It strikes abject terror in the hearts of the unfamiliar.
“Red Tide ... do we have to evacuate?” The reaction comes close to that when the media lays the news on the uninitiated ala the evening news. The event takes on even more ominous proportions when those same folks see the dead fish being washed ashore.
Immediate reaction to all that negativism to those here seasonally or on holiday is ... let’s go to the zoo and forget the trip on the water.
Even with timid response to that reaction, it is sheer overkill.
Red tide in the Florida Gulf was first reported in 1844. Definitively, red tide is an excessive concentration of microscopic algae that produce a toxin that can effect the central nervous systems of fish. It comes in different strengths from mild to serious.
When exposed to a serious aerosol spray of affected water, we experience some respiratory irritation (coughing, sneezing and tearing). It’s just a bother for most but for those with chronic respiratory conditions they are, obviously, urged to avoid the red tide areas.
It effects some species of fish. This time the inshore impact has been on schools of mullet. There has been no reports, at this time, of any other species being effected. Per the authorities, fish even in red tide water and unaffected are safe to eat because the toxin is not absorbed in the edible tissues of these creatures.
With all of that as a backdrop, we had a family from the Heartland scheduled for a trip on one of the mornings last week. They had called twice in setting up the trip with anxious questions being first timers in the “salt”. Most of the inquiry involved what species of fish would they catch and it’s size. They excitingly booked a trip for their family of four.
It was hard to avoid the media blitz regarding the red tide. The “Heartlanders” were no exception.
The phone call the night before the trip went something like this: “Captain, we’ve heard about this red tide thing and are apprehensive about going out on the water. What can you tell us?”
I went through what I knew ... told them If they wanted to cancel there would be no problem but asked them to first check the Mote Marine website about red tide info first.
Later, with official confirmation of the info I had provided they called back and squeamishly affirmed that they would take the trip. Fishing is a passion that is difficult to squelch.
Our day dawned with a light east wind and a moderate outgoing tide. Both are factors that can mitigate the strength of the red tide algae bloom. We planned to work the backwaters in Addison Bay using the good current of the outgoing to excite the bite of both snapper and redfish; and maybe even a black drum or a early season sheepshead.
We made it down the Marco River and under the Jolley Bridge but not without some cringing glances at floating mullet carcasses littering the waterway. No doubt the red tide was very real.
But as we made our way east up the marked channel in Addison Bay there was a dramatic change in the water quality. The swarthy brown-yellow water surface racing gulfward in the river changed to a fairly clear, albeit it, tannic stained surface as we transited the bay. We were definitely moving away from the problem.
Our first drop was close in. We’d test a spot to see if there was any action at all before plunging deeper into the backwater. We moved off the main channel and set upon the first point. Would we get any strikes? We’d soon find out.
We set up some 15’ off the mangrove edges and we set out the four rods with live shrimp held in position with half ounce weights. This was a good spot; no action and we’d consider the red tide as dominant back here and call it a day.
Five minutes into the set, two rods jerked and went down with a solid strikes. Two nice undersized mangrove are hoisted aboard. Fishing potential confirmed, we racked the rods, weighed anchor and moved up into the fabled Addison Bay backwaters.
The next drop was a serious one on a mangrove point accented by a major accumulation of downed brush. The kids cast first and before I could get Mom and Dad in the water, the boys were hooked up with nice mangrove snapper. They swung them aboard; well over keeper size that were then photographed endlessly.
Ask dad: Keep for dinner or release. Mom’s grimace telegraphed the answer. “We’ll release” he blurts but you could sense his insincerity in the response. There was still some apprehension with the red tide.
We worked this special spot for well onto an hour with almost non-stop action. The fish were obviously on a serious “feed” possibly provoked by their having to herd together avoiding the algae laden areas. But irregardless of reason, all the snappers, sheepshead and trout we caught were active and as normal as could be.
As the charter neared it’s final hour, we moved to another spot in the same general area that centered around a shallow shoreline that consistently harbored nice redfish. We weren’t disappointed as we commenced landing some nice reds, most to keeper size.
Finally, after much encouragement, Dad made the decision to harvest a nice redfish for dinner. As he hoisted the nice 25” red up for photos he declared “This fish is absolutely normal and is not going to waste. It’s dinner.”
As we transited the bay and river back to the marina, you could easily notice that the cleaner outgoing tidal water was indeed pushing the algae laden variety back towards the Gulf. Hopefully that will continue.
As a postscript to the trip, the Heartlanders sent me an email several days later with a photo of the nice harvested redfish and a note stating how delicious it was, served blackened, at the restaurant that evening for dinner.
So much about fearing the red tide.
Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.