The end of the federal government shutdown was especially good news for guides who fish in Everglades National Park.
For the first time in more than two weeks, they were allowed to legally fish in park waters.
“People don’t realize the effects of the shutdown on guides,” said Capt. Jason Sullivan, who lost several trips because of the park closure.
That anglers were not allowed to fish in the park, even though many of them access the waters in Florida Bay and along the Gulf of Mexico coastline by boat, was bureaucratic pettiness at its worst.
It was one thing not to allow anglers to drive their tow vehicles into the park and launch their boats at Flamingo. But what did it matter if guides drove their boats across park boundaries from the Florida Keys?
That was the same spiteful mentality behind the National Park Service putting up barricades at the open-air World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., although federal bureaucrats said they had no choice but to close the park.
At least Everglades National Park’s rangers didn’t hassle boaters who ended up in park waters, some of whom didn’t realize they were not allowed in the park and some of whom didn’t care. The rangers told boaters and anglers they could not stop in park waters and sent them on their way without issuing any citations.
Capt. Brian Sanders was one of the lucky ones. He fishes out of Chokoloskee Island on the northwest side of the park and typically goes after snook and redfish in park waters along Gulf beaches and islands.
With the park shut down, Sanders headed 30-plus miles into the Gulf so his clients could fish for snapper and grouper. Fortunately, he had good weather that allowed him to make the long run in his 24-foot bay boat. Even better, the fish were biting – so good, in fact, that after park waters reopened, he still made the trek into the Gulf.
Sanders said that some guides still fished in the park during the closure because of economic necessity.
“I talked to a few of them,” he said. “They said, ‘The park’s not going to pay my mortgage for me, and the park’s not going to pay my bills for me,’ so they went fishing. This was not a lot of days, it was a few days. Those days they never saw anybody.”
Sullivan said he, too, was fortunate. He said he lost about four trips. He could have lost more, but he was able to talk his clients into fishing at night for tarpon and snook in Biscayne Bay in Miami.
Guides in the Keys either had to cancel trips for snook, redfish and tarpon in the park or, like Sanders, make a long run into the Gulf of Mexico or fish shallow reefs in the Atlantic Ocean for Spanish mackerel, snapper and grouper.
As soon as they were allowed back in the park, guides out of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada reported great fishing for snook and tarpon, according to marina owner Richard Stanczyk.
Stanczyk did note that the timing of the shutdown was good because early October is a slow time of year for business.
“Out of our 24 guides, only six were fishing,” said Stanczyk, who added that all of his marina’s guides obeyed the rules and stayed out of the park. “None of them lost any trips, but there were people who didn’t book trips because of the closure.”