The tourists are biting: Local businesses benefit from snapper season

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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Big Fish means big business in Panama City. Federal Red Snapper season is in full swing and tourists are in town to catch their prized trophies.

From purchasing the fishing rod to making the snapper dinner table ready, local businesses are on hand every year. When the fish are biting the tourists are spending and bait shops like Half Hitch Tackle on Thomas Drive are ready to fill their every need.

"Of course bait is always the biggie you know," Tom Putnam the owner of Half Hitch Tackle said. "But everybody's gotta look good doing it too. It helps everything from t-shirts to the technical shirts, to bait, to the latest rod and reel."

Putnam said the fish are getting bigger too.

"The fish have gotten quiet big I mean I've seen 28 - 30 pound snapper which are huge, and well red snapper is probably one of the bigger sought after species in the gulf and so it's been a real boom."

Once they're geared up and dressed for success, anglers head out on a chartered expedition to catch their prize. Sunday afternoon a two-day fishing expedition on The Great Escape pulled into Captain Anderson's Marina full of fish and some very happy fishermen.

"It was a great trip," said Michael Goostree, who was on the trip. "We caught a full grouper limit and a red snapper limit and some black snapper's and some extra fish to boot."

Goostree is a Nashville resident who said he has been coming down to fish in the gulf for 30 years. He's now a frequent face on one of Captain Stewart Miller's trips.

"It's a great place to come," Goostree said. "People always real nice here. They always do a nice job of cleaning our fish and takin' care of us on that and Stewart is a great captain. If anyone wants to go fishin' they should go with Stewart Miller."

Captain Miller said they normally run charters a few times a week. During snapper season, however, they run non-stop to meet the demand.

Once anglers get back from the expeditions, their catch must be cleaned and prepped. That's were businesses, such as the one Miller's father runs come in. Mel Miller works at Captain Anderson's Fish Market where they take care of everything.

"Oh it is it's overwhelming. We start we open at 4 o'clock in the morning we start cutting fish at 7 a.m. and we been cutting fish until about 8 to 9 p.m. every day," Mel Miller said. "We clean the fish for them, we get them ready to go fishin' in the morning the ice and bait and stuff like that."

Business owners say they only wish the season was a little longer. Federal recreational season will close Friday June 10, however you can still fish on chartered expeditions in Federal waters through July 16.