Category Archives: Saltwater Fishing

Everything saltwater fishing

Fall Reds On the Beach

Red is the Color of Fall at the Beach
By Frank Sargeant
from The Fishing Wire

Catch redfish like this from the beach in the fall

For those who like to take their vacations on the Gulf Coast after the crowds are gone, now is the time to head south.

Though the weekends are still busy, the weekdays have a shadow of the numbers of vacationers pre-Labor Day, and that’s nothing but good for anglers.

Fall is prime time for redfish, which move from the beaches into the lower bays to spawn as fall nears. Particularly on the northern gulf, roughly from Cape San Blas all the way to Dauphin Island in Alabama, the fish show up in schools that sometimes number in the hundreds, literally turning the water red.

The “bull” reds—which are actually mostly females—settle on the edges of the bars, jetties, passes and bridges, and provide amazing sport for those who know where to find them. The average fish weighs 15 to 25 pounds, and some are much larger.

Harvest of any red over 28 inches long is illegal in Florida waters, while anglers are allowed one redfish over 26 inches daily in Alabama waters, but these jumbo reds are not nearly so tasty as the smaller fish and most anglers release them to spawn and make more reds. They make great catch and release action, and will hit just about anything when the feed is on.

Topwaters are particularly interesting because big reds really stir things up when several of them start chasing one of these lures at once. You may want to clip off several of the trebles, though—getting a big red untangled from a multi-hook lure it has swallowed can be a big problem. A single-hook swimbait works just as well and is much easier to get out of the fish—use one about 6 to 8 inches long and weighing 1 to 2 ounces.

The prime spot for big reds in Florida is the south tip of Cape San Blas, but they’re also found at every inlet and pass at this time of year, as well as cruising along just outside the first sandbar off the beach. They also linger around the many big piers found along the Panhandle coast.

The most famed spot in Alabama waters is Dixey Bar, a shallow ridge of sand just off Fort Morgan. This is a big piece of shoal water just off the edge of the ship channel, and it’s a natural feeding area, averaging 5 to 10 feet deep. It’s 3 miles long and up to 2 miles wide, providing lots of fishing room for a number of boats. And in fall it nearly always has plenty of jumbo reds.

While artificial lures are the most fun way to connect, sometimes a more sure way is natural bait— pinfish, grunts, small mullet, pretty much any fish in the 6 to 10 inch range won’t last long—put enough weight on them to hold bottom, and fish the outgoing tide. If live bait is hard to get, a chunk of cut mullet fished on bottom will do just fine—reds quickly home in on the scent, if a shark or catfish doesn’t beat them to it.

If reds are not your thing, trout fishing will quickly improve with the shorter days and cooler nights, with steady action around the shrimp and menhaden schools in the large bays and sounds here. Best bet is live shrimp under a big noisy popping cork which you “baloop” about twice a minute to attract attention. Some anglers catch much larger trout, big “yellow mouths” over 6 pounds, by wading the surf at dawn and throwing big Spooks and other topwaters.

Just off the beaches, Spanish and king mackerel will continue to cooperate until about mid-October, when the bait schools start to migrate south, taking these speedsters with them. Trolling a Clark spoon behind a number 2 planer gets the Spanish anywhere from 100 yards on out, while the kings usually like a larger Drone-type single hook spoon with a small strip of mullet or bonito, also fished on a planer. Kings hang around artificial reefs, navigation buoys and the major passes.

In short, there’s a lot of great fall fishing action waiting at the northern Gulf Coast right now, and it’s a great time to visit.

What Is A Fishing Hideaway on Tampa Bay?

A Fishing Hideaway on Tampa Bay
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Fishing Tampa Bay

The vast estuaries and tidal creeks near Little Harbor and the Little Manatee River, in Tampa Bay’s South Shore area, provide endless spots where kayakers and flats boat anglers can easily find sea trout, redfish and snook. (Photo Credit Power-Pole)

It’s no secret that Florida is being overwhelmed by new residents—the population now approaches 22 million—as well as by the 124 million who visit there annually. Roads are jammed, housing developments are gobbling up thousands of acres of natural habitat each year and finding locations where you can “get away from it all” is growing way more difficult.

As the song goes, we have paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

But there are still a few hideaways left that reflect a time when this state truly was a natural paradise and the weather, let’s face it, is unbeatable, especially when the snow flies up north. I was reminded of that by a visit back to Tampa Bay’s South Shore region not too long ago.

The South Shore, stretching down the southeast side of Tampa Bay roughly from the town of Apollo Beach to Terra Ceia, has no white sand beaches and no emerald green sea, and that is essentially what has saved it so far.

It’s a land of coastal creeks and estuaries, mangrove and saltmarsh shores, and through the heart of it runs the appropriately-named Little Manatee River, a designated “Outstanding Florida Water” that is home not only to lots of manatees, but also plenty of snook, redfish, tarpon, largemouth bass, alligators, otters, bald eagles and a bit of everything else that used to make Florida, Florida. There are three state aquatic preserves here—the wild lands and estuaries will remain that way, permanently.

As with most areas where there’s good habitat, the fish and wildlife thrive here; the South Shore is one of the premiere fishing areas on all of Florida’s west coast. It’s home to the “big four” of Florida inshore fishing, snook, tarpon, trout and redfish, sometimes in amazing numbers. And it’s far enough inland that it was minimally affected by the long-lasting red tide that devastated many coastal areas last year.

Because it’s Florida, there’s good fishing every month of the year, though the mix of species and their locations change with the seasons. Tarpon and snook are primarily tropical fish and action for them is best April through October, while trout and redfish like cooler water—best times are typically October to March, though spawning reds sometimes make a push in late August and September.

This is all inshore action, which means you can get at the fish in a skiff, a bassboat, even a kayak if you keep an eye on the weather. And if you don’t have your own boat, there are rentals available.

At Little Harbor Watersports in Ruskin, for example, you can rent a center console for $225 for a half day, $325 for a full day, and head out on the bay with a very good shot at catching plenty of spotted sea trout, simply by drifting over grass flats at depths of 4 to 10 feet and bouncing a quarter-ounce shrimp-tail jig on bottom or drifting along with a DOA Shrimp (or a live shrimp) suspended 3 feet under a popping cork that you give an occasional “chug” to stir up interest. You’ll catch plenty of ladyfish, black sea bass and assorted other critters to keep up your interest, as well.

