Charter captains Eagle and Russell provide update on island-area waters | News, Sports, Jobs


Capt. Cathy Eagle and Capt. Bill Russell.


Charterboat Capt. Cathy Eagle has been navigating the local waters of Pine Island Sound and Matlacha Pass, specializing in dolphin and nature tours, for over 40 years. Since Hurricane Ian our water and marine life has changed drastically, although temporarily, thanks to nature’s filtration system. Eagle spends a great deal of time running her boat from Matlacha to Cabbage Key, which has turned into roughly a 45-minute ride, she said.

“Because of all the debris in the water, you can’t just fly out there. Probably a third of the navigational markers are down, and you don’t know where they are, especially if it’s low tide, you run the risk of hitting something.” Eagle said.

If you find yourself on the water right now, you have to move slowly and take your time, she said, reminding folks that they are much better off going out at high tide and staying in the navigable channel the best they can, although there’s no guarantee that there will also not be debris inside the navigational channel, she said.

“In terms of my tours, the Back Bay Matlacha Echo Tour is now the Back Bay Matlacha Disaster Tour, because the whole narrative has changed. The landscape has changed. I’m not seeing dolphin … what I am seeing are schools of fish, which is good to see, but the red tide is now in Matlacha Pass, though it’s not as bad as it is in Pine Island Sound and Charlotte Harbor, it is here now,” Eagle said.

According to Eagle, those who are sensitive to respiratory issues may experience some reaction to the water now, such as a cough or tightness in the throat, although, for most, there will be no sign of smell or taste, and it isn’t. usually seen. Eagle said after all of the time she’s spent on the water, she has an immediate response to red tide — in her case a light cough.

It’s not long term for me. I don’t experience it unless I’m right in the middle of it. When I get away from it, I’m fine. Now the fish can’t get away from it. Dolphin and sharks will go off shore for hurricanes. They can swim very quickly and get away from the red tide, and get away from the storms, but the little territorial fish that are at home here — they’re dying because the red tide suffocates them.” Eagle said.

A great dilemma she sees for our area, with a focus on Matlacha Pass, are the numerous boats washed up in the mangroves. She said it is easier to move the boats at high tide, but even then, the boats are filled with mud, weighing them down in the shallow water.

“Because of the surge pushing the bottom of Matlacha Pass up into the mangroves and into these boats, it’s almost impossible to access them, leaving a boat graveyard out there.” Eagle said.

Currently, Eagle is taking tours out of Miceli’s in Matlacha.

Lifetime island resident Capt. Bill Russell said he’s only been out on the boat once since Hurricane Ian. After speaking to other local captains, he said, red tide is a major problem right now for all the guides.

“Honestly, right now I haven’t wanted to go out, with everything everybody’s going through, it just doesn’t feel right to go out fishing,” Russell said.

He said there are spots you can find on the water that haven’t been affected by red tide, but he doesn’t think anyone wants to eat anything caught with all the debris still in the water.

Even catching and releasing fish would put unwarranted stress on the fish, he said, and with the poor water quality, recreational fishing is likely not a good idea.

Although Russell had originally been booked for fishing tours for the next few months, he’s waiting until things get settled down again to get back out there.

Due to the water quality and everything folks have gone through, everything’s changed. Everything’s different. We’re still here. We’re gonna start again either in December or the first of the year — at some point everyone’s got to get back to their normal routine again. I’m looking at the long term and not the short term.” Russell said.

Editor’s note: Both Capt. Bill Russell (On the Water) and Capt. Cathy Eagle (Dolphin Tales) are regular columnists for The Pine Island Eagle. They have put their columns on hold due to Hurricane Ian.


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