On a recent hiking/fishing trip on May 18th out to the Tosohatchee wildlife management area, which is really a great place for social distancing normally, I was stunned to see about ten vehicles already parked at the east end of Powerline Road. Even though it was a Sunday, that is way more vehicles than the one or two you normally see out there. After parking the car and walking to where the road ended, there really weren’t all that many people around so I went ahead and headed south along the river to a spot I normally fish. The water right now is very low in the river and walking along the riverbank is as easy as walking along the beach. When finally getting to the bend in the river that is the normal spot I start fishing, there was already a guy on the island on other side throwing a cast net. He did not have a boat with him and from what I could see on the north end of the island the crossing looked to be no more than waist deep, so he must have waded across. The river is only about 30-40 wide there and in past times I have cut across that section but when it gets this close to the gators mating season I tend to keep my feet on dry land. There was one 6-8 ft gator that kept swimming between me and the guy cast netting but never came up on land on either side. Needless to say, with the cast netter operating right across from me, I was not getting much action.
The next thing I noticed was four guys walking up from the south along the river. Two of them had a stringer of fish tied off between them which looked to be holding about a hundred or so Blue Tilapia. Some of the fish looked to be at least 14-16 inches long. Then behind those two guys came two other guys pushing a wheelbarrow of fish, all of them looking to be the Blue Tilapia. I decided to fall in behind them to get a closer look at the fish they had. By the time I arrived at the end of Powerline Road, they had already loaded the fish into a white fiberglass box. I reached out to Bill Sargent who educated me on what type of Tilapia they were, that they are actually an invasive fish so getting them out of the river might not be such a bad thing and that he has been seeing the same type of operations going on up near Hatbill Creek. Being as they are an invasive fish, catching them with cast nets is legal. From what I have read on the FWC website as well as told by others, they are good table fare.
Bill has caught them on Shad Darts before and offered his advice on fishing small Shad flies deep and using a slow retrieve. I plan on heading back out there again soon and taking a sinking line to see if I can get a couple to hit. That is my Social Distancing Plan for now.