Another alternative is to rent a kayak at Little Harbor and explore the canals that lead back into the development. In winter, these canals are sometimes loaded with redfish, trout and the occasional snook, while in summer they are home to baby tarpon anywhere from 1 to 3 feet long. (It can be buggy back here on a calm summer morning, though—load up with high-DEET repellent.)

Snook can be a challenge to locate and catch, but there are lots of them in the South Shore area and those who fish live sardines regularly connect with big ones.

If you’re more serious about fishing, you can hire a guide—rates around $500 for two–who will put you on the area’s premier gamefish, the snook. These fish have been described as “largemouth bass on steroids” (by me, among others) and they really put on a show in the mangrove creeks and oystery potholes where they’re often found. Size ranges from 3 pounds upward . . . way upward. It’s not uncommon to hook up with a fish weighing 10 to 15 pounds while fishing with a guide who uses live sardines to fool the lunkers, and trying to control one of these beasts in the confines of a narrow creek overhung with mangrove trees and surrounded by sharp oyster shells is the angling experience of a lifetime.

Or, if you’re into big game fishing, you can also enjoy that experience without ever leaving sight of shore here—from late April through October, South Shore waters are loaded with tarpon ranging in weight from 50 to 150 pounds. You might get lucky and connect with one on your own by fishing deep bends in the river or in the canals around Little Harbor (fish where you see them rolling with live pinfish or sardines) but best bet is to hire a guide, who will know where the schools are hanging out, usually south of the river.

Jumbo tarpon are abundant in Tampa Bay from April through October, including lots of fish weighing 100 pounds and up. Best way to connect is to hire a guide, who has the right gear and knows where to find them. (Frank Sargeant Photo)
You can catch the juvenile tarpon on heavy bass tackle in the rivers, but for the adults, heavy spinning gear and 50-pound-test braid is the minimum—your guide will have the appropriate gear, and will also take the worry out of handling one of these silver giants at boatside. (Tarpon are a catch-and-release species, but you’ll have a chance for plenty of photos with your trophy before she swims away free to fight again.) One of my favorite guides for this pursuit is Captain Chet Jennings, who has been at it for decades. His website also has some interesting video showing the backcountry here;

About Little Harbor

Accommodations on the river are understandably scarce—the terrain and environmental regulations limit development beyond basic residential properties—but one first-class location is Harborside Suites, at Little Harbor just north of where the Little Manatee runs into Tampa Bay.

Little Harbor is a good home base for a South Shore visit not only because it’s in the heart of some of Tampa Bay’s best fishing, but also because it’s got all the amenities to keep the rest of the family happy while you fish. Tennis courts, swimming pools, fitness centers, several waterfront restaurants, hiking areas, SUP, kayak and jet ski rentals plus a half-mile of sand beach should keep the crew well entertained.

The live music at the Tiki Bar overlooking the bay is a big draw at sundown every evening, and if you’re so inclined they even have karaoke nights on occasion. There’s also a waterfront firepit for after-sundown partying. And the waterfront rooms all have full kitchenettes, equipped right down to that all important coffee maker.

Sundowns at Little Harbor are not only beautiful, but they mark a good time to slip out on the water for a few casts — there’s always a bite at sunrise and sunset. (Frank Sargeant Photo)
It’s not uncommon for manatees to swim right into the harbor in front of the resort and nibble at moss on the boat fenders, and on my last visit a mother bottle-nosed dolphin was training her offspring to catch mullet among the docked yachts, as well. If you’re into bird watching, there’s a large preserve less than a mile down the shore where you’ll see just about every shorebird Florida has to offer, including the strikingly pink roseate spoonbills, sometimes by the dozens, plus lots of ospreys, egrets, great blue herons and in winter the occasional bald eagle.

For details, visit or call 800-327-2773.

Saltwater Kayak

How to Pick a Saltwater Kayak
By Kyle Manak
from The Fishing Wire

Choose the right saltwater kayak

When choosing a good saltwater kayak, there are many things that come to mind. First and foremost, consider what your intentions are regarding that saltwater kayak.

Where Will You Be Using Your Kayak?

Your personal fishing habits will come into play when choosing a kayak. After all, not all kayaks are made the same. Will you be fishing? Will you be in marshy waters or bays, or will you venture offshore? Marshes call for a kayak that does well in “skinny” water. Do you choose a paddling kayak or a pedal style? In waters eight inches deep or less, for instance, although your kayak will float, your pedal drive might not be usable. Knowing that you can paddle your kayak is still important. Pedal drives are great options for deeper waters of 14 inches or more, and of course, they keep your hands free when going distances or trolling. A paddle kayak can be used in all waters, but are you comfortable paddling three to six hours or more? Additionally, are you using your saltwater kayak for recreational fishing or tournament fishing? A you just searching for a good kayak you can be in all day? Make sure to ask yourself these questions while you’re shopping around.

What Size Kayak is Best for You?

This goes back to where you will be using your saltwater kayak. Most anglers like a kayak that is 12 feet or longer. This is because the longer the kayak is, the easier it is to keep on a straight path, with or without a rudder. Will you be standing for some of your fishing, or always sitting? Offshore, of course, you will be sitting, while you may decide to stand inshore sometimes. Having a kayak measuring 14 feet or longer, and with a seat in the lowest possible position, is a wise choice for offshore ventures. It allows you to breach the waves in launching or your return through the surf. YakGear’s Sting Ray and Manta Ray seats are both great options for a comfortable low, four-point seat. For occasional standing, you may want to look for a kayak measuring 36 inches wide or wider, and which has a pontoon-style keel, rather than a single sharper keel. This creates more stability, but it is not foolproof. You must always be careful. Longer and narrower kayaks are typically faster and less susceptible to cross winds. Sitting higher in a wider kayak will catch more wind, and you will have to put in a lot more effort. If you do choose to stand aboard your kayak, consider adding a YakGear StandNCast Bar to aid in balance.

Should You Sit Inside or on Top?

Many years ago, sit-inside kayaks were the only option out there. In the last 15 to 20 years, however, sit-on-top kayaks have become more popular for saltwater. A sit-inside kayak does not allow you the flexibility of standing, and if you want to get out and do a little wade fishing, it is much harder in a sit-inside than a sit-on-top.

