Winter soon to be not-so-fond memoryFrom the February 24, 2010 Issue
Captain Scott Moore
holds a healthy snook a client landed
in Charlotte Harbor. Habitat is critical
to the viability of the fishery as well as
tourism, both of which support guides,
boat builders and all business that
line Florida's coasts.
It’s the third week in February and my three decades of experience angling area waters would normally tell me to start looking for snook in shallow waters on area flats. Fishers who study the trends and pay close attention to the seasonal shifts get the jump on most anglers who started targeting linesiders in late March and April. While I won’t be looking for the same scenario this year, I feel spring closing in and know that sooner than later the winter of 2009 and 2010 will be a (not so fond) memory for the record books. There has been colder winter days in this part of Florida in the past few decades, but the stretches of days where the temperatures never made it out of the 40s is historic. The unprecedented cold took its toll on snook and a host of other species that swim local waters. During the worst days in December and January I even saw dead pilchard shiners and mullet.
The temperatures have moderated over the past couple of weeks; although temperatures continue to be lower than average by double digits. Fortunately we haven’t seen another serious fish kill and anglers are reporting some action on trout and an occasional redfish. These two important local species seem to have escaped the worst of the cold weather due to their cold-hearty nature and promise to be one of the most available targets. For now the fish that are active seem to be in deeper water according to Captain Rick Grassett. Grassett has been fishing from Charlotte Harbor to Terra Ceia Bay and finds the best action in and near the waters of the Intercoastal waterways. “There have been a bunch of ladyfish, a few trout and an occasional redfish,” reports Grassett. “I’ve seen very few fish in shallow waters, but I expect that to change when we get some sunny days that warm the flats.”
Grassett fishes artificial lures on spin tackle and specializes on fly, but admits that a few guides he knows are doing a bit better with live bait and “scented” lures like Berkley’s Gulp. “Most of the action has been around docks or just soaking bait in deeper water”, says Grassett, “for those who have the patience for that kind of fishing.”
If you haven’t been fishing I would suggest using this time to get your tackle and boat ready for the warm weather that is guaranteed in the next few weeks. It’s one of those scenarios when it will be winter one day and spring the next. It’s anybody’s guess on what we can expect with snook fishing, although I fear they have taken a substantial blow from the cold winter. The hope is that they can rebound as they did from the terrible red tide events a few years back. I fully support the closure of snook fishing this spring and encourage anglers to handle any snook they catch very carefully. I would even go so far as to encourage anglers to avoid targeting snook, giving them a chance to recover. The ones that did survive should produce off-spring that are even more cold tolerant.
The good news in all this is the expectation that species like trout and redfish that seem to have been fairly dormant this winter will feed heavily as waters warm and baitfish invade local estuaries. Add in the annual migration of Spanish mackerel, kingfish, cobia and eventually tarpon and fishermen should have some excellent opportunities in local waters.
It’s worth reminding those who make their living on the water or recharge their batteries there that we have to do a better job at being stewards of the environment. Red tide events and “historic” freezes are part of the natural order, and will continue to be in the future. What has changed is the reduction in water quality and habitat. Stressed species need clean water, seagrass, mangrove roots and estuarine rivers and bays to protect the “young of the year” that replenish stocks. Get involved in making sure elected officials appreciate the value of clean water and habitat. Let them know you support the acquisition of properties like the Robinson Preserve where habitat is being restored. Join organizations like the Snook Foundation (www.snookfoundation.org) Sarasota Bay Watch (www.sarasotabaywatch.org) and Tampa Bay Watch (www.tampabaywatch.org) that are active in restoring and creating habitat and awareness.