“So, how’s the fishin’ ?” has replaced the customary salutation of “hello” for almost anyone caught with a fishing rod in hand. It’s more than a knee jerk action; it’s something that is seriously on folk’s mind. Enmeshed there, over time, by the cascade of bad news and doomful predictions so casually disbursed by alleged experts from both the user group as well as controlling authority.
It doesn’t take much more than a couple of reports that “we got skunked” at the neighborhood cocktail party to get the mystique of fishing decline started. Couple that with the melange of news articles from government regarding the impending piscatorial doomsday because of “overfishing.” Those kinds of informational advances stick like glue to the very marrow of the those who love the thrill of sport fishing and concerns them, and rightly so.
My answer to those seriously inquiring about fishing is, “the fishing is good overall and the degree of good is dependent on three things, conditions, angler’s skill and circumstances.”
That’s where we’re going with this week’s article, no story per se, but a run through these three areas of dependency.
Conditions deal mostly with the environment in which we strive to make our fishing adventure a personal success. Foremost among the factors would be the weather. But even that gets complicated. For example, avoiding tumultuous and dangerous storms certainly is a no-brainer but fishing before and after the upheaval is popular with many as a best time to fish because of atmospheric pressure changes.
Simply put, what would deliver the very best conditions for “good” fishing would be a day with clean water (most desirable fish move on sighting a bait or lure); a good tide moving either way; seasonable water temperature that matches the species that you are targeting; and, most importantly, being in the right place.
That right place has to be indigenous to the species you’re after. For example, mangrove snapper are indigenous to structure providing ambush points in moving current. Look for snapper on open water and you’ll be humming the “Catfish Blues”
Angler’s skill is sort of a given; most anyone can do well in most circumstances. But know your limitations. Taking someone with the casting skill of Quasimodo into the backwater creeks for mangrove hugging redfish, will draw more stories of outlandish entanglements than fishing achievements. Limit your fishing venue to what folks can comfortably handle.
That brings us to circumstances, which, in an around about way, has been exerting more control on the success of your fishing trip than maybe you’ve considered. We’ll take this one in chunks and use some experiences to enhance the issues.
Winter fishing here has always been the toughest to deliver “good fishing” to customers. The weather conditions are tough with wind driven fronts that rile up the water making it look like Cafe Latte and the resident species of fish are limited to those who like the cold. If the sheepshead are off their bite for any particular reason, you’ve got a long session ahead of you.
With that as a backdrop, a couple of years back, we lucked into finding a honey hole along the Intercoastal Waterway that produced nice size whiting and silver trout that saved many a day. The fish were always there, gave a nice fight and were great table fare; a perfect win-win-win. Then one frigid day, we were startled when a manatee rose up in the frigid water to give us a look see. We thought it strange that a manatee would be away from warmer water in the canals but kept fishing.
We didn’t return to our “honey hole” until the winter winds moved in the following year.
After three trips with nary a bite that winter, the light went on; trout love a grass habitat and manatees are veracious grass consumers. The latter had decimated the habitat of the former and both had vacated the premises. No more storied fishing trips on the honey hole. Circumstance was the sole culprit here.
Can’t blame the manatees – survival is paramount. But where are the efforts to replant sea grasses in those tranquil backwater flats where manatees can feed unmolested and leave those small areas of grass native to the current channels for our fish.
A much broader circumstance deals with the melange of fishing regulations imposed on the recreational angler. One of my recent articles dealt with the “11 1/2 inch Valley” where on a recent fishing trip we failed to land even one harvestable sheepshead. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, when you consider a blanket closure on grouper, a whimsical extension of a closure on snook for an additional twelve months, and day-by day adjustments on control of your catch. All of these controls present negative circumstance as to the success of your trip.
Again, like the manatee feeding areas, we understand sustaining the biomass of the various species but ask, politely, where are the offsetting efforts by government in providing hatcheries to restock and replenish the most sought after species. It’s commonplace in other states and has a definite effort on the quality and success of recreational fishing. Why are we always working from the negative (restrictive) side of the plate, rather than from the positive (creating) side?
As a final curtain call on circumstances, we present the story of beach renourishment.
One of the fabled fishing spots for many a backwater angler was along the northwest corner of the island where the nutrient laden bottom structure held all species of fish year around. Anglers in small boats could enjoy world class results on redfish, snook, and trout without putting themselves in harms way trying to transit dangerous sea conditions.
Then along comes big brother with a plea for beach renourishment. Plans are drawn without any consideration for impact on the piscatorial habitat, let alone the impact on recreational sportfishing.
Enter the dredges, the pumps, the earth movers, which not only filled their beach building requirement but spread, spilled and shoved enough of the inert sand to totally cover that fishing field of dreams. Those that have tried the spots after the “dump” say it is a total dead zone; there is nothing alive there anymore.
So, bottom line, you can pick your best conditions; you can train your crew to improve skill but you are at the mercy of those at the “control switches” when it comes to circumstances. Think their listening ?
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.