Advertisement
  1. Outdoors

Tagged redfish recaptured nearly 23 years later

State biologists have been netting and tagging redfish for study since the late 1980s, sometimes with interesting results.
Published Aug. 23, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Sarah Walters didn't think fish No. 14,401 was anything special. The red drum, one of several thousand caught by state biologists during a tagging study last fall, was big but certainly no record.

"It measured 39 inches and probably weighed about 18 pounds," said Walters, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg. "It is pretty much average for the fish we see in those big schools that congregate offshore."

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.

That's a monster compared to the "slot limit" reds (18-27 inches) caught by most anglers in estuaries such as Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor.

"These are subadults," Walters explained. "They are usually just one or two years old."

But as is the custom, Walters wanted to run the tag anyway, just to find out when and where the fish was captured. So she called the state's fish hatchery in Port Manatee.

"The problem was the tag was so old, there was no record of it in the files," Walters said.

However, the colleague doing the checking knew a little bit about fish tags. "You might want to check with my dad," Josh Taylor told Walters. "He did a little tagging back in the 1980s."

Taylor's father, the legendary snook biologist Ron "R.T" Taylor, and Mike Murphy, another well-known researcher, were among the first to conduct tagging studies in Florida. So Walters called the senior Taylor, who searched his cavernous files and produced some interesting data.

Fish No. 14,401 was tagged in Boca Ciega Bay on Oct. 16, 1989, when Walters was in fifth grade at St. Stephens Episcopal School in Bradenton. 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 the 34-year-old Walters, who had since earned a master's degree in marine biology, was netting and releasing red drum as part of the state's decades-long redfish study.

"Starting in September, the redfish start to school up to spawn," she said. "There are literally tens of thousands of fish in these schools 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. Redfish 14,401 was measured and released, but judging from its time at large, Taylor estimated it was probably at least 25 years old.

"They can get much older than that," Walters said. "We had one fish that was 35 years old."

When captured, No. 14,401 measured 39 inches. So it grew less than a foot in its 22.97 years of freedom. "Redfish keep getting longer until they are 5 or 6 years old and then they just get wider and heavier," Walters said.

But even more remarkable than the red drum's longevity has been the careers of the two marine biologists who started the tagging study.

"Here you have two guys who have devoted their whole lives to marine science," she said. "It must be neat for them to get to see it come back full circle."

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Robert Lee “Bo” Benac III, now 30, is the last man sentenced in the infamous 2017 case of the boaters dragging a shark that went viral. The video shows a shark being dragged behind a boat on a rope as men laugh each time its body slams the water. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
    The 2017 video of men dragging a shark using a boat went viral. Now a second man will spend 10 days in jail because of it.
  2. Runners move across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge during the Skyway 10K race in March. LUIS SANTANA   |   Times LUIS, SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The second annual race sold out within minutes, so now organizers take a different approach to registration.
  3. Goat yoga class in 2017 at Hat Trick Farm in Thonotosassa. Proceeds from the classes, open to the public, benefit the Grady Goat Foundation. On Sept. 14, the foundation will attempt to break the world record for largest goat yoga class. LENORA LAKE   |  Special to the Times
    Tickets are sold out but you can get on a waiting list for a Plant City goat farm’s charity fundraiser.
  4. Harrison Lipinoga, of Westchase, gets his face painted during the 2018 Tampa Bay Lightning Fan Fest at Amalie Arena in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The Bolts kick off the preseason with three days of fun.
  5. Cyclists make their way north at Main Street in Dunedin along the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail Tuesday, July 23, 2019. The trail runs from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. There are several options for food and drinks along the trail. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    From the breweries of Dunedin to the Tampa Riverwalk, these rides show off Tampa Bay’s character
  6. Outdoor retailer REI Co-op will open its first store on the west coast of Florida in 22,500 square feet at the base of the Midtown One office tower in early 2021. Rendering courtesy Bromley Companies and REI
    It started more than 25 years ago with a smashed tent.
  7. Peggy Van Gorder, 53, of St. Petersburg redies herself prior to driving through a gate that will lead her and survey partner Beth Koehler, 60, onto a levy in the Everglades. CHRIS URSO   |   Times CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to double down on python removals but hunters sometimes can’t even find one.
  8. Florida's underwater Treasure Hunt produces lotd of delicious scallops.
  9. In this file photo from 2018, a scallop is shown from the first mini season in Pasco County in almost 25 years. (Times)
    The popular summer activity begins Monday on the North Suncoast.
  10. Keith Colburn lands his first gag grouper. [Photo courtesy of Misty Wells]
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement