I honestly can’t believe that 2019 is almost in the history books. For me personally it was quite a roller coaster ride, especially the last couple of months. My wife was recently offered a job in Fort Lauderdale that she couldn’t refuse, so a move is currently underway. Even though we have lots of connections and friends here in Lee County, living separate lives on either side of Florida is not happening.
I’m happy that the publisher of this newspaper has given me the opportunity to continue to write for the Sand Paper even though I’ll be about 120 miles away. Readers, don’t worry. I’ve got almost a lifetime of Southwest Florida in my blood and there are still lots of stories to be told. I also have family here and I’ll be visiting on a regular basis. Fishing with my brother, who lives on Pine Island, is something I’m not about to give up.
So much has happened in our community since January. I believe the biggest impact was the issue of water quality. It certainly came to a head late in 2018, but persisted into the early part of this year. For so long we were all guilty of ignoring a growing problem. In past years we’ve had excessive amounts of Lake Okeechobee water pushed our way down the Caloosahatchee River followed by outbreaks of discolored water, blue-green algae and red tide. Many times within a few weeks the negative impacts would subside, the water would clear, and all was well.
No it wasn’t, not by a long shot.
Last year’s outbreak lasted for months and months. It hurt all of us that depend on tourism, and by the way, that’s most of us here in Southwest Florida. This area is a prime example of a trickle-down economy. In some way we are all affected by the loss of guests coming to our beaches. This time the severity of the problem couldn’t be overlooked and everyone was suddenly on the bandwagon to improve our water quality and our way of life. I feel very confident that we are on the right track and we now have the backing of water quality groups and politicians that finally seem to understand the problem, and are working on solutions.
I spend a great deal of time fishing our waters, both salt and fresh. This past year was a banner year for catches of redfish, snook and tarpon. More and more anglers are now practicing mostly catch-and-release and those that keep fish are not trying to fill coolers. I don’t have a problem with legally keeping your catch, but you can help all the species by simply harvesting only what you’ll eat over a short time. If you want more fish dinners, then get out there and fish more often!
We’ve also had an interesting thing happen in our back bay waters this past year. It seems new species that weren’t seen here very often, much less caught here, are now appearing on a regular basis. One species in particular that I’ve encountered is permit. Just a short time ago permit were only caught in our offshore waters and you were much more likely to see them inshore only in the Florida Keys. Well, something changed. They are now being caught in both Estero Bay and Matlacha Pass and during 2019 they got bigger and bigger. Along with the permit, mutton snapper also made a showing in the backcountry in recent months. Muttons are considered an offshore snapper species, but they seem pretty happy cruising the mangrove shorelines.
2019 has had its ups and downs, but all-in-all it was a good year for all of us beach people. I’m looking forward to 2020 and all it has to offer. From me to you, I hope you have a wonderful New Year.
Captain Rob Modys is a lifetime Florida outdoorsman and retired spin & fly fishing guide. He is past president and board chairman of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association and serves on the board of the Florida Guides Association.