What Should the Capacity of Your Kayak Be?

Your own size and the gear you will bring with you plays an important role in kayak selection, as well. If a kayak has a weight capacity of 300 pounds, that is the amount of weight it will hold while still allowing it to float. If you weigh 200 pounds, for example, and bring 50 pounds of gear, you are using more than 80% of the weight capacity, which will reflect in the kayak’s speed and maneuverability. Kayak Angler Magazine’s Chris Payne notes that a good rule of thumb is not to exceed 75% of your saltwater kayak’s weight capacity.

How Will You Transport Your Kayak?

Speaking of weight, make sure the size and weight of your saltwater kayak fits your transportation. Will you be hauling your kayak on top of your car? In the bed of your truck? In a trailer? All important things to keep in mind when deciding on a kayak. Also, when you get close to your launch spot, how will you get your kayak down to the water? The C-Tug cart offers two helpful options — a hard wheel for asphalt and such, and the newer Sandtrakz wheels for beach sands and other all-terrain scenarios.

I asked myself these questions and more before purchasing my kayak. A wide kayak will offer stability and comfort, but the tracking ability is diminished a bit. A longer, narrower kayak will increase your speed and tracking, but you might lose some stability. One way to pick a good saltwater kayak is to test out several options. Go to kayak demo days hosted by retailers across the United States, and test as many out as possible. Maybe borrow a friend’s kayak or rent one for the day. I promise you will know the minute you get in if it feels right. Until then, happy kayak hunting and tight lines.

About the Author:

YakGear Brand Ambassador Kyle Manak learned most of his fishing techniques — and developed a love of the water — in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. Although he enjoyed boat fishing, bank fishing and wade fishing through the years, it was when Kyle ventured into kayak fishing that he found his stride and never looked back. For him, the simplicity and beauty of being on a kayak and catching a fish was something special. He was hooked by the beauty and peacefulness he experienced out on the water.

Kyle has been kayak fishing for many years now, and has extended his passion to social media. A few years ago, he created Kayak Fishing Texas, an online community which started small but today has more than 6,700 members who share the same passion. He continues to spread his passion for fishing to his own children and other children whenever he can.

Columbia River/Buoy 10 Tide Strategies

Columbia River/Buoy 10 Tide Strategies
By Buzz Ramsey
from The Fishing Wire

Where to catch salmon

With a combined run of nearly a million chinook and coho salmon returning to the Columbia River mouth this August and September: forecast by state agencies to include 340,000 chinook and 600,000 coho, it might be time for you to plan a trip. And although the number of chinook returning will restrain fisheries targeting them, the giant coho return should be enough to keep the boat ramps and fish cleaning stations, at this popular sport fishery, busy.

When it comes to catching salmon, like many near saltwater fisheries, it’s all about the tides at Buoy 10. You see, each successive tide pushes more and more salmon into the estuary, which is the first place you can ambush fall salmon as they enter the Columbia River.

The salmon ride the incoming tide into the river like a surf boarder might a big wave, which means each tide, especially a big one, will carry with it large numbers of salmon all the way to and above the Astoria-Megler Bridge. To be successful is about understanding where this wave full of fish can be found and being there when they bite. It’s all about understanding the ever-changing push and pull of water.

During times when tides are less dramatic (it’s true) the tides push fewer salmon not as far into the estuary. But if the lesser tides occur for a week or more the lean daily numbers can add up to big ones and offer quick limits fairly close to the mid-estuary access points like Hammond, Warrenton, Chinook and Ilwaco.

Because the area extending from Buoy 10 (the red channel marker that describes this fishery) to Tongue Point is 14 miles long and four to five miles wide most anglers locate the salmon by trolling. And the best time to troll, especially when tides are big, is mostly during the last half of the incoming and first half of the outgoing tide.

The fishing rods used at Buoy 10 are fairly stout and stiff enough to handle cannon-ball style sinkers that might vary in weight from four to 16 ounces. What most angers do is run heavier sinkers on their front rods, say 12 to 16 ounces, and lighter sinkers, 8 to 10 ounces, on lines trailing out the back of the boat. How much weight you use depends on how deep the salmon are running and whether or not you are trying to keep your gear at or near bottom. Keep in mind though that not all salmon are on the bottom as many will suspend at mid depth, especially when tides are flooding.

What many anglers do is run their front rods out 20 to 25 feet on their line counters and their back rods out far enough to occasionally hit bottom when trolling over water less than 30 feet in depth.

A popular rod series for fishing “Buoy 10” are the Berkley Air rod series that I helped the company design. Actions that work at Buoy 10 include the 7’9” HB (Heavy Bounce), 9’ XH (Extra Heavy), and 9’6” and 10’6” HH (Heavy Herring) models. The 7’9” HB is easier to stow than longer rods and perfect for fishing straight out behind your boat. The 9’XH is an overall favorite among many for its ability to handle big sinkers, while the 9’6” and 10’6” HH actions are handy when wanting to spread lines out to achieve a wider trolling swath. The HB and HH will handle weights to 12 ounces; while XH can easily handle 16-ounce sinkers. If you want the ultimate in stiffness with a land-them-quick action, it’s the rod action I use, consider the 8’ XHB (Extra Heavy Bounce) which will handle sinkers of 20 ounces or more.

Levelwind reels equipped with line counters are what everyone uses at Buoy 10, since you really need to know what depth you are trolling and be able to return to it reliably. And while I’ve used the Abu Garcia 5500/6500 line counter models for Buoy 10 salmon, I’m mostly using them when chasing spring chinook these days. For Buoy 10, it’s the Penn Warefare or Fathom II Line Counter reels in the 15 size that works best for me. And yes, these Penn models are available in right- or left-hand versions.

When it comes to fishing line, the majority of anglers employ high-tech braid. Most guides and anglers I know spool 50- or 65-pound test braid, which is way thinner than even 25-pound test monofilament and totally eliminates the thought of an unexpected break off. This is something that can happen when using monofilament fishing line, especially if it is been heavily used and on the reel for more than a year. However, if you prefer mono, some anglers do, I would suggest picking a tough one like Berkley Big Game in at least 25-pound test.

