2011: ‘Monster’ year in the outdoors world

Treasure Coast outdoors in 2011 was a monster in more than ways than one.

From record drought to record rainfall to fishing records, the events that will be remember most by area anglers, boaters, hunters, surfers, sailors and divers can only be categorized in one way — It was a Monster of a Year.

Here’s our Top 10 for 2011:

1. Lake Okeechobee monster haul.

February’s FLW Tour Open fished on Lake Okeechobee featured 100 professional bass anglers — but the bass stole the show. Winner Brandon McMillan, of Pahokee, topped the field for a four-day bag limit, 20 bass, weighing a combined 116 pounds. The top three finishers all topped 100 pounds. It was the largest total catch and largest winning catch ever in the FLW Tour’s 15 years of existence.

2. Sea monsters visit Treasure Coast.

It was the summer of monsters in Treasure Coast waters. There were three sightings and one collection of dead giant squid in June. Then there was three sightings of a sawfish in July later found dead and another dead one found in April. Then there was the great jellyfish invasion of August that was so severe it nearly shut down the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant and killed dozens of huge Goliath grouper — monsters in their own right.

3. River monsters visit.

Several human and two fish monsters made visits to the Treasure Coast. New Wave Taxidermy in Stuart was commissioned to produce replica mounts and a skin mount for the all tackle world record 130-pound blue catfish caught in Missouri and the largest alligator gar ever caught, a 327-pound beast caught February by a commercial fisherman in Mississippi. The “Mississippi Monster” as it was nicknamed drew plenty of attention — even the interest of Mr. River Monster himself, hit TV show host Jeremy Wade, who was visiting the Treasure Coast for the second time this year to catch a monster of his own. George Burgess, curator of the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville, also visited Harbor Branch to present a seminar in August about the mysterious and endangered sawfish. Jim Abernethy, world-renowned shark diver also visited to introduce the pubic to Emma, a 10-foot long tiger shark as gentle as a house cat, or so he says.

4. Tiny monster hunters.

The MCAC Reef Builders Tournament off Stuart in July featured the area’s first lionfish roundup. A group of 27 divers hauled 145 lionfish out of local waters to help slow the spread of the 12-inch long invaders.

5. Save a monster.

In November, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to issue a prohibition on harvest of hammerhead sharks and tiger sharks in Florida waters.

6. Monster waves.

Surfers thanked Hurricane Irene for missing the Treasure Coast, but produced epic long-swell surf for about a week. Coastal engineers were not as happy.

7. Monster margate.

A new all tackle world record black margate was caught in February and later certified by the International Game Fish Association. Fort Pierce angler Joe Bahto, fishing with Capt. Mark Dravo of Y-B Normal charters in Fort Pierce, weighed in the 15-pound, 5-ounce “Mexican bull” caught with a shrimp on the first reef line outside Fort Pierce Inlet.

8. Monster releases.

The 27 boats fishing in the Pirates Cove Sailfish Classic Dec. 2-4 piled up a tournament-record 374 sailfish releases in three days. After setting its record of 330 fish in 2010, it was the second straight year the 24th annual tournament broke its record.

9. Monster sand bar.

The St. Lucie Inlet began and finished 2011 without being dredged and has nearly shoaled across at its mouth. Thanks to creative funding by Martin County and other partners, relief is on the way in early 2012.

10. Monster weather.

Stakeholders, taxpayers and water managers could do little in 2011 as Lake Okeechobee began drying up again following the driest spring on record. It reached 9.53 feet on June 23, its lowest bottom mark since it hit 8.87 feet on July 7, 2007. After a dry summer, the Lake Okeechobee region experienced the fourth-wettest October on record and received good rain in November and early December to put lake levels in much better shape heading into what is forecast to be a dry winter/spring.

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