By David Rainer, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Not since 2011 have anglers participating in the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR) been able to bring the state’s most popular Gulf fish to the scales at Dauphin Island.
Thanks to a special season implemented by Gov. Robert Bentley and Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr., red snapper, a species in great abundance off Alabama’s Gulf Coast, will be back at the rodeo, which is scheduled July 18-20.
Gov. Bentley, Commissioner Guy and Alabama Marine Resources Division Director Chris Blankenship recently announced that red snapper fishing in state waters will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in July.
“The Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo has been a part of our great state’s summer activities for more than 80 years, and red snapper fishing is popular along the Alabama Gulf Coast, and the extra fishing days are good for the Gulf Coast economy,” Governor Bentley said. “We are happy that the special redsnapper season in state waters on each weekend in July will coincide with the 2014 rodeo, and anglers will once again be able to bring Alabama’s favorite offshore fish to the weigh station on Dauphin Island.”
Since 2012, the red snapper season has closed before the rodeo, forcing ADSFR officials to substitute for the species that was among the 30 species of fish eligible to weigh in at the rodeo, the largest fishing event in the world according to Guinness World Records.
Because the rodeo rules and regulations had already been finalized for 2014 under the federal guidelines, red snapper is not among the regular categories. Therefore, rodeo officials decided to create a special category for red snapper for this year’s event, according to Gene Fox, the 2014 rodeo president.
“For the Roy Martin Young Anglers Tournament (July 12) and the big rodeo, we’ve added a special random drawing snapper category,” Fox said. “For the Roy Martin tournament and the big rodeo, anglers can bring in two red snapper. Our interest in this is to have these fish looked at by Dr. Bob Shipp (rodeo judge and former chair of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama) and Dr. Sean Powers (assistant rodeo judge and current chair of South Alabama’s Marine Sciences). We’re going to let South Alabama look at them and then give the fish back to the kids. We don’t want to take these fish away from the kids. Each fish brought in at the kids’ rodeo is entered for a random-drawing prize.
“In the big tournament (ADSFR), they may enter two fish per day, the legal limit. Each fish counts as an entry. In the big rodeo, we’ll have three winners for different prize packages.”
Fox hopes the addition of the red snapper special category will boost participation. The ADSFR typically attracts about 3,000 anglers to the Alabama Gulf Coast to fish inshore and offshore waters for a chance to win big prizes.
“We hope that anyone on the fence about fishing the rodeo, now that snapper is open, it will get them out on the water,” Fox said. “People want to go catch some snapper anyway. Why not fish the rodeo and have a chance to win some really great prizes. Most importantly, this contributes to the data stream of information about red snapper at the University of South Alabama.
“With snapper season being open in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana state waters, there is a lot of excitement. There’s been a lot of talk about it. We’ve had lots of phone calls and everybody is excited when they find out they can catch snapper. Plus, we’re giving away two boats, motors and trailers.”
Each angler who weighs in a legal fish in the ADSFR will be entered into a drawing for a 21-foot Contender boat with a Yamaha motor and trailer.
Competition in three jackpots is also available.
The Pronto Pawn King Mackerel Jackpot pays cash for the top 10 boats with a top prize of $10,000 based on 125 entries. Syn-Fab, Inc., in Mobile will provide a flat-screen television to the daily winners of the king jackpot. There will also be a random drawing for a Honda Recon four-wheeler among all anglers who enter an eligible fish in the king jackpot. The top 23-foot-and-under boat will receive a Raymarine Dragonfly GPS/ Sonar with Down Vision.
The Raymarine Big Game Jackpot pays cash for the largest yellowfin tuna, dolphin, wahoo and swordfish. In addition, there will be two random drawings among all anglers who enter an eligible fish in the big game jackpot for a Team Simco Boatlift and a Raymarine Dragonfly GPS/ Sonar with Down Vision.
The Carolina Skiff/Sunrise Marine Speckled Trout Jackpot will pay cash for the top 10 places. There will be a random drawing from all anglers weighing a legal speckled trout for a Carolina Skiff 18-foot JVX boat with a Yamaha motor and trailer. The top angler in the Speckled Trout Jackpot Non-Motorized Division will win a Bote Paddle Board. There will also be multiple random drawings from all anglers who weigh a fish in the Non-Motorized Division. Optional cash-prize divisions will be available for participants in all three jackpots.
In changes to the 81st annual rodeo, red grouper and gag grouper are now separate categories, and lane snapper has been removed from the category list. Rodeo anglers can catch red drum (redfish) between 16 and 26 inches in total length, measured by a pinched tail. Fish longer than 26 inches are not allowed.
Another change is the addition of an alternate site for the mandatory captain’s meeting. The rodeo site on Dauphin Island serves as the main venue for the captain’s meeting and sign out for the boats entered in the Raymarine Big Game Jackpot, Pronto Pawn King Mackerel Jackpot, and the optional cash prize divisions. A Baldwin County site has been added at J&M Tackle in Orange Beach. The captain’s meetings at both sites will be from 6-8 p.m., Thursday, July 17. Anglers who are unable to attend one of the captain’s meetings must sign out at the ADSFR site by 5 a.m. Friday, July 18. Late sign-out will not be available in Orange Beach.
“A lot of our fishermen keep their boats at Orange Beach,” Fox said. “Having a captain’s meeting and sign-out for Baldwin County will keep them from having to make two trips to Dauphin Island. They’ll still have to weigh their fish at Dauphin Island. And if they miss the captain’s meeting at J&M Tackle, they can still come to the rodeo site. We will be there all night, selling tickets and signing out anglers until the cannon goes off at 5 a.m.”
Alabama Marine Resources Director Chris Blankenship reminds ADSFR anglers that the federal government recognizes the boundary of Alabama state waters at 3 miles. The Alabama Legislature passed a bill that extends state waters to 9 miles for purposes of fisheries management, and Marine Resources Enforcement will recognize the 9-mile boundary during July weekends for red snapper and gray triggerfish.
However, Marine Resources has no control over federal enforcement officials. Blankenship said although Marine Resources is allowing the possession of red snapper and gray triggerfish within 9 miles, federal authorities may not.
Blankenship also cautioned ADSFR anglers about fishing for red snapper in undisputed federal waters past the 9-mile boundary. He said anyone who possesses red snapper outside the 9-mile state boundary, where the bulk of the snapper population is located, will be in violation of both state and federal regulations.
The red snapper reporting system is still in effect for the July weekend season. The mandatory reporting system includes four ways to comply – smartphone app, online at www.outdooralabama.com, toll-free telephone number at 1-844-REDSNAP (1-844-733-7627) and drop-boxes at boat ramps from Bayou La Batre to Orange Beach.
Anglers will also be able to catch gray triggerfish, another species with the season currently closed in federal waters, in state waters during July weekends, but rodeo officials decided not to add triggerfish to this year’s rodeo
“With all the excitement about red snapper, it’s hard to react to everything that’s going on in such a short period of time,” Fox said. “Although triggerfish is not going to be a rodeo category, we think a lot of people will take advantage of that season being open in state waters.”
Go to www.adsfr.com for more information.
PHOTOS: (By David Rainer) The 2011 Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo was the last time anglers were allowed to bring red snapper to the weigh station on Dauphin Island. A special category for red snapper has been set up for the 2014 rodeo, which is scheduled July 18-20. Of course, with more than 30 fish categories, spectators and anglers will encounter many more fish, including large sharks, which always create a buzz in the crowd.