On The Hook: Release them for tomorrow

Bill Walsh

I’ve borrowed a very important byline this week! Earlier this week, the Coastal Conservation Association, a private organization who established a chapter here in Florida over 25 years ago with the sole purpose of protecting our marine resources, launched a new program.

As has been the case of their history of success, this new program as labeled in our topic this week is aimed in the conservation of one of Florida’s prize species, the redfish, aka, the red drum.

Redfish are an iconic fish for Florida and CCA is asking for all of us to work together to conserve and replenish the stock.

Would like to paraphrase the article as an introduction to the program and then couple it with an article we published a few years back which ties right in with this contemporary effort by the CCA.

Interestingly, many of our anglers here on the Paradise Coast have raised the same inquiry regarding the shortfall of redfish availability here over the past couple of years.

The article recounts the decline in available redfish that is supported by several studies by the Florida Wildlife Commission due to what they call “low recruitment” of redfish during the spawning seasons from 2011 to 2015. Simply explained, fewer redfish in those years were making it from egg form to juvenile fish.

According to the FWC, long periods of red tide, water quality issues and habitat scarcity have been the primary problems here on the west coast.

But on the good news side they find that the recent years have shown better “recruitment” for the species. But here’s the issue, redfish take 18-24 months to mature and longer to reach the legal slot minimum limit of 18.” And these fish don’t reach sexual maturity until they are 3-5 years old.

That makes the problem vividly clear. Redfish are an iconic fish for Florida and CCA is asking for all of us to work together to conserve and replenish the stock; thus asking all anglers, for the foreseeable future to voluntarily relinquish that one daily keeper and anytime you catch any redfish release them for tomorrow.

In keeping with this effort, I searched back through our years of articles and found one that sort of fits the mold and character of anglers that love and respect sportfishing as well as the fish; will share it with you today.

The first charter inquiry phone call paralleled an interview: “What type of bait do you use?” Fresh live shrimp passed the test. Next: “Do you use any artificials other than white jigs?” Passed; that’s two for two. “Can you operate without using chum or artificial attractants?” We were three for three and Sam and and Jim Gibson booked the trip.

That morning of the trip I expected to see a duo of confirmed environmentalists but what we got was a direct opposite. Sam introduced himself as a retired Miami detective and his son, Jim, was an active duty Marine Lance Corporal just back from two tours in the Middle East.

As we got underway, I discovered that they walked the talk. First order of business was to “smush” the barbs on the hooks for both the jigs and the circle hooks. As they explained it; this was the day the fish had an even chance.

As we readied out first drift in Capri Pass, Sam lamented about the array of teasers, tricks and everything in between that they had seen at the Fishing Superstore on their journey here. “Not a fair fight” between the electronics available and the array of equipment to trick the fish. He lamented that it was a game by marketing opportunists to lure the gullible anglers, no what the effect on the pocketbook and less concern about the impact on the diminishing resource.


As fate would have it, our first efforts of drifting with barbless, smushed jigs looking for great pompano or mackerel action ended up delivering squadrons of feisty jacks and insane ladyfish. There was a strike of every cast but we literally landed almost none as lack of the barb gave the wild fish their freedom boatside. No complaint. Sam’s comment was “as it should be”

We moved on into the backwaters of Rookery Bay taking advantage of a strong late morning incoming tide and worked the mangrove edges and associated dropoffs for seatrout which had been active there for the past few weeks. We were blessed with frequent strikes and good action on smaller yet energetic fish; all released boat side.

Now, as our remaining charter time eroded, we moved on for what I hoped would be the premier event of the trip. The front edge of Sea Oat Island just south of Hurricane Pass had been producing some big redfish the week before. We anchored up in 5-6’ of water and tossed some freelined mega shrimp (on barbless hooks) tight to the mangrove overhangs.

We weren’t there more than five minutes when Jim’s reel went off with a scream. The fish was headed out the Capri Pass; no time to pull the anchor, so we disconnected to the float and got underway.

We were working with 17-pound test mono and Jim was on the rod with Sam as helper; we were trying to lessen the hookup to land time interval, with concern by both of them on potential exhaustion for the hooked fish.

As the fish soared by a couple of times as got nearer, we saw it was a big redfish having his way with us. Sam scooped up the landing net and in one fell swoop netted what had to be either a top size legal or just excess of legal, beautiful redfish; the exact size didn’t matter, it was to be released either way.

As we hoisted the big redfish for release, I was able to take a shot of the two of them with ear to ear smiles as they slid their trophy back in the briny.

Great guys on a great trip; think they would have bought into Release them for tomorrow?

Kind of think they would have been the poster boys!

More:On The Hook: Fishing’s musical chairs

More:On The Hook: Comparative sport fishing

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.