On the Hook: Overwrought snook focus

Bill Walsh
Snook fish swimming in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida.

Maybe it’s the hype generated by Florida focused national sport media that drives the issue but for the hardened angler, it’s obvious that the landing of a snook ranks somewhere between getting the green jacket at the Masters and the winners lap at the Daytona 500. 

More:On the Hook: Undaunted!

For those who visit to Florida with rod in hand, can hardly think of any other piscatorial capture, to the point where it becomes a singular passion. And that phenomenon becomes increasingly evident the closer the calendar creeps toward September 1st each year.  You guessed it, that’s the fall  opening of the snook “‘keeper season.”

By way of background, the snook is, by far, the most protected sportfish working the Florida domain. Evidence the “take season” is limited to only four months and the acceptable take size is limited to a five inch parameter; so that drives a obvious best match up chance to be on a releasable.  

Us charter folks get all kinds of requests, fishing on pitch black docks come nightfall is the most prevalent and then closely followed by trips that begin before dawn where we again stage attempts on snook before the first rays of tomorrow to peek in. If you concocted the most difficult environment to catch one of the most elusive sportfish, you couldn’t do a better job.

With that as backdrop, travel back a year or so, and join me on a trip with Jim Desmond, who in sportfishing lore is known as “snook loco.”

Snook in ocean chasing lure while fishing

As in a couple previous years, he called a booked a morning trip on opening snook day.  This year he was hosting his seven year old twins. As he always explained in booking these trips, he felt that first snook catch in life ranks at the top of the list of masculine rights of passage. He felt his twins were ready for the journey. As we booked the trip for the morning dark hours of Sept. 1, we courteously discussed the strenuous effort and good luck that would drive our day; results do not come in a hurry and having seven year olds conjure up the patience to endure that hassle sometimes fades quickly. 

Jim responds as I knew he would. “I know my boys and they can handle all parts of our day.”

Amen. We picked the still black morning of Sept. 1 to hitch onto a good tide and booked the trip.

You always want one of these special event days to be perfect weather wise and our selected day promised to be just that. Nice light breeze from the east rippled the warm late summer crystal clear seas signaling a day with great promise.

Again, looking for every advantage on “season opening day”, our first stop would be the Capri Sea Buoy where we planned to “gold hook” a couple dozen frisky thread herring which would be our premier bait for the snook adventure.

As expected, we weren’t alone at the buoy even at this forsaken hour; what else on opening day? We had rigged three rods with sabiki hooks (multiple tiny gold hooks on a single leader) that the boys would enjoy and had at it.

They loved it. Just catching bait on light rods. Dropping the rig to mid-depth and working it vertically they would hook onto multiple thread herring on the unbaited hooks. Lots of hoots and hollers as we carefully deposited our snook bait in the live well.

The boys loved the action and after assembling a couple dozen baits in the live well and signaling”enough.” The boys pleaded for a couple more casts and we conceded. 

Our timing was text book perfect. The first glimmer of light met us at Little Marco Pass and joined the first trickle of the anticipated incoming tide. We set a spread of those herring baits on small circle hooks on fluorocarbon leader and fed into the current guarding the two sand bars that guard the entrance to the Pass.

The boys were handling the rods and Jim had grabbed his camera. Idyllic scene with first glimpse of the sun over the Australian Pines lining the beach with silhouettes of the two boys with rods in hand belonged on a magazine cover. All that was lacking was a bite, zero action.

Our time raced by. We changed baits several times and added split shot weight as the incoming tide heated up speed to keep the herring in the strike zone. A couple of strikes by voracious jacks kept the boys engaged and Jim more anxious.

Frustrated and with time running down we made a major move north to circa Canon Island cut and set the same baits along the current fed edges of the island. We had a couple of nice strikes in the accelerating current flow here and each of the boys landed a nice spec trout that was “boxable,” but still the targeted snook was among the missing.

We moved into two different spots in Hurricane Pass and had action on small snapper. Still zero snook, somebody forgot to tell them it was opening day.

Finally one of the boys had enough. “Dad, we really had fun catching those bait fish this morning, we’d like to do that again; please!

Jim’s facial expression looked like someone landed an uppercut on him. But his love and nurturing of those two boys prevailed and with a wave of the hand and “let’s go” back we went.

So, for the last half hour or so, the boys had a ball catching and releasing thread herring. Jim even set up a contest that paid a quarter for every herring caught.

Bottom line, Jim didn’t get what he wanted but the boys sure did. But, he stacked up all kinds of “Love ya, Dad” points with his twins by making it their day and doing what they wanted.

They headed out, all smiles to enjoy their fresh trout filets for lunch. Snook would be back on the “To Do List” for next year.

More:On the Hook: Finding the perfect fishing sector

Capt. Bill Walsh owns a charter fishing business and holds a U.S. Coast Guard license. Send comments to dawnpatrolmarco@cs.com.