For snook, Honeymoon's over
By TERRY TOMALIN, Times Outdoors Editor
HONEYMOON ISLAND -- Walking down South Beach on a spring morning, you can almost smell the fish.
Snook love Hurricane Pass. It's full of bait and a great place to mate.
Catch it during the spawn in June or July, and you might see a half-dozen or so males swimming in circles trying to get the attention of a big female.
The fish are just love crazy. And all that exercise works up an appetite, which makes things easy for an angler willing to practice catch and release.
In the old days, when snook could not be kept in June, July and August, anglers used to fish shoulder to shoulder on the beach hoping to catch one last linesider before the season closed on May 31.
But now, with May added to the closed season, many anglers forget about snook in the summer. But they don't know what they are missing.
Hurricane Pass, a deep channel that separates Honeymoon Island from Caladesi Island State Park, is at the northern tip of the Intracoastal Waterway.
It's a well-used route for local boaters and anglers heading offshore to deeper water. Large schools of bait use the channel for the same reason.
The shore has several rocky outcroppings that provide shelter for predators as they wait to ambush prey in the predawn darkness. The fishermen wade or stroll the beach, almost exclusively at night.
The anglers who frequent Honeymoon, and only the die-hards brave the bugs during the summer's closed season, are a dedicated crew of regulars who will fish all night just to get one good run.
"It is about as close to heaven as I'll ever get," my old friend Nick DePasquale once said.
They say 10 percent of the fishermen catch 90 percent of the fish and when DePasquale retired and moved to Florida in the early 1980s, he was determined to be among that 10 percent.
Like many anglers new to the state, DePasquale didn't know where to start. He asked around, but few people were willing to help.
"If you want to catch snook," an angler told him, "go to Costa Rica."
But DePasquale didn't buy it. So he followed the guy to Dunedin Beach, now Honeymoon Island, and watched.
In the years that followed, DePasquale made that trip to the beach more than 1,000 times. He fished about 200 nights a year and kept detailed records of his catch.
When I caught up to "Mr. Nick" in the spring of 1990 (by the way ... Nick is 83 and still fishing), I too was relatively new to saltwater fishing. He showed me what lures to use and how to use them.
I quickly learned that when targeting snook, water movement meant everything. Why spend hours waiting for fish when all you need to do is check the tide chart.
The tides won't show you where to catch fish, but will tell you when they are feeding. And at a place like Honeymoon Island, that is all you need because you have half the puzzled solved.
That's why my friend Don Bergeron didn't hesitate when I asked if he could help me get a photograph of a big, healthy snook.
Bergeron told me to meet him on the beach at 6:30 a.m. But Bergeron, being a conscientious guy, got there five minutes early.
"Sorry, but I couldn't wait," he said, holding up a trophy-sized snook. "I just threw out a line and wham!"
Bergeron, a resident ranger at Honeymoon Island State Park, released the fish and it swam off to join its frisky friends.
"If they all could only be as easy as that," he said.
Now while every angler who visits Honeymoon Island isn't guaranteed a snook in five minutes or less, Bergeron fishes the pass several nights a week and thinks the odds are pretty good of catching one or two on a Saturday in June.
Anglers, especially those who never have caught a snook, will have a good chance to hook up Saturday when Honeymoon Island State Park hosts its 10th annual catch-and-release snook tournament. Registration is $15 and includes admission to the park. Children younger than 12 may enter the tournament for free. For more information on this shore and wade-fish only tournament, call (727) 469-5942. The park opens at 5:30 a.m.
To fish Hurricane Pass after hours from the shore of Honeymoon Island State Recreation area, you'll need to get an "after-hours permit" for $42.80. Once you have it, the rangers will give you a combination to the front gate. The after-hours permit is a privilege that can be revoked if park rules are broken.
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