Oh man, what a year 2017 was! Ugh. A difficult spring with strong cold fronts, lots of wind, a tough tarpon season, and plenty of canceled charters. Summer was going pretty good, as I recall, and then, we all got absolutely slammed by Hurricane Irma. The impacts of which we will experience, I imagine, for the next couple years to come--especially those in the Sugarloaf, Big Pine Key and Marathon areas. We, here in Key West, and just north of the island, were pretty lucky, spared from the worst of Hurricane Irma. But, for many hit by the eastern eyewall of the storm, not so much. The devastation was tremendous with many unfortunate Keys’ residents losing everything.
Through all of the chaos and damage caused by Hurricane Irma, there were many bright spots during the clean-up and recovery process: the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff’s Deputies, as well as the Key West Police Department, quickly setting up to maintain order and turn away non-residents trying to enter the Keys (many of which I’m sure had good intentions, but there’s always a few looking to take advantage of a bad situation); the men and women of our military performing search and rescue operations, delivering and distributing much needed water, ice and MREs, and helping with clean-up and recovery efforts; the utility crews working night and day to get roads cleared in order to get power and communications restored.
I think the most impressive thing I witnessed that came as a result of Hurricane Irma was the level of humanity that, unfortunately, only a disaster seems to bring out. Friends and neighbors helping each other out and the volunteering efforts from so many in our island community. My good friend, Coach Craig Wynn, owner of CrossFit Mile Zero here in Key West, set his business and his health and sanity aside for several weeks driving up the Keys every day to help folks get into and clean out their homes. Along with the outpouring of donated supplies, money, and time from many across the country who don’t live in the Keys, but love to visit and want to help in any way they can.
Anglers who visit throughout the year are wondering how Hurricane Irma affected our fishery in the Keys. Many of my regular clients contacted me first to check on my wife and me to see if we were okay and if we needed anything. Several even offered their homes as refuge when we evacuated. Secondly, they were concerned about Key West and the flats fishery. Well, so far so good, nothing really too drastic. Everything on the flats, for the most part, seems to be in order. The mangroves lost most of their leaves, so everything is brown, but they will return to normal by next spring. There are also a few boats stuck on the flats and in the mangroves that were not there before. Many of the flats along the Gulf edge have a bit more sand now and I’ve been noticing a lot more sandy potholes on the flats I regularly fish--more Barracuda ambush points!
Despite that, the fishing is really good. My buddy and I went out to check a couple flats the moment we could get out after the storm. The first flat we pulled up to, we saw several schools of bonefish, a few permit, some nice barracudas, and several sharks and rays. Everything we would normally expect to see on that flat. We checked a couple other flats, saw some fish, then went home. It has been good ever since. If Hurricane Wilma, from back in 2005, is any kind of gauge as to what to expect this spring, we are in for some of the best fishing we have seen in a while. The bonefishing, in particular after Wilma, was outstanding for several years following that storm. Not only the numbers of bonefish, but the amount of bigger bonefish I encountered. So many more bonefish in the 7-9 pound range were seen and caught afterward that, in years prior, would be a pleasant surprise every now and again.
I think (hope is probably a better word to use) we are going to have really good fishing in 2018. We have had a couple of cold spells already and, if we can get a couple more through January and February, then get the warm up to spring (you know, normal weather pattern), life, and fishing, will be awesome.
It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out this year. Hopefully tourism continues to flourish as it had prior to Hurricane Irma and Keys businesses and fishing guides are busy through the upcoming months. Whatever happens, we will continue to tough it out and make ends meet any way we can. Hurricane Irma gave us a good beating, but our resolve is strong. We are still standing, battered and bruised. We will rebuild and get our lives back to normal. Happy New Year everyone.
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