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G&F Digest: Fla. Gator Tragedy, Record Sheepshead, Trout Stream Closures

News and notes for hunters and anglers from across the country.

G&F Digest: Fla. Gator Tragedy, Record Sheepshead, Trout Stream Closures

Angler Brian Summerlin of Princess Anne, Md., recently landed a huge sheepshead while fishing in Tangier Sound. Shown here, the fish weighed in at 16.6 pounds and measured 26.25 inches in length. After supplanting the previous record of 14.1 pounds, Summerlin’s recent saltwater catch is now the new Maryland state record for the sheepshead species in the DNR’s Chesapeake Division of records. (Photo courtesy of Maryland DNR)

Fall has officially arrived and social media is revealing lots of smiling photos of western big-game hunters, early season whitetail bowhunters and even upland bird hunters. Here’s this week’s edition of the Game & Fish Digest.

Deadly Florida Gator Incident

A tragic case involving a homeless Florida woman and a 13-foot alligator grabbed international headlines after the gator was observed in a waterway with human remains in its mouth. News reports indicate that the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office in the Tampa Bay area was alerted to the deadly incident when a man noticed something on the way to a job interview. According to reports, including one from the BBC, the man passed by the waterway, saw the large alligator with what he thought was a mannequin in its mouth, and summoned help.

When deputies arrived to the Ridgecrest area not far from the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo, the report was confirmed on Friday, Sept. 22. Officers from the PCSO and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission then dispatched what was described as a 13-foot, 8.5-inch alligator, according to Fox 13 News.

At this point, as the medical examiner's office investigation continues, it's unknown whether or not the woman was already deceased and carried by the alligator or whether the large reptile attacked her. After the gator was killed and removed, PCSO Dive Team members recovered the remains of the deceased 41-year-old woman, who was homeless according to her daughter in a Facebook social media post.

"My mother … was the victim of the alligator attack at McCay Creek (rainbow village)," the daughter wrote. "Please understand that we do not have all information yet as the medical examiners report is not yet finished. My mother was apart of the homeless population that lived in the nearby wooded area. It is believed that she may have been walking to or from her camp site near the creek in the dark and the alligator attacked from the water. Please do not speak on what you don’t know. No matter how you put it, no one deserves to die like this."

Florida Teen Critical After Bowhunt Lightning Strike

The annual global "See You At The Pole" flagpole prayer rally for students took on extra meaning for a northeast Florida high school this week after a 16-year-old student was struck by lightning the previous afternoon while bowhunting with her father.

According to the Putnam County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, the teen and her father were struck by lightning that hit a tree near where they were hunting. The PCSO indicated that the lightning strike knocked the father unconscious, and when he came to, his daughter was nearby and not breathing.

"The father called 911 and began CPR as rescue personnel rushed to the scene," said the PCSO social media post. "Deputies arrived first and took over life-saving measures until rescue arrived and could transport the teen. Rescue personnel got the teen to the HCA Florida Putnam Hospital where she was stabilized enough to take to a trauma center. She is currently listed as critical."

As more thunderstorms dot the radar in northeastern Florida this week, the PCSO warned residents that more lightning is expected and that strikes can occur up to 10 miles away from any rainfall. They also asked local residents to pray for all involved.




"We stand with our community as we rally for this teen," said the sheriff's office. "She has proven a fighter and our prayers extend to her, her family and friends. Today members of our agency joined with students, faculty and community members at the Palatka Junior-Senior High School flag pole to pray. We ask those that feel so inclined to also include the family, as well as our dispatchers and those who responded last night to save this young woman's life, in their prayers."

Record Sheepshead in Maryland

The sheepshead record has fallen in Maryland for the third time in six years, this time thanks to a 16.6-pound specimen caught in Tangier Sound on Sept. 17, 2023 by angler Brian Summerlin, a Somerset County resident. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Summerlin's record catch measured 26.25 inches in length and broke the previous sheepshead state record mark, a 14.1-pound specimen caught by Daniel Mastronardi, Jr., in August 2020.

The recent catch came in 15 feet of water on a day when Summerlin had been catching a mix of black drum, striped bass, bluefish and more as he fished the stretch of saltwater. "I thought it was a black drum at first, due to the way the fish was fighting with some big head shakes, but then I saw it was a very large sheepshead as it surfaced near the boat," Summerlin said.

