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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides

Tag: southwest florida

Learning To Live With Red Tide


Learning To Live With Red Tide

February 28, 2013 | Posted by John Stevely, Florida Sea Grant Extension Agent
Concentrations of this organism (Karenia brevis) can reach millions of cell per quart of water during red tide events. Photo: FWC.

Check out the Beach Conditions Report

Since the devastating red tide of 2005, we have been fortunate in that there have only been infrequent minor red tide events along Florida’s southwest coast. During 2005, residents and tourists were subjected to what seemed like endless months of dead fish washing up on our beaches and beach-goers fled our beaches due to the respiratory distress caused by the neurotoxin produced by the red tide organism – the stench from rotting fish didn’t help matters. Newspapers trumpeted headlines about “dead zones” in the Gulf where essentially every living creature had died.

Red tide is caused by the presence of a microscopic plant-like organism that secretes a nuerotoxin.

Unfortunately, in recent months, there have numerous reports of red tide along Florida’s southwest coastline. We can only hope that we do not see a repeat of the 2005 red tide event during the upcoming year. Such severe red tides like we saw back then usually only occur once every several decades, but there are no guarantees.

Fish killed by red tide. Photo: Tony Reisinger

Red tide is a natural phenomenon.  Accounts of red tides have been reported since the days of the Spanish explorers. Currently, there is debate among scientists as to the extent to which nutrients in urban run-off prolongs and/or intensifies red tide events. Following the red tide of 2005 several local governments have adopted ordinances aimed at trying to reduce nutrient enrichment of run-off by regulating the use of lawn fertilizers. However, even if such measures prove to be effective in reducing the severity of red tide, we will never completely eliminate red tide.

Now we have a tool to help us cope with red tides. Thanks to the Internet you can quickly check the Beach Conditions Report. This website provides a real-time assessment of how severely red tide is affecting local beaches (reports on individual beaches are supposed to be updated twice a day). Information is provided on whether dead fish are present and whether beach-goers are experiencing respiratory problems.

How is this helpful? Let’s say you were thinking of spending a day at the beach or perhaps just enjoying dining at a waterfront restaurant. A few days ago or perhaps last week you remember hearing something about there being red tide in local waters. The prospect of coughing and smelling rotting fish causes you to abandon your plans. However, by checking the Beach Conditions Report you can determine if this is really necessary.

It is important to note that red tide conditions can change from day to day and from beach to beach as water currents sweep the red tide along the coast. Perhaps conditions at your favorite beach have dramatically changed in the past week or even from a few days ago. Perhaps you see that red tide is indeed present at the beach, but conditions at a beach just 10 miles away are fine and you can still take the kids to the beach. My experience has been that this is indeed possible. For example, today (2/28/2013) beach-goers at Siesta Key can expect to experience some slight respiratory distress, but everything seems fine at the Manatee Co. beaches.

We may not be able to completely eliminate red tide, but at least now you can easily obtain the information you need to make good decisions on your water related activities during red tides.

Want more Red Tide information? Check out these websites.

Charlotte Co. Sea Grant Red Tide Fact Sheet

FWC Red Tide Status Report and links to other Red Tide informational links

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January 18, 2013 Red Tide Update for Southwest Florida

by on Jan.19, 2013, under Bradenton and Sarasota, Ft. Myers, Sanibel and Captiva, Middle Charlotte Harbor, Siesta Key to Boca Grande, Tampa Bay, East and South Shore, The Sunshine Skyway and Beyond to Egmont, Upper Charlotte Harbor

A bloom of Karenia brevis, the Florida red tide organism, persists in the coastal waters of southwest Florida, with the highest counts detected this week alongshore and offshore of Sarasota County.  High concentrations were also detected alongshore of Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties. Low to medium concentrations were found in the Pine Island Sound system. 

Bloom Boundary: The red tide currently affects approximately 140 miles of coastline from Pinellas through Collier County. Respiratory irritation and multiple fish kills continue to be reported in the affected areas.

Click image for southwest coast current status report - January 18, 2013

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Charlotte Harbor and Gulf Waters Fishing Report from King Fisher Fleet, Punta Gorda, 1/2/13

by on Jan.02, 2013, under Ft. Myers, Sanibel and Captiva, Middle Charlotte Harbor, Siesta Key to Boca Grande, Upper Charlotte Harbor

Gulf of Mexico

January is a peak month for close-to-shore bottom fishing on small ledges in 30 to 50 feet of water.  Gag grouper, mangrove snapper, triggerfish, large sheepshead and grunts will make up the bulk of the catches with a few hogfish, black sea bass, yellowtail snapper and mutton snapper mixed in.  Sometimes the smaller ledges (18 to 24 inches in height) produce the best fishing since these little ledges are overlooked by many offshore anglers.  While most of the action will be near the bottom this month, there will be occasional visits to the area by schools of bonita and Spanish mackerel so it may pay to fish a freelined shrimp while you’re bottom fishing.  Some years cobia show up on offshore wrecks in January, and on some of the deeper ledges and reefs there will be a few amberjack.  Red grouper is open this month and will (probably) be closed in February and March, so get ‘em while you can.

