We're Seeing A Lot of Red This Holiday Season ... December 18 2019, 0 Comments

...And Thank Goodness it Ain't Red Tide                                                                     

'Tis the season! Obviously, it’s a time for reflection, and also looking forward to ever changing tides and a new year. Down here in Southwest Florida, the outlook couldn't be better for great boating, fishing and beachcombing.

On the reflection front, the infamous Red Tide (RT) that so many of us are aware of, has been front and center for a long time now, with Fake News leading the charge. These pundits have publicly expoused words to make themselves look like wise scientific sages.  What bunk. Instead, what they’ve done is hurt many Floridians through ignorant reporting and disseminating lots of fish dung.

Like I’ve been telling my guests for many months, I’d like to step back and try and provide a truer skinny on Red Tide. First, let’s start with what occurred in late Summer of 2018.

Yes, the RT came in hard. This isn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, through log books, there are reports of the stuff being around when Spanish galleons roamed the high seas off of our shores. We know it is born off-shore and occurs erratically from one period of time to the next. Sometimes, it’s more pronounced, other times, not so much.

The good news is there is a new Sheriff in town to help mitigate the effects of RT in the future. That Sheriff is our new Governor of Florida and he and his team have already taken many aggressive steps to get a handle on RT now and in the future. I could provide a comprehensive list of everything that’s being done but would probably bore you to eternity. So, take it at face value, there is a full scale assault going on by many to tackle RT and we’re going to kick its butt to the nautical curb.

On a sidebar note, we’ve also been exposed in SW Florida to a blue algae which is the result of mismanagement of waters being released from Lake Okeechobee and elsewhere with much of it running down the Caloosahatchee River to the Gulf of Mexico. Because of reasons mentioned in the aforementioned paragraph, this algae’s days are numbered, as tough regulations are finally being put in place that should have occurred years ago. In a short period of time, we have already seen dramatic improvements in water quality and appearance. It’s a beautiful sight to see.

So, here’s a factual report: Come to Florida. The weather, of course, is beautiful, the waters surrounding our islands are as clear as ever. Nature is abounding with birds diving for bait everywhere and shelling is bountiful.

And the boating and particularly fishing? Hot Damn, it’s been good! Here are a few particulars on why the angling has been so solid.

Like many states that monitor and manage wildlife, we have the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). They are outstanding. A big part of the reason why is that they work hand-in-hand with commercial and recreational entities to carefully and effectively manage our natural resources. Since fishing is so vital to the State of Florida, FWC is constantly monitoring all of our desirable (and even undesirable) species to ensure we have sustainable populations in the future. This is why it’s the responsibility of all individuals and groups to know what species of fish can be taken, when they can be taken, what size they are and what the bag limit is (how many can be kept to consume.)

Many of our inshore and offshore fish are currently being regulated which is good. If we exercise good conservation today, we obviously set the plate for a better tomorrow. Incidences of Red Tide and overly ambitious commercial fishing are two main reasons why FWC has been even more active in setting down regs to preserve our fisheries both in-shore and off-shore. Let me provide a few examples:

Off-shore Fishing

Grouper and Snapper, are two highly sought after fish for catching and consumption. As a result, most of the types of fish within these two species are regulated to avoid overfishing. For example, Red Grouper can be caught and taken year ‘round, but they must be a minimum of 20” in length. And, there is a maximum of 2 per person. The monster shown to the right is a 31" Red Grouper caught on a recent off-shore outing. Black Grouper can also be taken year ‘round in the Gulf of Mexico but must be 24” in length. Because one has to go out so far to generally get blacks, the bag limit is 4 per person. And, Gag Grouper also have to be 24” in length and can only be taken at certain times of the year with a limit of 2 per person.

There are a variety of Snapper that are highly sought after and watched over by the FWC. The Red Snapper historically has been the go-to fish for commercial and recreational fisherman. As a result of too much pressure in harvesting, they are now closed to keeping except for just a few weekends a year in the Gulf of Mexico. They are absolutely beautiful fish that make for great eating. The Red Snapper shown was caught by yours truly.  It was kissed for luck and safely released. We’re looking forward to being able to keep a few in the ensuing years. In the meantime, they are a voracious fighter and will leave you almost awestruck by their beauty.

Fortunately, there are a variety of Snapper that are great to catch and consume.Two of my favorites are Yellowtail Snapper and Mangrove Snapper. They just don’t get any better to eat and are a blast to catch. They can be found offshore and in-shore and the size restrictions for keeping are a little more lenient than others.  

Mangrove (Manny) Snapper for dinner!                                                                                         

In-shore Fishing

Among the many species of fish in-shore, three of the most popular are Snook, Redfish and Spotted Sea Trout. All three are closed for harvesting. They are catch and release only. That’s not a problem for many, because catch and release is all they do anyway. And, even when harvesting is allowed the numbers of these fish that can be kept are limited and dictated by seasons and size. Snook and Redfish are probably the most coveted and highly regarded of sport fish in-shore and in the backcountry mangroves of Florida. They are voracious fighters and make delicious table fare. However, even when they are allowed to be caught and kept, the Redfish “slot” for keeping is no less than 18” and no more than 27”. The Snook slot is no less than 28” and no more than 33”. At the present time, it hasn’t been announced when these two magnificent fish will be allowed to be harvested. But, for most of us, because it’s such a thrill to catch them, catch-and-release is just fine. The Redfish beauty shown here was recently caught and released by guest, Clive, from the UK.

Spotted Sea Trout are also catch-and-release for now until the Spring of 2020. Like the Redfish and Snook, they are a blast to catch on a popping cork or far-flung jig. The primary reason restrictions have been put on these three fish is because they were stressed and some even left the area when the Red Tide hit in 2018. Since then however, by giving them time to procreate their species and through restocking, they have come back strong. In short, fishing for Snook, Redfish and Trout has been some of,the best I’ve seen in years. Yeah!

If you still want great fights and be able to put some food on the table, the likelihood of this happening is very good. Just tell your guide that this is what you’d like to try and do. There are plenty of species to target including Spanish Mackerel, Mangrove Snapper and Sheepshead, to name a few. And who knows, you could pick up a Black Drum, Pompano and/or Flounder which are prize catches as well.

Like most of my fellow guides, bait shops, restaurants, hotels, and other retail outlets, I’m sure we will continue to receive calls from folks asking about how the Red Tide is affecting us in Southwest Florida. This has and likely will be brought on because of all the fake news being disseminated to the public. A quick side-story. There was awhile there when on local TV news channels and in the papers, I think I saw the same poor dead fish on a beach over, and over and over again. Having been in the marketing and business for many years, I think I saw that same dead fish for sale in photo libraries across the country. If these outlets only knew how popular this dude fish would be, they could have charged double or triple rates.

For centuries, Red Tide has been in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. It will probably continue to be around for years to come. Much effort is being placed forth to minimize its effects. And, we’re on the right track. Before making Florida my permanent home, I’d been coming here since the 70’s. I can honestly state (with no Fake News) that all of Southwest Florida is beautiful right now and the boating is a delight. The fishing continues to be some of the best on the planet. I know, because I’ve fished many corners of it.

About the only red of significance we’re experiencing down here are beautiful sunsets and fish like Red Grouper, Snapper and Redfish. Oh, and I’m sure in a little under a week we’ll catch a glimpse of a jolly old elf all dressed in red cruising our skies.

Have a wonderful Holiday Season everyone. I hope to see you on the water in 2020.   Ho! Ho! Ho!  Fish On!