Like many having boats, I’ve usually got four friends with me when trolling Buoy 10, meaning we have five rods in the water. Although it varies depending on what the fish are biting, I generally run spinners on the two rods near the bow of the boat and herring or anchovy on the rods positioned out the stern. Make no mistake, spinners work at Buoy 10 and what you might discover, as we have, that the majority of big chinook seem to come on the spinners. The idea behind running bait on the back rods is to encourage salmon that passed up on the spinners or arrived late to all the attraction produced by our flashers to bite.

As for my rod, I once ran it between the two stern rods and rigged with the same amount of weigh as the other back rods. Doing this meant my rod was mostly in-line with the others and as such rarely got bit as fish attracted to all the flash produced by our Fish Flash got to the side rods first. What changed the success of my center rod was when I started trailing my outfit, often rigged with a Mulkey spinner in combination with a four-ounce sinker, behind the boat 70 to 100 feet or more. What this often means is that my sinker might bounce bottom when trolling over 20 feet of water or less but otherwise my outfit is suspended somewhere at mid-depth. There is just something about having a lure trailing out behind the other gear that the fish sometimes respond to in a big way.

Angling Action in Florida’s Northernmost Keys

Angling Action in Florida’s Northernmost Keys
from the Fishing Wire

The Florida Keys are famous for many things, from pirates and sunken Spanish treasure galleons to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home with its pride of polydactyl cats. But for anglers, it’s best known for fishing. While the middle and southernmost Keys garner most of the good press, the upper Keys offer some of the most diverse fishing opportunities in the entire island chain. The winter sailfish season provides the opportunity to catch a billfish a scant few miles off shore, while the ocean reefs are home to tarpon, jacks, blackfin tuna and a variety of grouper and snapper species. On the other side, the backcountry of Florida Bay is a shallow water playground where bonefish and permit hunt the skinny water, and a variety of mackerel, snapper, grouper, jacks and ladyfish are found in the slightly deeper holes.

Whether you’re a diehard angler looking for hot action, or an occasional fisherman in the area on a family vacation, the often-bypassed upper Keys has a lot to offer in piscatorial pursuits. The region stretches from Key Largo, the northmost Key, to Islamorada. Team Yamaha spent a day and a half with Captain Tim Arce of Native Conch Charters exploring the area. To add to the fun, the team fished aboard Regulator Marine’s hot new 26 XO powered by a Yamaha F300 outboard. The model represents a new direction for a company renowned for building offshore center console fish boats. The difference is denoted by the “XO” branding in its name. It stands for crossover, and this nimble 26-footer combines the shallow water accessibility of a bay boat with a slightly deeper hull design and a bit more freeboard to make it flexible enough to fish the ocean beaches and reefs further offshore. For the purposes of this outing, the boat was a perfect fit.

During the first trip, Captain Tim loaded on some light tackle and bait, did a quick systems check. Once we were out of the marina, he ran the boat south paralleling the Overseas Highway, winding through several miles of narrow channels, through mangrove-lined cuts between small islands and across shallow flats headed toward Snake Cut, where we left Florida Bay and made our way out onto the Atlantic side of the island chain. Captain Tim is a fifth generation Keys native, and has been addicted to fishing since he was old enough to walk to the end of the street with a fishing rod in his hand. He was a deckhand on charter boats by the age of 14, working for some of the most famous Keys charter captains sailing out of the legendary Buddy & Mary’s Marina in Islamorada. He got his license at 18, and split his time between running charters and a commercial tow boat. He has run offshore and back country boats for more than 25 years, and knows the vast and varied waters of the Keys like most people know their commute to work every day.

Once through the Cut, he followed the channel markers to deeper water, the Regulator making quick and comfortable work of some rather large swells and waves, until the team reached Davis Reef about six miles offshore. Tim tied off to one of the mooring floats, and started a chum slick in hopes of catching some tasty yellowtail snappers for dinner.

“The fishing in the upper Keys varies with the seasons,” Tim explained, “So here’s a little of what a visiting angler can expect. The bluewater fishing is best in fall and winter when sailfish, wahoo, kingfish and blackfin tuna are available as close as the edge of the reefs – often right where we are sitting now.”

Just to punctuate his narrative, a large school of ballyhoo shot into the air roughly 150 feet away, with a sailfish in hot pursuit. Sailfish chased bait schools, the bait sheeting from the surface sounding like rain, their sides reflecting the bright sunlight like mirrors, only to disappear below the surface as fast as they appeared. Unfortunately the team had neither the right tackle nor the live bait to tempt a sail. They were after the bottom species.

“In the spring, the bluewater action moves a bit further offshore, where the Gulf Stream is filled with migrating gamefish,” Tim continued. “Early spring is the best time for limiting out on mahi, there are still good numbers of sailfish around, bluefin tuna are heading north, and you can catch swordfish deep dropping during the day or fishing shallower at night. Summer is the slowest offshore fishing, but there is a major spawning migration of yellowtail and mangrove snappers on the reefs along with a variety of other species.”

The team continued to fish, catching a few mangrove and yellowtail on light tackle but with so little current, the conditions were not conducive for a good bite, though they did manage to put together enough of a catch to make for a great dinner back at the dock. Along the way Tim took a sightseeing detour, which only reinforced that the Upper Keys is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The next morning, the team met early at Yacht Works to set out on the second trip. This time Captain Tim brought along 23-year old college student and friend, Lexi Hang. A native of Rhinelander, Wisconsin, Lexi was along on a family vacation. As luck would have it, the family rented the house next to Tim’s on Islamorada. Tim’s plan was to head west well out into Florida Bay to search out some shallow water spots to try some of the specialized equipment adorning the XO, specifically the remote control operated Minn-Kota® electric trolling motor on the bow and the Power Pole® shallow water anchoring system on the transom. Tim took an hour run through miles of shallow flats and winding channels, past small uninhabited islands and finally out into open expanses of the bay. He used the GPS to guide the boat to some spots where he had good fishing earlier in the week.

When we arrived, he deployed the trolling motor and quietly moved the boat up onto a bank in about five feet of water. Putting the motor into “auto anchor” mode, it used the GPS and a computer brain to keep the boat in position in the ten-knot breeze. We started casting live shrimp on light jig heads using seven-foot light actionspinning rods. Lexi was quick to hook up, the first fish taking line off the reel before it jumped several times revealing itself to be a bright silver ladyfish. Long, sleek and fast, ladyfish are common throughout the upper Keys, they fight well and jump like a baby tarpon. After a spirited battle, the fish was unhooked and released.

