Thanksgiving weekend in Southwest Florida is sort of like a preview — a miniature version of our soon-to-arrive winter busy season. By Thanksgiving, many of our part-time residents have arrived back in town and have gone through the annual ritual of opening up the house, sweeping out the dead palmetto bugs, forwarding the mail, starting the newspaper, doing that first big grocery run, catching up on the local gossip, and — most importantly of all — getting the dust off the fishing gear and starting up the boat.
And for many of these freshly arrived snowbird residents, it’ll be just in the nick of time, as they and many of our year-round denizens are now playing host to visitors who are arriving here by the planeload to spend the holiday weekend with us.
So there will be a bunch of people enjoying time on the water this weekend, and if the weather is good we’ll probably have more company on the fishing grounds than we’ve seen since last spring. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions for those who plan to escape the shopping madness of Black Friday by wetting a line.
CLOSED SEASONS: Be aware that both snook and redfish are closed to harvest. Yes, closed — even though fall is always a very good time to catch redfish, and even though you always look forward to Thanksgiving weekend as your last chance to harvest a snook, and even though your fish regulations booklet says that the seasons for both are open.
The FWC took emergency action to close the season on these two species due to concerns about mortality resulting from red tide during the summer, and unless this action is reversed we won’t be harvesting snook or redfish until next summer. This information is available on the FWC website (MyFWC.com), but unfortunately it is buried so that you pretty much have to be looking for it to find it. This is one reason why we publish a regulations chart in WaterLine every week, to keep you up to date (it’s on page 15 this week).
PLENTY TO CATCH: Fortunately, the fishing for snook has been good in much of Charlotte Harbor this fall, but it’s all catch-and-release fishing due to the closure. Most of Charlotte Harbor’s snook survived the summer’s red tide, at least so far, and some anglers have reported snook fishing as good as they’ve encountered for years.
There has been lots of bait around too, mostly schools of plankton-eating glass minnows and threadfins. As you’d expect, ladyfish and small jacks are ravaging the little guys on top, as evidenced by birds working over the melees on and outside the bars on both sides of the Harbor.
FUN WITH SEATROUT: Trout fishing on the flats in the central and upper Harbor has also been better-than-average through most of the summer and fall. A word of warning: There are areas where the trout are predominately undersized, so be prepared to handle the little guys carefully prior to release.
Please don’t grab these fish with a rag, because rags efficiently remove the slime layer from trout, and a deslimed trout may die a few days after being handled, even if it appears to swim away in good shape. Even better, consider moving to another area if all you’re catching are undersized trout. There are better grades of trout around, and a little hunting may put you on them.
WHAT’S OUT IN THE GULF?: Offshore fishing is a bit of a question mark. As of this writing, it appears that offshore of Boca Grande most of the bottom fishing areas in 50 feet of water or more have escaped the summer’s red tides, but that some of the artificial reefs and natural bottom areas less than about 50 feet took a hit. It’s not clear yet how widespread the damage has been or even whether it has completely subsided yet. So if you like to fish nearshore in the Gulf, you may have some exploration ahead. The further out you travel, the less likely that your spots have been affected.
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. Call him at 941-639-2628 or email Captain@KingFishFleet.com.