They’re not happy — not happy at all.
That’s how area bait shops are describing the feeling among anglers over the closure of trout fishing in the waters off Pasco and Pinellas counties. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission closed trout to harvesting in those waters effective Saturday. The ruling will be in effect for a year.
The closure follows the recent ban on taking trout over 20 inches. Pasco and Pinellas waters also are closed to harvest of redfish and snook, a measure adopted earlier this year and now extended until May 2020.
The closures are due to the 2018 red tide, which killed scores of fish in southwest Florida last year. Most of the kills were from Tampa Bay south, though there were traces of red tide approaching Tarpon Springs for a time.
The FWC says the closures will give fish stocks time to recover, and while many anglers understand the measure, and catch-and-release anglers applaud it, those who like to keep fish for the table are not pleased with a complete ban on all three of the primary inshore species in our waters.
“There’s still plenty of fish around, it’s just that everything’s closed down, said Capt. Griff, our source for the fishing reports from Armed Anglers, in Holiday. “Some are neutral because they never kept fish anyway, but the majority like the option of having a fish diner and they’re not happy.”
It’s much the same among customers at One Stop Bait and Tackle, in New Port Richey. Our source there, Joe, said the closures have turned a lot of anglers off to fishing at all, and there has been a slowdown at the shop this year. That will only get worse with the trout closure, he said.
“What a difference already in our sales,” he said of the foot traffic he saw at the shop over the weekend. “Guys are saying ‘why bother’ to even go out.”
Bill at Cooper’s Shrimp Shack, in Hudson, said his regulars are guys who like to keep fish from time to time and with the three primary species they fish for closed to harvest, they feel “like fishing has been taken away from them.”
Capt. Griff believes a consequence of the closures could be too much fishing pressure on other species like cobia, Spanish Mackerel, mangrove snapper, sheepshead and others. Those specie may be targeted more often, and rather than released, carried home by anglers who like to eat fish. Griff said the closures also may make criminals out of anglers who otherwise might never consider breaking fish possession laws.
“You’re going to have some guys cheating,” he said. “It’s just something you are going to see.”
Fortunately, the closures come right before the June 1 opening of gag grouper season, though for inshore anglers without boats large enough for the often long trips offshore to get gags, it isn’t a factor, said Joe. But even there, gag grouper bags have been reduced over the years, the most notable change from five fish per angler to two fish, along with a closure to harvest between Jan. 1 and June 1 for state and federal waters. Anglers have had no choice but to accept the changes, though with their sometimes substantial investment in large boats and the cost of fuel, the gag rules remain a sore spot for many.
As for the weekly Fishin’ Report, time will tell what we’ll be delivering you in the way of reports. When snook and redfish were closed earlier this year, reports from our sources on both species dropped off as anglers stopped fishing for them. Many anglers will not target trout now that the fishery is closed, so there may be a reduction in information on that bite.
At any rate, all reporting on the snook, redfish and trout fishing in Pasco and Pinellas waters from now until this time next year will be for catch-and-release anglers only. In a year, officials will determine whether the bans will be lifted or extended, though the FWC is doing monthly monitoring and there is talk of revisiting the snook closure in early 2020 to determine if the season can be reopened early.
In the meantime, practice gentle release techniques and hook removal; wet hands before touching the skin of fish and limit the time the fish is out of water before setting it free.