spotted seatrout

WaterLine file photo

Trout have been catch-and-release only since last May. Is it time to open the season again?

There are radically opposing views regarding some of the challenges we face around our waters. Reality and the best answers are usually discovered with compromise nearer to the middle.

For example, snook, trout and redfish are closed to harvest in local waters. What should the FWC do about the closures at their February meeting? Should they be reopened ASAP, or do they need to stay closed? How does this affect our fishing enjoyment and water-related economies? Many anglers are catching plenty of fish. Is this because fewer people are fishing, or have stocks rebounded? I thought fish was supposed to be relaxing, yet suddenly I feel a great pressure!

We suffered devastating red tide fish kills that most of us witnessed. With significant stock losses, managers felt the need to close our big three targets. It appears to be working. Now, when do we relax restrictions? How fast does Mother Nature recover from devastation? I’m sorry for so many questions, but that is exactly what we all need to be doing: Asking questions and considering science-based answers. What are the costs to area businesses? These closures are sending folks elsewhere to fish; just look at social media! How can we balance the need to protect our fish stocks and fishing economies?

Let’s address a few of these challenges. First, if you have any knowledge about local fishing, you can catch fish and enjoy our fishing now. Most captains and regular anglers are reporting good and even great catches many days. Management restrictions are necessary, but we must take into consideration the costs to our local economy. Florida’s southwest coast is losing significant fishing business to other locations without closures. Ask any established local fishing business how the last two years have been; survival mode is probably the answer. Since catching has improved, where are the promotions and relief from restrictions?

Except for WaterLine, is anyone else helping get out the “it’s better” message? We do have lots of good fishing opportunities. We have abundant sheepshead with liberal bag limits if you want dinner. They can even be caught from public piers. Mackerel should be returning in big schools within a few weeks, providing another great table option.

The FWC is meeting soon to discuss the closures. What are we doing to encourage relaxing restrictions? When your business is struggling it’s hard to make time to get involved in management, but the squeaky wheel gets the attention. Stay quiet and you’ll be ignored. Attending and speaking for three minutes (that’s all you’re allowed) is a positive step, but it’s not the ideal answer. We must maintain ongoing relationships with FWC staff and commissioners.

Individually, this is less effective; collectively, much more successful. Numbers do count! Plus, pooled resources allow us to fund someone to represent our views (yes, I know lobbying is a dirty word, but it’s how things get done). If the same person shows up consistently offering useful and workable solutions, it establishes a working relationship and trust both ways.But not everyone is on the same page. I suggest we focus on the things we can do something about, or else we’ll continue to do without.

Water quality and fishing pressure do influence fish stocks and catching results. Water quality is crucial, and most aspects are in the spotlight. We have many challenges to address, mainly accurately identifying the actual sources of our problems. Many problem areas focus attention on someone else to deflect attention from themselves.

It’s important that we find common ground and come together, because we have a huge issue to address in the future: Mosaic is powerful and determined to mine upstream of our area. I’m not against DeSoto County helping their economy, if only temporarily — but I do know that the phosphate industry has earned a poor track record in the past, and mining puts everything downstream at risk. Fighting a big corporation is expensive and time-consuming. Even our Charlotte County commissioners are scared. We have endured costly legal battles in the past with little to show for it. We need real safeguards that don’t exist.

Back to now. What do we want from FWC meeting? I say we need some relief, now. Some ideas: Snook have a limited season and small slot; can we have a spring snook season locally? Redfish are recovering, but I’m not sure we are ready to open them yet. Maybe in the fall? Trout are recovering and I know they just established new guidelines for them, but even if they allowed us two fish this spring and summer, in my opinion it would help our economy dramatically.

The best advice I have is the less we mess with Mother Nature, the better things are. Keep less and enjoy more. And let’s be sure to appreciate any chance we have and get out and go fishin’.

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.

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.

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