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Although not of great importance to the world of fly-fishing, recent inaction on red grouper by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council illustrates how much the federal fisheries management process needs fixing.

In July the Gulf Council -- acting for the Secretary of Commerce because the Council had blown, by most of a year, its own deadline for creating a recovery plan for red grouper -- came up with a plan that held some promise for the overfished grouper fishery. The plan was mandated by the fact that the most recent stock assessment for red grouper showed the species was overfished, and being overfished.

The penalty for stalling on creating a recovery plan is nonexistent. In fact, those who exploit the fishery -- in the case of red grouper, mostly the commercial fishing industry -- go about their merry old way with no required reduction in harvest, even while stocks shrink. Increases in fishing effort and gear modifications often make that possible.

The recovery plan has been stalled so long that now a new stock assessment is in sight, so implementation of the recovery plan has been postponed. No one familiar with federal stock assessments will be surprised if the red grouper fishery has somehow miraculously recovered to a level that does not require a recovery plan, when the new assessment is released.

Meanwhile, in Washington, a proposed amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act would make it mandatory for governors in the five Gulf Council states to submit names of commercial fishing representatives for appointment when voting seats on the Council become vacant. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (Dem.) sits on the Department of Commerce oversight committee, and is said to be considering supporting that proposal. Those who would fix the system should contact Nelson and insist on a fundamental change in the system, whereby all vested interests would be removed from regulatory (voting) positions on the Gulf and other councils.

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Gulf Coast

November 3, 2002

FishWire Coordinator: Byron Stout
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One very minor and a following mediocre cold front by the weekend of Nov. 2-3 could change the picture, but fishing prospects hardly could be better for those who would tackle the strongest and speediest of all Southwest Florida game fish -- blackfin tuna, king mackerel and barracuda.

Inshore anglers also have good prospects for snook, redfish and trout, and after a short disappearing act, tarpon. Also on the agenda, whether you want them to be or not, are arm-long Spanish mackerel, arm-wearying crevalle jacks, and ladyfish to make a fly reel sing.

Don't forget to send me your own reports, and until next week...

Go fish,

Byron Stout

Florida's Gulf Regions


Boca Grande - Charlotte Harbor

One of the finest runs of Spanish and king mackerel both are within easy striking distance of Boca Grande Pass. In fact, the Spanish are thickest on the long bar running along the northern edge of the pass's ship channel, and the kings are just offshore, out to many, many miles offshore -- as far as 40 miles, at the 20-fathom curve. However, school-size kings of 8 to 10 pounds have been most abundant in depths of 50 to 60 feet.

King mackerel in that size range are easily baited with herring imitations stripped rapidly on intermediate sinking lines that have been allowed to settle a few feet into the water column. A wire shock tippet is well advised, and flies tied of synthetic fibers will stand up best to the mackerel dentition. Blind-casting in open water will work if the fish are thick enough, but it's always best to attract and hold the big macks in a chumline comprised of live or chunked herrings, frozen ground chum and/or a menhaden oil drip, in about that order of effectiveness.

Spanish mackerel have been abundant in Charlotte Harbor from Boca Grande Pass to the point of Cape Haze, at which point other targets begin taking priority. Snook fishing for keeper-size fish from 26 to 34 inches has been much better than average, and high-slot redfish and trout also have been in good supply. All have been abundant along the eastern shore, mostly in potholes and along sandy breaks in the seagrass beds. Go with herring imitations, and live herrings for chum if you want to minimize casting and maximize catching.


Lehr's Economy Tackle


Sanibel - Captiva - Ft. Myers

Lehr's Economy Tackle in North Fort Myers reports Spanish mackerel to 30 inches, ladyfish to 3 pounds, and crevalle bigger than you really want to hook outside Captiva and Redfish passes.

