Pretty much every local angler I’ve talked with agrees that our trout numbers are not what they used to be. Some folks tell me they’ve noticed a serious decline since last year’s red tide kills. Others tell me it’s been longer in coming, and their catches have been dwindling for the last few years.
I tend to fall in with that second group. We have had some periods of good trout fishing over the last couple years, but overall it’s been slower than before. And it’s not just in our area. Fishermen all over the state are reporting fewer trout. While it might be as simple as natural boom and bust cycles, it certainly seems we don’t have as many fish as we did.
When a fishery is on the wane, a lot of people expect the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to do something about it, but they have very few tools to work with. Really, there are only two: Reduce the number of fish being killed, or add more fish to the population.
Adding more fish is complicated and expensive. You need to develop and implement programs to increase habitat or to raise and release baby fish — preferably both. Doing so takes time and money. When people are chewing on your ears, those kinds of solutions aren’t fast enough. Besides, getting funded is always a huge problem.
So instead, they go to option number one. It’s easy to do: Just vote it in. There’s no cost since nothing actually has to be done.
I wouldn’t mind so much if they were starting with rule changes while also working toward longer-term solutions. What bothers me is that the FWC knows we have habitat problems, that our seagrass beds are declining, that we have less forage and less habitat for our gamefish every year, that there are many anglers out there routinely ignoring the rules, and the only fix they can come up with is tighter bag and size limits. Thanks a bunch, guys.
Anyway, the new plan calls for reductions to trout bag limits in every part of the state. The South Florida zone (the entire west coast from Tampa Bay south) would see the bag limit lowered from four fish to three.
Additionally, there would be a change in size limit. Currently there is a slot limit of 15 to 20 inches, with anglers allowed to keep one over 20 inches. The new plan calls for a slot of 15 to 19 inches, and no provision to keep any fish over 19 inches long. These size limits would apply to both recreational and commercial fishermen.
And there’s one more change: Prohibiting captain and crew from keeping a personal bag limit on a for-hire trip. I would like to see that rule apply to all species, since all it really does is allow anglers on a charter to take more fish home. How many guides do you think actually put those fish on their own tables? Those fillets go in the client’s bag. Makes for better tips.
Trout are currently closed in all Southwest Florida waters until next May, so any changes won’t affect us for a while. If you have something to say about it, go to the workshop or speak your piece online.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.