Over time, our annual photo contest has grown from a simple prize giveaway to a much more significant event that in recent years has allowed us the privilege of not only putting great gear in the hands of anglers-turned-photographers (or vice versa), but of sending those folks to a fantastic destination to ply its waters with that gear. This year, the contest has taken on additional importance as it has also become also become a vehicle for educating the angling public about important issues facing our fisheries.
This year's winner will tote Sage's new, award-winning X rod (and much more) along on a trip to fly fish and tour the Everglades and Florida Keys. The glades and the keys are two of fly fishing's most iconic destinations, saltwater equivalents of Montana's Yellowstone and Idaho's Henry's Fork. Pioneering saltwater fly anglers like Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot and Sandy Moret cut their teeth in the waters that flow through and around the Everglades, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay and the Florida Keys.
While parts of the Everglades and Florida Keys still offer world-class angling to this day, much of the region is in crisis — the result of decades upon decades of water starvation and mismanagement that benefits mammoth sugar corporations at the expense of South Florida's tourist economies, drinking water supply and its iconic fisheries.
That's the bad news. The good news is that there's a solution at hand. The CERP (Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) was authorized by Congress in 2000. The largest hydrologic restoration project ever undertaken in the United States, the CERP is a plan to "restore, preserve, and protect the south Florida ecosystem while providing for other water-related needs of the region, including water supply and flood protection," one that comes with a price tag estimated at over $10 billion and with a timeline that is expected to span more than 3 decades.
Sadly, over 15 years after its authorization, little of the CERP has been accomplished — thanks mostly to budget cuts and misappropriation of funds by Florida lawmakers, both of which are largely attributed to aggressive efforts of Florida's extremely powerful sugar and other agricultural lobbies.
But those that call the region home are fighting back. Organizations like Captains for Clean Water, bullsugar.org, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, the National Wildlife Federation, the Florida Wildlife Federation and more along with countless individual Floridians and others from around the globe are joining efforts to educate the public about the imminent threats — and viable solutions — facing the Florida Everglades and Keys.
Visit this year's official 2016 #NowOrNeverglades Photo Contest page for a more in-depth look at the issues facing South Florida, for a look at the whole list of this year's prizes from our generous sponsors Sage, RIO, Redington, Costa Sunglasses and AFFTA and, of course, to enter your photos for a chance to win this year's grand prize — which will send the winner for a 6 day tour of the Florida Everglades and Keys. Experience world class fishing for bonefish, tarpon, snook, permit and more, and learn first-hand about the region's history and current crisis.
Other resources for learning and doing more abound. Visit each of the organizations listed above. Watch the excellent video above from Costa Sunglasses. Check out the CERP plan. Read Maddie Stone's excellent article in Gizmodo. Sign the #NowOrNeverglades declaration.
The story of South Florida's fisheries isn't done being written. Whatever you do, be part of it.