spanish mackerel

WaterLine file photo

With fall on the way, our scattered Spanish mackerel gangs will soon be massing into enormous schools.

I thought maybe I noticed it last week, but I wasn’t really sure. Then this week I was positive: My lawn’s summer growth is slowing.

My unscientific survey is based on how often I have to slow down the mower as I plow through the grass in the thicker parts of my unruly yard, and by how many ugly clumps of clippings lie scattered around the yard when I am done. It’s still wet enough to keep things growing pretty good, but the reduced hours of sunlight each day are definitely having an effect.

Yes, the days are getting shorter already — a lot shorter. In fact, we’ve lost nearly an hour and a half of daylight since the summer solstice back on June 21, and the grass is not growing as much because of it. The heat and humidity are high enough to keep things feeling summery for a while longer, but there is no doubt that we have started into the change of seasons.

Plants and animals know it before most “indoor” humans realize anything is changing, though people who work or play outdoors tend to be much more attuned to the environment than those who do most of their viewing of the natural world through panes of glass.

Hunters are now enjoying the first of their fall hunts. Seasons for deer, turkey, ducks and doves have already opened or will be open within a week or two in some zones. Southwest Florida’s fishermen don’t have any significant legal season openings this month, but the fishing is starting to change. Following are some observations and predictions on our upcoming fishing prospects.

Redfish schools are building and are starting to push water on the flats and bar edges. This is always an exciting time of year for redfish fans, but this year is even more so. A lot of people will be watching this fishery this fall for clues on the effectiveness of the nearly year-long emergency closure on the harvest of redfish in our waters.

Most of those schooling fish are this year’s graduating class of adolescent reds that are preparing to matriculate into an adult life as offshore fish. If there are more of them this year, then it’s a sign that the closure is having a positive impact on a troubled fishery. It will be interesting to hear from guys who chase these fish a lot whether they can see any difference in numbers.

It’s about time for schools of Spanish mackerel to take up residence around the offshore sandbars and shoals outside of the Gulf passes. There have been mackerel around those bars off and on all summer, but September and October are when insane action gets pumped up.

I suspect that more people will be targeting mackerel this fall than in recent past years because the closures of snook, redfish and trout make it tough to catch fish that are good to eat. And yes, Spanish mackerel are good to eat — as long as you get them iced soon after capture, and if you eat them fresh, as in same day or next day.

Speaking of catching fish to eat in Southwest Florida, it’s been a tough year to be a mangrove snapper in Charlotte Harbor. More anglers have targeted these fish this year because of the closures on other species, and I think we can see a difference in decreased numbers of good-sized mangrove snapper in the Harbor.

Recent actions by the Gulf Council which may effect the harvest of mangrove snapper (see last week’s column) have been in the works for years and have nothing to do with this localized spike in fishing pressure, but may end up being timely by sheer coincidence. We usually see a pretty good show of nice-sized mangrove snapper in the Harbor and in the passes in the fall, it will be interesting to see if this pans out (pun intended) this year.

Tarpon fishing should perk up within the next 30 days as the silver kings start to feel the change of seasons. Most of the large (75-pound-plus) tarpon in Charlotte Harbor leave for the winter. We don’t know for certain where they go — but we do have a pretty good idea when they go, which is about when we get the second serious cold front of the fall.

“Serious” isn’t a scientific term, but it means that you wear long pants and a jacket in the morning to run across the Harbor. This occurs at different calendar dates in different years, but usually it happens sometime in October. In the meantime, tarpon will feed heavily, presumably to prepare for wherever their migration takes them. If you want to tug with a big tarpon, you’ve got about another month of good prospects.

Let’s go fishing!

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

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