Ag gone fishing: R&R for anglers spells big bucks in Florida

Ag gone fishing: R&R for anglers spells big bucks in Florida

GARY MCKENZIE LOVES THE CHALLENGE of catching redfish. He enjoys stealthily creeping upon and tricking them. “It’s like hunting and fishing at the same time,” he explains. “You watch the fish eat your lure.” The autobody technician at Bartow Ford enjoys traveling to fish along the Louisiana coast southeast of New Orleans, or at Florida’s Charlotte Harbor. “It’s visual. It’s just exciting. Your heart is going a little bit,” says McKenzie, who has fished along the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

Part of the challenge is the preparation. “I’ve already been studying my charts before we even get out there,” says McKenzie, a Polk County Farm Bureau member. For McKenzie, fishing is therapeutic. “I let 99 percent of them go,” he points out.

Brian Marston, a public affairs/government relations specialist in Winter Haven and a Polk County Farm Bureau member, likes to slip out at 8 p.m. with friends for a couple hours of fishing on Crooked Lake bordering his Babson Park home. “For me it’s relaxing,” says Marston, who has a 10-acre orange grove between Crooked Lake and Lake Easy. “We normally go out on the boat with anywhere from three to six fisherman and sit out there and enjoy the evening.”

He usually fishes for speckled perch or crappie, although the outing is more about camaraderie than it is food. “We do pretty well with it,” he says. “We bring some of it home to eat.”

Sometimes he fishes with his wife Sarah and their children, Luray, 9, and Sadie, 12. “If I go to another lake, it’s usually for just pleasure or maybe duck hunting or frog gigging or some of the other things us outdoor types like to do,” Marston adds. “It’s easier for me to fish on my lake.”

Will Putnam, who is vice president of Bartow’s Putnam Groves, Inc., says fishing usually is a relaxing activity to do with family members. He prefers flats fishing – usually trout, redfish, or snook – in saltwater. “We love to eat what we catch, but of course we release them when they’re out of season or when we catch more than what we need,” Putnam says.

Although he has fished his entire life, Putnam says he hasn’t been out much lately. “I love to fish. Between my job and my family commitments, I don’t get to do a whole lot of it.”

FLORIDA FISHING BY THE NUMBERS

The lure of fishing varies – like the type of bait and fish. But its pull is strong. State officials call Florida the “Fishing Capital of the World.” And so fishing is more than an enjoyable form of recreation: It’s big business.

Florida tops every other state with more than 2.7 million anglers age 16 and older, compared with some 2.5 million anglers in the second-place state, the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation reports.

Those Florida anglers spend more than $4.3 billion, or an average of $1,536 apiece, the survey’s Florida report shows. The vast majority of anglers actually live in Florida, although 885,000 are from out of state.

Fishing trip-related expenses account for $2 billion, or 46 percent, of the total, with another $1.9 billion, or 45 percent, covering equipment, the Florida survey shows. The remaining 9 percent, or $390 million, includes licenses, permits, stamps, land leasing and ownership, membership dues, magazines, and other items.

FWC FISHING TAGS

Florida reaches out to anglers with its website http://www.visitflorida.com/fishing, providing information on where to go, how to fish like a pro, and planning your trip. In October, the state’s new TrophyCatch program will offer cash prizes for bass weighing eight pounds and up, but they must be released. Prizes range from $15 to $3,000 plus. The program is designed to help wildlife officials keep track of trophy-size bass while encouraging catch and release.

“Catching a fish eight pounds and up and ten pounds and up is not always easy. It’s about time we start acknowledging those anglers … that are able to do that,” says Paul Thomas, a freshwater fish biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). “The idea is to get anglers to report more of their catches … so we can better protect that resource.” Registration is required, which may be done after a winning fish is caught and released, state officials say.

State biologists tagged 136 largemouth bass greater than eight pounds in Florida’s public waters last spring, which will provide baseline data for the TrophyCatch program. The yellow plastic dart tags were inserted into the back of the fish below the back fin; each contains a unique number identifying a monetary reward.

Anglers who catch a tagged fish should cut the tag off the fish as close as possible to the skin and return the tag to the FWC. To report tags, contact Jason Dotson at (850) 363-6037.

FISHING FAVORITES & FACTS

• Men outnumber women in favoring this sport, 1,381 to 569.

• Among freshwater anglers, black bass is the most sought after fish among 1,417 resident and nonresident anglers. Some 822 are after black bass, while another 181 seek white bass, striped bass, and striped bass hybrids. Some 432 are interested in panfish, the state survey reports.

• Among the 2,002 saltwater enthusiasts, most say they are fishing for “anything.” Some 920 choose “anything” and another 760 pick “other saltwater fish” in the survey. Some 517 choose the redfish.

• McKenzie believes the economy has had an impact on how much folks spend on recreational fishing. For those who live along the coast, saltwater fishing is convenient. But for Polk County residents, a drive to the coast hauling a big boat might cost $175, McKenzie estimates. “I don’t go as much as I used to.” He does more freshwater fishing these days, in part because it’s easier to work in a couple of hours in the morning or afternoon.

• The gasoline cost isn’t as critical when you fish in your backyard, but Marston is running a more fuel-efficient motor.

CREDIT

story by CHERYL ROGERS