I have a good friend that simply loves this time of year. He woke up with an extra skip in his step the morning after Halloween. It was his cue to get ready for six weeks of hard core fishing every chance he had. His babies, four vintage Penn Senator 6/0, were on their way to Philadelphia to get serviced by only the best–the headquarters of Penn Reels and Pure Fishing. After a full internal makeover, they would come back looking perfect with heavy duty drag washers ready to challenge one of the hardest-pulling fish we have in the Gulf, gag grouper. You see, my friend Steve absolutely loves gag grouper. They are his favorite fish to eat, his favorite fish to target and no other fish made him feel more accomplished than landing a big gag.
His next step was to strip off the previous year’s battle-tested line and re-spool them with 100-pound Ande monofilament, the line of champions. You see, we all know that when it comes to gag grouper, the fight is won or lost in the first 10 to 20 seconds. Once that hook is set, you had better get those big boys up and away from their holes fast or you will most likely be re-rigging.
Now Steve knew early on that this year he was going to have to change his internal clock. With last year’s change in the 2023 gag grouper fishing season, this would be the first time he would not be able to harvest gags after mid-November. Though disappointed, he was happy that he still had a few days in November with slightly cooler water. It’s no secret that as water temps drop, gags fire up. We spear them consistently all year long, but for rod and reel, nothing tops the end of Fall and Winter. Well, sadly for Steve and the rest of us, NOAA has pulled the rug out from under us at the 11th hour and our 10-week gag season will only last about half of that. On October 4th, it was announced that October 18th would be the last day before we are back to catch and release.
NOAA and our National Marine Fisheries Management can say what they want about rebuilding stock, but it’s starting to get out of hand. We are all for a healthy fishery, but it also needs to be a fair fishery. We went from seven months of harvesting gag grouper to 10 weeks. Ok, so that’s what we all planed for in 2023. That’s what we booked charters for and that’s what so many anglers booked their vacations around. Now, after just five weeks into the season, we get an “emergency closure”. Well, it’s hard for this angler to believe that after less than five weeks we have hit our quota. Please make your voices heard. Attend the meetings, write your elected officials, voice your displeasure. We all need to band together or this is just going to continue.