TAMPA — For the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, MacDill Air Force Base officials opened the waters surrounding the military base so the public could fish and boat in the restricted area.
Over the span of 10 hours, more than 25 fishing boats anchored throughout 2 miles of coastline along the base's south shores Sunday, MacDill officials said.
Although the water got choppy by midmorning, anglers could be seen casting lines and throwing out nets throughout the day as ospreys flew overhead and rays and dolphins swam nearby.
The body of restricted water was a popular fishing spot before the terrorist attacks. The water ranges from 2 to 10 feet deep and has an abundance of trout, snook and white-tipped sharks, said Lt. James Scott. Because the water is so shallow, smaller fish tend to congregate near the shore to escape larger fish.
But no one has fished in the area for eight years, so officials were hoping there would plenty of big fish to catch.
Boaters began arriving at 6:15 a.m., passing signs that said "DANGER: Firing range. Do Not Enter." Some military members took out boats from the base's marina while others sailed in from the Tampa Yacht Club.
MacDill officials decided to open the restricted zone for the short time at the request of leaders from a wounded warriors organization who are in town for a conference.
Chris Lumley flew in from Placerville, Calif., to spend time with his son, who served in the Army but suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident.
The family spent four hours on the water before conditions grew too windy. They caught a few small fish, Lumley said.
Despite the lack of fish and the choppy waters, the time spent on the boat was therapeutic for everyone, he said.
"We were really grateful for the opportunity," Lumley said. "(My son) is recovering, and he gets to go fishing. It is absolutely beautiful out here."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com.