Farmers, bless their hearts, have nothing on commercial fishermen when it comes to needing a solid rapport with Mother Nature.
“We’re expecting another blow-out this weekend, causing rough sea conditions,” says Capt. Mike Mulholland, who oversees the Sea Spirit, our area’s only remaining big-group fishing charter, out of Ponce Inlet. “Our weather has not been cooperative on the weekends.”
At first, there was some decent timing for the Sea Spirit, which had been hauled from the water for some annual maintenance, just as Hurricane Ian was forming and before it poured through as an unrelenting, rain-making tropical storm.
Maintenance was delayed, schedules pushed back, and then came Nicole a month or so later to further roil the waters and turn Ponce Inlet into a bigger adventure than it already was.
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Finally, with the Sea Spirit ready to roll (figuratively speaking, of course), there was Nicole’s “parting gift,” day after day and week after week of mostly shoddy-to-miserable conditions. On top of that, Sea Spirit (and other locals in the fishing industry) also had to battle the fiercest foe our modern world offers: Bad PR.
“After the damage Hurricane Nicole left behind, the out-of-state news channels were reporting Daytona Beach was ground zero,” Mulholland says. “Most people that were planning on coming to Daytona had second thoughts after their local newspapers and media were reporting our town being somewhat a war zone.”
The Sea Spirit, capable of serving 60 anglers, finally went back into the Atlantic on the Friday after Thanksgiving for a half-day charter, and that was it. Conditions took a bad turn immediately after that and it wasn’t until Wednesday morning of this week, at 7 a.m., that the Sea Spirit again pushed away from Sea Love Marina for its first full-day charter since Sept. 17.
Also, the Sea Spirit’s sister boat — the 32-seat Manatee, for inshore scenic tours — is also back on the water and launching daily from Sea Love Marina, where the long-popular Down the Hatch restaurant is also back in stride.
All’s well, right? Well, the coming weekend’s conditions will keep some trained eyeballs on the forecast, focusing on wave heights and intervals.
They’re used to that. They’re not accustomed to the ongoing image damages, however. But unlike the weather, Mullholland can try to rectify that, one potential customer at a time.
“I’ve had people calling from other states, telling they’re debating coming down because of what they’ve seen and heard,” he says. “They say, ‘maybe we should go to Tampa instead.’ I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received like that.
“Hoping we can stick it out. Would love to stay in business, but the boats have to support themselves. As long they can do that, I’ll ride it out.”
Halifax/Indian River: Flounder, snook and sheepshead
Either they can read a calendar or simply have great natural timing. Whatever, in the first days after six weeks of catch-and-release joy, flounder are reportedly all over the intracoastal.
“It seems they’re all over the river on the outskirts of the oyster bars and hanging around shorelines,” says Capt. Jeff Patterson (Pole Dancer).
Same story to the north, according to Ike Leary, whose Granada Pier Bait Shop and fishing pier sits alongside the tall Ormond Beach bridge. Also, Ike says, “plenty of snook around the bait shop and all the bridges.”
To the south in the Edgewater backwaters, Art Mowery says he’s waiting on a cold snap to turn on the seatrout.
Meanwhile, “did catch a couple drum and mangrove snapper,” says Art, who adds that he had to work all day for that.
Surf: Pompano, if you can get down there
Still a tough go in the greater Daytona Beach area, where the beaches remain messy. Dustin Smith (NSB Shark Hunters) has been venturing south to the Canaveral Seashore.
“One black-tip shark today,” he said midweek, “but the guy next to us was getting legal pompano.”
That would be 11 inches minimum, by the way, with a daily bag limit of six.
St. Johns: Speck season still strong, but much of river hard to reach
It’s still idle speed throughout the main river, which has subsided quite a bit but remains comfortably higher than desired. A few Volusia County lakes currently have open boat ramps, but only one (Shell Harbor in Pierson) that’ll take you to the St. Johns.
But with its wide elbow room in the middle of a mammoth wildlife preserve, Highland Park Fish Camp’s ramps remain a go-to for those looking to take advantage of the annual uprising of speckled perch.
“You can hardly go wrong catching specks right now,” says Capt. Bryn Adams. “Open-water trolling is best, with artificial jigs working the best. We’re seeing limits (25 per day) coming in and some fish over 2 pounds.”
Free fishing for kids
It’s almost “Merry Fishmas” time for the Halifax Sport Fishing Club, which will host its annual kids fishing outing Sunday at the club.
Kids age 5-15 will visit five learning stations to learn everything from local regulations to knot-tying. Better yet, it’s free.
Hook, line and clicker: Send us your fish pics
We want to see your most recent catch. Email your fish photos to [email protected].
Please include first and last name of angler(s), as well as type of fish (we’re occasionally stumped). All are included with our online fishing report, and some occasionally make the print edition.
Do I need a fishing license?
You can find all the license info, including exemptions, on Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission website: MyFWC.com. But the basics are:
No: If you’re 65 or older, 15 or younger, you don’t need a license.
No: If you’re fishing with a licensed guide or charter boat, both of which purchase commercial licenses that cover their customers.
Yes: Most everyone else, including visitors from other states.
Yes: Even if you’re a shore-based angler (shoreline, dock, pier, bridge, etc.). However: The shore-based license is free . . . But: You still need to register for that free license.
Where do I get a license and what does it cost?
Many bait shops sell licenses, as do the bigger retailers (Bass, Dick’s, Walmart, etc.).
Florida’s FWC uses a third-party site for buying or renewing fishing licenses: GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.
The cost: $17 for an annual license.
Don’t forget: Whether you’re fishing fresh or saltwater, you need the specific license. Freshwater and saltwater licenses are both $17 annually.
I’m here on vacation, do I need a license?
Yes you do, and they’re also available at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com or certain bait shops and big retailers.
Cost: $17 for three days, $30 for seven days, $47 for a year.Also: Non-residents need to purchase that license even if they’re just fishing from shoreline or shore-based structures. (Florida residents need that license, too, but they’re free.)