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FISHING IN FLORIDA
by
Capt. Tony ALLEN
formerly of "Electric Blue", Port of Plymouth, United Kingdom.
(US Coastguard Certified Captain #1139644 TWIC CARD HOLDER,  R.Y.A Yachtmaster Offshore)
This account is when I fished on the Gulf Coast of Florida


 

Find more about Weather in Riviera Beach, FL
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Many people may not realize but FLORIDA is about the same geographical size as the UK, albeit a different shape. The differences probably stop there, especially where the weather is concerned. Like the UK we also have different seasons, but not so dramatic. The telling differences are the sea temperatures that occur through the seasons. Fish are very sensitive to these temperature changes and the species that may be captured throughout the year vary with these temperature changes.

Before I go any further I should also tell you Florida is the lightning CAPITAL of the WORLD and we have frequent and severe thunderstorms especially in the rainy season which are the summer months. If you are in the vicinity of a storm seek shelter immediately. We have many people killed each year as they do not see the potential harm of lightening. It can strike you from over 20 miles away! As an example never stand by a parked vehicle when there is a storm around as you may get hit. And the safest place is inside a car as it acts as a Faraday Cage.
Want to see where the lightning is today. Just look here http://www.flamedia.com/lightning/light.htm (Hit the cancel button if you get a login request)

I will now attempt to give you a taste of fishing in Florida. This story starts of on the Gulf Coast.

St. Pete Beach

I used to fish on the Gulf coast from the Clearwater area, which is roughly 75 miles from Orlando and Disneyland. Hence the popularity of the area of the area with visitors. If your family does not like fishing you can leave them at the beach for the day and we have great beaches.

Dave Owen from Plymouth, UK with a Barracuda

Business end of a Barracuda

One thing the visiting anglers should be reminded of is that the fishing on the west coast is very different to the fishing on the east coast of Florida. The main reason is that the water depth on the west coast (Gulf of Mexico) is essentially very shallow unless you travel out to 100 miles and because of this the sea temperature warms very quickly during long periods of sunshine. As an example here in the Gulf of Mexico off Clearwater in July 2003, the water temperature averaged about 86.5 degrees , now that's like getting into your bath! During 2005 when we were are having a heat wave countrywide the water in the Gulf I am told has reached 88 degrees! On the 8th July 2007 we were not having a heat wave and I see the sea water temperature was 88 degrees! So high sea temperatures are not unusual here, but they are hurricane fuel!

The predominant species during July are the ever present Barracuda, Atlantic Bonito and Blue Bonito (Little Tunny). Fishing in the hot summer months can be difficult due to the water temperature as the fish move off to the coolness of deeper water or migrate North. However Amberjack fishing can be very productive but each angler may only retain one and it must be over 28 inches. So if you want to keep one you must decide at each capture whether you are going to return or retain it and maybe catch a bigger specimen.

Amberjack
Dave Beer from Plymouth, UK.

Mangrove Snapper

 Little Tunny

Jack Crevalle

Red Grouper

Porgy

Red Grouper may be also captured out in excess of 100 feet of water and that's a minimum of nearly two hours travelling time by the average vessel. Grouper fishing can be difficult at times in Gulf waters as strict conservation measures are sometimes in place, with a total ban on all grouper fishing at times. If your thinking of coming here for Grouper fishing in November & December of each year you may be disappointed as there again may be a TOTAL BAN on Grouper fishing for SPORT FISHING VESSELS.

Jolthead Southern Flounder

 

If your after exotic species of fish such as Marlin, Yellow Fin Tuna, Wahoo, Dorado and Sailfish you are unlikely to catch them in the Gulf of Mexico aboard a charter boat, unless you are prepared to travel out to a region known as the "steps" which starts at some 124 miles offshore! Now your talking of 6 hrs steaming. So where can you catch these fish in Florida? The answer is on the east coast, especially down in the Keys area, around places like Islamorada and Marathon. Here you have the Gulf Stream which moves northwards at a steady 4 knots and is colder water. These areas besides having deep water have plenty of structures like artificial reefs some of which hold several wrecks. Many of these have been purposely sunk to provide habitat for fish. These exotic species love these temperature variations and look to ambush their prey here.

