Spring break: Snowbird style - Winter visitors endure big chill to catch big fish

Ron Linker of Canada shows off a grouper he caught Thursday aboard the Destiny with Capt. Chris McConnell.

Just when you think it’s too frigid to go out, they show up with a rod and reel in hand. And not only do they go fishing, but they make it worth their while with some mighty big catches.

For the folks from the North that are going fishing right now, the 30 and 40 degree weather is like spring break. After all, they left behind inches of snow and sub-zero temps.

Jerry Ervin of Michigan left behind single-digit temperatures to fish aboard the Sweet Jody with Capt. Cliff Cox.

"I go when the boat goes," Ervin said, as he held up his two big red snapper.

The Sweet Jody is one of three party boats in Destin that are part of a two-year pilot program that allows them to land red snapper. The Destiny and Destin Princess along with Sweet Jody have an allotted amount of snapper they can catch for the year. Once they catch their limit, they are done for the year.

The winter visitors are taking advantage of the program and pulling in the snapper while they can.

Mike and Debra Higgins of Northport, Ala., were aboard the Sweet Jody as well on Wednesday.

The Higgins, who were celebrating Debra's birthday, pulled in their limit of red snapper — two each.

"We went today, because we couldn't find a colder day," Mike jokingly said.

The temperature on the water Wednesday was in the low 30s.

"We had ice on the deck when we got here," said Capt. Cliff Cox, noting they had it hosed off by the time the customers got there to ship out.

Steve and Kathy Oyler of Alaska didn't mind the cool temps one bit.

"It was awesome," Kathy said. "I don't think my bait hit bottom before I had a bite. I was already pulling in fish when others were just putting down."

The Oylers, who are here until March, filled a stringer with red snapper, mingo and a grouper. Gag grouper are also part of the pilot program.

Jimmy Svacil of Ohio, where the temps are again in the single digits, pulled in a pair of red snapper, mingo, white snapper and triggerfish.

"It's about time we can catch snapper," Svacil said. "It's better than throwing them back and watching them die. I go every chance I can."

Tom Milliren, who recently moved to the south but has been a regular on the Destiny for years, experienced a first on Wednesday.

"My line froze on me," he said. "It broke right at the swivel." He explained as he was dropping his 60-pound test line in the water it just snapped with only the bait on it.

Milliren retied and dropped it down again, just to have the line snap a second time.

The third time was the charm and he caught a fish.

The boats were back on the water Thursday and the Sweet Jody and Destiny both came in with some nice fish.

Local angler T.J. Boyet pulled in some big red snapper and triggerfish, not to mention mingo and white snapper on the Sweet Jody.

Phil Mosel of Wisconsin reeled in a stringer filled with red snapper, mingo, white snapper and one gag grouper.

Ron Linker of Canada also had a grouper.

The party boats are not the only boats fishing.

Capt. Gary Jarvis on the Backdown 2 and the Lee family from Texas had a good day on the gulf. They pulled in three amberjack, a pair of triggerfish and some mingo.

Fishing is good. Bundle up if you need to during this winter-time, snowbird spring break.

See you at the docks.