2021 has been a crazy year for everyone. With covid restrictions, mass shortages, inflation and a slew of other issues and topics to keep the mind throbbing and stomach in knots, the one constant thing in my life has always been my affinity and desire to be on or near the water. Aside from doing both inshore and offshore charters, Ive found myself getting back to going out on the boat and just taking the time to enjoy the things I've often taken for granted. Epic sunrises and even more superb sunsets on the gulf. The time in between, watching pelicans dive bomb onto schools of unsuspecting schools of bait below. Dolphins crashing thru the shallows corralling mullet for their daily feasts. watching frigate birds do the high circle, gradually working their way down pinpointing either bait or a predator down below. Chumming up bait on the flats and seeing the amount of life that live on the flats. Watching schools of porpoises chase your boat down from a half mile away to do summersaults and show off their incredible abilities. Things we often overlook on our trips out but certainly shouldn't be taken for granted.
Our local redfish and snook have been catch and release only for the better part of 2, going on 3 years. Trout were recently opened back up with some stricter regulations... in my opinion a longer closure is warranted and justifiable, and would only increase the amount of breeding size gator trout in our area, but thats a whole different topic entirely... Our closures were caused by a slew of different things: freshwater releases, red tide, abundant use of nutrient rich fertilizers and other issues that have impacted our local water ways. However there is some good that has come out of the closures, and that is a thriving inshore fishery. The amount of quality slot and over slot redfish and snook I've both seen and personally caught tells me the fishery is headed in the right direction. As long as we can keep the water quality at or above current levels, I see good things in our future. The inshore mangrove snapper have been thick as thieves around nearly every oyster bar and grass flat, and make for some fun fishing and even better eating...
Offshore, according to NOAA, the ACL ( annual Catch Limit) for both red grouper and lane snapper has already been met by recreational anglers. When this happens, the species is closed for harvest for the remaining year. In our case, red grouper have close and will reopen January 1st, 2022. Lane snapper they are working on getting "reopened" as the ACL was approved for increase in April of 2021, but for whatever reason has not been put into play yet. NOAA dropped the ball on this big time as Lane Snapper have a thriving population.
So if we cant keep red grouper or Lanes, what do we do? I've personally shifted focus a little bit to take advantage of our amazing wreck fisheries along with the fantastic bait run inshore. The wrecks can provide you opportunities at some of the hardest pulling fish our area has to offer. Amberjack ( season closes Nov 1st) are pound for pound some of the hardest pulling fish you will ever have on the end of your line. They fight from top to bottom, kicking and running the whole time. They have truly earned their nickname the "reef donkey". Also on the wrecks, you will encounter other types of jacks such as Almaco and jack crevalle. While both provide a great fight, the Almaco definitely is better in regards to cooking and eating. Also on these wrecks working the upper part of the water column are barracuda and sharks who would love to take a bite out of your prized catch! This is abundantly clear when you hook a nice mangrove snapper or yellowtail... You better get them in quick or they become the taxmans next meal! If that wasn't scary enough, many of our wrecks hold GIANT Goliath grouper... These apex predators can grow to 600 plus pounds, and we regularly encounter and land the smaller 250-300 pounders, garnishing "oooooo's" and "wows" from everyone on board.
While we may not be able to keep a box full of grouper and snapper, we can certainly take the time to appreciate the amazing wreck fishery. Make sure to take it all in. The subtle light vibration of the rod tip with the live bait right before it gets nervous and devoured. The grunts and aches of your fellow fisherman as the rod doubles over and the drag screams out. The feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction as you realize you've won the battle of tug a war in the fishes element... The look of amazement in the eyes of everyone on board when a true giant finally breaks the surface. All things we may come to overlook or take for granted.
But not me. Not anymore...
Around the country, particularly areas north of the sunshine state, there is certain hustle and bustle as the first cold fronts have brought cooler temperatures and fall fashion trends. Hunters are getting ready for the deer rut. Leaves are turning burnt orange, reds and yellows. Some may have even already fired up the furnace or their fireplaces already to keep warm. Fall is certainly upon them.
Living in South Florida for the majority of my life, I've gotten used our version of the "changing of the seasons". We effectively have two weather patterns down here: HOT and HOTTER. It is now mid October and we just saw our first "cold dip"... we had a morning low of 66 degrees...for one morning. And that same day our highs were still in the mid eighties.
So while the rest of the country feels a definite cooldown, here, in Cape Coral, we know we are in fall because the rains have slowed down. The summertime pattern of daily 15-20 minute downpours and bone jarring lighting strikes are subsiding. The humidity is starting to subside just a little bit. Local grocery stores and restaurants are starting to push the seasonal "pumpkin spice" inspired beverages.
On the water, it is a different story altogether. The fall "Bait" is definitely here. Inshore grass flats are literally covered in premium "white bait". 3-4 inch pilchards in schools of hundreds/sometimes thousands.. along with them are a slew of predators. Spotted Sea Trout can be found waiting in potholes ready to ambush a tasty treat swimming by. Schools of feisty mangrove snappers can be seen darting in and out of the schools around oyster bars, along docks and mangrove shorelines. Snook are staged just waiting for the chance to pounce on an unsuspecting passer by. Schools of dozens, sometimes hundreds of adult, breeder redfish can be found through our region, gathering for their annual fall spawn.
The redfish are sometimes so thick, it looks like a giant cloud of copper moving thru the water. Aside from being an awesome opportunity to cast, catch and land one of these hard fighting drums, sometimes we need to remember to just take a moment and soak up the beauty of the moment and appreciate all that is nature.
Offshore, the schools of bait migrating south have begun... not because we've actually gotten our first cold front of the year as that stalled a bit north of us... but because north of us is seeing a change in water temps. As the water cools down, the bait wants to get to warmer water... which means they must come south. Hot on their heels will be mackerel-both king and Spanish. Expect to find some Bonita and even an occasional backfin Tuna. During this annual migration, look for chances at cobia. and don't forget the tax man. Anywhere there is food on the move, you can guarantee there will be a slew of sharks ready to take advantage.
This is a our version of fall. And Im loving every minute of it.
Capt Daniel Medina