So what else do we catch. Like I said earlier it's seasonal and Black Grouper are the target earlier in the year from January to about May. Now these fish can grow to enormous weights and the ones shown in our pictures could be called classified as small! I could show you larger specimens but these shown below are of a typical size. All of the fish shown in the pictures were captured on ELECTRIC BLUE.

Black Grouper Yellowtail

Dorado (Dolphin Fish)
John Fall from the UK

Black Grouper

Amberjack

Gag Grouper

During the winter months and into May we are also visited by Blackfin Tuna. These fish don't grow to the size of some of there cousins but they are great fighters. Their weight is around 30lbs and they all look as if they came from the same mold. In fact everyone I have captured weighed about that weight. Our best day for catching this specie has been seven fish but you have to be out early to be successful. And yes we get a lot of women fishing here in Florida both young and old.


Typical 30lb Blackfin Tuna's. Yes, we get lot's of lady anglers.

We do get visits of what we term chicken sized Dolphin (Dorado Fish or Mahi-mahi) fish but they seldom average more than 10lbs in weight. Most are around the 4lb size. These fish are the fastest growing fish in the sea and reach weights of nearly 100lbs. The are also reported to be the second fastest swimming fish in the sea. They are great table fare and a favourite here in Florida. They change colour after they have been captured and I have yet to see a big specimen.


Captain Tony ALLEN
with a reasonable sized Dorado (Dolphin Fish)

Early on I mentioned exotic species. Well, occasionally we do capture them, but they are few and far between. I have captured and released one small Sailfish since I have been here and the the last monster I saw was a 93lb Wahoo when offshore trolling at about 50 miles. This fish  caused somewhat of a stir in Johns Pass, Clearwater as no one had seen such a large specimen for many years. Most average around 60lbs.

Steve Armstrong with a
93lb Wahoo
captured in the Gulf of Mexico

John Fall from the UK with a
Southern Sting Ray. We caught this
on a bad weather day at the Skyway
Bridge


Some other colourful fish you may capture during the summer months are members of the snapper family and there are plenty of them. Our picture shows these beautiful American Red Snappers. Unfortunately there is now a long closed season for red snappers so you may be out of luck fishing for them.


American Red Snappers captured by
Steve Armstrong of Clearwater and Steve Barrett from Plymouth, UK.

I suppose the locals favourite fish is the King Mackerel also know as Kingfish. Now these fish should not be confused with the English mackerel variety as they grow to some 100lbs and can cut wire line with their teeth. They are predominantly a winter fish for Florida's Gulf coast but are occasionally captured during the summer. As for table fare, to me they are an acquired taste as they have rather strong flavour. To eat them, I think you need plenty of sauce!

When they are around in numbers it's not unusual to catch the maximum in double time. If you have six anglers, that's 30 fish!

 
Typical school size King Mackerel


And you may see a sky like this on the way home

I should also mention Sharks..........yes we have a large number of these here and people get bitten each year, some fatally so. The most common species are Bull Sharks, Lemon, Blacktip, Nurse and Hammerhead.

One word of advice I would give is DO NOT GO SWIMMING IN THE INTRACOASTAL WATERWAY as it has been proved that we have a large number of these predators cruising this area. Recent catches of Bull Sharks of some 500lb captured in 20 feet of water must strike fear in anyone as our picture shows. So you could catch a monster from the shore and here are two pictures to prove it.


This Bull Shark of some 600lb + was captured in June 2007
in the Intracoastal Waterway near Venetian Isles.

This guy captured this Bull Shark from his back yard in June 2007!

From August 2015 we will be Chartering from the Lake Worth Inlet Area. Watch our main page for further information as to HOW TO FIND US.


Artificial Reefs & Conservation

So what is the difference between sea fishing in the UK and Florida. In my book the major difference is conservation and the building of fish habitats. (Artificial Reef & Wreck Sinking's) In the UK we only have one, HMS Scylla, but that is really for the diving fraternity.

So where do we start. If you go back twenty years ago the state of inshore and offshore fishing was at an all time low in Florida with certain fish stocks under severe pressure.

