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Hot Off the Press

Orange Beach charter fleet survives Hurricane Katrina


In recent weeks, we've all been made keenly aware of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, which wiped out much of the Upper Gulf Coast from New Orleans east.
However, one bright spot has weathered the storm and offers some fantastic fishing, the port of Orange Beach.

Although Katrina brought death and destruction throughout much of the upper Gulf Coast and caused gas prices to rise and a shortage of gasoline to occur in many areas, Katrina also moved red snapper, grouper and king mackerel in close to the shore, making all these species much more available. Because Orange Beach began its recovery from Hurricane Ivan a year ago, this area now homes new motels, hotels and condos plus many new restaurants.

Last week, I checked with some of the area's captains in Orange Beach, and here are their reports.

Captain Fitz of the charter boat "Celeste" says, "We went out on September 8 and caught a limit of red snapper for each of the nine fishermen in our party and were back at the dock by noon. Right now, snapper fishing is as good as I've ever seen it."

Captain Bracknell of the charter boat "Crowd Pleezer" explains, "The snapper bite is great right now, especially close to shore. We've also had a nice catch of grouper and king mackerel since the hurricane."

Captain Don McPherson of the charter boat "Get Aways" says, "We had a great time on the Gulf with calm seas and temperatures in the 80s last week. Although, we only had a six hour trip, we had enough time for the group fishing to have some fun, catch some nice red snapper, vermilion snapper and a keeper grouper."

Captain Ivey of the charter boat "The Intruder" explains, "A few reefs have been relocated, but the fishing has still been great. The seas have been calm, and the temperature isn't as hot as it has been in July and August. We've been finding a lot of nice fish in shallow water. This shallow-water pattern should continue as long as the weather stays cool and until the snapper and grouper move back into deep water."

Captain Joe Nash of the charter boat "Cool Change" says, "Fishing is still great and will get better as water temperatures cool off. Red snapper, grouper, triggerfish and mangrove snapper are plentiful."

As most saltwater fishermen know, from now until October the Gulf Shores/Orange Beach region generally has outstanding snapper and grouper fishing. This cooler weather makes catching fish much more comfortable, and the storm has restocked the reefs with red snapper and grouper. When a storm like Katrina hits, it historically brings deep-water reef fish like red snapper and grouper in closer to shore, and this storm has been no exception.

Alabama has the largest artificial reef-building program in the nation. Since the 1950s, state and federal government groups as well as saltwater fishermen and charter-boat captains have built thousands of reefs off Alabama's coast line. Therefore, there's plenty of habitat in both shallow and deep water where the snapper, grouper and king mackerel can congregate. Because of the devastation of many of the ports west of Orange Beach, the fishing pressure on these reefs has lessened.

Too, Orange Beach's charter-boat fleets are for the most part intact and up and running. Although the Orange Beach/Gulf Shores section of the state had plenty of damage from Hurricane Ivan one year ago, many of the charter-boat captains moved their boats to safe havens ahead of the latest storm. So, as the Gulf Coast starts to recover, these captains have returned to their work. The good news is, the fishing is better than ever.

For more information on the availability of boats, motels and restaurants, contact the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitor's Bureau at (800) 745-SAND (7263), or go to orangebeach.com.

Sept. 20, 2005