Fly Fishing for Coastal Gamefish
Q. I’ve had a number of questions on career choice advice.
A. Where to begin. First, to the best of my knowledge, although there are numerous people who do what I do (gamefish-related research, fishing, education/communication of anglers, conservation), almost all are in academia or government jobs. In general, the academic jobs allow the most research freedom (but also the greatest time commitment, especially when going for tenure), whereas the government jobs seem to be more limiting in the freedom aspect. Both, however, offer regular pay. Although the academic positions require grant funds to do the research (and get tenure), salary is paid. In contrast, my work at Mote Marine Lab is 100% grant money, so no grants = no job. While this has allowed me the freedom to do research that I otherwise would not have been able to do (e.g., my snook research, angler education), it’s rather tenuous living from year to year on 100% grant money. Similarly, although BTT is stable and a regular salary, it is also non-profit and is dependent on memberships and donations. The point of all of this – academia and government provide stability, but perhaps not as direct an interaction with fish/fishing (or an interaction that is more influenced by institutional agendas), whereas the non-profit side is less financially stable but with more individual freedoms. All have their (dis)advantages.
I agree about the need for translating science/ecology into layman’s (angler) terms. There is a huge need for this. The problem is that not enough others agree. As far as I can tell, there is little funding for this – I think there should be a very large pot of money to pay people to translate fisheries and ecological science into angler’s terms. And, to be honest, part of the problem is that most scientists think they are good communicators with the general public (the vast majority are not), so they see no reason to have people specializing in this field. I would love to be able to hire someone, for example, to write layman-version articles summarizing my program’s research, but at the moment I don’t see it happening due to budget limitations. As far as I can tell from reading other organizations’ publications, they are following the old tradition of having an angler/member with writing skills or a freelance writer write the pieces, which almost inevitably end up being only so-so. Despite their claims to the contrary, I also find that most fishing publications still don’t give much science/conservation coverage, and when they do not very well. They tend to depend on people who, though generally good writers, don't have a sufficient scientific background to adequately cover the topic.
But how to combine fishing, scientific research, and conservation? Well, I’ve always fished, so that certainly helped. But it’s important to get past the typical fisherman’s thought process and apply a scientific approach to your time on the water. This means that when in college, I recommend taking a wide variety of classes to establish a good knowledge base. In college, don’t worry about concentrating on a specific topic (e.g., marine biology, fisheries). Instead, make sure to take all of the classes that will be required for admission to graduate school. Most likely, if a career in marine science is desired, graduate school will be required. And during graduate schools is when specialization should occur. I also recommend taking some time between college and graduate school, get a job or two, get an idea what different careers are really like. It’s impossible to know what career path is realistic until it is experienced. After college, I worked for 4 years, then went to graduate school for my Master’s degree, then worked for 4 years before heading back to graduate school to get my Ph.D.
To learn more about the type of research I do, check out my research articles.
The Fisherman's Coast approach focuses on how coastal gamefish interact with their habitats and prey. The more you know about the gamefish you pursue with a fly rod, the more often you'll be in the right place at the right time with the right fly making the right presentation. It's about catching more fish.
Our sister site Tribal Bonefish is all about conservation through responsible fishing. Tribal Bonefish shows you how to become a better steward of our coasts to protect our fisheries today, and ensure future generations get a chance to experience these fisheries.