Fishing Report October 4, 2023

Planning a visit to the Skyway fishing piers? Required course now in effect

Anglers wishing to visit the Sunshine Skyway fishing pier state park for a day of fishing are now required to take a special online course designed to minimize entanglement of fishing line with seabirds as of October 1.

If you don’t know, the original Skyway Bridge partially collapsed in 1980 due to the collision of a freighter on one of its support columns. It has since been replaced with the new Sunshine Skyway bridge however, the approaches of the old bridge were left, standing resulting in a state park host to the longest fishing piers in the world. 

This being said, the interaction of seabirds and anglers is quite extensive, which is finally resulting in a required course to be completed before permission is granted to anglers to fish on the piers. A 30-minute tutorial educating anglers on preventative measures to avoid entanglements, as well as pier regulations pertaining to acceptable gear usage and videos demonstrating how to release an entangled bird is followed by a 10 question test which the angler must score 100% on in order to receive a certificate. 

Upon completion of the course, the angler will receive a certificate via email which can be stored on their phone for presentation upon arrival at the pier. All anglers 16 years old and up will be required to carry this documentation. This does not exclude anglers over 65 years old who are not required to have a fishing license. The course must be completed once a year in order to remain valid and although it’s free, it does require some time to complete.

I have the privilege of fishing from a boat so I probably won’t be fishing at the Skyway Piers, but I was curious about the requirement, so I went ahead and completed the course. 

Being an avid fisherman in Florida for over 40 years, I’m well-versed when it comes to interactions with seabirds while fishing so taking the course was information I already knew and practice. But if you’re not a skilled angler, this course contains helpful information that all anglers should know, even if you don’t plan on fishing at the skyway fishing pier state park.

Be prepared to set aside about 30 minutes to view the tutorial and pay attention as there is a quiz you’ll be required to take and pass to get your certificate. 

It’s probably best to take the class at home prior to going to the pier so you’re not sitting in your car for a half an hour or longer at the entrance, trying to cram the test to gain access to the pier. 

And if you don’t pass the quiz on the first try, don’t fret. You can take it as many times as needed to score the 100% required to get your certificate. Keep in mind that every time you take it, different questions will be included so have a full understanding of the material. 

After completion of the course I can see the legitimacy of educating anglers on how to react, handle and release seabirds in a safe manner when confronted with an entanglement. Although the question comes to mind is, how will anglers handle the situation when they think nobody is watching? I’ve bared witness to all sorts of incompetency throughout my years on the water when it comes to anglers and birds. And for those who aren’t really an outdoorsperson who has decided to try their hand at fishing, do you really think they are going to take the time to reel in the bird, gently handle it with risk of getting bit and remove the hook or tangled line? Probably not. They’ll be afraid to even touch the bird and they’ll just cut the line, leaving the bird to fly away with the yards of fishing line, trailing behind it so when it lands in the mangroves, it’ll become tangled, ultimately resulting in the bird, being trapped and dying of starvation. 

But, is this required course a step in the right direction? I think it is, especially in a controlled environment, such as the Sunshine fishing piers where attendants are present to observe and aid anglers in the proper release of entangled seabirds. 

Hopefully the skyway pier anglers will carry this knowledge on all of their fishing adventures, not just at the pier. 

But it all boils down to personal ethics as an outdoorsperson. 

This brings up one final question — how long will it be before the local fishing piers on Anna Maria Island adopt the same policies as the skyway fishing piers. With hordes of tourists frequenting, Anna Maria Island nowadays you can bet it’s coming.

On a final note, don’t forget flounder will be closed from Oct. 15 to Nov. 30. Starting Dec. 1, harvest will resume for fish measuring 14 inches or longer with a bag limit of five fish per day per angler.

On my own Just Reel charters, I’m surprised to see the vast numbers of spotted seatrout being reeled in. On just about every deep grass flat I’m fishing, I’m seeing an abundant number of trout. Mixed in are ladyfish, jacks and Spanish mackerel. 

On the shallower flats, especially along the mangrove edges, I’m catching decent numbers of snook with a few redfish mixed in.