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Tropical Storm Debby empties wallets of local fishing and boating industries

In addition to the record rains that Tropical Storm Debby has dumped on the west coast of Florida, the slow-moving tropical system also will leave many in the Tampa Bay recreational fishing and boating industries with empty wallets.

"This is the worst red snapper season I have ever seen in my life," said Steve Papen, a charter boat captain who runs out of Madeira Beach. "Most of June was bad — we couldn't get offshore — and now Debby. The bad weather has probably cost me $20,000."

Papen is not alone. Larry Blue, another Madeira Beach-based fishing guide, said business along the docks has dried up.

"Fishing? What's that?" he joked. "Nobody has been able to get out."

Debby is the worst kind of storm for fishermen. Instead of moving through the gulf quickly, kicking up a few days of high surf then making landfall, the system has lingered.

"It reminds me a lot of Elena back in '85," Papen said. "It is just sitting out there causing trouble. I wish it would just move on."

Mark Hubbard, whose family runs a charter boat fleet out of John's Pass, said he hasn't run a half-day, full-day or overnight trip to Middle Grounds in nearly a week.

"I've got zero income coming in," he said. "But we still have to pay staff to watch the boats, make sure everything stays secure. … It hurts."

Hubbard's competitors have fared no better. In Clearwater, Chad Haggert has had to watch as his boats sit idle.

"We are booked, but we just can't run offshore," said Haggert, who runs the Double Eagle II and Double Eagle III out of the Clearwater Marina. "This storm has probably cost me $40,000."

Fishing guides who work the relatively sheltered waters of Tampa Bay have also suffered. "I couldn't run Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday," said Tampa-based Mike Gore. "It looks like it may clear a little by (today) but that is the only day I didn't have a charter booked."

Local bait shops have also seen business dry up.

"Nobody is buying shrimp or pinfish," said Michele Hammock, who manages Clearwater Bait & Tackle on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard. "After a steady June we have been pretty much dead."

Tackle shops that sell gear to anglers have also noticed a slowdown in the sale of hard goods.

"Usually when the weekend weather forecast looks good, we see a steady stream of people come in gearing up during the week," said Dave Bayes of Seminole's Dogfish Tackle. "But when the weather looks bad, the opposite happens. People just put off buying that new reel until next week."

But all it takes is a small break in the weather for people to start pouring through the doors again.

"We have had six or seven people already come through this morning," said Bill Robinson of Tampa's Gandy Bait & Tackle. "The diehards are going to fish, even if it is just for a few minutes."

Hubbard, whose family has been in the charter boat business, takes it all in stride. "We had one of the mildest winters on record and this spring we had seven straight weeks without rain," he said. "So I think it all evens out in the end."

But at least one group of Tampa Bay businesses welcomes a little bad weather: surf shops.

"I've sold more surf boards in the past three days than I have in the past three months," said Joe Nuzzo, owner of Suncoast Surf Shop. "We have been blowing it out."

Nuzzo, whose shop has been at the same location on Gulf Boulevard in Treasure Island for nearly 50 years, said he sold 500 bars of surf wax since Saturday.

"I know some people may hate me for this," he said. "But thank you Debby."

Tropical Storm Debby empties wallets of local fishing and boating industries 06/26/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 9:00pm]
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