John's Journal...

Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons

The Boat and The Championship

Captain of the "Miss Celeste",  Maurice "Fitz" FitzsimmonsEditor’s 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.

Charter Boat "Miss Celeste" based out of Zeke's MarinaQuestion: 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 docks sooner?
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. Click to enlarge

Question: How long have you been a captain out of Orange Beach?
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 Click to enlargebuilding 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 the Charter Boat "Miss Celeste" based out of Zeke's Marinareefs 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, visit To learn more about the Red Snapper World Championship, go to 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, or call – 1-800-745-7263. For more information on the Orange Beach Fishing Association, go to

Tomorrow: Artificial Reef Building

Check back each day this week for more about "Fishing with Captain Maurice Fitzsimmons"

Day 1: The Boat and The Championship
Day 2: Artificial Reef Building
Day 3: Catching Big Snapper
Day 4: Big Snapper Bait
Day 5: Orange Beach Fishing


Entry 378, Day 1