ORANGE BEACH, Ala. — “It's nice to have activity,” said Tom Steber, the general manager of Zeke's Landing Marina, as he scanned a busy dock of tourists who were about to embark on deep sea fishing trips.
Orange Beach is the closest white sand to Oklahoma, which is why I chose these Alabama shores and those just across the state line at Perdido Key, Fla., as my summer home for two weeks when my daughters insisted on a summer vacation at the beach.
Zeke's Landing is home to the largest charter fishing fleet on the Gulf Coast and is owned by Oklahoma oil man David Stewart.
Two years ago, Zeke's booked more than $3 million in fishing charters, Steber said. Last year, that number was just $288,000 because of the BP PLC oil spill.
Instead of putting bait in the water, the 41 fishing boats chartered out of Zeke's Landing last year were busy pulling oil booms and helping BP PLC clean up the Gulf of Mexico.
This summer, they are back doing what they are supposed to do, catching fish. Beach combers might still find some black sand this summer, but anglers on Orange Beach are discovering that the oil spill hasn't hurt the fishing — at least in the short term.
Fishing charters out of Zeke's Landing Marina are up 25 percent over two years ago. The tourists are back, and the fishing has been fantastic this summer, especially for red snapper.
“I feel like the red snapper were smart enough to move away from it (oil spill),” said Capt. Eddie Hall of the fishing boat, Shady Lady.
Anglers can catch and release red snapper all year but since June 1 have been allowed to keep two daily during the season, which continues through July 18.
The fishing charters at Orange Beach also provide overnight fishing in the Gulf of Mexico for marlin, sailfish, yellowfin tuna and other deep sea species. Anglers can also opt for inshore fishing trips for speckled trout, redfish and sheepshead.
But it's the red snapper fishing for which Orange Beach is best known, and it's better than ever, according to local angler Bill Wilson, who has been fishing these Alabama waters for 30 years,
“It's amazing,” Wilson said of the size and numbers of red snapper being brought into local marinas.
Having a year with essentially no fishing in the Gulf because of the oil spill is paying dividends this year for anglers.
The Alabama waters have always been good for red snapper. Steber said 42 percent of the red snapper caught in the Gulf of Mexico are caught off the Alabama coast, even though Alabama has only 3 percent of the Gulf's shoreline.