Wel­come Re­lief GLENN LAW

It’s been a bru­tal hur­ri­cane sea­son to put it mildly. Dou­ble whammy. Texas first, then with round two, the Caribbean and Florida got wal­loped.

Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Departments - By Glenn Law Glenn Law Ed­i­tor-in-chief glenn.law@bon­nier­corp.com

Here in Cen­tral Florida, we’re up and run­ning, but the rest of the state, which got raked from stem to stern, re­mains in vary­ing stages of re­cov­ery, par­tic­u­larly South Florida and the Florida Keys. While we’re cer­tainly con­cerned about Texas, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Vir­gin Is­lands, when dis­as­ter strikes, we first look close to home when it comes to of­fer­ing as­sis­tance.

As well, there’s not a salt­wa­ter an­gler worth his fluoro­car­bon who does not hold the Florida Keys in spe­cial re­gard. Whether par­tic­i­pa­tory or aspi­ra­tional, that string of is­lands oc­cu­pies a singular place in our sport.

There’s been no end to the news clips and dis­as­ter-porn videos dis­sem­i­nated by the me­dia, but in truth, first­hand re­ports com­ing out of the Keys are both heart­break­ing and heart­en­ing.

So we checked in with our friends. And we found a re­mark­ably fast re­bound ef­fort, and in the face of un­de­ni­able chal­lenges, they’re all de­ter­mined to fish their way out of it.

Cud­joe Key, one of the gems of the lower Keys, was ground zero for Hur­ri­cane Irma when it came ashore as a Cat­e­gory 4 storm on Septem­ber 10. Da­m­age and dev­as­ta­tion spread out­ward along the is­land chain from there.

The Florida Keys of­fi­cially re­opened to vis­i­tors on Oc­to­ber 1. The fish fared well and were ex­hibit­ing typ­i­cal post-hur­ri­cane be­hav­ior. The bite was on, for those able to get out and take ad­van­tage of it.

Capt. An­drew Tippler on Cud­joe Key high-tailed it to Alabama with his boat ahead of the storm, then re­turned for the cleanup, and he’s back in busi­ness.

“We’re pretty re­silient here,” he said. “Things are start­ing to look up, They’re mov­ing faster than we thought they would.”

The good news, he said, is that af­ter a storm, the fish­ing gets bet­ter. He’s re­fer­ring to the dis­rup­tion cre­ated by Hur­ri­cane Wilma in 2005. “Bone­fish­ing was awe­some, and there were mut­tons and grouper all over the reef, look­ing for a new home.”

Capt. Beau Woods, also on Cud­joe, re­ports he’s had enough of driv­ing a chain saw and is ready to go fish­ing. “Any­body wants to go, tell ’em to call me — I could use a cash in­jec­tion right about now.”

Ac­com­mo­da­tions are still a challenge. Cud­joe-bound an­glers are stay­ing in Key West, a short drive away.

In Key West, cruise-ship pas­sen­gers were walk­ing Mal­lory Square 10 days af­ter the storm, and ac­cord­ing to Tony Mur­phy, bet­ter known as Key Limey, at the Salt­wa­ter An­gler, cap­tains are look­ing for char­ters and the fish are hun­gry.

The up­per Keys re­ally took the brunt of it, he says.

In Is­lam­orada, the iconic Lorelei and other bay­side es­tab­lish­ments are open, but the ocean side didn’t fare as well. Bud ’n Mary’s is hus­tling to open up, and Is­lam­orada pub­lic re­la­tions peo­ple urged us to re­port that the great white shark replica that hangs out­side has sur­vived, but Irma’s round­house knocked out a cou­ple of teeth.

On the west coast of Florida, Capt. Ken Cham­bers work­ing out of Good­land says Marco Is­land looks a mess, but it’s up and run­ning.

“Fish­ing is fan­tas­tic,” he said. “We’re slay­ing them: snook, tar­pon, it’s as good as it’s been all year. It seems Mother Na­ture is giv­ing back what she took. Just like af­ter Wilma, the fish­ing gets a boost.”

Mi­ami took on a lot of wa­ter due to storm surge, but last­ing da­m­age was lo­cal­ized. Capt. Ray Rosher, who’s been fish­ing since shortly af­ter the storm, said Mi­ami Beach, Bay­side and Cran­don Ma­rina fared well, but Co­conut Grove and Math­e­son Ham­mock mari­nas, with south­east-fac­ing ap­proaches, did not.

And Capt. Bouncer Smith is also op­er­at­ing. With char­ac­ter­is­tic prag­ma­tism, he said, “The best thing peo­ple can do to help is come fish. Book a trip now, even for the spring, and send a big de­posit.”

South Florida is down but not out, and the best re­lief we can of­fer is to go fish­ing.

How’s that for a win-win propo­si­tion?

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