PANAMA CITY BEACH — Chris Elliott of Alabama says the fishing this fall in Panama City Beach is the slowest he has experienced in about two decades of visiting the area.
As he stood along the M.B. Miller Pier on Tuesday with his fishing lure submerged in the Gulf of Mexico, Elliott said he believes the situation was caused by a recent flare-up of red tide that sparked multiple fish kills across Bay County and other areas of the Panhandle.
"It's (normally) dynamite this time of year," he said. "We're catching a little bit, but it's dead compared to what it usually is."
'The worst I've seen': Red tide waning but still present in Bay County for 3rd week
When will it end?: Red tide intensifies along Bay County coast for second week
According to an update posted Friday afternoon on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Website, medium concentrations of the red tide organism, Karenia brevis, were present in only one water sample collected in Bay County during the past week.
Two weeks ago, very low to medium levels of the harmful algae bloom were detected in 16 samples. Very low to high levels were found in 18 samples three weeks ago.
Elliott noted that just a couple of weeks ago, there were "all kinds of crazy fish" laying dead across the beach near the pier. This includes lionfish, which he said typically are found in deeper waters off the coast.
For him, that was a clear sign red tide had dramatically affected the waters along the Panhandle this year.
"That was the worst red tide I've ever seen," said Elliott, who added Tuesday that conditions seem to have improved. "It was so bad it gave me a sinus infection."
While the red tide has killed fish and bothered some fishermen, it was not a factor for the 23rd Visit Panama City Beach IRONMAN on Nov. 6, an event official said. The official said he wasn't aware of any red tide-related complaints from the 2,000 competitors.
The race boasts a 2.4-mile swim in the Gulf, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.
Local health officials have said red tide can cause some people to have mild to short-lived respiratory symptoms such as eye, nose and throat irritation similar to cold symptoms. Others with breathing problems such as asthma could experience more severe symptoms.
Symptoms usually go away once a person leaves the area or goes indoors. Experts also recommend that people who experience symptoms stay away from beach areas. Those with persistent symptoms should contact their health care provider.
Past reports state that no one really knows what triggers red tide, although there are many ongoing studies to unveil its determining factors. It occurs when Karenia brevis, an organism naturally present in the Gulf of Mexico, begins to rapidly multiply.
While levels of red tide in Bay County appear to be declining, Daniel Peebles of Tennessee said it remains a topic of conversation between local fishermen.
Like Elliott, Peebles was among those fishing from the M.B. Miller Pier on Tuesday. He agreed the fishing was "very slow."
"I heard some other fishermen saying that it came through approximately a month ago and that a lot of dead fish ended up on the beaches," said Peebles, who added it was his first time visiting Panama City Beach. "I wouldn't have felt I had a chance of catching anything if red tide had bloomed when I was here, so I'm glad I missed it, but it will come back. It's just part of nature."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Bay County Florida sees less red tide after upward month-long trend