"Just look for the birds," advises Lehr's owner Dave Westra. He said most anglers have been scoring with splashy rattling plugs like the Storm Rattlin' Chug Bug, but fly folk should be able to reap rewards with surface-disturbing flies -- especially those into which a rattle has been secreted.

Bonita Springs Capt. Ron LePree reports a banner week on redfish and trout, plus a 90-pound tarpon taken on 10-pound spin with no-stretch Berkley Fireline. The fish was in a pod that was rolling in a large pothole in southern Pine Island Sound, where Craig Creek of Carmel, Ind. cast one of LePree's Pine Island Pounder jigs. The Pine Island Pounder is the spinning version of a Black Death fly, tied on a 3/8-ounce Hookup jig head -- a bait that also produced two reds over 30 inches and two in the slot for Craig and Kerry Creek. LePree guided Jim Arpy of Vermont to reds up to 32 inches, and Wes Lively of Lancaster, Pa. to a red of 34 inches, plus lots of trout, ladyfish and Spanish mackerel. LePree said one big red taken on a Bendback fly made his Billy Pate reel sound like it had found its way back to the Keys and a monster bonefish.


Capt. Ron Lepree

Bonita Springs & Naples 

A tip from commercial grouper fisherman Eric Schmidt tells of massive schools of baitfish along the 20-fathom curve, from Sarasota to Marco Island. The bait is attracting huge numbers of king mackerel, blackfin tuna and even sailfish, which have been sighted working bait in pods. Schmidt also saw a free-jumping sail in 110 feet of water off Fort Myers Beach. Out in such big water, the best way to locate fish is by trolling at the highest possible speed with lures made for the task. Once concentrations of fish are located, the best way to catch them on fly is as above, for king mackerel.

Closer to shore, 12 miles off Wiggins Pass and 8 miles off the distinctive Ritz Carlton hotel on Vanderbilt Beach, Bonita Beach Capt. Dave Hanson has been using live herrings to catch as many as 25 kings on spinning tackle. Again, chum 'em up and fool 'em with whatever you want. Bonita (little tunny), giant jacks and big barracuda also should be in the mix.

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Marco & 10,000 Islands - Chokoloskee

Outdoor Resorts of Chokoloskee reports no fewer than four parties that scored with tarpon to 140 pounds over the past week. The largest was a 140-pounder released by author Carl Hiassen, fishing with Capt. Steve Huff in a bight near Wood Key, where the laid-up fish reportedly ate a fly something like a Muddler Minnow.

More precise reports have come from anglers who have been casting in the back country with two distinct types of fly. Dr. G.B. Bonard reported using Azteca Gold Diggers -- chartreuse Seaducer lookalikes tied with gold Krystalflash and gold Flashabou -- to hook tarpon tallying 15 fish, counting some that hit plugs. Bonard was fishing the Head of Lostman's River.

Closer to Choko, resident Bill Lindsay threw purple, brown and black Deceiver-type flies in the bends of the Chatham and Huston rivers to draw strikes from a dozen tarpon in the 3-foot range. The 3-footers are absolutely the best deal going on tarpon. They can hiss a fly-line like a giant, they jump like they were connected to high voltage, and they'll pull your arms off, but only for a reasonable amount of time.

All of the above tarpon also were associated with snook, most of which are running on the short side.

Fishing out of the Everglades Angler in Naples, Capt. Kevin Merritt reports five snook sight-fished on the beach at Marco Island by Butch Cone of Concord, N.C. He threw a white Polarfibre Minnow for all of the snook, up to 25 inches long, before moving into the back country of Addison Bay for a 26-inch red. Merritt also reports catching snook of 31 and 35 inches, plus some shorts, some redfish, some jacks and some Spanish, all on live bait in Caxambas Pass.

One pass north, in Big Marco, anglers have been hitting good licks on pompano, which like smallish, subsurface buggy kinds of things in amber. A woolybugger should do it.

Looking forward to those fishing reports with baited breath.

Go fish -- Byron Stout

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