Tim pinned another live shrimp on the jig, and Lexi made a long cast back into the slick that was developing nicely from the chum bag Tim had secured from the springline cleat. Her offering didn’t hit the bottom before something grabbed it and headed toward the Marquesas at speeds faster than the ladyfish, but this scrapper didn’t jump or show itself until it was much closer to the boat. It turned out to be a bonnet shark, a small member of the hammerhead family that only grows to 15 pounds or so. Great fighters, Tim grabbed it behind the head and lifted it for a picture before gently releasing it.

As the chum slick continued to do its job, more species came looking for the source of the fishy smell and the team started to hook up with regularity. For the next few hours there was barely more than a few minutes lull between hook ups, frequently with two fish on at once. They caught a variety of snappers including mangroves, lanes and grays, some incredibly fast and hard fighting cero mackerel, a small king mackerel (the big ones are found on the ocean side) and a variety of jacks. The weather was typical Florida Keys, hot, sunny with beautiful fluffy clouds drifting by overhead to break up the blue of the water from the blue of the sky. Even though it was late winter, the temperature was hovering in the low 80s by midmorning.

Florida Bay is a huge expanse of shallow water, most rarely exceeding 10-feet deep, with areas of sandy flats that, at certain tide stages, have barely a foot of water on them. Those truly skinny spots are where bonefish and permit prowl, but the team was on a short leash and had to get back to the marina in time for Mike to show the new Regulator to a prospective buyer early that afternoon. The big Yamaha outboard quietly pushed the XO over the areas of sand and bay grass for the hour ride back to Yacht World and the marina. On the way back, Captain Tim explained he was sure the team could catch sailfish from the skiff with nothing more than some live bait and 20-pound class spinning rods. He also knew where some early tarpon would be held up that might be tempted by a well-placed live mullet. With a little more current out on the reef, he felt confident the team could also limit out on yellowtail snappers.

The Upper Keys are every bit as magical as the middle and lower Keys, and a whole lot closer to Miami or Fort Lauderdale airport. If you’ve got a day or two to kill and would like to get out on the water to fish, sightsee or just soak it all in, contact Captain Tim Arce. You can find him at
or call (305) 395-1691.

Stable Snapper Season

Amendment 50 Gives Gulf States Stable Snapper Season

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Big Red Snapper

After a three-year struggle, saltwater anglers are on the cusp of a stable red snapper season with the approval of Amendment 50 by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.

Amendment 50, which goes into effect in 2020 with the approval of the Secretary of Commerce, gives the five Gulf states control over each state’s snapper season, and it allows leeway in size and bag limits within certain federal guidelines.

“All of the Gulf states are excited to finally have this solidified and move forward with the management plans for the individual states,” said Scott Bannon, Alabama’s Marine Resources Director. “It’s a win for the red snapper stock and a win for the states.”

Bannon said state control of the snapper fishery was brought before the Council in 2016 to manage the recreational sector, which would have included the private recreational sector and the federal for-hire (charter) sector.

The 2016 and 2017 snapper seasons were painfully short under federal control. As a way to alleviate the impact on anglers and the Gulf Coast economies, the Gulf states were issued an exempted fishing permit (EFP) for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, and states were able to set their seasons under a total allowable catch for each state.

Alabama originally set its 2018 season at 47 days, but near-perfect weather and an increased enthusiasm for catching the state’s signature saltwater species forced Marine Resources to reduce the season to 28 days, which ended in an almost perfect catch-to-allocation result.

The way Alabama was able to ensure there was no significant overrun on the quota was through the Red Snapper Reporting System, more commonly known as Snapper Check. The mandatory reporting system allowed Marine Resources to monitor the catch and close the season in response to the larger-than-expected harvest numbers.

The success of the Snapper Check monitoring paved the way for the Council to approve Amendment 50.

“I think the fishery benefits from Amendment 50 because we have the ability, as individual states, of not exceeding our allocation of the quota,” Bannon said. “If you look at it from a stock perspective for the Gulf of Mexico and you were managing it as a whole and you had a perfect season, like last year, you had no way to put the season in check. Alabama alone would have consumed nearly half of the entire Gulf allocation if we had fished the whole 47 days. We would have fished it really, really hard, and the amount of fish we would have caught would have been tremendous. As it was, we closed it when we met the number of pounds and showed that we were responsible. I think this is much better for the anglers and the snapper stock. I think the EFP showed the states could come to some decisions about allocations, and that the states could manage seasons within pretty close tolerances.”

Bannon said the Gulf Council faced two challenges with state management of red snapper. First, where do the federal for-hire boats fit into the program? The Council decided to not include the federal for-hire in Amendment 50 and consider other options in the future if conditions change for the federal for-hire boats. Second, what allocations could the five Gulf states live with?

“These allocations were based on different factors like biomass and historical landings,” Bannon said. “So, the state directors used the EFP allocations as a starting point for Amendment 50.

“The EFP only allowed us to set the season within our allocation. Under Amendment 50, we received an increase in allocation from 25% to 26.298%, and that increase will be permanent. We also have in Amendment 50 the ability to set size and bag limits within certain parameters. Those are management tools to maximize the benefit for Alabama.”

When the initial EFP allocations were proposed, the totals did not equal 100% of the total allowable catch. Bannon said Florida was given the extra 3.78% because they were the final state to apply.

“They amended their EFP to get that extra allocation,” Bannon said. “We felt like that extra allocation should be negotiated. In the end, Alabama and Florida split that 3.78% under Amendment 50 because we’re the two largest consumers of red snapper. The other states were comfortable with that. It seems to be fair and equitable.”

Under the new amendment, each state creates their own plan. Alabama’s plan includes a 10% buffer as opposed to the 20% buffer under the federal system. The federal for-hire sector has not exceeded its quota for several years, and its buffer was reduced to 9%.

Alabama’s allocation of red snapper for the 2019 private recreational season under the EFP is 1,079,765 pounds. Alabama’s allocation for the 2020 season increases to 1,122,661 pounds if the private recreational sector doesn’t exceed its quota this year.

Bannon said most red snapper anglers are happy with the upcoming season, and he anticipates there could be some season adjustments when Amendment 50 goes into effect.

