Skye Burkhardt is worried about Mosquito Lagoon. The Florida reeler’s backyard fishery has had a tough year.
The lagoon, along the inshore waters of Florida’s Space Coast, is an estuarine habitat whose mangroves and sea grass are relied upon by inshore species like snook, redfish, and black drum for structure, camouflage, and a place to breed. But an excessively hot summer, followed by Hurricane Irma destroyed much of the sea grass. And a cold snap this winter is killing off snook, a tropical species that’s super-sensitive to temperature fluctuation in the water.
“I love Mosquito Lagoon. I care about our fishery and the species in it, the mangroves and sea grass. When I walked out and saw the dead snook up against our wall, I had to go back inside. I hate to see that,” Burkhardt says.
Better known to her many Instagram fans as @brassyhooker87, Burkhardt has turned her lifelong love of fishing into a force for good. Her passion for the Space Coast fisheries fuels her many charitable ventures, as well as her nascent guide service, Inshore Adventures with Skye.
“When I think about being out on the lagoon, crossing marshes, and the river, and putting in the work to find the fish, feeling the fish on the end on my line, with my drag screaming… well that’s the reward for all the effort. And I’d love to share it with everyone else,” she says.
From Fish to Fish to Fish
Burkhardt started fishing as a young girl. One of six children, she’d go out with her dad, reeling for bass. And as soon as she got her own rod and reel, Burkhardt hit the lake behind their Central Florida home almost every day after school.
She continued to chase bass even after moving to Altamont Springs and getting her own apartment. On nearby Lotus Lake, Burkhardt hooked her first alligator — using an artificial! After that she even did some catch-and-release gator hunting.
Burkhardt’s catch-and-release ethic served her well when she went with her husband to Daytona, where she caught her first snook using a paddletail jig. She caught two more in the next ten minutes, and she was hooked.
“Snook are my favorite fish,” she says.
Eventually settling in New Smyrna, Burkhardt did a lot of night fishing, chasing the big snook on Florida’s Atlantic side. But she and her husband had children, circumstances changed, and she had to stop fishing at night.
Always prepared with her rod and reel, she stopped one day between causeways and tossed in a line. She caught a small snook and a big redfish. And she was hooked again.
Burkhardt did all she could to learn how to go after redfish. Now she paddles out on her own and sight fishes for them on the skinny waters of Mosquito Lagoon. She’s caught redfish of almost all sizes, including 50-pounders.
“But I like slot reds better than the big bulls. They’re just prettier, she says. “Every part of it feels amazing. From the paddling to the sighting, and trying to stay quiet as I work my bait past a redfish. And then hooking it and knowing I did it all myself, and by myself. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Working for the Lagoon
As Burkhardt fell in love with the lagoon, a burgeoning number of followers expressed interest in what she was doing.
“They started asking me for autographed pictures, especially this one from Gaff magazine. But, it’s expensive and time-consuming to respond to all the requests, so I figured there must be a way to make it a win-win.”
Burkhardt approached the Marine Discovery Center, and they struck up a partnership. Her fans can now get an autographed picture, the cost of printing and mailing is covered, and the Marine Discovery Center gets a donation.
Educating people about the importance of marine ecology and conservation is important to Burkhardt, as well. She is spearheading a project called Fish Skoolz, along with Captain Jamie from Yellow Dog charters. Over two days, the kids will learn to cast a net for bait, to fish, how to get their license, get a pair of Danco pliers — one of Burkhardt’s sponsors — and then tour the Marine Science Center, which will benefit from the proceeds.
She is also working with Reef Savers to promote and fund removal of lion fish from Mosquito Lagoon. The fish devour the eggs of the native species that breed in the lagoon. Folks who donate $25 or more can win a sailing chart with Burkhardt or any of the other lady reelers who are working with the program.
“If they wanted, I’d probably just take them fishing, though.” And as soon as Inshore Adventures with Skye hits the water (later in 2018, she says), Burkhardt will happily take you fishing, too.