Snowbirds swoop down on fish - A chilly day on the Gulf is better than a day on the ice

Jim Hansen of Wisconsin holds up an amberjack he landed while Clifton Cox assists in holding up the rest of his catch that included red snapper and mingo.

Cold temps? No problem for the winter visitors that continue to load the party boats for fishing on the Gulf of Mexico.

"It was minus 16 degrees when we left home; this is nice," said Dennis Ellis of Michigan.

When the 24 fishermen boarded the Destiny Thursday morning, the temperature was about 30 degrees. And by the time they got back to the docks around 4 p.m. at Fishing Fleet Marina it wasn't much better with the thermometer reading 43 degrees.

"This is beautiful weather," Ellis said as he held up a pair of huge triggerfish along with red snapper and mingo.

Capt. Chris McConnell of the Destiny, fishing about 25 miles out, reeled in stringers loaded with mingo, white snapper, triggerfish, red grouper and 34 red snapper.

The Destiny, along with the party boats Destin Princess and Sweet Jody are part of a pilot program that allows them to currently land red snapper. Each of the boats has been allotted a bank of red snapper for the year. The number was reached based on their catch history from 2011. Once they have reached their allotted number, they are done on red snapper. The captains are hoping that their allotments will carry them through the end of July.

The Sweet Jody, with Capt. Cliff Cox at the helm, came in a few minutes before Destiny with 23 people and 46 red snapper.

"We got all we could," said Cox. "It was really nice out … we got some keeper 'jacks and some nice snapper."

And he wasn't kidding.

Randy Hoff and Mike Meyer of South Dakota pulled in a couple of 14- to 15-pound red snapper.

"This program is awesome. It's a great opportunity for us," Hoff said.

"It's good for the economy and it's good for everybody," Meyer chimed in. "It's definitely better than a good day ice fishing.”

Those two snowbirds weren't the only ones excited to keep red snapper.

Jim Hansen of Wisconsin said he comes every year, but usually only goes fishing once a year.

"I'll go more because of the snapper," he said.

However red snapper wasn't the only thing on his stringer. He had mingo and a nice amberjack.

Greg Crane of Nashua, New Hampshire, also pulled in an amberjack on the Sweet Jody.

When asked what the biggest fish he’s ever caught is, Crane was quick to reply, "this one," as he showed off his amberjack. The largest before his amberjack was a 12-pound red snapper on Tuesday.

For Zeb White of North Carolina it was his first time to go fishing on the Sweet Jody.

"It was fantastic and I caught plenty of fish. I caught enough to pay for my trip," White said. "And I've never caught a red snapper before."

The winter visitors are having a blast reeling in the fish, don't let them have all the fun.

See you at the docks.