I was invited to join friends on an offshore excursion a couple weeks ago. The weather was perfect, with calm seas and clean, clear Gulf waters. We charged out and had a wonderful time. Friends and fishing — can’t beat a day like that. No red tide or wind; no problems at all. The closest we had to a problem was a bunch of fish to clean and eat. I like that problem.
Still, we do have issues to address, and if we fumble the ball it’s bad news. The government is listening, so let’s feed them educated ideas. We also need to take advantage of any blessings we can enjoy. Weather patterns are crazy, but we are the lucky ones for now. Winter in South West Florida is certainly a blessing. Just look at recent temperatures up north and be thankful.
We do have many fish species both inside and outside closed. Amberjack, triggerfish, red snapper and all grouper past 20 fathoms are closed. Being a cup-half-full guy, I’m glad to enjoy the red grouper in shallower, plus the grunts, porgies, and all the other snapper. It’s challenging to keep up, but my best tool is the Fish Rules app. It can even track if you are in state or federal waters.
Our catch included yellowtail, lane, vermilion and mango snapper — all great eating. We had a few keeper red grouper and a bunch almost big enough that were fun to catch and release. We anchored up and deployed frozen chum to attract the snapper. Be patient; it requires time for chum to light up the fish.
Chum also attracts sharks and mackerel, whether you want them or not. We had trouble one time with sharks and had to move. Not a big deal.
I’ve found that lighter 20-pound gear adds to both the fun factor and to the weight of the ziptop bags at the end of the day. Lighter fluorocarbon leaders, 15- to 20-pound, help produce more action. Remember to use circle hooks for reef fish.
We tried a variety of baits: Squid, cut fish, shrimp and frozen minnows. We caught fish on everything. Larger baits are fine for grouper. Experience has shown me that smaller bite-sized baits hook more snapper. My theory is if the fish can get it in its mouth, I have better chance to hook it. After all, the hook has to get inside to catch ‘em. We saw lots of baitfish minnows on our sonar, and that is exciting.
Inside action is due to light up now. Both snook and redfish are catch-and-release; but we do still have opportunities. If you want to protect your children’s future, we must manage our fisheries to save them some. Care in handling is critical. Careless abuse of release fish results in dead wasted fish instead of increased fish stocks. Discard mortality factors into our fishery management both inshore and offshore. This cuts down on our harvest seasons and numbers. Dead fish don’t make babies.
We are due to have schools of Spanish mackerel show up any day. I saw a few last week. The pompano are due too. Trout are available inside, and we will know soon how these stocks are.
King mackerel are ready to test our tackle and thrill anglers. These abundant fish are the answer to our dreams: Three-fish limits and a 24-inch minimum; plenty of fun and food. They are easy to locate and catch, if you understand how. Don’t miss this fishing adventure as they migrate by anytime. I expect to have both mackerel species around for a few months.
To ensure a successful adventure, plan safely and realistically. Do not play with Mother Natures storms; they can kill you. I can create a game plan to work around most weather conditions. I don’t mess with lightning but light rains are workable. We have plenty of weather predictors, so it’s no excuse that you didn’t know the forecast. They are not perfect but offer valuable information for tomorrow and even next week.
Next, be realistic. Factor in your equipment, knowledge, experience or lack thereof, and of course what can you spend. I frequently hear folks wanting to go way offshore and catch big fish for less than the fuel costs. If a short offshore trip isn’t a thousand bucks, I’m not interested. I do inshore and that is only up to 9 miles out. The federal permits alone for offshore reef and pelagic fish are over $25,000 now. If your captain doesn’t have them, he is cheating and you are all at risk.
Fuel costs are hundreds of dollars per hour on the faster rigs, and it’s hours each way offshore. Bait and gear are extremely expensive. If you think charter boats are expensive, buy an offshore boat and learn how to throw away money fast. It hurts to shell out our money, but if it’s cheap it’s not quality. Can we really afford cheap anything, especially when your and your guests’ lives are at stake?
Just some thoughts to consider. Thank you all, and remember, you can’t catch fish if you don’t go fishin’, so let’s go fishin’ soon.
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.