Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Outdoors

Limits protect redfish, trout and snook

CLEARWATER

You know the fishing is good when you start complaining about the quality, not the quantity, of the fish you catch.

"Now that one is a little bigger," Tyson Wallerstein said as the guide unhooked a 28-inch redfish. "This is what we are looking for."

Thirty years ago, when I first started fishing bay area waters, I was happy just to catch a redfish. I didn't care how big it was. But in the early 1980s, the reds fishery was in pretty bad shape. The stocks had been overfished, and the state had to step in and close things down. But anglers rallied, and groups such as the Florida Conservation Association (now the Coastal Conservation Association) helped pass sound management measures that helped rebuild the fishery.

Today, even an average angler can catch a half-dozen redfish, keep one for the frying pan and not feel guilty about depleting the stocks. The fish caught inshore are usually still juveniles. Anglers in the South Region, which much of the Tampa Bay area falls in, are allowed to keep one fish per day if it falls in the 18- to 27-inch slot limit, but the big, mature fish usually "escape" the estuary and breed offshore.

Red drum is one of the few species that can be found in both inshore and offshore waters throughout the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Key West.

Just how big do these fish get? Redfish in Florida can reach nearly 4 feet in length. In 1996, a 52-pound, 5-ounce red was caught near Cocoa. But that pales next to the world-record redfish caught off North Carolina in 1984, which weighed 94 pounds, 2 ounces.

Red drum live a relatively long time as far as fish go. One specimen in Florida was found to be 40 years old, which makes me feel sort of good, thinking that those little ones I threw back in 1983 might still be swimming out there, waiting for me to catch them again.

Spotted seatrout: Armed with a livewell of scaled sardines, even a novice angler has no trouble catching spotted seatrout. But catching big trout, 24 inches or longer, can be a challenge.

This species, once one of the more tightly regulated sport fish in Florida, has made a dramatic comeback in the past 10 years. In bay area waters, trout in the 15- to 20-inch range, which is also the slot limit, are common. But these fish can live for 12 years, and grow to about 3 feet and weigh up to 17 pounds.

Seatrout have historically been managed on a regional basis, with the northern part of the state, which has fewer people, having more liberal regulations. In 2011, state fishery managers decided trout were in good enough shape to do away with the confusing, closed seasons.

On a recent excursion we caught several large spotted seatrout. Anglers are allowed to keep one fish longer than 20 inches as part of the four-fish bag limit in the Southeast and Southwest zones, but we released them all hoping that the more big fish left to breed, the more big fish there will be in the future. A new stock assessment is due next year.

Snook: The season has been closed in the Gulf of Mexico since January 2010 after a series of cold fronts killed tens of thousands of warm-water-loving creatures on both coasts.

It was one of the state's worst fish kills in decades, and snook on this coast were hit harder than those in the Atlantic. The season has since reopened on the east coast of Florida — those anglers can keep a snook through May until the regular summer closure kicks in — but anglers on the west coast must wait until Sept. 1, when the season is finally reopened in the Gulf of Mexico.

Catch-and-release of gulf coast snook is still permitted at this time. When snook is open in gulf waters, the bag limit is one fish per person per day, and the slot limit is 28 to 33 inches. The season is closed from Dec. 1 through the end of February and May 1 through Aug. 31.

Comments

Captainís Corner: With full moon, tarpon are on the move

With the full moon this next week tarpon are moving down the beaches and making their way out of the bay and moving out to the bridges and the passes to feed before some of them leave to go out and spawn on the full moon. Early in the morning along t...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18

Captainís Corner: Cloudier water improves the bite

Windy conditions this week have actually slightly improved fishing. The waters of Saint Joseph sound had become so clear that it made finding fish easy, but getting bites very difficult. Snook have been gathering in great numbers all along the beache...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/21/18

Captainís Corner: Red grouper fishing continues to be good

Red grouper fishing continues to be steady in depths of 100-120 feet. Large bait stacks are holding a fish or two, but larger concentrations are on very small rolls and potholes in those depths. Zooming in on the bottom 10-15 feet of the water column...
Published: 05/19/18
Updated: 05/20/18

Captainís Corner: Catching a giant cobia

Cobia is the topic this week. Capt. Tom Markham, aboard the Simply Hooked, was beginning his daily bait routine. It turned out that one of the markers located near Clearwater Pass, surprisingly, had a giant fish waiting for him. The captain slid up t...
Published: 05/16/18

Captainís Corner: Tarpon showing up on beaches, bridges

This week shouldnít be a total wash out. While there is a chance of rain every day, it should only be sporadic. Hopefully it wonít dirty up the water too much. If you are a tarpon fisherman and look forward to their arrival like I do, then you are in...
Published: 05/14/18
Updated: 05/15/18

Captainís Corner: This is best time of year for bay area fishing

Itís the best time of year for fishing in the area. Tarpon can be targeted off of any of the bridges. The Gandy, Howard Frankland and Skyway are my top choices. While awaiting a tarpon strike, I kill time by dropping smaller baits for Spanish mackere...
Published: 05/13/18

Captainís Corner: Change tactics for fly fishing success

Most fly fishers would prefer minimum wind and cloudless skies to increase chances for a banner day. This has been a problem lately. The wind makes casting more difficult, unless very experienced, and clouds interfere with sight casting opportunities...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/14/18

Captainís Corner: Tips on handling burgeoning baitfish

Schools of baitfish have arrived and taken up residence in all depths. Birds are diving on them close to the beach, all the way out to the midwater artificial reefs. Farther offshore, bait schools might not be visible on the surface but can be detect...
Published: 05/11/18
Updated: 05/12/18

Captainís Corner: Buckle up, the tarpon are here

Tarpon season is here, and the fish are showing up in numbers along the beaches. While there have been tarpon in the bays and backwaters for awhile, there were very few schools cruising the coast until a few days ago. Then, seemingly overnight, big p...
Published: 05/11/18

Captainís Corner: Here come the tarpon

Itís hot, the water temperatureís right and itís May. That means itís Tarpon Time! Aprilís full moon seemed to have opened the flood gates for tarpon arriving in our area. Weíve observed some at the Sunshine Skyway bridge for a couple weeks. On a few...
Updated one month ago