There are some new rules that you should know about. Starting June 1, all anglers who are fishing for any Gulf reef fish are required to use circle hooks, dehooking devices and venting tools. These rules cover all reef fish including grouper, snapper, triggerfish, porgies, sea bass, hogfish and tilefish. The rules cover both state and federal waters.
Naturally, the intent is to reduce mortality of fish that have been caught and released due to regulations or restrictions. The FWC adds that fish that are hooked deep - such as in the throat or gut - should have the line cut to reduce damage and allow the non-stainless steel hook to disintegrate.
Now that would go under common sense of course, and is not a law, but the hope that all anglers return fish to the sea in hopes of it surviving. Non-stainless steel hooks disappear very quickly in the presence of salt water. Just try a little lab experiment. Collect a cup of seawater and drop in one of the hooks that you fish with. Check it after a few days - you might be amazed at how fast the salt eats the steel.
I asked our local education director (FWC) about the word "circle hook," since many of us use kahle type hooks or modified circle hooks. She replied that when using natural baits, the circle hook must be of the type in which the point of the hook is perpendicular to the shank.
Kahle hooks do not qualify since the point is not perpendicular to the shaft, even though in reality these hooks almost always end up in the corner of the mouth like a circle hook. I switched to circle hooks for live bait several years ago and absolutely love them.
I use a 5/0 circle for reds when using cut bait and I use a 9/0 circle for tarpon and cobia. I am certain that they are the way to go. Most every time they find the corner of the fish's mouth where it does little damage and can be removed safely and easily.
Hey, it's even a bigger plus when you catch a huge sailcat. Make sure that the hooks you purchase are non-stainless steel. Personally I believe that there is no place for stainless steel hooks in modern angling.
Dehooking devices must be used to reduce damage during hook removal. The device needs to be constructed to shield the barb while removing the hook, should be size appropriate, and blunt with rounded edges. Photos of the suggested device, along with additional info, can be seen at MyFWC.com.
The venting tool is simply a hypodermic syringe without a plunger. The venting tool is inserted at a 45-degree angle about an inch or two from the base of the pectoral fin, just deep enough to allow pressure to escape. The three signs that a fish needs to be vented are 1) the stomach protrudes into the mouth cavity 2) eyes bulge and belly is swollen, 3) the intestines are protruding out the anus. These fish will recover much more quickly if properly vented.
There is no doubt that our resource is stressed and we all need to do our part to minimize our impact. Here is a story about a genius I observed this past weekend.
I was fishing a marker on the bottom and this boat pulls up and asks if he can cast at the marker. I said, "Sure, it's everyone's resource - but there is a short cobia near the surface of this marker." Sure 'nuff he casts and hooks the short cobia (which I considered a decoy), fights it briefly, then does the unthinkable...HE GAFFS AN OBVIOUSLY SHORT COBIA ...IN THE BELLY!!!!!
Are you kidding me?! I told this genius that the one on top was short yet he gaffed it IN THE BELLY anyway.
It's a good thing for him that there isn't a test on ethics and common sense when applying for a fishing license. I have no doubt that this cobia will die a long agonizing death due to the total ignorance of this boater. He even looked toward me and said, "Yep, it was a little short," as he returned it to the water.
It took all of my patience to hold my tongue as my thoughts were not pleasant. This fish should have been released boat side with a dehooker and could have lived to grow to keeper status.
Okay, I'll get off of my soap box now.