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The Princess Anne, Md., angler caught the state record using soft crab rigged on a "fish-finder rig"—sliding sinker, 8/0 circle hook, 60-pound braid, and 60-pound fluorocarbon leader—on a spinning rod. After landing the big sheepshead, he realized it was a potential state-record contender after checking the DNR website.

The fish was initially weighed and photographed at Sea Hawk Sports Center in Pocomoke City, then officially weighed on a certified scale at Kool Ice and Seafood Company in Cambridge. Maryland anglers who think they have caught a state record should download the record application, call (443) 569-1398, or send an e-mail to Erik.Zlokovitz@maryland.gov.

Montana Rivers Prep for Spawning Season Closures

Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks remind anglers that fishing closures during trout spawning season are about to begin on sections of the Big Hole, Ruby and Beaverhead rivers as biologists aim to reduce angling impacts in those famed trout waters.

The reminder comes after the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted this past June a slate of emergency fishing regulations to aid the state’s response for struggling population numbers in the three trout streams. These restrictions will limit fall angling during the brown trout spawning season for certain stretches of the rivers.

The move comes after public outcry this summer as the abundance of trout in several areas of the three rivers has steadily declined since 2011, along with an increase in fishing pressure. As a result, Montana aims for the emergency fishing regulations to help trout recover in those spots, in accordance with the state’s statewide fisheries management plan.

Also announced recently is the news that MFWP is beginning new research with Montana State University in a joint effort to better understand and manage trout mortality, recruitment and health in these stretches of hallowed trout water.

Crossbow Usage Trends Up With New Minnesota Regs

The archery deer season is already off and running in Minnesota. Minnesota Public Radio reports that a recent regulation change allowing any hunter participating in the archery season to use a crossbow appears to be gaining steam as early season archery deer harvest information trickles in for a season that began on Sept. 16.

Crossbows were previously legal during the archery season for some Minnesota hunters with a permit or over 60 years of age, but that changed earlier this year. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, crossbows are now allowed for Minnesota deer hunters this fall and spring turkey hunters next spring after a law change was passed earlier in the 2023 legislative session. Now, the Minnesota DNR says hunters who purchase an archery deer license may possess and take deer with a crossbow throughout the archery deer season.

According to the MPR report, the Minnesota DNR has been asking hunters about whether they used a vertical bow or a crossbow when they register harvested deer. "We have recorded 790 deer being taken with a crossbow, which is running about 40 percent of our total archery harvest," said DNR Big Game Program Leader Barb Keller, in the Sept. 24, 2023 MPR story.

Game and Fish Short Shots

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has confirmed a red tide outbreak in several regions of the state's Gulf Coast. The toxic bloom has been detected near Freeport and the Texas City dike, while being suspected of causing fish kills at San Luis Pass, Surfside Beach and the Quintana/Freeport Channel. Low concentrations of red tide have also been detected in water sampling in sections of the Lower Laguna Madre. TPWD says the last red tide occurrence in Texas was back in 2018 along the state’s upper and middle coastline. Updates are available at the TPWD Red Tide webpage or by calling the agency’s toll free number at (800) 792-1112. … In an effort to help with expanding deer populations, the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks has announced that the city of Havre has initiated an urban deer management plan. That plan, which includes archery hunting for antlerless mule deer within and adjacent to the city limits, is a part of a management plan that will "address deer that threaten human safety or property and reduce the potential for human-deer interactions and conflicts by lowering deer density within the city." MFWP says that one part of the plan is to implement a public archery hunt in areas identified by the city, which will run this fall until Feb. 15 next year. For full details, visit the MFWP website. … Last fall, it was the exclamation "We've got weights in fish!" and an unfolding cheating scandal in a Lake Erie walleye tournament that drew news headlines nearly everywhere. While details are still sketchy as of this writing, another fishing tournament scandal may be unfolding north of the border in Ontario, Canada, where allegations have been made about some tournament participants trimming the tail lengths of northern pike to gain an advantage. According to CTV News, four people are facing charges in the incident for allegedly violating Ontario Fishery Regulations at the recent tournament on Lake Nipissing.

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