March 01, 2013
By Rick Ryals
As I write this another winter has pretty much come and gone here in Northeast Florida, and I sure hope it's been the worst I'll ever see. Now most Floridians will tell you it's been a great winter with few if any freezes, and certainly none strong enough to inflict major damage, but most Floridians don't live to offshore fish, to the degree I do.
Just about every local bottom fishing seminar I help deliver, I start out by telling the attendees how lucky they are to live in Northeast Florida. "You couldn't move me to Miami on a bet," I'll tell them. "We've got 50 miles worth of territory to fish on before you ever get to the Gulf Stream, and that means 50 miles worth of hidden habitat where we can catch fish that don't see hooks every week. We actually get to find secret spots that very few other people ever fish."
Ahh for the good old days. This weekend will be the first weekend in March, and Camachee Cove Marina should be full of boats ready to hit the ocean. We should all be leaving before daylight in hopes of trolling up a few wahoo and tuna before stopping to pick our limits of snapper and grouper on the way home. My phone should be ringing off the hook with guys asking me who's hit the big ledge at Ponte Vedra ground, and is there room on either the Mayport Princess or the Majesty for somebody's six yankee cousins down from Minnesota. It seems they've eaten all the sea bass from their last trip, and they want to go again. You shouldn't be able to fit through the door at B+M Bait and Tackle. It's springtime for God's sake.
Unfortuately none of those things are true anymore. Camachee Cove is a ghostown. The Mayport Princess has cobwebs, and over at B+M Tackle it's live shrimp and MirrOlures for the guys that were buying cases of cigar minnows just a few years ago. Oh sure, there are us die hards. There are those of us who will still run 50 miles, and upon finding cold water and no pelagics, will run 50 miles back, plowing over thousands of virtual "No Fishing" signs standing guard over every single species of bottom fish we used to target this time of year.
Yes, it's springtime. When every red-blooded offshore fisherman in Northeast Florida starts waking up in the middle of the night to check the wind direction, and look over the latest satellite picture. But not this year. After spending a few hours with the head of the South Atlantic Fisheries Council today, talking about his view of the immediate future, I will now sleep in tomorrow morning. The winter of my discontent is still raging on. There's no need to look at the satellite picture. All I can see are more "No Fishing" signs.