Charlotte Harbor

More Charlotte Harbor anglers will spend more hours targeting trout  this month than any other species.  Trout will be found in canals, boat basins and waterways during cooler weather and will move out onto nearby flats after several days of temperatures approaching the 80 degree mark.  The old standby shrimp/popping cork rig is hard to beat for numbers of trout, but skilled anglers can sometimes catch more fish on jigs.  Redfish can be found in most area mangrove creeks and canals and are starting to appear upriver.  Sheepshead spawning season is now getting underway and these tasty zebra striped fish are bunching up around pier and dock pilings and on the artificial reefs in the harbor, and a few table-sized mangrove snapper are inhaling baits at those same locations.  Pompano have been on-again and off-again in recent weeks with catches made along the edges of the flats which border the ICW and, surprisingly, back in some of the larger creeks.


*Snook season closed until September 1, 2013

*Gag grouper season is closed, opens June 1

*All other grouper close Feb. 1, open April 1

*Gray triggerfish  in Federal Waters opened January 1

*Greater amberjack will close June 1, open August 1

Elissa Allen
Marketing Director

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Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida Guide Reviewed in Tampa Bay Times, 12/7/12

by on Dec.07, 2012, under TAMPA BAY AND SOUTHWEST FLORIDA

Thanks to Terry Tomalin,  Outdoors Editor at the Tampa Bay Times, for the great review of the Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida.  It’s online at:


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The Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida–On Bookshelves Fall 2012


I just received the art for the book cover and am in the process of reviewing a final proof of The Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida.  The University of Florida Press has the book scheduled for release in the fall.  The book will be available from local and national booksellers, as well as at marinas and fishing retailers.

The book  will offer the user detailed and authoritative information on the many aspects of fishing in the Gulf of Mexico from Chassahowitzka to Chokoloskee, Florida.  The larger area wis divided geographically for chapter purposes and discussed in terms of both inshore and offshore sportfishing, with special attention given to presenting ‘local knowledge’ to the reader.   An introduction to the region as well as informative and instructional coverage of subjects such as safe boating, fishing etiquette, knots, ‘catch-and-release’ and fishing regulations will also be included.

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All About Sheepshead- Catching, Cleaning, Cooking


Here’s an excerpt from The Saltwater Angler’s Guide’s  chapter, “It’s all about the fish…” To learn about other species, get the book by clicking on the link to Amazon.com on the right side of this page.

Sheepshead, found all along Florida’s west coast, are legendary bait stealers.  During most of the year, these small-mouthed fish inhabit coastal oyster and rock bars, dock pilings and rock jetties searching for their favorite prey–crustaceans, including small crabs, shrimp and even barnacles.  It’s these smaller fish that are very difficult to catch, as their ability to crush bait, swallow the meat, and spit out the exoskeleton (with the hook!) is unrivaled.  Small hooks and small baits, such as fiddler crabs and cut shrimp pieces, are the key to catching close-to-shore sheepshead.  Patience helps, too.  Learning to feel the signature bite of a sheepshead takes time, and you’ll likely miss a few before you get into their rhythm.  And, while the size limit on sheepshead is 12”, a fish that size yields very little meat upon cleaning.

It’s the bigger spawning sheepshead, usually found during the late winter or early spring, that excite gulf anglers.  These fish, found mostly in deeper water and around structures such as rock piles and old navigation markers, sometime reach weights of 10 pounds, or more.  When their spawning ritual begins, these big sheepshead will mill around the structure and seemingly eat any bait presented them.  Chumming with crushed crabs, oysters or shrimp heads will increase the feeding frenzy, but don’t over-chum.  They’re hungry, but they do get full!  As spawning fish are larger fish, their mouths are bigger and most anglers rely on whole live shrimp as bait.  A simple ‘knocker’ rig and a sturdy #2 hook is sufficient, but many anglers simply thread a shrimp, tail-first, onto a 3/8-oz jig head. The advent of braided line has certainly hurt the sheepshead population in the last few years, allowing anglers a better feel for what’s going on down below.  Many sheepshead ‘experts’ agree that you have to set the hook on a sheepshead BEFORE he bites, or you’ll miss the hook-up!

Sheepshead are delicious to eat (fried or grilled), but as difficult to clean as they are to catch.  Big boned and heavily scaled, the meat-to-total weight ratio of sheepshead is low (about 33% yield of meat is average), and most anglers opt for electric knives at the cleaning table. And, no matter how good the meat, cleaning the unrealistic legal limit is a chore.  Take what you can eat that night and NOT the 15-fish limit, remembering that big spawning sheepshead represent the future of the fishery.

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Capt. Tommy’s ‘Saltwater Angler’s Guide to Tampa Bay and Southwest Florida’ Delivered to the Publisher, 1/28/11


It’s finally researched and written.   The manuscript for the next Saltwater Angler’s Guide (which covers the Gulf from Bayport to Chokoloskee, and includes Pasco, Hernando, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier Counties) has been delivered to the University Press of Florida.  I’m not holding my breath regarding the actual publication date, but this big step is out of the way.  There will certainly be several edits and lots of proofs.  Maybe in the fall???  Stay tuned.

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