“Most of the responses I’ve received for the 2019 season is they were happy to get the June and July seasons and that the season was spread out enough that if the weather was bad they could go another weekend,” he said. “We know we still have concerns from the public that they would like more fishing time during the week. As we move forward in state management, that is always a possibility because we now have the flexibility to set the seasons.”

The 2019 season length is tentatively set for 27 days, starting June 1 with three-day weekends (Friday-Sunday) except opening weekend (two days) and July 4 week, which will be four days (Thursday-Sunday). The size limit and bag limit remain the same at two fish per person with a minimum size of 16 inches total length.

Bannon is planning to ask snapper anglers for assistance to keep Alabama’s unparalleled artificial reef program at the top. The loss of funding for research in those reef zones will prompt him to ask the Conservation Advisory Board to implement a reef fish endorsement beginning in 2020.

“The reef fish endorsement is set up to help fund some of the research conducted in the reef zones, because we’re losing some of the funding used for that research,” he said. “The research needs to continue, and we also need funds to support programs like Snapper Check, which we hope to expand into a better program.

“It’s designed as a user-based system that applies to the people who are participating in that fishery, including private recreational, charter for-hire and commercial fishermen. Another aspect of it is it defines the user group. It gives us a better idea, especially among private anglers, of how many people are fishing for reef fish off Alabama. That way we can have better directed surveys, which are targeted at people who participate in the fishery instead of just people who have saltwater fishing licenses.”

The endorsement fees would be $10 for private recreational anglers and $250 for commercial fishermen. The charter for-hire fees would depend on the size of the boat and number of passengers the vessel can carry.

Amendment 50 gives the five Gulf states much more control of their red snapper seasons. Photo by David Rainer
As for Amendment 50, Bannon said Alabama has already shown state management will work. The public is supportive, and he thinks that Secretary Wilbur Ross will quickly approve.

“As I said on the radio the other day, Alabama has 3% of the Gulf coastline and will receive 26.298% of the total allowable catch for the 2020 season and beyond,” Bannon said. “I think Amendment 50 is a success for the fishery, and I think it’s a success for the states because the states can now manage the seasons, size limits and bag limits that best suit their anglers.

South Florida’s Bonefish Nurseries

Conservation of South Florida’s Bonefish Nurseries

From Bonefish & Tarpon Trust
from The Fishing Wire

Bonefish fry need protecting

When we think about promoting a healthy bonefish fishery we often turn our attention to protecting large schools of adult fish patrolling the flats. Often forgotten are the more vulnerable juvenile fish, those less than three inches long, that must survive a constant barrage from predators and a chaotic, rapidly changing environment. Nowhere are the challenges faced by juvenile bonefish more evident than in the Florida Keys.

Over the years we have seen a decline in the Florida Keys bonefish population, and an unusual absence of juveniles. The cause of this decline is still unknown, but it has coincided with changes to freshwater discharge in South Florida, increases in coastal development, and higher frequency of extreme weather events. These disturbances may be responsible for negatively impacting important nursery habitats and at least partially explain the bonefish population decline.

Nurseries are potentially the most important and complex habitats that a fish will occupy during its life. They provide protection from predators, abundant sources of food, and environmental conditions that allow for fast growth and an increased chance of survival. And since juvenile bonefish are too small to move to better habitats, taking the nursery habitat away is like pulling a table cloth out from under a castle of cards; the castle will fall.

BTT collaborating scientists have identified nursery habitats in the Bahamas, where thousands of juvenile bonefish are found in shallow, seagrass-free areas that are sheltered from strong waves. In the Keys, we have checked these types of habitats and have found only a handful of juveniles. Healthy juveniles are the future of the fishery, and we are teaming up with researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to figure out where juvenile bonefish are settling in the Florida Keys. Here is what we know so far about juvenile bonefish in the Keys:

1) Juvenile bonefish should be most prevalent in the early summer, following the winter through spring spawning season.

2) We recently learned that Bahamian juvenile bonefish use sandy or muddy bottoms with little wave action. Similar habitat in the Florida Keys is rare, and so far our sampling of these types of habitats has captured very few juvenile bonefish.

Identifying and protecting essential fish habitat is the first and most important step towards recovering the bonefish population in the Florida Keys. Once we identify bonefish nursery habitats, we can work with county, state, and federal managers to designate these habitats for protection. With a better understanding of the environmental characteristics that make for quality bonefish nurseries, we can work to restore degraded habitats, so they can become functional nurseries again. The future of the bonefish fishery may depend on the success of our habitat conservation efforts.

What you can do to help:

The search for juvenile bonefish in a region as expansive as the Florida Keys requires substantial time and effort. As a community we can work together to find juvenile bonefish and protect them when they’re most vulnerable. If you have encountered juvenile bonefish while fishing or cast-netting in the Florida Keys, Florida Bay, or Biscayne Bay, please contact our project lead:

Steven Lombardo, Florida Atlantic University Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute


Office: 772-242-2305

Photo: Juvenile bonefish. Photo credit: Louis Penrod, FIT

To learn more about Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, visit

Florida Shuts Down the Big Three of Inshore Fishing

Florida Shuts Down the Big Three of Inshore Fishing on SW Coast

Florida snook fishing shut down

Snook are no longer on the menu starting May 11 and continuing for more than a year in Southwest Florida due to a shutdown by FWC. (Frank Sargeant Photo)
By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) made a pre-emptive strike on restoration of inshore fish on the state’s southwest coast devastated by red tide–and shocked many anglers–by moving to shut down all harvest of the Big Three of Florida fishing, snook, redfish and spotted sea trout. The closure, which begins May 11 this year and continues until May 31 of 2020 as it now stands, will likely have a significant financial impact on guides, bait shops, fishing-oriented resorts and tackle and kayak and boat sales to say nothing of individual recreational anglers–but will be very good for the fish.

It won’t be the first time one of the state’s premiere fisheries has been shut down to allow recovery–in 2010 after a massive winter kill of snook, the commission shut down all take for almost three years.

Millions of adult fish were killed in the most recent red tide, which extended from November 2017 to early 2019, 15 horrendous months. Countless tens of millions more fry-size fish as well as the bait all gamefish feed on were also wiped out.

