ross Boucek – Bonefish & Tarpon Trust


In this series, BUFF and Flylords have collaborated to highlight some outstanding members of the wider community who are taking action to drive change, in their communities and around the world. In highlighting these unique individuals through the lens of their struggle, tenacity and passion; we aim to share the stories of these fishermen as they push to inspire activism in their communities and future generations. This is, “Fishermen’s Paddle Change”.

In this episode we will highlight Dr. Ross Boucekwho is the Florida Keys Initiative Manager for the non-profit conservation group: Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (also known as ‘BTT’).

Ross on the boat

About Ross and BTT:

(Via: BTT) “Ross is a second generation South Floridian. He grew up fishing for tarpon and left Everglades City. Ross earned his master’s and doctorate degrees at Florida International University studying how weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts and extreme cold events, affect sport fish in Florida Bay and Everglades National Park. After graduation, he worked for the Florida Fish and Wildlife 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 fishermen and management agencies to translate BTT science into meaningful management and regulatory changes that improve our fisheries in the Keys.”

preparing a label
Ross prepares a tracking tag to insert into a bonefish.

Ever since Ross was just a kid, he’s been in the water. In an interview with Rail Riders, he recalled his first memories of fishing, “My dad took me out on the water when I was three years old. “The first real fish I remember catching was a black drum in Everglades National Park.”

As Ross grew older, he spent more and more time on the water, searching for saltwater game fish such as; Bonefish, Tarpon and Snook. After he was in high school, he took a job at a local tackle shop, where he spent his weekends instructing on the same fish he had become passionate about. By the time the decision to attend college came back around, Ross had built a solid client base and was at a crossroads between pursuing a full-time career as a Guide in the Florida Keys or continuing his formal education.

leading in a boat

Eventually, Ross decided to continue with school. However, this was far from the end of his fishing-focused lifestyle. Ross enrolled at Virginia Tech with a major in marine engineering. 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 boats that float in 6 inches of water. The following summer, I decided it was time for a change, got my captain’s license and was ready to start a career as a leader. By chance, my aunt found a brochure for the fisheries science school at Virginia Tech, she sent it to me. “The program sounded great, I switched majors and after my first semester in fisheries science, I knew this career was for me.”

ross fishing

After Ross finished his studies, he went on to graduate school at Florida International University, where he continued his fisheries science research. In 2016, Ross graduated and was named the university-wide Graduate Scholar of the Year.

Since then, Ross now works full-time with the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, where he conducts and facilitates Permit, Bonefish and Tarpon research in the Florida Keys, and works in partnership with the fishing community and management agencies to adopt regulations or establishing other conservation measures that protect and enhance our fisheries. He spends most of his days in the field, catching bonefish, either with traditional gear or with a fly rod (his preferred method), tagging them and releasing them back into the wild so that he and the agency so you can monitor their behavior and gain a better understanding of how these fish behave (where they eat, where they spawn, etc.). As Ross says in this film, “From this [data]we can learn so much about their environment that we can use to shape conservation measures down the road.” He describes the process as, “Science, driving conservation, driving an improved fishery.” Ross has also adopted the nickname: “Mad Fish Scientist”.

Roos plants a transmitter

Today, Ross models his lifestyle after his senior and has taken up residence full-time on his boat, a 1977 31-foot offshore racing trimaran named Barbara Jean. Over the past few years, Ross has been involved in several major hornfish and permit conservation projects, one of the most notable being the Save the Horny Fish or Project Leja initiative, which took place over many years. , and has since largely shifted the tide of Permit’s rapidly declining western arid reef habitat. You can learn more about this project in a 2020 interview with Ross and captain Will Benson HERE. Over the past week, Ross has had a chance to share his ongoing Bonefish, Tarpon and Perm research with attendees of 7th International Science Symposium and Housing Exposition.

the duck boat

We look forward to seeing the future research and conservation initiatives that will come from Dr. Boucek and the folks from the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, and we want to thank Ross for giving up his time to let us follow along with him and capture some of his research on camera. To watch the full film Anglers Driving Change on Ross and BTT, click here. We would also like to thank BUFF to help make this series happen. To learn more about some of the best sun protection on the market, you can find their full fishing catalog, here.

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Anglers Driving Change: Chris Wittman & Daniel Andrews – Captains for Clear Water



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