"It will give us a lot more options as to what we can fish for this summer," Skinner said.
The recreational fishery for black sea bass was closed by the South Atlantic Fisheries Marine Council on Oct. 17, putting a very popular nearshore and offshore species off limits.
The closure was due to the recreational quota being met. Normally, the annual quota is 409,000 pounds, but because the 2010 quota was exceeded by 67,263 pounds, the 2011 quota was reduced to 341,747 pounds and the fishery closed earlier than expected.
The bigger problem is that the program, started in 2006 to help rebuild black sea bass stocks, has worked too well, allowing anglers to reach the quota at a blistering pace. Charter captains, in particular, have felt the burn caused by a closed season and are looking forward to the success soon to come to their clients.
"It has been a bit discouraging for customers to have to release bass," said Capt. Randy Elliot of Fisher of Men Charters in Little River. "Some customers will not charter the boat once they find out we are not able to keep them."
This is not all bad, with the good news being that fishing for black sea bass is better than ever.
"Black sea bass are everywhere," Skinner said. "I've caught large fish in the last few months in places where I have never caught significant sea bass before."
"Black sea bass are all over the ocean, and the fish are large - probably the best I've seen it in 20 years," he said.
Finding concentrations of black sea bass is not difficult; almost any nearshore or offshore reef will produce big numbers. This allows anglers to choose reefs that are close to their preferred landing, maximizing time spent actually fishing and minimizing fuel costs.
"The best spots are those in 40 to 70 feet of water," Skinner said.
Medium to heavy spinning and convention tackle stout enough to handle 5- to 8-ounce sinkers on bottom rigs is the norm. Circle hooks in 3/0 and 4/0 are preferred because they are less likely to harm undersized bass, making the chance of survival for released fish greater. Also, circle hooks are much easier to set when fishing deep with heavy lead.
Multiple-hook rigs like those sold at tackle shops will often produce doubles on the same rod.
Skinner and Elliot recommend squid and cut bait, but almost anything will work.
"Squid works great, but I've caught them on everything from cut bait, white bottle caps, bare hooks to even the leads on the end of the leader; they're really hungry," Skinner said.
How long the season will stay open this year is difficult to predict. Many anglers and guides are hoping they won't experience an early closure this year, at not as early as October. This doesn't mean that they do not care about protecting the resource, but rather that it be protected in a way that does not close down the fishery all together.
"I totally agree with managing the resource, but there are plenty of fish to allow an open season with a limit of three to four (fish) per person and a minimum size of 13 inches," Elliott said.
Skinner would like to see similar regs.
"This isn't always a bad thing, as I have seen regulations do wonders for other species such as redfish," he said. "I have a great respect for our fishery and want to see it preserved."
Obviously, everyone is on the same page when it comes to the importance of protecting the resource for future generations, but how to do it is another story.
The best solutions take into consideration those mostly affected by the health of the fishery and the length of the season.
Hopefully, the SAFMC will take the time to widen its perspective by listening to and considering the advice of organizations like CCA, and the many anglers and businesses affected by the decisions they make.
But at least for now anglers once again have a plentiful species to target offshore and nearshore because black sea bass are back on the menu.