Snook — to kill or not to kill, that is the question
Snook season is scheduled to open Sept. 1. The state of Florida has finally laid the responsibility for the conservation of snook back in our laps. After the freeze in 2010, our snook population was decimated, resulting in a closure in Gulf waters for almost three years.
Supposedly, snook numbers have rebounded and with the prolonged closure, current bag and size limits and methods of harvest, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission feels it’s safe to take fish to the dinner table without damaging the future population.
Now, the question for us is: Are the snook numbers back where they should be? Throughout the past few months I’ve been bringing up this question to a lot of charter captains and recreational anglers and the consensus is still 50-50.
There are a lot of snook fishers who feel there are acceptable numbers to again open the harvest, but there are a lot who feel there aren’t. Ultimately, it really boils down to personal judgment. Even though the season is open, there will be fishers who continue to practice catch-and-release, just as there were probably fishers who harvested snook right through the closure.
We also have to take into account fishers who are too ignorant to know what a snook is, so they throw them into the cooler without so much as a measurement. Either way, it will be interesting to see how all this pans out.
If you plan to keep a snook for dinner, the regulations are as follows — you can keep one snook per person per day. The slot is 28-33 inches and the open season will run Sept. 1- Nov. 30. If you’re required to have a fishing license, then you’re required to have a snook stamp, too. You can purchase stamps at your local tackle shop or at the tax collector’s office.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says Spanish mackerel are the mainstay at the pier. Fishers arriving early are getting in on schooling mackerel by using small white speck rigs or Gotcha plugs. Live bait — shiners or threadfins — also are an option, but remember to use a long shank hook. Average size of the mackerel is 12-15 inches, although larger fish are mixed in.
Pier fishers using live shrimp can expect to catch mangrove snapper and black drum. These fish are structure-oriented so make sure you’re casting your baits under the pier. A No. 2 live bait hook with a split shot placed 12 inches above is an ideal rig to target either of these species. Along with shrimp, you can use live shiners for bait, especially for the snapper.
Dave Sork at the Anna Maria City Pier is seeing good action occurring throughout the day, and the early morning bite is especially good. Large schools of threadfin herring are gathering around the pier, bringing with them the predatory fish, such as mackerel, jack crevalle, blue runners and ladyfish. Pier fishers, using small white crappie jigs or Clark spoons, are catching near limits of macks, as well as plenty of the trio. Live bait presentations are producing, although requiring a little more work than using lures. Threadfin herring are delicate, which makes it hard to keep them alive. So keep only a few in a bucket at a time and, even then, they won’t survive for long. This means you’re going to have to catch bait frequently. If you don’t have any jigs or spoons, you’ll have to go with the live bait approach, although lures may be in your best interest.
If Spanish mackerel isn’t your forte, you can always try fishing with live shrimp. When doing this, you’ll be targeting mangrove snapper, flounder and small grouper, so you’ll probably want to cast your baits either around the pilings or under the pier. Also, when putting baits under the pier, remember to set up on the side of the pier where the tide is rushing toward you. This will ensure that your bait will stay under and not wash away from the pier when you cast.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle is hearing of good numbers of spotted seatrout coming from Anna Maria Sound. Most catches are occurring on live shiners or shrimp, although artificials such as the MirrOlure MirrOdine are producing, too. Most trout catches are under-sized, although fish up to 25 inches are being reported.
Along the beaches and around the piers at the north end of Anna Maria Island, Spanish mackerel are accommodating fishers using artificials such as small white jigs, Gotcha plugs and silver spoons. Along with mackerel, expect to catch ladyfish, jack crevalle, blue runners and the occasional juvenile barracuda.
On nearshore structure, Keyes is hearing of mangrove snapper and flounder being reeled up. For either species, a bottom rig baited with a small shiner will do the job. Keyes also suggests hanging a chum bag from the transom to get the snapper fired up.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is catching a variety of species in Tampa Bay. By working nearshore structure, he’s catching limits of mangrove snapper. Most snapper being caught are in the 12-inch range, although bigger fish are in the mix.
Also on nearshore structure, Gross is catching Spanish mackerel, jacks and ladyfish, which is great action for his clients. All of these fish fight hard to the end and are aggressive to eat a bait.
On the flats, Gross is targeting catch-and-release snook and spotted seatrout. For the snook, Gross has his clients free-lining live shiners to schools of fish. Average size of the snook is 20-36 inches. For the trout, Gross adds a popping cork to a shiner. Expect to see fish ranging 15-20 inches.
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