On The Hook: Snookmania

BILL WALSH

To many, the snook is not an ordinary fish; it’s an a absolute passion with fins.

Take for example, this past Saturday evening, hours before the snook season reopened after a two year closure, it was like Christmas Eve you know “like the stockings were hung by the chimney with care.”

The marinas had sold out of Zara Spooks (legendary snook top-water lure); boats and crews were already arriving at the Collier Boat Ramp; the resident snook by the bait tanks at the Rose Marina were there but appeared a little edgy; the charters were booked with starting times before first light the next morning.

All focus was on this cagey denizen of the deep who has totally frustrated more than he has satisfied over the years. It’s elusiveness to the bite; it’s valor in the fight and it’s succulence on the table have made the snook an absolute legend.

Now, the authorities value the snook as a premier sportfish as well. Consider the fact that the keeper size snook must fit into a five inch window to be harvested if it be smaller than 28” or larger than 33” it must be released. Considering that you catch snook as small as 12” and well over the 33” maximum, that is a vexing target to try and land something for the grill.

Have a couple of stories about “snooking” over the years that have a little different bent to them. Hope you like.

Harvey was one of my regulars. Lived northeast but came to Florida often basically because he loved our water and loved to fish. Self admittedly he had been making the trek for over 15 years and had yet to catch a snook; either with me or anyone else that took him fishing. He was “snookless” and his absolute passion, obviously, was to change that.

He only booked trips during the few months each year that the snook harvest was open. His focus on snook was like a laser. No snapper fishing; no drifting after pompano; it was live bait on circle hooks on current points and shadowy mangrove edges deep in the far reaches of the backwaters for the four hour charters. Nothing else.

We, obviously, didn’t have much take home. Occasionally, we’d hook a nice redfish which he would reluctantly toss into the cooler snapper, pompano, mackerel, flounder, sheepshead they all went back.

And then, one cool fall morning, fishing live bait up along the Intercoastal, he had tossed a live pilchard tight to some mangrove overhangs just off a current point and had settled back when the water exploded and the reel began to scream.

A mega-class, gorgeous snook broke water some twenty yards to starboard with a thrashing tail dance. Harvey couldn’t even talk he was overcome with the moment.

The struggle that ensued you could classify as legend. Snook dives for the trees; Harvey steers him away: snook runs to open water; we pull anchor and follow: Snook makes a final run back under the boat; Harvey plunges the rod tip deep in the water; the snook whips around and turns on it’s side ... exhausted. Just like Harvey.

We carefully net the beautiful snook and lay it on the tape it’s a legal 32” beauty.

“Some good eating here Harvey, congrats on your first snook” I blurt.

As I open the cooler lid, Harvey stops me. “Put him back. Release the fish”

As I immerse the fish alongside and try to re-oxygenate it, I ask “Are you sure, you waited years for this. You don’t even have a picture”

“I’m as sure as I’ll ever be. What a great fish and a terrific fight. He deserves to live on. I don’t need a picture, I have a world-class memory to warm my cold nights. Let’s go find some pompano.”

Class on class.

The second snook adventure shared is markedly different.

It’s quite a few years back and I have a nice family aboard that loves to shell and fish. The mix of the crew on this particular day was the mother, her sister and three small boys, all not yet teenagers; they wanted to fish the leaders wanted to shell.

We went on the western beach side of Keeywadin Island shelling to start the trip. The boys were promised some fishing before we finished the half day trip. It was a nice calm day and the flat, clean water off the island was ideal for shelling (and fishing).

As the boys disembarked, I gave them all a rod with a small plastic bag with a half dozen shrimp or so after they promised to take care of the gear.

They splashed into the water and took off going north along the beach. Thankfully the shellers were engaged in searching the beach in the opposite direction.

If you’ve ever beached a boat on the Gulf edge of Keeywadin Island on a tranquil day, you know how absolutely “Carribbean” it feels. The emerald water and white sand all to yourself is quite a trip.

Enjoying the quiet, I’d occasionally glance up the beach where I could see the three boys fishing well sort of, anyhow. Lots of cavorting; not much fishing as I remember it.

Then I saw one of the boys making his way back towards the boat. I recognized him. His name was Justin and, strangely, he was proceeding slowly in waist deep water towing something on his rod. Every once in awhile he would stop and be active managing whatever it was on his line.

Took him forever to get close to the boat and as he closed in, I jumped off to meet him and his “partner”.

“What you got there, Justin?”

“Got a big, big fish. It’s all silver with a black line down his side” Justin blurted.

When I got close enough there was an enormous snook; probably 36” or more that had just been walked down the beach like the family dog by this youngster.

The snook appeared none the worse for wear and when I asked Justin why he went to all that effort; he simply said; “Such a beautiful fish and I didn’t want to hurt him trying to get the hook loose; can you help, Captain?

“Sure can, Justin, sure can “

Snook sure are special.

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a Marco Island charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolcharters@compuserve.com.

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