Here’s the follow-up to R.G.’s articles that I sent to the Citrus County Chronicle.
I’ll also share the information with community officials currently engaged in an effort to develop tourism in Citrus County. We’ll see what, if anything, happens.
Developing kayak fishing tourism in Citrus County
I’ve enjoyed reading R.G. Schmidt’s recent Tight Lines series in the Outdoors News Section of the Chronicle on kayak fishing along the Nature Coast, as well as recent articles concerning efforts to develop tourism in Citrus County. While kayak fishing may never account for as much public use as manatee viewing or scalloping, I believe it has the potential to generate far more tourism dollars than currently occurs.
I have become a kayak fishing addict since retiring to Citrus County in 2005, and regularly paddle the coastal area between the Withlacoochee and Chassahowitzka Rivers. I fish along beautiful, secluded mangrove shorelines, catching and releasing a variety of fish including seatrout, redfish and snook. Sneaking up on and casting to fish in a stealthy kayak, and getting pulled around by 10 to 20 pound redfish or snook for half an hour before landing them is an awesome experience. Frequent encounters with manatees, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life add to the experience as does getting up close to herons, egrets, ospreys and other shorebirds. Not having to trailer a boat in traffic, wait in long lines to launch at boat ramps, and put up with loud motorized boats and windy open water conditions are additional pluses. Being able to maneuver around fish attracting oyster bars instead of having to avoid them for fear of lower unit damage is another benefit. Ditto for being able to reach deeper fish-holding pools in extreme low water conditions. Being able to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the backcountry makes for a quality experience even on slow fishing days. Nearby rivers, bays and freshwater lakes provide additional opportunities to hook into lunker bass and panfish (keeping an eye out for those pesky gators).
Many kayak anglers prefer catch-release methods, and participate in tournaments where winners are determined by photos of caught fish taken prior to release. Others enjoy fresh fish for lunch or dinner. Folks on limited budgets can get outfitted relatively inexpensively. Many fishing kayaks today offer increased roominess, stability (even while standing and sight fishing) and comfort (even for older codgers like me with back problems). Many are in the 40-70 pound range, and can easily be dragged from a vehicle to the waters edge. Some can accommodate a second person, and most can be motorized for those wishing to extend their fishing range or forego the benefits of great upper body exercise. When fishing is over for the day, they’re easily rinsed off and stored.
Kayak fishing is one of the fastest growing sports in the country. Kayak fishing clubs in Jacksonville, Tampa Bay and Orlando keep their members informed on the where’s and how’s of fishing in their areas and provide opportunities for fishing get-togethers and tournaments. Each of their websites include classified sections, up-to-date forums for members to exchange information, and a variety of other information. While many areas in Florida offer great kayak fishing opportunities, few provide the un-crowded, “Old Florida” feel that one can experience along the Nature Coast. With further improvement and development of kayak launch sites, and inclusion of related fishing opportunities in tourism websites and ecotourism materials, I believe that paddle fishing could attract anglers from around the State and beyond to the Nature Coast.
Benefits of a well designed and promoted kayak fishery along the Nature Coast would accrue to local kayak dealers, kayak rental shops, fishing guides, and numerous ancillary businesses.