Hernando CountyNew Year… New Reefs By: Capt. Joel Gant

Wishing all the “Fishheads” out there a Happy New Year! With a new year brings new and exciting things to our Gulf coast. “What exciting things?” you ask–new reefs to be deployed near the Bendickson reef better known as “the tanks.” They will be deploying reef balls and cubes. “Where do these man-made reefs come from?” you ask–most will be made by a group of young volunteers called Scubanauts right here in Hernando Beach. Scubanauts use scuba as a means to learn about marine environment. There are many projects these young divers are involved in like coral restoration, reef monitoring, seagrass monitoring, underwater and beach cleanups. A lot of these projects are done right here in our county.

The volunteer outreach event was held to construct both reef balls and homemade reef cubes to be deployed at the Bendickson artificial reef.  This event was the sixth held since 2016. In attendance were teens, parents and leaders from Scubanauts International and also two residents of Hernando Beach. Residents Mike Fulford and Frank Santo provided instruction on making the reef balls. Eighteen reef cubes and 4 reef balls were constructed by the volunteers.  The reef cubes, or large concrete blocks with a center space for fish, will be stacked by County divers in groups of 4 to 6 to provide a rectangular base or foundation to place reef balls.  This method increases the vertical relief of the reef material for the purpose of attracting more baitfish and pelagic species.

Last year the County added 28 reef balls and 15 cubes at the Bendickson Reef to help create a connecting trail between two older reef deployments. This effort will increase connectivity for fish between the reef material while also enhancing diving by connecting reef sites. The material constructed on Dec 4th. will be added to the connecting trail in the late spring to early summer 2022 by County Waterways staff and a contractor. Concrete was donated by Got Concrete of Spring Hill for the very worthwhile fisheries habitat project.

Offshore fishing: Most of you know, gag grouper season ended on Dec. 31st. The good news is that red grouper season is now open. Most of the time, you will want to anchor on some kind of structure and bottom fish for them. I use the same gear as for the gags; 60-pound mono, a 4-ounce weight and a 7/0 circle hook. You can use cut bait, squid or live baits. The legal size to keep is 20 inches to the tail and 2 per person. With cooler water and the thousands of stone crab traps being set out, the grouper will begin to move in to shallower water.