Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Red drum keep a steady beat in area waters

Kai Tomalin (left) and Capt. Wes Burns (right) show off an oversized redifsh

Kai Tomalin (left) and Capt. Wes Burns (right) show off an oversized redifsh

WEEDON ISLAND

Even on an afternoon in the middle of the week, the boats were lined up along the mangroves like cars at a drive-in. But that didn't bother Wes Burns.

"They should get started any time now," he said like a movie patron sitting through the previews. "We won't have to wait long."

The red drum had been as predictable as a theater schedule. As soon as the tide turned the fish started feeding.

"The bite has been phenomenal," said Burns, who typically guides out of the Gandy Boat Ramp. "Even with all these boats here, the fish don't seem to mind."

Burns stood on the bow and watched the water for a moment, then walked backed to his livewell and grabbed a handful of bait.

"We'll toss out some chum and see if anybody is home," he said. Fifteen seconds later, a fish boiled beneath a bait. A minute later — hook-up. "Here we go."

The fish, 30 inches plus, was too big to keep. Such is the state of Tampa Bay's red drum fishery: nothing short of terrific. But 30 years ago, the scenario was much different. In 1986, an emergency rule was enacted by the Florida Cabinet that prohibited the harvest of all red drum statewide.

The fishery remained closed on and off until three years later when it was reopened with a prohibition on the sale of native red drum, an 18- to 27-inch slot limit, a March to May closed season, and a bag limit of one fish per day. The closed season was dropped in 1996, but since then regulations have changed little and the stocks have slowly and steadily been rebuilt.

The process has been long but the results are evident. The species is especially long lived — one specimen was documented to be more than 40 years old. Red drum, especially those caught off of Florida's east coast, can weigh up to 50 pounds. In case you're wondering, the largest red drum on record was caught in North Carolina on Nov. 7, 1984, and weighed 94 pounds, 2 ounces.

But most of the fish caught in estuaries such as Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor are within the slot limit. These fish are "subadults," usually just 1 or 2 years old. Red drum are perhaps among the most studied fish in the ocean.

The state started tagging fish back in the 1980s. One particular fish, No. 14,401, was captured in Boca Ciega Bay on Oct. 16, 1989, equipped with a tag, and set free. The fish measured 29 inches long and was probably about 3 years old. Fast forward to Oct. 5, 2012, 2 miles west of John's Pass, where biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were netting and releasing red drum as part of the state's decades-long redfish study.

Every year in September, redfish "school up" off local beaches and prepare to spawn. These schools can contain tens of thousands of fish ranging in age from 3 to 35 years old. Biologists aren't certain how old No. 14,401 was when it was recaptured. The only sure way to determine the age of a fish is to kill it and remove the ear bone, which has growth rings like a tree.

This particular fish was measured and released, but judging from its time at large, it was probably at least 25 years old. When captured, the fish measured 39 inches. So it grew less than a foot in its 23 years of freedom. Redfish keep getting longer until they are 5 or 6 years old and then they just get wider and heavier.

It makes sense to release big fish, because these are the ones that make it offshore to reproduce. That's one reason the regulations have not changed much in this part of the state for the past 25 years — because they work.

But at this month's meeting of the FWC in Jupiter, commissioners voted to tighten regulations in the Northwest Florida. For years Panhandle anglers have been able to keep two fish per day. The new limits should, in the long run, improve fishing.

Red drum (redfish)

Range: From Massachusetts to Key West along the Atlantic Coast and throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Size: Redfish can grow to 40 inches and weigh more than 40 pounds on the Gulf Coast, and 45 inches and more than 50 pounds on the Atlantic Coast.

Habitat: Juveniles live in sea grass meadows and over muddy and sand bottoms in inshore estuaries; adults normally are found in open ocean and gulf waters.

Status: Only recreational harvest is permitted in Florida.

Size limit: Not less than 18 inches or more than 27.

Bag limit: One fish per person per day in Gulf waters (as of May 1.) Currently, two per person per day in the northwest (north of Fred Howard Park Causeway).

Red drum keep a steady beat in area waters 04/18/16 [Last modified: Monday, April 18, 2016 6:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Pro Bowl returning to Orlando in 2018

    Bucs

    ORLANDO — The Pro Bowl will return to Orlando in 2018 for the second straight year.

    Bucs  wide receiver Mike Evans runs a route as Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. defends during the first quarter of the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl in January at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  2. Erasmo Ramirez makes his third start of the season.
  3. If Tony Dungy sticks around, he'll broadcast the 2021 Tampa Super Bowl for NBC

    Bucs

    Lost in the Super Tuesday news of the Super Bowl coming back to Tampa was this nugget:

    Pictured, from left, Dan Patrick, co-Host, Tony Dungy, studio analyst, Aaron Rodgers. [Ben Cohen/NBC]
  4. Tragedy, tenacity helped shape Ridgewood valedictorian Johannah Cummines

    Volleyball Preps

    NEW PORT RICHEY — Even if her daily routine didn't permit calories to melt off, Johannah Cummines would deserve to pick anything on the menu.

    Ridgewood High senior Johannah Cummines and mom Chenell. Cummines is headed to Florida Atlantic, where she will play beach volleyball. (Photo courtesy of Johannah Cummines)
  5. Bucs Roberto Aguayo kicks off 2017 on the wrong foot

    Blogs

    The goal posts still seem to be moving for Roberto Aguayo.

    The Bucs woebegone place-kicker, who is in a battle with veteran Nick Folk, went 1-for-4 in field goal tries from 35-40 yards Tuesday on a set of narrow uprights, the first day of full squad Organized Team Activities.

    If that weren’t …

    Roberto Aguayo went 1-for-4 in field goal tries from 35-40 yards Tuesday on a set of narrow uprights.