While some estuarine areas where the tide did not reach remain very good–or even better than before in a few places because the noxious water pushed fish off the coast and well up the bays to escape–others like Sarasota Bay, a narrow bay with three inlets direct to the beach, had a devastating complete kill. Beaches and residential canals were littered with tons of rotting fish, and spending a day on the beach became impossible–many beachfront hotels all but shuttered their doors as thousands canceled vacations.

Rotting fish not only wiped out anglers’ hopes but also decimated the beachfront resort business during the extended red tide. (Photo credit FWC)

The red tide finally dissipated as mysteriously as it came, in February this year. The state still has no cure and perhaps never will, though the new conservation-oriented Republican governor Ron DeSantis has appointed a commission and created a department to attack the problem along with blue green algae, a separate issue mostly affecting fresh water but also a major issue in the Indian River Lagoon near Jensen Beach in recent years. (Why there are not more Republican’s tapping into the conservationist/boater/angler/outdoorsman vote these days is a mystery well worth exploring.)

The closure will extend from the Pasco-Hernando county line near Tarpon Springs south (including all waters of Tampa Bay) through Gordon Pass in Collier County, just south of Naples.

The area traditionally has been the heart of snook country in Florida. Redfish and trout were already down when the red tide struck, some think from overharvest as a result of Florida’s booming population of inshore anglers, guides and kayak fishers. There have also been some water quality issues, particularly on Tampa Bay, where the city of St. Petersburg has had several massive sewage spills in recent years. (In general, though, 40 years of conservation efforts on the bay have brought steady improvement in clarity and consequently in the amount of sea grass, a mark of a healthy estuary–until the disastrous red tide struck.)

There’s no question that a complete shutdown will go a long way towards rapidly restoring these important fisheries–the extended snook closure of 2010 to 2013 produced the best snook fishing seen in decades immediately after, and the effect is still obvious, with anglers outside the red tide zones routinely catching and releasing 40 to 50 linesiders in a day when fishing with live sardines.

FWC has been working with partners including Coastal Conservation Association Florida, Duke Energy and Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium to raise and release red drum and snook into southwest Florida waters to help address red tide impacts–a popular move with anglers.

Restocking of juvenile fish may help kick start some areas, but research indicates the best solution for recovery is a healthy stock of natural spawners. (Photo credit FWC)

However, past efforts with limited stockings have shown very small returns relative to the cost–most released fingerlings wind up as chum for larger fish. Nature functioning the way it should is the best cure, by far, and shutting down the harvest to allow spawners to survive is the quickest way to recovery.

For those who enjoy eating fresh fish they’ve caught themselves, there are still plenty of targets; flounder and pompano from spring through fall, sheepshead and mangrove snapper–two of the best tasting fish in the sea–in cooler months. Off the beaches, there are Spanish and kings, and on the reefs adult mangrove snapper, yellowtail snapper, red and black grouper and of course red snapper, which seem to be doing exceptionally well these days as a result of very tight management for several years.

It’s going to be a trying year for many who depend on the inshore fishery for their livelihood. Though many guides have already gone to very limited harvest just to protect their own turf, a complete shutdown will surely cause some customers who would have chartered them to choose something else to do during their Florida visit, or perhaps to head to northwest Florida for a charter, where the fisheries remain open.

The good news is that barring another visit from Karenia brevis and related nasties, anglers are likely to see some exciting fishing when the closure comes to an end next year, and hopefully a strong year class of spawning fish may mean even better fishing ahead.

The Surprising Story of Swordfish

The Surprising Story of Swordfish You May Not Know
From NOAA Fisheries
from The Fishing Wire

Today’s North Atlantic swordfish stock is fully rebuilt and maintaining above-target population levels. But there’s work to be done to ensure management measures better support the fishing industry.

Swordfish in the depths

Swordfish. Credit: Shutterstock/Joe Flynn.
Today’s North Atlantic swordfish population is a great fishery rebuilding story.

Twenty years ago, this predatory fish was in trouble. Their population had dropped to 65 percent of the target level. This means there weren’t enough North Atlantic swordfish in the water to maintain their population in the face of fishing by the many countries who share the resource.

Fast forward to 2009 and the international commission that manages species like swordfish declared the Northern Atlantic stock fully rebuilt. That announcement came a year ahead of the 2010 target date set in the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna’s (ICCAT) 10-year rebuilding plan.

“If it’s U.S.-harvested swordfish, consumers can feel confident it’s a smart seafood choice,” said Rick Pearson, NOAA Fisheries fishery management specialist. “We should reward our sustainable stewardship practices at the seafood counter.”

Rebuilding an Important Population

Efforts to restore a dwindling population of North Atlantic swordfish date back to 1985 when NOAA Fisheries implemented the first U.S. Atlantic Swordfish Fishery Management Plan. This plan reduced the harvest of small swordfish, set permitting and monitoring requirements, and launched scientific research on the swordfish stock. Minimum size limits and enforcement processes came shortly after when ICCAT issued its first recommendation on swordfish in 1990.

Despite these and other management strategies implemented over the next eight years, the stock continued to suffer. By the late 1990s, the average weight of swordfish caught in U.S. waters had fallen to 90 pounds, a drop from the 250-pound average fishermen enjoyed in the 1960s. This was in part because the population decline meant fishermen were catching younger fish.

What ultimately reversed their downward course was the broad suite of actions built up by the beginning of the 21st century.

“There is no one measure that could have brought this population back from the decline,” said Pearson. “Sustainable fishery management requires a comprehensive science-based approach that considers the biological needs of the fish population, the health of fisheries, the fishing industry, and coastal communities.”

In the United States today:

A limited number of vessels can target swordfish commercially with longline gear.

All fishermen must abide by minimum size limits, and many must also abide by retention limits.

Closures prevent pelagic longline fishing in waters with historically high levels of bycatch species, including undersized swordfish.

Satellite tracking systems are mandatory on some vessels that target swordfish.

The use of circle hooks is required in commercial fisheries to increase the survival of sea turtles and other animals caught accidentally.

Commercial fishermen must attend workshops where they learn to properly handle and release bycatch, including undersized swordfish.

Observer programs provide fishery scientists and managers with needed data.

Leading the International Community
Some of these measures can be traced back to the ICCAT rebuilding plan, but many are the result of U.S.-led efforts to protect swordfish, reduce bycatch of other species, and sustainably manage fisheries that interact with swordfish.

