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If your winter vacation plans this year call for a stay almost anywhere in Florida, there are brand-new reasons to bring your fishing tackle. Hundreds of thousands of them, in fact, are swimming around in this state’s coastal waters, thanks to the so-called net ban that went into effect July 1, 1995. The ban outlaws most inshore netting and it went into effect because the voters of Florida voted overwhelmingly in favor of it.

The effects of the ban were felt almost immediately and are now really beginning to generate excitement. The beneficial effects are being felt on virtually every species and in every region. Take spotted sea trout, for example, which was one of the species hardest hit by commercial netters. The sea trout fishery in the Indian River on Florida’s east coast had declined drastically until the ban took effect, but sportfishermen are again catching trout of nine to 12 pounds here. Even Miami’s North Biscayne Bay, where trout had been scarce for years, saw anglers catching 40 to 60 trout of 16 to 20 inches long in a morning’s worth of fishing last winter. The same trout story is being told all over the state now that the pressure of netting has been relieved.

Redfish and snook have also seen a return to former glory. Several years ago, redfish were given gamefish status in response to the blackened redfish craze, which had brought the population to the edge of collapse. Even so, commercial fishermen continued to take redfish as “incidental bycatch.” Since the net ban, however, redfish are again swarming along Florida’s coast. The same story can be told for snook. Even though they were given gamefish status in the 1960’s, they remained a highly profitable bycatch for commercial fishermen, as they were routinely sold under the guise of grouper or snapper. But since the net ban took effect, snook are no longer unintentional bycatch and these fish are growing in both size and numbers.

Other popular sportfishing species, such as Spanish mackerel, pompano, bluefish and ladyfish, were heavily netted prior to the net ban. Spanish mackerel in particular have rebounded since the ban, with anglers up and down the east coast of Florida catching numerous six to 10-pound mackerel last winter, an unheard of occurrence in the last 12 years. Pompano and bluefish have also enjoyed a similar recovery. Jack crevalle, a fighter to the end and a bruiser of a fish in the 20 to 30-pound class, is a another comeback kid. There is even speculation that bonefish and permit, denizens of the Keys and Biscayne Bay, could increase in population due to the net ban.

The bottom line is, bring your tackle with you to Florida this winter. The good old days are coming back! – Jody Moore.

(Don Causey Note: Jody Moore stays in contact with guides around the state and offers this laundry list of recommendable people to contact in various parts of Florida:

Capt. Steve Anderson in Stuart

Capt. Carl Ball in Ft. Lauderdale

Capt. Mark Krowka in Biscayne Bay

Capt. John Donnell in the Florida Keys

Capt. Mike Conners in Florida Bay

Capt. Leon Howell in the Everglades backcountry

Capt. Tim Brady in the 10,000 Islands

Capt. Denny Blue in southwest Florida

Capt. Rick Grassett in Sarasota

Capt. Earl Waters in Homosassa

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