Bob Stasny shows off his Green Bridge snook catch, circa 1982. Islander Courtesy Photo
Nikki Smith of New York shows off a 29-inch catch-and-release snook she caught while fishing Aug. 23 with Capt. Warren Girle. Smith caught the linesider using a live shiner. Islander Courtesy Photo
Snook season reopens, memories of Green Bridge fishing
Snook season opened Sept. 1.
You now have through Nov. 31 to harvest slot-size fish — if you are lucky enough to catch one, that is. The slot for keeper snook is 28-33 inches, which means they must fall between those two measurements. Don’t forget to pinch the tail. The bag limit is one per person per day.
I rarely harvest snook these days. Still, the opening day of snook season puts butterflies in my stomach. The anticipation of hunting snook holds a special place in my heart. I think this spawned from fishing with my father when I was a boy.
My father was a die-hard snook fisherman. He mainly fished the old Green Bridge, back when it was operational, mind you. And he always fished at night. I remember him waking me up just before dawn, when he would get home from fishing, to show me a big snook before he filleted it.
When I was about 7 years old, I was finally tall enough to see over the railing of the bridge. This meant the greatest thing of all to me: I was able to go snook fishing with my dad.
When my father snook fished, he kept track of the tides. He knew when the fish would bite and when they wouldn’t. This being said, sometimes the “good tides” didn’t occur until the middle of the night. But that didn’t stop him. Nor me. I would struggle to stay awake, anxiously waiting to go fishing with my dad. Most of the time, I would go to bed and he would wake me up when it was time to head to the bridge.
What a strange new world I found. Everything seemed so still and peaceful. There was no traffic, no noise. When the wind blew from the east, there was the faint scent of cooked oranges emanating from Tropicana. That smell still takes me back to my younger days.
Upon arrival at the Green Bridge, my father would park the car and we would unload our gear. This consisted of a 5-gallon bucket containing numerous CD18 Rapalas and Long A Bombers, as well as some leader material, pliers, a flashlight and a pier gaff. Then we would make the long walk out on the bridge.
As we walked, we would pass snook fishers. They would swap fish stories with my dad and discuss whether the fish were biting, and then we’d continue on down the bridge.
Finally, we would stop walking and start fishing. One of the good snook spots was just to the south of the drawbridge. I remember looking down and seeing the shadow line on the water made by the lights on the bridge. And in that shadow line, I could see the silhouettes of snook as they sat, stationary and facing the tide. All that was left was catching one.
The method we used to catch snook is referred to as plugging. We would cast out a large lipped plug, such as a Rapala CD18 or a MirrOlure, and then retrieve it so it would swim along the shadow line. Sometimes you’d have to cast what seemed like a hundred times before you’d get a bite, but when you did, it was all worth it.
Although this method wasn’t the easiest to catch snook, it usually resulted in big snook. Any fish that is willing to hit a lure that is 10-inches long, is usually a big fish. Not only that, but just being out in the midnight air hunting snook is something to be cherished.
Well, my father and I don’t go plugging for snook on the Green Bridge any more. The Green Bridge closed in 1986 and they made a fishing pier out of it. Nowadays, I catch my snook out of a boat using live shiners. This is much easier than casting a plug all night long and seems to result in more fish. This being said, I can still say I love to catch snook thanks entirely to my father. I mainly practice catch-and-release fishing, too. I feel I’m not only preserving a species of fish, I’m also preserving a memory.
Capt. Warren Girle is fishing nearshore structure with good results. By using live shiners for bait, Girle is finding a wide range of species willing to bite the hook. Both reef and migratory fish are inhabiting structure, which is creating great opportunities for Girle’s clients to be successful.
Mangrove snapper are readily taking free-lined shiners or weighted shiners. By chumming with fresh-cut baits, Girle can sometimes lure the snapper right to the surface, which is when free-lined baits are most effective.
Alternatively, after chumming for a while and not seeing the snapper rise up, Girle simply adds a weight to the free-lined shiners rig and sends the bait to the bottom. This method also is resulting in hookups.
Along with mangrove snapper, Girle is catching juvenile red and gag grouper, flounder and Key West grunts. These species are being caught by bottom fishing.
Migratory fish such as cobia, Spanish mackerel and small sharks are being caught on nearshore structure as well. For the cobia, Girle is free-lining baits to sighted fish. For the sharks, live or chunk pieces of Spanish mackerel are top producers.
Jim Malfese at the Rod & Reel Pier says mangrove snapper are the top producers this past week. Keeper-size fish are being caught on live shrimp or live shiners. Pier fishers casting baits far under the pier are getting the most success. While targeting snapper, expect to catch flounder, small grouper and possibly snook.
Spanish macks are available at the pier, although the bite is swaying toward sporadic. Gotcha plugs, silver spoons or small speck rigs are great offering to catch these high-speed fish. Ladyfish, bluefish and jack crevalle can be mixed in at times which adds some variety to your catch.
Finally, the R&R offers great potential for hooking up with snook. Live shiners are producing a slot and under-slot fish. Those looking for trophy-size fish are using ladyfish or pinfish for bait.
Jonny Keyes at Island Discount Tackle says snook action is occurring along the beaches of Anna Maria Island. Beach fishers targeting snook are finding keeper-size fish during outgoing tides around Bean Point and Longboat Pass. To catch these linesiders, fishers are using artificials such as the MirrOlure MirrOdine or the Paul Brown Soft-Dine. Both of these baits are suspending twitchbaits. Colors that mimic a live shiner are the choice of most fishers.
On the flats, spotted seatrout are dominating the bite. Soft plastics, such as the DOA Cal jig, are producing trout bites, especially when fished around deep grass flats. For those fishing early morning, topwater plugs are a fun and exciting way to catch trout.
Finally, Spanish mackerel are being caught wherever baitfish are present. Look for large bait schools around the piers at the north end of the island. To catch the macks, cast Gotcha plugs or silver spoons to the edges of the bait schools.
Capt. Rick Gross of Fishy Business Charters is catching spotted seatrout on the flats of Terra Ceia Bay. By casting free-lined shiners over deep grass flats, Gross is connected with limits or keeper-size trout. Along with trout, Gross is catching mangrove snapper and flounder in the same areas.
Redfish are next on Gross’ list. By fishing shallow flats adjacent to oyster bars or mangrove islands, Gross is finding schooling reds during early morning tides. By casting live shiners into the schools, Gross is managing to catch slot- and over-slot reds.
Finally, Gross is producing limits of mangrove snapper around nearshore and inshore structure. Snapper 12-14 inches are the norm. Fresh-cut shiners either free-lined or weighted and fished on the bottom are attracting a bite.
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