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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
Phone: (239) 394-0608
In business since 1992 !!

On the Hook: Some rules might be a pain, but they’re also a blessing in disguise
By Bill Walsh

Wednesday, January 24, 2007 (Marco News)

Fishing rules — you know — the ones that say you can keep this but not that, or that's too little or that's too big. They are definitely a bear to keep up with.

But all those rules, along with the frequent tweaks made by the authorities are scientifically developed to keep the individual species stocking levels healthy. No argument there: We all want those future generations to enjoy the thrill of the catch. But, nonetheless, the rules are still cumbersome at times.

One of those rule "tweaks" appearing out of the blue late last year was the "pinch the tail" rule. It goes like this: If you're measuring a fish with an overall length requirement, you must pinch the fish's tail together before taking the measurement.

Pinch the tail? Why, pray tell?

As we're told, the authorities are trying to reduce the take of fish who have a slot limit, i.e. when they get beyond a certain length they have to be released. Famous slot limit fish ’round these parts are the snook, redfish, spotted seatrout and black drum.

So say you catch a 26 ½ inch redfish. Measured the old way, it was a keeper being a half inch under the upper slot limit size of 27 inches. But now, when you pinch the tail of the same fish it gains a half inch or so, goes over the 27 inch limit and back it goes. The rule definitely helps fish at the upper limit.

But how about at the other end of the spectrum? Example: a mangrove snapper with an overall length of 9 ½ inches (measured the old way) is a half inch short of the ten inch limit. But, walla….with the tail pinch it grows to 10 1/8 inch and is a keeper fish. Crazy, huh?

Well it got even crazier on a charter we had just last week.

Little Billy Franklin, at seven years old, was already a card carrying, certified, fishing nut! He was in the Franklin family vanguard that chartered on a warm day last week. The gang consisted of Mom and Dad, little Billy and his older brother and sister.

All the Franklins like fishing; Billy loved it!

Back home in the sweeping plains of the Midwest, Billy admittedly watched too many of those ESPN fishing shows after the chores and homework were done. All those hours had built his enormous attraction to redfish.

He had never even seen or held a redfish but he thought they were the "coolest" of all fish. To Billy, on this trip, getting a redfish was a must. He had it all planned. He would take pictures with it to show his buddies back home and would take the filets to a restaurant here and treat his Mom and Dad to a blackened redfish dinner this very evening.

So obviously, all the talk from the very start of the charter was about "Billy's redfish". We centered our attention, then, on working the backwaters along the mangrove islands, oyster bars and cuts that were the favorite haunts of "Mr. Red".

As we progressed through the morning, we were doing well on fish like small sheepshead. We were also catching some medium size mangrove snapper and that's where Billy learned the "pinch the tail" routine.

We worked spot after spot; we worked shrimp freelined; we worked jigs; we worked shrimp under poppers. We kept getting snapper.

We put a few of the bigger ones in the cooler — just in case. Time wore on and Billy was getting nervous. Where was his redfish?

We had reached the shank end of the trip and hadn't even seen evidence of a redfish. Billy's spirits were in a slump. His dream of the nice redfish was going up in the ether.

We made one more move to a redfish hangout famous in these parts known as "The Muddies". Aptly named after what your engine sucks up as you traverse this dead shallow spot.

We worked freelined shrimp here casting to less than a foot or two of water at the deepest part. The redfish were definitely there. You could see their tails as the scoured the mangrove roots for treats.

The whole Franklin family was working feverishly with their casting and concentration. Then all of a sudden there was a huge splash and one of the reels screamed with a strike.

Only thing was, it wasn't Billy's. It was his sisters. Erin had a redfish heading out of town and she was wresting with the struggle. To his credit, Billy dropped his rod and was at Erin's side in a flash. He would be the helper.

Erin finally managed to bring the redfish boatside and Billy as the netman swung his sister's fish aboard. Excitement swept the boat as Erin held her first redfish aloft and Billy finally got a glimse of his fishing dream. It wasn't his; but it was a redfish.

The redfish wasn't a big one and I surmised it was a borderline keeper. As usual, I put the redfish on the ruler and it measured 17¾ inches — a quarter of an inch short to keeper size. I announced same to the disappointed Franklins and stood ready to release the fish.

It was a mighty shout from little Billy:

"Hey, captain you forgot to pinch the tail."

He was right! In the heat of battle I had almost committed the ultimate faux pas. I immediately pinched the tail and our fish, albeit it medium size, made the legal limit.

Billy had saved the day. And at least part of his dream would come true when his Mom and Dad would be served the blackened redfish filets for dinner that very night.

The big part of his dream ... his own redfish would have to wait for another day.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns an established Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a current U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments or questions to

Fishing Marco Island, Everglades, Naples, the 10,000 Islands, Florida