Florida knows hot to cater to anglers

Paul
Paul Smith
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I completely missed the food fishery. In early May, I bought a new outboard engine for my boat and didn’t get to catch one single cod during the first three weeks of this year’s recreational fishery. Oh well, I’ll be ready to go for the September leg of cod fest 2012.

I booked a three-week Florida vacation for my wife and me back in February during an Air Canada seat sale. As bad luck should have it, our time away coincided exactly with the food fishery. I wish the timing of recreational cod fishing could be announced earlier in the year or kept to the same dates each summer. That way we could plan our vacations around it.

I think the dates for this year’s fishery were announced in mid May. I had my motor bought and my flights booked. If I waited until the food fishery announcement to book a vacation, there would certainly have been no early bird specials. Maybe we could put some pressure on our federal MPs to get a fire lit under DFO to announce those dates early in 2013, or designate the same time frame each year.   

So, I roamed around Florida while my friends angled for cod back home. Although I did do my fair share of fishing in Florida, mostly fly fishing.

I had the opportunity to fish on the famous Marquesas Keys, about 30 miles to the west of Key West by boat. It was blowing a stiff breeze the day I went and the ride out in an 18-foot high powered flats skiff was quite the experience. I’ll save that story for another day, maybe when the cold winter wind is whipping around.

A story of casting to tarpon and permit inside a lush tropical atoll might warm our bones just a bit, maybe even inspire a few adventurous souls to make the trip.

 

Well managed

In Florida, they take their fishing very seriously. I think we can learn a few things from the way they run their state fisheries for both fresh and saltwater species. It’s so convenient to get a licence, and all the regulations are very well explained both online and in free publications available at all tackle shops and tourist centres.

They have dozens of species to manage and they keep it very well organized. We have just a few and it’s often quite mixed up and confusing. Those are stories I will also tell another day.

If you are in Southwest Florida on vacation, you should put aside a day to go fishing on the Sunshine Skyway Fishing Pier — or piers, I should say. There are two, one on the north side of Tampa Bay and one on the south. They are the longest fishing piers in the world, quite an experience and sight to see. You can literally drive out on the pier and have a tailgate sort of fishing party. Bring an umbrella, some folding chairs, a cooler full of drinks and lunch, and fish to your heart’s content. It’s fun for the whole family and a lot cheaper than the Disney theme parks.

You can catch grouper, snapper, different sorts of mackerel, cobia, king fish, sea bass and tarpon. That’s by no means a complete list. You might also snag a shark if you feel so inclined and bait up correctly.

Both bait and equipment is available at the pier, which has a fully equipped tackle shop and restroom facilities. Rod rental fees are $8 per 24 hours and bait is about $4 per bucket. The only other cost is $4 per motorized vehicle and $4 per adult. Kids under 5 years are admitted free and children from 6 to 12 years are charged $2. All fares are for 24 hours and you can come and go as you please in that time period without paying another dime.

As a bonus, the Florida sunset viewed from the Skyway is absolutely amazing. It is really something worth doing.

How did this all come about? It’s actually a very interesting story.

The north and south fishing piers are actually the remaining approaches to an older cantilevered bridge that was built in 1954 and collapsed in 1980.

One of the bridge’s main supports was hit by a ship. On May 9, 1980, during a storm, the freighter MV Summit Venture went off course and collided with a support column.

A full 1,200 feet of the bridge, along with 10 cars and a Greyhound bus plummeted 150 feet into Tampa Bay. A total of 35 people lost their lives. Just one survived the tragedy: Wesley MacIntire. His car landed on the deck of the freighter.

The new Sunshine Skyway Bridge that we cross today if we drive Interstate 275 that connects Tampa and St. Petersburg with points further south was opened in 1987.  It is a magnificent structure and is third on the Travel Channel’s top 10 list of the world’s bridges. Its columns are designed to withstand shipping collisions.

What’s left of the old bridge is now the Skyway Fishing Piers with parking for 571 cars. Yes it is big; maybe now you are appreciating the scale of this fishing opportunity.

What I find even more amazing is that the Florida government awarded a contract to have the fallen and demolished part of the old bridge strategically salvaged and sunk to create improved angling opportunity for Floridians and tourists visiting the Sunshine State. Artificial reefs were built from the debris, away from the shipping channel of course, to create habitat for game fish.

I really can’t see our government, either federal or provincial, taking that sort of initiative to create angling opportunity for either us homefolk or guests. But maybe I’m wrong. At least announce the food fishery far enough in advance so we can plan our holidays.

And incidentally, you don’t even need a fishing licence as long as you do all your angling from the pier. They have a state licence that covers all visitors.  

 

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every

opportunity. He can be contacted

at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: Air Canada, Travel Channel

Geographic location: Florida, Tampa, Marquesas Keys Key West St. Petersburg Sunshine

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