Yes, I know that fall officially arrived more than a month ago. And I know that the plants and animals around us have been changing behaviors for weeks as the change of seasons has progressed.
Even so, today is the first real day of fall for me. My change of seasons is not based on somebody’s definition involving equinoxes or solstices, or even on the shortening of the days. It’s based on when it feels like the seasons have changed.
Here’s how I know that fall arrived today: As I write this, I have just gotten off the water from a first-light fishing trip. At sunrise, there was an actual chill in the air. I was very glad that I was wearing long pants and a jacket (for the first time since last winter). When the boat first jumped up on plane and the bow started to settle, my eyes watered enough that chilly tears blew back towards my ears. I did not quite see my breath, but I sure thought that I might catch a wispy glimpse at sunrise.
The chill, dry air was energizing and rejuvenating — and the more so because it has finally banished an unusually long and hot summer. I wasn’t the only one on the lake this morning who felt the change. The bass were really frisky today. Fish that had been only modestly interested in biting all summer were crashing baits with abandon.
These fish must not have ever read all the bass fishing how-to books that talk about how tough the fishing will be on the day after the arrival of a cold front. Not only were the fish chewing this morning, once hooked they fought hard and jumped big. Definitely feeling the change.
Now that fall has arrived, it’s time to make a few adjustments. It will no longer be necessary to check the National Hurricane Center website every single day. I’ll still sneak a peak once in a while just to be safe, but we can now stand down from our annual summer tropical weather watch. Even the weakest and puniest of cold fronts will unceremoniously brush aside any approaching tropical weather systems, so jacket weather pretty well spells the end of our hurricane angst for about half a year.
It’s also time to start being smart about planning trips to places such as Walmart and Publix. Very early or very late in the day are now the best times to visit these places, because at other times of the day our seasonal visitors clog the aisles and cause lines at the check-outs. And it’s time to start crossing U.S. 41 at intersections with traffic lights — no more trying to sneak across at stop signs. But boy, are we glad to see the people in town!
Fishermen are trading kings. Silver king tarpon are leaving town, but king mackerel are showing up. And some of the year’s best action on snook and redfish is usually found just when the weather changes. This year those fish will get a break, as both species have been designated as catch-and-release only for the entire winter.
By the way, when your snowbird buddy shows up and starts dusting off his long-idle fishing gear, you should mention the closures on snook and redfish harvest. The FWC’s regulation booklets were printed before the closure was announced and therefore still list the seasons as open on these fish. And while the closures are shown on the FWC website, they are not given prominent placement and the details will be easily missed. As a result, anglers who were not in town when those closures were announced in the local media could easily miss that important detail and inadvertently harvest fish illegally.
And now I have to go make ready for a household tradition on the first chilly day of the year: Tonight, there will be a fire in the fireplace. Stay warm!
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.