Pearson and others also point to the key role the U.S. commercial fishing industry played in helping to establish these domestic efforts and supporting greater international collaboration.

“The United States led the charge internationally to adopt measures to recover North Atlantic swordfish,” said Christopher Rogers, director of International Fisheries. “We pressed our international partners to adopt measures U.S. fishermen were already practicing, such as catch limits, minimum sizes, recording and reducing dead discards, and appropriate observer coverage. Strong U.S. leadership helped ensure the international community shared the burden for rebuilding this iconic species.”

Support for a Valuable U.S. Fishery
In the decade since ICCAT first declared that North Atlantic swordfish are not being overfished, the United States has seen a fall in its total annual catch. In 2017, U.S. fishermen caught just 14 percent of the total swordfish catch reported to ICCAT.

There are several reasons for this decline, says Pearson, including rising fuel prices, an aging commercial fleet, and competition from often lower-quality imported frozen products.

To help more U.S. fishermen take advantage of our national ICCAT-allotted quota, NOAA Fisheries has made several changes in the last decade to commercial and recreational restrictions, such as:

Removing vessel size and horsepower restrictions on pelagic longline permits.

Increasing retention limits on some permits.

Launching a hand gear permit, allowing fishermen to participate in the fishery without spending more to buy a longline permit from another vessel.

Making it easier for fishermen to get and renew permits.

But there is more work to be done to ensure our regulatory program is effective in both maintaining swordfish populations and supporting the fishing industry. We are currently examiningwhether some area-based and gear management measures that affect swordfish fisheries could be modified in light of the success of a program that has reduced bluefin tuna bycatch.

“The U.S. fishery management process is a dynamic process,” said Pearson. “Protecting the North Atlantic swordfish population from overfishing while ensuring fishing opportunities for our recreational and commercial fishermen requires the best available science and responsive management.”

Florida’s Saltwater Fisheries Boundaries

How Florida’s Saltwater Fisheries Boundaries Came to Be
from The Fishing Wire

Florida’s Saltwater Fisheries Boundaries

When you are on a boat, it’s hard to imagine boundaries. The sea is the sea. Wave after wave, it all looks the same. Above-water landmarks are few and far between. There are no signs that say, “now entering federal waters.”

Regulatory boundaries are sometimes hard to fathom. In Florida, one of the biggest fishery management boundaries is that between state waters, where the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) makes the regulations, and federal waters, which are mostly managed by federal fishery councils and NOAA Fisheries with input from FWC. Sometimes regulations are the same in both state and federal waters, but not always, which is why it is important to know there is a line, and where that line is.

Florida is the only state where that boundary shifts depending on which coast you are on. State waters in the Atlantic extend out to 3 nautical miles, while in the Gulf they extend out to 9 nautical miles. But why, as many people ask? How did this come to be?

State boundaries in open waters of the United States first began to be defined in the 1940s, mainly due to concerns about rights for oil beneath submerged lands.

In a 1947 case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against California saying the federal government possessed rights in all submerged lands of the Pacific seaward of the low-water mark. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled similarly against Louisiana and Texas.

Congress reacted by creating the Submerged Lands Act of 1953.

This act declared that states owned the submerged lands, and the natural resources within, out to three geographic miles. The act included a provision that a state’s boundary could be extended if it was beyond three geographic miles from the coast prior to when statehood was achieved.

Florida immediately asserted their boundary went beyond 3 geographic miles before it achieved statehood in 1845 and that Congress approved its boundary when Florida was readmitted into the Union after the Civil War. The claim did not make it to the Supreme Court until 1960, where it was proven that Article I of Florida’s Constitution (1868), which was approved by Congress, described the boundary off Florida’s Gulf Coast as “three leagues from mainland.”

Florida’s Atlantic coast boundary was settled at 3 geographic miles from shore.

One nautical league is equal to 3 nautical miles, therefore the “three leagues from mainland” is equal to the 9 nautical miles we manage in the Gulf today. For fishery management purposes, federal waters extend from where state waters end out to about 200 nautical miles (less so in areas where our waters butt up against other country’s waters such as in the Caribbean). Federal waters are also known as the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ. For more on the history of this nation’s boundaries, visit

For those interested in measurements, while we use nautical miles today, you may have noted that the original language used geographic miles. There’s really not much of a difference between the two. A geographic mile ( 1 minute of arc along the Earth’s equator) is slightly longer than a nautical mile (a geographic mile is 6,087.08 feet and a nautical mile is 6.076.11549 feet), but the difference between 9 geographic miles and 9 nautical miles is less than 100 feet. (Note a geographic mile is also different than a standard English mile, 5,280 feet.)

Another interesting tidbit comes from the creation of the 3-mile limit itself, which sources say stems from how far a cannon ball could reach when fired from land. It is also said that, due to the earth’s curvature, 3 nautical miles is how far it is to the horizon.(Of course, this depends on how high your eyes are above the water.)

For fisheries management, we’ve created many additional boundaries throughout the years. We have species-specific management zones for fish such as red drum, and FWC manages some species in both state and federal waters. We take into account many different aspects when creating these boundaries, including differences in fish populations, fishing practices and stakeholder needs.

There may not be signage, but it’s always important to know where you are. State/federal boundary lines are marked as the natural resource line on NOAA nautical charts and these lines are also preloaded on most marine GPS units.

Need a map? Check out our maps page at by clicking on “Recreational Regulations” and “Fisheries Maps.”

Have a question about marine fisheries regulations? Want to know more about catch and release? Send your questions, photos and fishing tales to Make sure your photo meets our photo requirements by visiting and clicking on “Saltwater” and “Submit a Photograph” under “Get Involved.” Don’t forget to record all of your catches on the iAngler phone app or at And learn how to submit your catches and get rewarded through our Saltwater Angler Recognition Programs at

The quarterly Gone Coastal column is one of many ways that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Division of Marine Fisheries Management is helping recreational anglers understand complex saltwater regulations and learn more about saltwater fishing opportunities and issues in Florida. We are also available to answer questions by phone or email anytime, and we would love the opportunity to share information through in-person presentations with recreational or commercial fishing organizations. To contact the FWC’s Regulatory Outreach subsection, call 850-487-0554 or email