Reel Time: It’s only common sense 

It’s only common sense
Boaters gathered near Jewfish Key this weekend. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

I’ve resisted writing about the Covid-19 threat and how it affects fishing and our lives here in Florida. Until now. Why the change? I think it’s incumbent on everyone to have a frank discussion of the potential threat this disease poses and to attempt to disseminate some information and ideas about the possible effects of the pandemic on those who love the outdoors.

It’s only common sense
Boaters trespassed on Passage Key this weekend. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

If you’re like me – and I assume you are since you’re reading this column – you try to get out and enjoy the Suncoast at every opportunity. The unusually long stretch of beautiful weather and clear blue waters increases the volume on that siren song. Herein lies the problem and the need for exercising what seems to be in short supply, personal responsibility and common sense.

Consider the issue of boating and the closing of local boat ramps. While this move by local officials was deemed (correctly in my opinion) necessary to help stem the potential for the spread of the disease, it’s far from a perfect or complete solution. For one, it isn’t and probably never could be equitable to all parties. While some commercial interests are allowed to use a couple of local launch locations, working guides can’t. Add to that equation the fact that many boaters have vessels on lifts and access to private ramps and the tip of an ominous “iceberg” looms large over the boating community.

I’ve personally observed some troubling scenes this past week. On Saturday and Sunday hordes of boaters descended on popular spots like Passage Key, a restricted National Wildlife Sanctuary in Tampa Bay, and the Longboat Pass sandbar near Jewfish Key. While many boaters did respect the call to social distance, a distressing number of boaters did not, potentially endangering not only themselves but anyone they might come in contact with. This behavior threatens those who do follow the rules, not only with infection but their ability to responsibly enjoy the outdoors.

Here are a couple of suggestions of ways to safely and responsibly appreciate the weather and outdoors we’ve been blessed with. If you own a boat and have access to the water, go out by yourself or with no more than one or two other anglers if you have a large boat. If you do fish with someone else remember how easily this disease spreads and follow CDC guidelines and take the proper precautions.

If you’re an Island resident, try walking the beach. Besides snook in the surf you might encounter pompano, flounder and redfish, especially around structure. The same goes for access points in the bay where you can wade the flats for redfish, trout, snook (catch and release only) and a host of other species. There are also the local bridges that provide access to some excellent fishing opportunities for all local species including Spanish mackerel, which are excellent eating when prepared fresh.

Whatever your passion, please be cognizant of the threat this disease poses if we are not vigilant. So far, we’ve been spared from the full effects of the global pandemic but I fear the worst is yet to come. How we conduct ourselves now can have far-reaching effects in the future. Of course, there’s the possibility that we might be spared the worst of the outbreak. I hope I’m wrong about the threat, but I’d rather be wrong and safe than dismissive of the risk and reap the potential grim results. A quote by the fly fishing savant Lefty Kreh keeps coming to mind – “It’s only common sense, only common sense ain’t so common.”  Please do your part, it could mean your life or the life of one you love.