Panama City - Today is the final day of the extended red snapper season, at midnight the season comes to an end. It's the first time the season has ever been extended, in response to rough weather brought on by Tropical Storm Debby which forced boats to stay docked. Red snapper season is a huge draw for Northwest Florida, bringing thousands of tourists and millions of dollars to the local economy. NewsChannel 7's Meredith TerHaar spent a day offshore to find out why.
The calm waters of the Bay Point Marina give no indication of the excitement that awaits 25 miles offshore. Meredith has no idea what to expect, but she is learning from the best: tournament fisherman George Roberts, owner of "The Smooth Ride." After a ride into the gulf and a lesson with the rod and reel, she is ready, and in no time reeling in her first red snapper. It's a pretty intense fight. "There is nothing like that feeling of having a fish on the end of your reel, you are cranking and cranking and cranking until you see it, a big beautiful red snapper. There are gorgeous fish out here," said Meredith.
And that was just the first of many. "Snapper season this year has been incredible, it's been that way for the past several years, we are catching very good, big and a lot of snapper," said Roberts.
Our crew reaches the limit of two snapper per person very quickly. In fact the snapper are so thick, it's tough to catch anything else. "It's very difficult to get your bait down to the bottom, grouper live on the bottom, snapper live up in the water. It is very difficult to get your bait down to the bottom to catch a grouper with all the snapper that is up above the grouper," explained Roberts.
It's not hard to understand why local fisherman think there are plenty of snapper and the season should be extended every year. "What they've done with a 40 day season is like the "Deadliest Catch" you see the crab fisherman, they make everybody go bleed or blister no matter what in a very short period of time and at some point its going to become dangerous for a lot of these passengers, tourists, and boat Captains," said Capt. Terry McGowan. Capt. Terry's got a good idea to rectify that: "Maybe have a short middle of the summer season, then have a fall season. Make it where you can catch them in the fall that would help everybody, hotels, restaurants, captains, everybody."
So what is the magic in the snapper? Is it the color, the taste or the fight? "It's just a big draw. I don't what it is. But we have it and a lot of people don't," said Capt. Terry.
Again, red snapper season ends at midnight tonight. But grouper season is now underway, local charters run fishing trips well into October.