There has been in a short time of (7) seven years, a complete turn around with large stocks of Redfish and Mullet for the inshore fisherman. Scientists say it's an all time record! And I have witnessed the shoals of Red Drum, which are really difficult to describe to someone. Just fish everywhere you looked and all between 20 to 30lb in weight.

We have also seen the appearance this year of more Sailfish in the south of Florida and the catching of Swordfish has occurred off Miami to the Keys. They even run Charters for them at night now.

So how has this happened ? For a start all netting is banned in state waters. Just imagine that occurrence in the UK. What a difference it would make. Also Florida has "no catch areas" for commercial fishing such as the Florida Middle Grounds. Only Charter and private boats are allowed to fish in this vast sea area. The dry Tortugas are also now off limits TO ALL CRAFT fishing. You even have to have you gear stowed if you pass through the area, that means rods & reels must be down below.

CONSERVATION AREAS OF FLORIDA

The Madison - Swanson Reserve

Located roughly 50 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida, the Madison-Swanson Experimental Reserve is one of the two marine protected areas established in 2000 in the Northeastern Gulf to protect spawning populations of grouper.


Grouper Ridge

Prominent within the 115-square-mile Madison-Swanson Reserve is a limestone ridge, thought to be the remnants of a 15,000-year-old coral reef. Florida State University researchers have identified 15 sites along the ridge where gag grouper aggregate each year to spawn. Diagram above.

Florida Marine Protection Zones
Dozens of areas off Florida's coasts are managed by the federal government to protect fisheries or fragile marine or estuarine areas. Shown here are some of those key sites.
 

A1/A2: DeSoto Canyon Closed Area - est. 2000; 32,800sq. mi. (both zones) - closed to commercial longlining
B: Madision- Swanson Experimental Reserve - est. 2000; size: 115 sq. mi - closed to all bottom fishing
C: Steamboat Lumps Experimental Reserve - est. 2000; size: 104 sq. mi. - closed to all bottom fishing
D: Florida Middle Grounds Habitat Area of Particular Concern - est. 1984- size: 348 sq. mi. - closed to bottom long lining, trawls and fish traps. (We regularly fish in this area)
E: Tortugas Shrimp Sanctuary - est. 1981 - size: 3,652 - closed to all shrimp trawling
F1/F2: Tortugas Ecological Reserve - est. 2001 - Size 260 sq. mi. - closed to all fishing
G. Dry Tortugas National Park - est. 1992 - size: 101 sq. mi. - open to sport fishing only in restricted areas
H: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary - est. 1990 - 1,461 sq. mi. - includes 23 separate no-take fishing zones; closed to commercial fishing
I: Biscayne National Park - est. 1968 - size 284 mi. - closed to commercial fishing
J: Everglades National Park - est. 1934 - size : 2,359 sq. mi. - closed to commercial fishing
K: Oculina Bank Protected Areas - includes: Oculina Banks Habitat Area of Particular Concern - est. 1984 - size 35.5 sq. mi; Experimental Oculina Research Reserve - est. 1994 - size 208 sq. nautical miles - both areas closed to all bottom fishing and trawling.

 


On the left the second largest Mutton Snapper ever captured weighed in at 30.1lbs.
--The World Record is currently 30.4lbs--
Captured on the vessel "Tia Ryo" with Captain Tommy Butler
These fish where captured 100 miles out in 450 feet of water


Now you may believe that Charter boats do not have a detrimental effect on stocks. They do, so all vessels are subjected to CATCH LIMITS. Now if you don't think that's complicated enough........we have a saying "Take your Lawyer Fishing".  Remember that is only for one species! So the Captain of the vessel needs to be on his "toes" as we regularly get stopped for catch inspections.


A 92lb Grouper captured on the vessel "REALITY CHECK"
with Captain Tommy Butler 100 miles offshore.

I read in the UK Press that some pundits believe that fish limits would have a detrimental effect on angling. Perhaps there is a different mentality here in the USA as a recent survey conducted by the Saltwater Sportsman suggests that 42% of Anglers practice "catch and release".  I suggest the UK has to follow and the British Conger Club has started the ball rolling with its recommendation of CATCH & RELEASE.

