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On the Water: Snook season to reopen in September

By Staff | Sep 7, 2016

Jim Manelli of Chicago with a keeper-size snook measuring 30 inches. This snook was caught on a live pilchard in Pine Island Sound fishing with Capt. Bill Russell. PHOTO PROVIDED

Snook is a Southwest Florida game fish that is known for its unparalleled fighting ability, tenacity and great table fare. Traits that made the species such a popular inshore target also have led to some of the strictest fish regulations in the state.

Even with lengthy closed seasons and a narrow slot, many feel snook stocks aren’t where they should be. January 2010 delivered a severe blow to snook populations as record cold killed them by the thousands. It’s possible as many as 70 to 80 percent of the snook population in Southwest Florida perished with the cold. An emergency closure on snook season immediately followed and season remained closed for nearly four years to allow them to rebound.

While many anglers are anticipating season with the opportunity to bring a snook home for dinner, others believe that stocks have not made a sufficient recovery and all fish should be released. Whatever side of the fence you fall on, the season is open as of the first day of September. If you catch a legal size fish and bring it home or you choose to catch and release them all, there is no right or wrong, just what you believe is right.

During the closed season, snook are still a very popular target to catch and release, past studies show a mortality rate of around 2 percent for released fish. With the narrow 5-inch gap (28-33) to be a legal, or keeper fish, it’s not easy to catch one in the slot, so most fish are still caught and released whether season is open or not.

History shows at one time snook weren’t a popular fish at all, in fact they had little food value. Pre-World War II, snook were known as “soap fish,” back then the skin was seldom removed from a filet before consumption; the thick hide of a snook gave the meat a strong, nasty, soapy taste. Snook were caught and sold commercially for cat food and fertilizer, but not much else.

Eventually people figured out how good the meat was with the skin removed and snook were commercially fished heavily, with stocks declining until the late ’50s when they were given game fish status. Over the past 30 or so years we have seen the seasons shorten and slot size reduced in attempts to manage the increasingly popular fish.

What makes snook so popular? Along with their fighting abilities and great taste, they can be stubborn and are often a real challenge to entice to take a bait, especially the large ones. But when you do hook up, there is no other fish that equals their ability to make drag screaming runs, jumps and instinctively know where and how to get to any type structure and part ways.

Words of caution, when you hook into your first good one or have a great day of snook fishing, expect to become addicted or, for some, obsessed. I got hooked at a very early age; to this day there is not a fish that swims that I would rather catch. To me they are the ultimate shallow water gamefish.

Despite the fact they can be finicky, you can catch them without a lot of expense, at any time, day or night. Whether you are fishing from an expensive tricked out boat or standing on a bridge or pier, if you do a little homework, you can catch snook. In fact, the state record is 44 pounds 3 ounces; it was caught on April 25, 1984, from the Big Carlos Pass Bridge on Fort Myers Beach. Bob De Cosmo, the gentleman who landed the record fish, was the bridge tender at Big Carlos Pass at the time and was also my neighbor in Matlacha. He had the big fish mounted on his wall; let me tell you, it was impressive.

If anglers fish smart, respect the resource and use common sense, I believe local the snook population will continue to increase with open seasons. Most fish landed are not in the legal slot (28-33 inches)- if you land them quickly, handle them gently and quickly return them to the water, it will increase the odds of survival. If using live or natural baits, only use circle hooks. I do not know why circle hooks are not mandated for inshore fishing, they are for grouper and snapper offshore. Fish are very seldom hooked deep on circles, most are in the corner of the mouth, causing minimal harm to the fish.

Snook are continuing to make a recovery and I believe most anglers agree the numbers are on the rise. With good management and educating anglers to respect the fishery, hopefully we can reap the benefits for years to come.

Along with a salt water fishing license, you are required to purchase an annual snook stamp to possess a legal fish. It’s a good idea to visit www.myfwc.com and read up on current regulations that include size, possession limit, season, and measuring techniques.

If you have a fishing report or for charter information, please contact us at 239-283-7960, on the Web at www.fishpine-island.com or email: gcl2fish@live.com

Have a safe week and good fishin’.