A serious point of contention with offshore anglers is the ever-changing restrictions from the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
One restriction in particular, fish at liberty to an “in-season closure,” means a season can be closed at any time, with little or no warning to anglers. The restriction was used this month on fishing for amberjack. The result? As of Friday (March 24), amberjack were no longer legal to be caught and kept in federal waters.
“NOAA Fisheries has announced that the 2017 recreational annual catch limit for greater amberjack is expected to be met,” the Gulf Council announced. “Last year, the recreational sector exceeded the annual catch limit so, this year’s catch limit was reduced. The recreational fishing season will close in federal waters at 12:01 a.m. on March 24.”
The announcement, made on March 17, came as a shock to many, giving them seven days warning before the season closed.
After digesting the news, and with an offshore trip planned for March 18, I felt the need to catch an amberjack before the closure since I love making smoked amberjack fish spread.
With a full livewell of scaled sardines, pinfish and more, the first amberjack stop was the South Jack Wreck. It was apparent others might have been interested in amberjack, as the small broken down wreck had four boats fishing around it. Instead of fighting the boat traffic, we played spectator for a few minutes. When no real signs of life came from the wreck, moving to a nearby ledge seemed the best idea. That would leave other wrecks as potential options later in the day.
Over the ledge, we had a flat line out for the ever-present kingfish. After a mangrove snapper and grunts came up from the bottom, the flat line started to sing. A few bursting runs and a kingfish weighing around 20 pounds was near the boat. More exciting was what trailed behind — a school of giant amberjack.
I was a little perplexed. We were over a small ledge in 65 feet of water. There were no huge structures around. Yet at least two dozen amberjack, including some that looked in the 60-pound range, were hanging around the boat. With each handful of live chummers we tossed overboard, the amberjack and kingfish went berserk, something any fisherman loves to see.
The hook pulled boatside from the kingfish and I grabbed a large grunt for bait. About 20 seconds later my heavy MHX spinning rod and Penn Battle II 6000 were hooked up to a beast of a fish. Ten minutes went by and I was gaining no ground. After 20 minutes, I felt it was finally going my way. Around 25 minutes, the fish was finally lying on the deck. It was one of the largest amberjacks I’ve landed from that depth, later tipping the scale at 44 pounds.
I had my amberjack for the smoker, but I was a bit confused. If they are overfished, why have there been so many reports of anglers landing them in shallow depths? I’ve heard of divers shooting 60-pound fish in 30 feet of water. Why do they seem like a nuisance on so many offshore spots? I’ve seen amberjack schools randomly show up where they never used to, something that only began happening in recent years.
Yet, as much as anglers don’t like it and don’t agree with it, the council has spoken. No more amberjack for 2017.
CB's Saltwater fly fishing school, Bradenton, 8:30 a.m.
Bay Area Bassmasters Tournament, Lorida, all day
Sarasota Suncoast Boat Show, Sarasota, 10 a.m.
King of the Beach Kingfish Tournament, Madeira Beach, all day
Flatsmasters Series Event 2, Punta Gorda, all day
Boy Scouts tournament, Tampa, 7:30 a.m.
Bay Area Bassmasters Tournament, Okeechobee, all day
Tampa Bay Summer Boat Show, Tampa
34th Crosthwait Memorial Tournament, Bradenton, noon (Sat.)
Flatsmasters Series Event 3, Punta Gorda, all day
Bay Area Bassmasters Tournament, Tavares, all day