Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons
The Boat and The Championship
Note: On the last weekend of snapper season, I went
fishing at Orange Beach, Alabama, with Captain Maurice
Fitzsimmons on his 100-foot long charter boat, the “Miss
Celeste” - the biggest and fastest charter boat
in Orange Beach. The seas were rough, and only two boats
were able to get out in the water at 7:00 a.m. However,
because of the size and the speed of Captain Fitz’s
boat, we were able to take 18 people out for a day of
snapper fishing, limit out on red snapper and return
to the dock by 4:00 p.m. We also watched any college
football game we wanted on the boat’s wide-screen
television with satellite hookups, while sitting in
comfortable, overstuffed couches and eating all of our
favorite foods. Life doesn’t get any better than
this. Captain Fitz was also the creative mind who came
up with the Red Snapper World Championship (RSWC), which
has been responsible for one of the largest public artificial-reef-building
programs in the nation, and has one of the strongest
sportsmen’s lobbies in Washington. This week,
you’ll meet Captain Fitz, learn how and why the
RSWC began, and how to catch big snapper.
Captain Fitz, why do you have such a big fishing boat?
Fitz: The boat was originally built by Walter Poole.
He’d decided there was a market for taking corporate
charters out who didn’t want to fish 12, 15 or
even 18 hours in one day. He felt that these corporate
people wanted to get out to the fishing grounds, fish
8 to 10 hours and catch quality fish that they’d
normally catch on a trip that lasted much longer.
Question: What makes the “Miss Celeste”
able to go faster, fish quicker and get back to the
Fitz: The “Miss Celeste” features twin 2,000-horsepower
engines. We cruise at 25 knots in the 28-mile per hour
range, with a top speed a little over 30 knots. In 1-1/2
to 2 hours, we can be 40- to 50-miles offshore and still
have 4 to 5 hours of actual fishing time. We can accommodate
20 to 25 people. We usually leave the dock at 7:00 a.m.
and return by 4:00 or 5:00 p.m.
Question: How long have you been a captain out of Orange
Fitz: Twenty years.
Question: You hatched the idea of the Red Snapper World
Championship. What was the original purpose for having
this championship tournament?
Fitz: I wanted to see more public reefs built off Alabama’s
Gulf Coast, and I knew that the Orange Beach Fishing
Association needed to raise more money for its lobbying
efforts in Washington for sportfishing. To accomplish
these goals, we needed a vehicle that could help us
raise that kind of money. So, in 2003, we came up with
the idea for the championship, and our first tournament
was held in 2004. In 2007, we’ll have sunk about
800 reefs with monies generated by the RSWC, as well
as two large barges that will help bring in not only
more red snapper, but a good number of a variety of
species. In 2005, we had over 11,000 anglers compete
in the Red Snapper World Championship, and next year,
we expect even more.
Question: How long have you been building reefs?
Fitz: I’ve been building reefs for more than 20
years. I started out fun-fishing, and then I began commercial-fishing.
I learned quickly that if you wanted to be able to earn
a living taking fishermen where they could catch fish,
you couldn’t make a living off public reefs. You
had to start building your own private reefs. As snapper
limits continued to decrease, so did the number of people
who were building
public and private reefs. So, in the Orange Beach community
and the Orange Beach Fishing Association, we felt the
need for many-more artificial reefs to be built.
Question: By building public reefs, don’t you
keep many of the private boat owners off the private
reefs the charter fishermen build?
Fitz: Yes, that’s true. If a fisherman’s
out here 100 to 150 days during the season, you can
find plenty of private reefs. But if you only come to
fish a few days a year, you can’t find those reefs,
and your fishing’s very limited. So, by increasing
the number of public reefs and giving anglers a choice
of about 11,000 to 12,000 public reefs to fish, they
don’t have to spend all their time looking for
commercial fishermen have built. A lot of people are
going to run over private reefs, find them and fish
them. But if we continue to build more reefs, someone’s
locating one reef won’t affect us very much. Right
now, there are about 500-artificial-reef locations marked
and their GPS coordinates available to the general public
on the Alabama Marine Resources webpage.
To find the locations of Alabama’s public reefs,
To learn more about the Red Snapper World Championship,
go to http://redsnapper.orangebeachsnapper.com/.
To fish with Captain Fitz, you can reach him at (251)
626-9437. To learn more about the Orange Beach/Gulf
Shores area, check out www.orangebeach.com,
or call – 1-800-745-7263. For more information
on the Orange Beach Fishing Association, go to www.gulffishing.net/.
Tomorrow: Artificial Reef Building