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The Pleasure of Fishing: Restrictions ensure quality of fishing now and in the future
By BILL WALSH, Special to the Islander
December 10, 2004

The caller that evening started abruptly.

"This is Ed Knorr," he said. "Do you remember me? I was one of your regular customers way back in the early '90s."

Stretching a bit, I countered with, "Absolutely, Ed, nice to hear from you again. What can I do for you?"

Ed proceeded to recount memories of our past trips, which I could vaguely recall. Finally, he booked a trip for himself and his sons.

"I haven't been on the water here since the early '90s," he lamented. "But I'm looking forward to the trip. It will be just like old times!"

"Well, kind of, Ed. See you and the boys next week."

As they sauntered down the dock that morning, I couldn't help but feel a twinge of that flawed intelligence that blurts out silently: "My, how they've aged; but thankfully, I'm still the same."

Ed was recognizable, but he had added considerable girth, and his two little boys now looked like the left side of the Packers offensive line.

After our hellos, we got under way, and Ed expressed amazement at all the development in Southwest Florida.

"I sure hope the fishing hasn't changed along with the landscape," he said.

I assured him that even with the increased fishing pressure, things were pretty much the same and maybe even a little better.

We went over the target list for the backwater trip that morning, which included the wintertime gang: sheepshead, black drum, snapper, trout, whiting, some redfish and pompano.

"Pompano! That's great! We hardly ever saw them around here in the early '90s," Ed said. "What changed to bring them in here?"

For the next 10 minutes we talked about the very positive recreational fishing changes brought about by the net ban in the mid-'90s. That referendum, which outlawed the use of gill nets in inland waters, did a marvelous job of reconstituting stocks of fish, including pompano, on both coasts of Florida.

"They were always there, Ed," I said. "It was just that the netters would slaughter the schools of pompano so they never had a chance to school up in the passes and thrill the recreational hook-and-line angler. But all that's changed now, as you're about to witness."

Conditions were just about perfect that morning for drifting the pass and giving the Knorr family its first taste of the pompano catch. A moderate incoming tide was complemented by nice, clear water and a mid-60s temperature.

We deployed light-tackle rigs with 12-pound test and three-eighths-ounce jigs tipped with shrimp. We started our drift just at the vortex of the water current along the inside edge of the channel.

My instructions to "try to get that jig to just kiss the bottom and then lift a foot or so" were hardly complete when the drag screamed on one of the boys' rods. Fish on!

After strong runs and an exhilarating fight, we netted a beautiful silver and yellow pompano. The boy was overwhelmed with the strength of the fight.

"I thought I had a much bigger fish on the line. That was some fight!" he said.

And so the morning went. We carefully measured the keepers to make sure we addressed the new legal size of an 11-inch fork length. Again, restrictions and changes were at play.

"The authorities just increased the take size from 10 inches to 11 inches, and reduced the bag limit from 10 to six this year," I told Ed. "With pompano available to sportfishers for the first time, the recreational fishing pressure is considerable, and they just want to find the right combination that perpetuates the stock and keeps these great fish available for us."

"That's great!" Ed said. "We're only keeping two or three for dinner. What a treat just to have them here!"

As we finished our day, we talked about other noticeable fishing improvements as a result of the net ban.

For example, there certainly is a big improvement in the size and number of speckled trout. Part of that is attributed to the net ban and part to the imposition of a closed two-month season during spawning.

We concurred that intelligent stock management will help ensure the quality of fishing for us now and for our kids and grandkids later on.

"I can't wait to get these great pompano under the broiler," Ed said as he left. "And you're absolutely right, the fishing has improved. What a nice surprise!"

"Right on, Ed!"
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