This year's photo contest (okay, last year's) marked a lot of firsts.
It was the first time that we announced the winners of our annual contest in the following calendar year, due to an amalgam of issues. That's something we hope never to repeat again.
It was the first time that the selection of the grand prize winner prompted a discussion on whether the rules of the contest need to be updated (more on that later).
Most importantly, it was the first time that we've partnered with hard-working folks behind some of the most important conservation issues facing anglers today. We did this, it likely goes without saying, to help shed light on these issues and the dedicated efforts to find their solutions. This year, focus was turned to the #NowOrNeverglades effort and similar campaigns to finally solve South Florida's—primarily the Florida Everglades and Florida Keys, both national treasures—longstanding and increasingly dire water issues.
What remained unchanged this year was our distinct privilege to be able to spend our time poring over seemingly countless images from not just around the sport, but around the globe. As has been the trend, this year's pool of entries were amongst our strongest and the small collection of runners-up and winning entries showcased here only scratch the surface. We'll be looking for ways to share more of these great images with you over the coming year.
This year's winner, in addition to taking home the award-winning Sage X fly rod and a bevy of other great gear (full contest details and prize list is here, will be headed to the Florida Everglades and Keys for a 6-day fishing trip and tour; an amazing chance to experience one of America's most iconic fisheries. But, for decades, the Everglades has been facing some serious challenges. And those challenges are mounting. In many places, fishing is a shadow of what it formerly was.
The reason is well understood: Florida's antiquated water management practices —designed to support a failing sugar industry propped up by U.S. taxpayer-fueled subsidies estimated at around 3.5 billion dollars per year — have long starved the Everglades River of Grass of freshwater that naturally drains through the glades and south into Florida Bay. These vastly reduced or eliminated flows of freshwater create hypersalinity and nutrient deficient waters. Sea grass die off and habitat destruction are further fueled by polluted by polluted water discharges to both coasts via the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers that prevent the dammed Lake Okeechobee from overflowing, sparking spectacular toxic algae blooms that close beaches, destroy fisheries and become the subject of national news coverage.
More than 200 Everglades scientists signed a petition supporting a restoration plan for the glades and urging Florida lawmakers to take action. It's time to do something. It's time to speak up. Learn more here. And here. And here.
Above all, sign the #NowOrNeverglades declaration. Make your voice heard.
As in previous years, this year's contest was made possible through generous support. This year we all owe thanks to: Captains for Clean Water, bullsugar.org, AFFTA, Sage Fly Fishing, Redington, RIO and Costa Sunglasses.
Alright, dig in.