It all began for me in a 14-foot jon boat with a 3-½ horsepower kicker – my first taste of freedom.
I was about 4.
As I look back on all the years of fishing I've been blessed with, so many good times come to mind. I've fished with some of the best anglers, best writers and best friends I've had over my lifetime. A common thread that runs through the friendships, business partnerships and fishing is that each can change nearly over night. And when compared to a lifetime, the changes happen in the blink of an eye. I've learned to appreciate what we have, and strive to be a steward of the environment.
I've seen redfish nearly wiped out when the demand for these fish soared as a blackened redfish recipe came into vogue. Closure of redfish for several years and giving them game fish status, along with careful management with stringent bag and size limits, has allowed these fish to come back strong and become one of the most revered fish on the flats.
The traditional beginning of tarpon season is in May, and anglers from Boca Grande to Homosassa are gearing up for the start. These fish have life spans nearly as long as some humans. They are one of the most honored sport-fish alive. Their unmatched aerial antics and sheer power put them on a pedestal with both amateur and professional anglers who fish for them.
But as numbers dwindled and sizes of these fish declined, efforts to end kill tournaments began. Today, the spectacle of bringing these giant fish to the scale for weigh-in continues, but with different methods of transporting, handling and weighing, so as to minimize stress on the fish, allowing them to be released alive to fight again.
Now, virtually all tarpon tournaments are catch-and-release. With the help of anglers and fishing guides, studies by scientists at FWRI in St. Petersburg track these fish to learn about genetics, migration, age, release mortality and spawning habits. You can learn more about tarpon and assist the scientists by going to the following FWC link. http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/tarpon/genetics/
A few years ago, research biologists said the snook population was at an all-time high. Over the course of several days with freezing temperatures, snook took a hard hit, and vast numbers of line-siders perished during the cold. Estimates of the loss were as high as 75 percent of the population in some areas of the state.
Today, we are beginning to see a comeback of these fish, due to closure of harvest. Snook that spawned since the closure have grown 15-24 inches. Once again, snook are preparing to go into their spawning mode, ganging up in passes and along the beaches. Over the past few weeks, these fish began their transition from their spring living quarters, exiting creeks, rivers and backcountry areas. Careful release of these fish will ensure a quicker recovery.
All may be for naught if habitat is lost. Habitat destruction, loss of sea grass beds, mangrove shorelines, storm water runoff, and water pollution out of check in the early 1960s turned around with the diligent efforts of anglers, regulatory bodies and environmental groups such as Tampa Bay Watch and Sarasota Bay Watch assisting in the repair, replanting efforts and cleaning of the habitat.
It seems like yesterday when I was that kid in a small boat catching trout over lush grass beds in Gulfport. Life is a constant reminder when friends pass away, business relationships change and fishing grounds go away. It's important to maintain those fishing grounds just as you would your relationships, because life changes at the blink of an eye.