Happy New Year to each of you. Thank you for your support; it is appreciated. Time is racing by. It’s not easy to accept another year has slipped by and 2020 is upon us. Like it or not, our world is relentlessly changing. We are all blessed to still be here, which is something we have a tendency to take for granted.
2019 had its ups and downs. Red tide issues came and went, hurting fishing and our economy. We need to stop feeding it. Our three main inshore target species were closed all year (and will stay closed for the first half of 2020) but seem to be recovering. So, what can you and I do to enhance the odds of the new year turning out better?
Time never stands still. As I age, it is gaining momentum. In fact, it’s flashing by at warp speed. I am blessed to still be along for the ride. I’m disappointed that I didn’t accomplish much last year. My momentum was dragging because I’m scared about our water quality. How much are people contributing to these problems? Water woes have forced me to consider what my next adventure is going to be. I’m sticking it out here as long as I can, but with charter trips at an all-time low, it’s just a question of how long I can keep afloat.
Our fall Spanish mackerel fishing was good until patches of red tide disrupted the migration. Cooler water seems to have sent them south for the winter. That’s a shame — it helps when we enjoy action and have fish to bring home for clients and friends. We found a few king mackerel, but again water quality issues and weather hampered this also. Pompano are a favorite but opportunities were pretty thin last year. Maybe this year will be better?
There were bright spots. This fall had the best action for the biggest tripletail I’ve ever seen. No one knows why; just be grateful for the good times. We can look forward to sheepshead action improving over the next few months. We will have something good to play with. Maybe we’ll see some whiting too.
It appears we got a Christmas present from Mother Nature: Red tide has dissipated. Cooler temps seem to have slowed its growth and allowed us a reprieve. We need this break. However, we must also continue efforts and work to reduce our nutrient contributions everywhere we can. There is a lot of work to address sources and diminish water quality problems. Support these efforts and pray they discover solutions. Also, we can all look at any contributions we add to feed algae blooms and try to diminish them.
It’s not too hard to find good eating fish in the Gulf, but with our big three inshore species (trout, snook and redfish) closed to harvest, windy days offer few options to the hungry angler. But the closure has benefits too. It does help to give these species time to recover. Let’s all learn to use maximum care handling fish for release. It’s best to not touch them at all, so use de-hookers when possible. If you want a photo, try keeping your trophy in the water so you can catch it again. Dead fish don’t grow to be caught again.
How about discovering different ways to enjoy our waters? With cooler temps, there are bird migrations all around us. Look around and be observant. Flocks of white pelicans are scattered around the backcountry areas. Take time to observe them. Wading birds and brown pelicans are everywhere and lots of fun to watch.
Note that these birds feed on the same critters our fish do. We can learn exactly where fish are by noting feeding birds. Many times, the tide is too low for us to access these shallow spots. Just allow the tide to increase the depth and then ease in to explore. Patience is required in skinny waters, as animals there are vulnerable to predators and therefore skittish. Watch for wakes, blowups, and any indications of movements. Stealth will produce results. Allow the birds to assist.
Keep our eyes skyward to glimpse the abundant number of birds of prey wintering here. Eagle numbers increase, falcons and hawks visit, and always-present ospreys are everywhere. Songbirds are around our yards and parks. Cedar Point, Ann Dever, and Wildflower offer great opportunities to encounter many species in their natural surroundings. Check out Myakka State Park or Forest. Both offer many wildlife viewing opportunities: Deer, turkeys, wild pigs, gators and much more. Explore, share, and experience new adventures.
Enjoy a wonderful and safe 2020.
Capt. Van Hubbard is a highly respected outdoor writer and fishing guide. He has been a professional USCG-licensed year-round guide since 1976, and has been fishing the Southwest Florida coast since 1981. Contact him at 941-468-4017 or VanHubbard@CaptVan.com. Remember that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.