By Leon Archer
This has been a great winter so far for Florida.
The Sunshine State has been getting big numbers of people trying to escape the cold and snow of the frozen north; In fact, they have been getting record numbers.
Motels, hotels and resorts have been putting out ‘no vacancy’ signs on a regular basis. The number of people getting out of the cold on a permanent basis is on the rise as well. Florida’s population has inched closer to that of New York’s.
A lot of us northerners like to take our fishing tackle with us and spend some time trying to come up with the makings of a fresh fish fry. Party boats and charter boats do a brisk business, but not like they would have been doing if Florida’s fishing regulations were a little more tourist friendly.
Party boat captains are able to find plenty of fish for their customers, but many of those fish, especially the most desired species, are off limits during the winter tourist season and have to be released.
The state regulations provide the wonderful gag grouper (don’t let the name put you off, you’ll never gag when you catch one or when you eat one) and the red snapper with full protection along the Florida Atlantic Coast between December and May. That takes the two major targets off the table right through the party boat’s best season.
I haven’t been out on a Florida party boat in the last six or seven years, and I’ve only been out on one charter boat during that time. I used to go several times a year.
I enjoyed fishing for bottom fish, but I also liked to bring a few fish in with me even if their fillets ended up being pretty expensive after paying my fare on the boat.
The odds of bringing a dinner in these days have gotten a lot longer. The only bright spot is the state has decided to allow fishermen to take black sea bass this year even though the limit is a lot smaller than it used to be.
Personally, I prefer to just fish on the Indian River or off some of the ocean piers. The chance of catching large fish in the river isn’t great, and in the section near Sebastian, the odds of catching anything isn’t great either.
But from Vero Beach south, the river is still fairly decent fishing. That’s where I’ll put my efforts when I’m in Florida.
If you are thinking of visiting Florida this winter and want to do some fishing, don’t despair. Check with the local bait shops and get some advice about where to fish and what to use.
Those shop owners are probably the best source you can find, unless you have a native to show you the ropes. If you see people fishing from a bridge or a pier, stop for a bit. Watch what they are doing, what they are using for bait, and what they are catching.
Then you can visit with some of them if they are willing to share, and most are. Those are two ways that I have learned a lot of what I know about Florida fishing. Watch and learn.