Perhaps I can ask a question, "Where do all those large Bass catches go", I read about in the UK angling press ? You can only eat so many. I'll tell you where they go.......on the "black market" depriving the bona fide fisherman of the proper price for his catch, on the official market. Regrettably it's been happening for years. Try and sell fish here in the USA and you could either loose your boat or end up in jail. It's a serious offence. No Charter Boats can sell fish, it's classified as a conflict of interests.

So what are the other differences. Everyone one has to pay to fish in the sea! Wow I hear you say, that's a bit stiff. Maybe but it sure has its benefits. First of all to fish in the sea you must have a fishing license. There are some exemptions and Licenses are available from the county tax collector offices and many bait & tackle shops.  You may also purchase them by phone on 1-888-347-4357 or online at www.myfwc.com
 

Nonresident Saltwater Fishing Licenses

   

Nonresident Annual Saltwater Fishing

$47.00

Nonresident 3-Day Saltwater Fishing

$17.00

Nonresident 7-Day Saltwater Fishing

$30.00

When you hire a Charter Boat, the license is included in the Charter fee. License costs are shown in the table below.

FLORIDA FISHING LICENSE PRICES

The license for Florida residents to catch saltwater fish from shore or a structure affixed to shore cost $9 last year, but beginning July 1, it's free. Other license and permit fees will increase on that date.

The Florida Legislature repealed the shoreline license fee. However, legislators retained the license requirement to prevent a more-costly federal registration fee from taking effect in Florida.

Resident anglers who order the shoreline license, or other licenses or permits, over the phone or Internet will still have to pay a processing fee to the vendor. The processing fee is $2.31 for Internet sales at

www.fl.wildlifelicense.com or $3.33 for phone sales at 888-FISH FLORIDA (888-347-4356).

All permits and related licenses are available for purchase online at www.fl.wildlifelicense.com, at county tax collectors' offices, many retail outlets that sell fishing and hunting supplies, or by calling toll-free 888-HUNT-FLORIDA (486-8356).
 

Florida Resident Licenses  
One-year License $17.00
Five-year License $79.00
Combination Licenses (Florida Residents Only)  
Fishing-Saltwater/Freshwater $32.50
Fishing-Saltwater/Freshwater & Hunting $48.00
Saltwater Shoreline license FREE
Lifetime Saltwater Fishing License  
Age:0-4 years $126.50
Age:5-12 years $226.50
Age:13 or older $301.50
Lifetime Sportsman's License  
Age:0-4 years $401.50
Age:5-12 years $701.50
Age:13 or older $1001.50
Non-Resident Licenses  
Three-Day License $17.00
Seven-Day License $30.00
One-Year License $47.00
Additional Privilege Permit  
Snook Permit $10.00
Snook Permit 5 year $50.00
Lobster Permit $5.00
Lobster Permit 5 year $25.00
VESSEL  LICENSES are required for all vessels
that charge a fee to take passengers out to catch marine
fish.
 
Eleven or more customers $801.50
Ten or less customers $401.50
Four or fewer customers $201.50

If you are not required to buy a license, you are not required to buy permits.

YOU DO NOT NEED A LICENSE IF YOU ARE:

  • You are a child under 16 years of age.  (Also exempt from federal duck stamp requirements.)
  • You are a Florida resident age 65 or older possessing proof of age and residency or possessing a Resident Senior Citizen Hunting and Fishing Certificate.  Residents age 65 or older may obtain, at no cost, complimentary hunting and fishing certificates from county tax collectors' offices.
  • You hunt or freshwater fish in your county of residence on your homestead or the homestead of your spouse or minor child, or if you are a minor child hunting or freshwater fishing on the homestead of your parent.
  • You are a Florida resident certified as totally and permanently disabled and you possess a Florida Resident Disabled Person Hunting and Fishing Certificate.
  • You are a resident who is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States, you are not stationed in this state, and you are home on leave for 30 days or less, upon submission of orders.
  • Effective Aug. 1, 2009 - You are a resident who is fishing with live or natural bait, using poles or lines that are not equipped with a fishing-line-retrieval mechanism, and you are fishing for noncommercial purposes in your home county.  However, you must have a valid fishing license to fish by any method in a fish management area. 

