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

The Pleasure of Fishing: Storm-season fishing
Heed reputable weather sources, but don't go overboard

By Bill Walsh

Thursday, September 14, 2006 (Naples Daily News)

Yesterday was really something!

I fished with the nicest family from the U.K. Mom and Dad and three youngsters. We fished backwater and had nice action on snappers with a big pompano, a 6-pound black drum and four nice snapper as take-home for a couple of nice dinners. But that wasn't what made it "really something."

The "really something" part was that we never saw another boat fishing all morning! And in all the years I've been at this, that was an absolute first. We weren't buried in the mangroves either. We were in Capri Pass, Rookery Bay and behind Keewaydin Island on a four-hour morning charter.

And this took place on a morning with some storms before dawn and kind of lumpy skies, but without any serious threat of a storm with nary another living soul fishing.

So what's going on? Where is everybody?

The events that led up to this particular charter might provide some insight in response to those rhetorical questions.

The chain of events started sometime early this summer when the U.K. family, who had chartered with me in several past years, e-mailed me from home asking input as to whether they should proceed with their annual Marco Island late-summer sojourn. Apparently, their travel agency in London had strongly advised that holiday in South Florida from mid-August through October this year was to be avoided.

After all, these travel mavens pontificated, who wants to experience the hazards and storms and threat of storms on such a grand scale in that part of the world?

My e-mail response included all the reasons as to why the "avoidance" policy was ill-founded and, as they knew from prior visits, Southwest Florida in late summer and early fall had definite attraction.

I acknowledged their experience of the weather being hot and muggy and their firsthand knowledge of a very real threat of tropical storm systems. But I asked them, was there any spot along the eastern seaboard south of Cape Cod that doesn't have hot, muggy summers and potential for impact from tropical storms? There are none. Albeit, some locales have more potential than others, but none are without the threat.

So that was enough for them to follow through and book the trip here for the first week in September. Good for them!

But there were still levels of anxiety that begged for answers. As we prepared to leave the dock that morning, they let loose. Fishing should have been the primary thought, but it got mixed in with their concerns on health safety and personal safety brought on by the obvious absorption of the messages spewed by the media in their blitz of endless warnings and alerts so evident here this time of year.

"We heard that red tide is enveloping the entire coast. Are we safe and how about the fish?" A "news" report on a local TV station the prior evening sensationalized the red tide effect north of Naples with close-up coverage of dead fish accompanied by dire warnings concerning personal well being.

We spent at least a half-hour during our no-wake passage at dead slow as we talked about the red tide itself. Its a natural event accelerated by heightened nitrogen content in the water ... the acceleration, this time of year, caused by freshwater runoff from mainly upstream agriculture and scads of highly fertilized golf courses.

I assured them that even though it had been reported north of Naples, it had not reached Marco Island.

"But how can we be sure?"

We talked about the constant monitoring of the water quality off the beaches by our environmental agencies and the immediate positive reporting. We had no reports of red tide evidence as of this morning.

Also, we had no occurrence of "throat tickles" on the boat this morning, which was another good sign. When the red tide is evident and you're on or near the water, a boat wake or a water spray will send the spores airborne causing you a definite cough inducing throat tickle.

They all smiled and then asked a last red tide question: "If we catch some fish, are they safe to eat?"

A good question as they all sat there with rods in their hands. I explained that as long as the fish appeared healthy and had made the ultimately fatal move of taking your bait, the filets would be safe to eat. The spores, if they were evident, affect the respiratory system of the fish and are therein retained. As long as you partake of the filets and don't cook the entire fish, the fish is safe to eat.

We went on with our morning of solitary fishing. They, too, were in wonderment as to "Where is everybody?"

About halfway through our morning adventure, there was a thunderclap well west of the island, but still drew the attention of the family.

"The morning TV reported severe storms today, Captain. Are we safe?"

We switched from the red tide primer to the summer storms primer and went through a explanation of our rainy season. They knew it rained just about every day, but we discussed how to determine the probability of morning storms versus the almost certainty of the evening variety. The former would come from the west and the latter from the east. Checking the NOAA weather radar channel would answer the morning issue and the afternoon was always wait and see.

Assuring them that a charter captain's principal responsibility is the passengers' safety, and this morning they were in no danger, put smiles back on their faces and we proceeded with our journey.

As we headed for home, small talk led from one thing to another and drew up another concern from their "anxiety bag."

"We heard on the telly this morning that we better keep watch on this new Tropical Storm Florence. It could be a major storm. What are your thoughts?"

Back at it again. It's a wonder these folks ever got on the plane with all these threats and warnings being tossed at them.

We discussed the fact that Florence was still 2,000 miles away and all the computer models had it veering northward well off the east coast. They had access to a computer and the Internet while we chatted about going online to the National Hurricane Center Web site to get all the information they needed to stay totally informed, including the computer tracking models. Again, they smiled and looked relieved.

As the nice U.K. family signed off with thanks for the nice fishing trip and reassurance on conditions, I couldn't help but think that with all the hype plastered endlessly in the media about potentials for disaster this time of year here in Southwest Florida, it's not surprising that the area is virtually empty. Good fishing has been put on hold.

Realism is one thing, sensationalism is another; don't you think?

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