I used to feel the need to try to protect my fishing knowledge. Now I’m glad to share with anyone who doesn’t abuse it. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you if you want more food. What good would it do to take a lifetime of fishing knowledge to my grave? What a waste. So, if you’re trying to figure something out, I’ll help add to your confusion.
There are some constants in fish habits, but awareness is the key today because things are crazy. Many old patterns still apply but drastic changes occur frequently today. Our new world endures dramatic fluctuations — for example, this year we saw extreme cold for Christmas and extreme warm for New Year’s. It seems we have only floods or droughts, with little moderation anymore.
One huge factor with fishing is the amount of boating pressure and unnatural noise. Especially up here in a small place like Lemon Bay, the numbers of boats have become staggering. When the weather is good for boating, it requires constant focus just to remain safe on the ICW. Weekends and holidays, it looks like I-75! Animals don’t like to be pushed around or harassed by noises.
Water turbidity becomes a big problem later in the day from boat wakes constantly raising silt from the shallow bay bottoms. Seagrasses are diminished by turbidity, and drifting algae are taking over. Look at your prop wash in upper Lemon Bay shallows — you can see for yourself that the algae is taking over.
Just wait until things warm up in spring and we’ll have an awful stench as this mess dies off. It will hit our Gulf beaches after the big moon tides and beachfronters will scream. Rooted seagrasses and oysters filter our waters, but they are disappearing faster each year. Algae and turbidity block sunlight essential for photosynthesis. We have oyster bars, but they’re mostly dead shell — there are fewer live oysters to filter our waters.
Greener waterfront lawns look nice but are a problem, not a solution. Fertilizer that runs off feeds algae. More pavement and less natural land reduces nature’s ability to moderate our pollution inputs. Road runoff contributes to our problem, and more traffic just increases the pollution loads.
Water quality tests don’t usually show the nutrient loads that are our problem. At a water quality meeting a few years ago, someone suggested that the algae are holding the nutrients until they die off when waters warm up. Sounds reasonable to me. The large amounts of sea lettuce and red algae require huge amounts of nutrients to grow.
Don’t misunderstand me — we do have fish. If you can find them happy and feeding instead of scared and running, we can catch them. We just have to work harder to discover quiet times and places to enjoy our great outdoors. Fishery management closures and regulations add to the challenges and require more effort so we can legally harvest fish.
Federal for-hire fisheries require so much reporting I quit charter fishing those waters. Bigger crews may be able to handle the required information, but as a one-man operation I can’t. They require us to report what we caught, released and discarded before we unload our trip. With a group of anglers, it’s all I can do to keep hooks baited and fish unhooked. Are they expected to watch as I log all this data?
Do not encourage anyone to get into any kind of fishing to support themselves, especially if they have families. A few can survive temporarily, but the end is in sight. Sightseeing and eco-tours might be a way to keep paying clients on the water, but the last days of the hunter/gather are upon us.
The bizarre part to me is that fishermen are the ones who established our coastal communities. Fish houses are almost gone, local seafood is gone with very few exceptions. Commercial fishermen are limited as to where they can live by cost and restrictions. Dockage is too expensive. If I hadn’t bought my homestead 30-some years ago, I’d be out of business.
I don’t want to make this column too negative. What can we do as individuals to improve our outdoor lifestyles in 2021? Each of us can make the effort to be positive, proactive, and help each other with smiles. It sounds kind of corny, but these things do really make a difference. Just sincerely smiling toward each other helps more than we realize.
Simple acts of kindness make the difference for lonely folks. Being considerate on our streets and waterways makes life safer and better. Being proactive with environmental challenges helps reduce damage and problems. Make a good difference if you can.
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.