FLORIDA has basic Recreational Saltwater Fishing Regulations to aid conservation so that species are not over fished. Here in Florida anglers can catch some 114 species, 71 of which are regulated in some manner.

For some species there are closed seasons (RED SNAPPER) when the species may not be captured at all. Most other species have size limits which may be a minimum size or even a maximum size. There may also be a slot limit to which certain species may be taken.

All these regulations are designed to ensure that the species are not over fished and bag limits are given for most species. Unlike the UK you cannot go freezer fishing here! The accent is on sport fishing for pleasure with the added benefit that you have a few fish for the table.

WORLD JUNIOR TARPON RECORD of 223.7lbs by a 13 year old Joey Rufin fishing just north of Clearwater Beach.  This fish was captured  in 20 feet of water and 90% of the 1.5hr fight occurred in just 6 feet of water. This fish is  estimated to be
85 years old. I saw this fish, it was a
whopper!
(Picture courtesy of Don's Dock)

Jay Mastry with his 194lb Tarpon which won the 66th Suncoast Tarpon tournament in 2001.


(Photograph courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times)

Fishing near the famed Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Tampa, Florida proved to a giant first for St Petersburg angler Al Willis as he shows of this massive 233lb Tarpon captured after a 75 minute fight in June 2007.

The State Record for the species is 243 lbs and the World All tackle Record is 286lb 9oz caught by Max Domecq in Rubane, Guinea-Bissau, Africa in March 2003.

So a word of warning if your here on holiday and you decide to go fishing from the shore, make sure you have a license and secondly that you have a copy of the current fishing regulations if you intend to keep fish for the table.

Certain fish like Tarpon (pictured above) also require the angler to purchase a TARPON TAG should you wish to keep the fish. You have to purchase that before you go Tarpon Fishing!

One other detail you should be aware of, which is very different to the UK. If you go fishing in a boat, it is illegal to fillet or gut fish at sea. Fish must remain in a whole condition until landed ashore (head & tails intact). The reason for this is, if the Fisheries Patrol or Marine Police wish to examine your catch, they can be measured for size! And examine your catch they will. A patrol vessel is on duty in most ports 24/7.

Now where does all that money go! Believe it or not 1.5% is taken for expenses and the remainder goes back into fishing in the form as such things as boat ramps, fish breeding, new habitat construction and of course policing.

I just mentioned ARTIFICIAL REEFS or WRECK STRUCTURES. Florida has the largest number of artificial reefs in the world and we are still building. It also has the largest number of man made wrecks sites in the world. That is vessels which have been sunk deliberately. Unfortunately for me, they are all sunk on the east coast of Florida where the water is deeper than the Gulf. I suppose that makes sense but we could do with a few at about the 50 mile mark in the Gulf. Perhaps someone with authority may read this.

Some 24 miles off Florida's Pensacola coast in position 30.02.50N/87.00.50W on 17th May 2006 the aircraft carrier USS ORISKANY weighing in at a mere 32,000 tons was sunk as the worlds largest artificial reef in 212 feet of water.  The cost of sinking the "Mighty O" is estimated to be $19.2 dollars (About 10 million UK pounds)


27,100 ton Ticonderoga class aircraft carrier
USS ORISKANY
Dimensions: 32,000 ton - 888 feet in length - 157 feet beam

Our picture below shows the vessel "TORTUGA" which operates out of Clearwater and is responsible for the manufacture of man made reefs in the area, using old concrete culverts, drain pipes etc. The days of using old vehicle tyres (tires) of which there is a never ending source are long gone. They have proved to be a problem in the long term as you cannot anchor them to the sea bed successfully. During storms they get detached and then get washed up on our many beaches.

