Archive for March, 2010

Spring time in the keys

I am elated to announce that Saturday is the official start of spring. Hopefully you have adjusted your sleep and are now used to the extra hour of daylight since last weekend when we wound our clocks ahead one hour for daylight savings time.

The areas of the Upper Keys have been brimming with life both offshore and in the backcountry once again. It’s still on the chilly side but hearty souls have been fishing despite it for weeks and catches have been various and bountiful.

Offshore on the patch reefs and at the reef’s edge activity seems like it has been nonstop, especially off of Islamorada for those fortunate enough to have gotten out. A mix of yellowtail on the edge of the reef, big mangroves on the patches, and mutton snappers at the deep wrecks has been the constant topic of conversation at a variety of different spots and at different times of the day.

There are some big cobias traveling through the area right now. Some have been found swimming with a big whale shark or a leatherback turtle on the surface out in 200 feet, but some have been taken from a traveling stingray at or near the bottom in 30 feet of water just inside the reef.

A tuna tower with smooth-working controls is something you can take advantage of during the spring of the year when many of our fish are now migrating through or out of our area on the offshore side of the Keys.

Both offshore and in the Gulf, the Spanish mackerel continue to hang around in Florida Bay and connecting waters near Long Key even in the cooler weather. Plenty of king mackerel have been easily available off Tennessee Reef and areas to the southwest as far down as Key West.

Tunas and amberjacks are swarming at and around the hump areas off both the Islamorada and the West Hump off Marathon. Live bait is always a fun way to fish the surface of the hump areas offshore, but the butterfly jigs are producing a lot of bites as well.

Capt. Kerry Price, who is known as “Zilla” to most of his friends and fishing family, did it again with a fish as big as Godzilla.

Last week while he was guiding his guests around the hump areas to some big tunas and trying for amberjack, he noticed it was a little on the slow side. After drifting back a bonita that they had caught, back into the swift-running Gulf Stream current and right over the top portion of the hump area, they got a tug on their bait.

Over two and a half hours later, and despite the monster’s snapping jaws, Zilla reached down and pulled a 250-plus-pound hammerhead shark over the gunwale for some photo opportunities for the group. Amazingly, Zilla does it again aboard his boat the Heidi Baby. The man never ceases to amaze me.

Kids please don’t try this at home. If you do, watch your fingers around a shark’s mouth.

Good luck fishing this week. I will catch you next tide!

Best Seafood Fest yet Key West

Chamber estimates seafood fest was biggest yet
By organizers’ accounts, this year was the biggest yet for the Original Marathon Seafood Festival.

The Marathon Chamber of Commerce and the Marathon chapter of the Organized Fishermen of Florida estimate slightly more than 20,000 people attended the event held at Marathon Community Park last Saturday and Sunday. Last year, the Chamber counted about 18,000 people.

“I know we beat out last year on beer kegs,” said Chamber CEO Daniel Samess. Attendees drained about 145 kegs of beer this year.

“We ran out of everything,” said Marathon Councilman and commercial fisherman Pete Worthington. “At 4:30 we were totally out of fish.”

“What’s real encouraging is that the majority of our festival goers are from out of county,” Samess said. “It’s a real heads in beds initiative, which is great for our local economy.”

Steady crowds packed the events fields all day Saturday and Sunday while local musicians played in the amphitheater and vendors sold their wares. Climbing walls, bungee jumps and bounce rooms were just a few of the activities for children and raucous adults.

“We try to add a little bit every year,” Samess said. “We had more kids’ rides this year. We added the art guild in the parking lot. We sold out every vendor spot. We’ve been steadily increasing the quality of our vendors.”

Fishermen agreed that things are looking up for the festival.

“The quality is up. The quantity is up,” said Bennett Orr, of OFF’s board of directors. “It gives us a chance to talk to people we don’t talk to.”

The festival is a leg up during a hard time for the commercial fishing industry.

“It’s been a tough year, with the deflated prices,” Worthington said. “It kind of feels like there’s an awful lot of product coming in to the U.S. from overseas. And the restaurant business has fallen off. The only savior to the season was we didn’t have a hurricane.”

Orr stressed the fishing industry is an important part of Marathon’s history, and important to share with the community.

“Commercial fishing has been here before any tourist in town,” he said. “It supported Marathon from the beginning. We’re trying to say that this is what it’s all about. We’re just trying to remind you of our heritage.”

But sharing history isn’t all the festival allows OFF, or the Chamber, to do.

“We support every nonprofit in town,” Orr said of the funds raised from the event. “We go overboard. We’re great supporters of Marathon High School … their scholarship program. We’re dedicated to the Marathon youth club, soccer, mostly it’s all directed to the kids.”

Beyond donations to the children, the community as a whole benefits as well.

“Unused paper goods and cans go to Grace Jones Day Care center. Everything that can be is purchased locally,” Orr said.

A portion of the funds are also sent to the main state office of OFF to help cover the costs of lobbying on fisheries management issues.

The Chamber said it’s portion of funds also supports the community.

“This allows us to sponsor nonprofits throughout the year,” Samess said. “As the seafood festival is more successful, it allows us to increase our budget,” which goes to advertising the area and scholarships, among other things.

Up next for the Chamber is a new event, Conchtoberfest at Hawks Cay resort. The event will draw together the tourist resort and local businesses by hosting a themed party at a different restaurant every night after the main fair-style event at the resort.

“It’s Octoberfest with a Keys twist,” Samess said. “Keys cuisine, vendors and music.”

Samess said the Chamber is putting out a lot of new ideas, but being careful not to spread itself too thin.

“We want to focus on these new initiatives and grow them,” he said. “But I want to encourage other people to do events, like the Dragon Boats and National Pig Day. We support that as much as we can. We’re going to help with advice, direction. We’ll always be involved.”

Key West Fishing Tournament’s Kickoff 2010

Fifteen target species and $5,000 in cash prizes are to be key figures in the Key West Fishing Tournament’s Kickoff 2010 with Conchy Joe’s Marine & Tackle.

The angling action is scheduled for March 13 and 14.

Participants are to vie for cash awards for catching the heaviest dolphin, kingfish, cobia, blackfin tuna, mackerel, mutton snapper, wahoo, mangrove snapper and grunt. In addition, cash awaits the boat teams that score the most releases of tarpon, permit, bonefish, barracuda, marlin and sailfish.

Awards also are to be presented in the tournament’s junior division for anglers under age 15.

The final registration for the tournament is scheduled for 6 p.m. March 12 at the DoubleTree Grand Key Resort, 3990 S. Roosevelt Blvd.

On the following two days, anglers can fish from lines-in at 8:30 a.m. to lines-out at 3 p.m. An awards dinner is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday at the DoubleTree Grand Key.

The entry fee for the kick-off tournament is $200 per boat, with a maximum of six anglers allowed to fish per boat. Cost for the awards dinner is $25 per person.

Entries in the kickoff also are eligible for the Key West Fishing Tournament, which runs through Nov. 30 and is open to the general public. More than 40 species of fish are targeted during the Key West Fishing Tournament, with divisions for men, women, junior anglers (ages 10 to 14) and Pee Wees (under 10 years old). Visiting and resident anglers can enter their catches at no charge at tournament weigh stations during the angling challenge.

The Key West Fishing Tournament strongly encourages the release of all game fish and will not recognize any killed sailfish, marlin, spearfish or tarpon for award purposes. All participating anglers receive certificates noting their catches and qualify for a variety of prizes.

For more information about the Key West Fishing Tournament and its kickoff contest, click here, send an e-mail to director@keywestfishingtournament.com or call (800) 970-9056.

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