Offshore Log - Spring 1999
In Review...
by Capt. Mike Holmes
1998 was a strange year for offshore fishing. A record number of tropical storms combined with an extremely windy spring and fall and a very hot summer to make this a short season, indeed.
While fishing was good when conditions permitted for most species, the billfish tournament circuit saw a very low number of marlin come to boatside (sailfish, however, seemed very numerous in bluewater) even in those tournaments that did not have to be rescheduled. In the Texas Gulf, very fast kingfish action was found in spurts, and quite a few wahoo showed up inshore. The Freeport season began with an excellent run of ling - in both size and numbers, including a new state record. Snapper fishing was good except in the hottest portions of the summer - when fishing pressure is also at its peak. Some very big amberjack were found over structure and wrecks, and an unusually large number of dog snapper were caught.
Snapper regulations were in turmoil all year, from the closure beginning in October - one of the prime fishing months - to the uncertainty over when the season would reopen. After being informed by the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council that the season would remain shut down until March 1, 1999, in hopes of delaying the quota-based closure until late fall, we then got the good (?) news from the National Marine Fisheries Service that the snapper season would reopen January 1, 1999.
After barely enough time to let the celebrations begin, NMFS notified anglers that their data projected the 1999 quota would be reached around August 15. This amazing calculation was done even before fishermen were allowed to catch any snapper for data to be gathered from - which shows how smart and talented our government employees can be when they put their minds to it!
The snapper size and possession regulations remained the same - 14 inches and 5 fish per day - and the captain and crew of charter or headboats will be allowed to retain their personal limits just as with king mackerel.
For 1999, everything but snapper should depend largely on the weather. January and February have so far given us a few fishable days, but hardly enough to have traded these months for September and October. Of course, we had no guarantee that NMFS would not have shut the season down in August, regardless, since they obviously are not following any pretense of actually monitoring real catch data - but then, they never have, and recreational anglers have so far failed to complain loudly enough to get anything done about it.
Marlin addicts are upset at the NMFS, also, since new proposed billfish regulations will continue to place the burden of reducing billfish landings on the recreational sector, even while admitting that the real problem lies with longline bycatch. Maybe the fact that NMFS regulations are hitting both ends of the spectrum in recreational fishing - high-dollar trophy fishing and common bottom-bumping - will finally force our fellow fishermen to get serious, and united.
Because the El Nino is over, we should be back into a more normal pattern of weather. Of course, the very warm winter that has existed for the first two months of 1999 may make that difficult to believe. Snapper were doing pretty good until commercial season opened, and should continue their rebound in spite of government over-regulation.
King mackerel have already been sighted in deepwater off Freeport - along with ling - so an early season for warm water pelagics seems certain. In my part of the Gulf, weedlines were very hard to find last summer, and dolphin fishing suffered. The dolphin that were caught were mostly found around rigs and shrimpboats - usually after chumming. It would be very nice to see a strong summer for dorado. Blackfin tuna were especially numerous last season, showing up behind shrimpers as well as around deepwater rigs. More directed effort might turn up a decent day time fishery for blackfin .
With fishermen's luck, weather and fish will cooperate for the summer of '99 to create a memorable season for offshore fishermen. For those busily getting boats ready for a stronger effort beyond the horizon - especially those wishing they could extend their safe operating range by converting gas inboards to diesel power, there may be luck heading your way very soon.
Cascade Manufacturing of Fort Worth is offering a kit to marinize light truck diesels from Ford and Dodge pickups to power midsize offshore boats. The kit consists of freshwater cooled marine exhaust manifolds, heat exchanger and day tank, all necessary brackets and accessories, and a bellhousing to mount a marine transmission. With the Ford 7.3 liter V8, engine weight and size are very close to that of a big block gasoline engine, and the Cummins 5.9 liter, 6BT in-line six cylinder weighs only a bit more than gas power. Both engines should provide better economy and longer engine life than gas - and probably more speed in some boats. Cascade is also working on a kit for the Ford Powerstroke diesel - a souped up version of the 7.3.
Of these engines, my choice would be the Cummins, since the factory marinized version is one of the most popular small marine diesels in use today. The truck engine produces loads of torque, yet the horsepower output is low enough - around 185-210 hp - to allow use of the 5 inch exhaust system used with most big block gas engines, a considerable savings when converting from gas.
With 1.5:1 transmission and 20 x 20 props as recommended by the master, Chick Sharp of Freeport, I would expect my 31 Bertram to cruise - loaded - at over 20 knots, a very practical and workable speed. I am so sold on this concept, in fact, that I am seriously considering such a conversion this spring - in which case I'll have another project to report on soon.
In the meantime, for more information on these kits, contact H&H Distributors at 409/849-3773, or E-mail at H&