   
The Pinellas County vessel
"TORTUGA" in Clearwater, Florida  is used in reef construction

The second largest ship ever sunk on purpose also lies off the Florida coast in Key West. The ship is the 512 foot Landing Dock Ship  "SPIEGEL GROVE", which was formally a US Warship and cost $1.3 million dollars to sink. So as you can see it's an expensive project to say the least. But they do make money from the project as you have to pay to dive on it! They tell me it's 90 feet to the top structure.


USS SPIEGEL GROVE

And here is the next ship that was added to the Florida Artificial Reef Program. She was formerly called the USS General Harry Taylor (AP-145), decommissioned in June 1946 after which she was transferred to the US Army Transport Service and placed in commission as USAT General Harry Taylor. She was reacquired by the Navy, and assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) on the 1st March 1950 and placed in service as the USNS General Harry Taylor (T-AP-145) until placed out of service on the 19th September 1957.


 

USNS GENERAL HOYT S. VANDENBERG (T-AGM-10)

She was transferred to the Maritime Commission on the 10th July 1958, for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Beaumont, TX and mothballed. She was withdrawn from the Reserve Fleet and transferred to the US Air Force on the 15th July 1961. She was converted to a Missile Range Instrumentation Ship and renamed General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. She was reacquired by the Navy on the 13th July 1964, and placed in service by the Military Sealift Command (MSC) as USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg (T-AGM-10). Struck from the Naval Register, 29 April 1993. Title transferred to the Maritime Administration (MARAD), 1 May 1999, for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, James River, Fort Eustis, VA. A Transfer Agreement with the State of Florida was signed on the 26th January 2007 for reefing in the Florida Keys. Withdrawn from the James River Reserve Fleet on the 4th April 2006 for clean up and preparation at Colonna Shipyard Norfolk, VA. prior to sinking as an artificial reef.

There is one other benefit of fishing here in the Gulf. The water is usually calmer than that of the Atlantic Coast, but both coasts have the sun! You need to wear a hat and sunglasses all day and use plenty of sunscreen. How do I know ? I am out there most days and its boiling!

Florida .............the Fishing Capital of the World!
Here are some of the statistics of 2009 to support that claim

  • 723 of the 4,549 world records are from Florida as listed by the International Game Fish Association. This is far greater than any other state or country.

  • Florida ranks first in the country for number of people who fish in salt water (2,255,171) This is more than double any other state in the U.S. alone.

  • Florida ranks first in the country for number of days anglers spend fishing in salt water (25,139,988) This too is more than double any other state in the U.S.

  • Over three times more non resident angler trips are taken in Florida than in any other state (2.8 million)

  • Florida ranks first in the country in boating purchases such as boats ($760,000,000), outboard Motors($404,522,000), boat trailers($23,584,000) and miscellaneous marine accessories($221,479,000)

  • Florida has over 2,100 marina's, ranking it 1st in the country

  • Has the largest number of artificial reefs in the US

  • Has the largest number of man made wreck sites. (Wrecks sunk deliberately)

  • Has the THREE largest shipwrecks deliberately sunk as artificial reefs

That's just a little insight into what goes on here in Florida. If your thinking of coming, email me for advice in the area your staying. If your staying in the Orlando area it's a 1.5 hour drive to Clearwater Beach on the Gulf of Mexico and a 2 hour drive to the Atlantic coast, say Haulover Inlet. However the Atlantic Coast has deep water just minutes from the harbors. On the Gulf Coast the water is very shallow until you get out some 60 to 80 miles.

Traffic is the main problem in either direction from Orlando area! Just to give you some idea of the size of the Tampa area.................2.7 million people live here! Plymouth in the UK where I used to live has a mere population of 250,000.

Tight Lines,

Capt. Tony Allen
www.electricbluefishing.com
email: electricbluefishing@gmail.com
1st January 2017
US Coastguard Certified Captain
TWIC CARD HOLDER
R.Y.A Yachtmaster Offshore (UK)

 


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THE MOON & FISHING
SHIPWRECK LIST OF FLORIDA
FLORIDA SALTWATER FISHING REGS
SINKING OF THE USS ORISKANY
SINKING USNS GENERAL HOYT S. VANDENBERG
SHIPWRECKS AROUND THE WORLD
UNDERSTANDING AIR PRESSURE ETC
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