About time to let snook off the hook
Catching snook for keeps ends soon, but that doesn't mean anglers can't turn their efforts toward catch and release during the summer.
By DAVID A. BROWN
Published April 28, 2007
Many love to catch them, and some love to eat them, but it's time to give a treasured Florida species a break.
Snook, that wily predator with the stern jaw and sleek, pin-striped flanks, receives the lion's share of angling attention during all but the winter months. The state says licensed anglers holding a snook stamp can keep one a day if it measures 27-34 inches.
But the window of opportunity is closing soon. On Tuesday, snook harvest ends through Aug. 31. That's because mature snook soon will invade coastal beaches for their summer spawn.
The fish, gathering in great numbers, become relatively easy targets for anglers. The closed season prevents any spike in harvest.
The bad news: Four months without snook fillets.
The good news: You still can catch them as long as you quickly release your snook with all due care and caution.
How to get them
Capt. Mike Witfoth of Spring Hill said he has seen some of the big fish moving onto area beaches, but many remain in the backwaters.
Witfoth suggests targeting cuts and drains along mangrove shorelines. You'll also find snook hanging around docks, spoil banks and the drop-offs adjacent to oyster bars.
Wherever you fish, current flow provides the essential ingredient.
"I like incoming water the best, but I've also been doing well on the last half of the outgoing tide, " Witfoth said. "The water has to be moving or the snook won't bite."
In their feeding mode, snook will hit bucktail jigs, soft plastic jerk baits and topwater plugs. Experienced snookers like Witfoth know consistency demands authenticity, and that means live baitfish - the snook's warm season preference.
Herds of scaled sardines (pilchards or whitebait) roaming area shallows provide abundant forage for hungry snook. Anglers who match the hatch typically find snook cooperative. Witfoth said he castnets his whitebait on the east side of Anclote Key and the grass flats off Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs. For this operation, it pays to show up on time.
"When the sun first rises, you can get (baitfish) on top and rodeo them (impromptu netting), " he said. "But if you get there late, you're going to have to chum."
The standard routine involves mixing canned jack mackerel wheat bread with just enough seawater to form a lumpy paste. Flicking nickel-sized globs downcurrent will attract baitfish that flock to the scent of fresh chow.
An 8- to 10-foot net with a 3/4-inch mesh will handle most whitebait this time of year. A few good casts provide plenty for bait for the main course as well as the appetizers.
When snook turn on, they'll feed with a vengeance, but those blistering moments are few and far between. More commonly, anglers have to talk the fish into the food mood by tossing handfuls of live baitfish.
Ideally, the sudden appearance of forage will stimulate feeding aggression long enough to slip a hooked bait into the hot zone.
"Sometimes they'll just lay there like they're asleep and you have to put some chum in the water to wake them up, " Witfoth said.
Witfoth hooks his baits through the nose, but if they spend too much time at the surface, he'll hook them through the pectoral fins. Hanging the hook under a baitfish usually makes it swim to the strike zone.
If that doesn't work, he'll add a small split shot to keep them.
Medium-action spinning outfits with 20-pound braided line and 30-pound fluorocarbon leaders fits well with snook pursuits. Expect a solid thump when a snook takes your bait and plan on a spirited performance of powerful runs and acrobatic leaps.
Snook dinners may soon come to an end, but even during the closed season, this species delivers pure angling excitement.
Locals to attempt big voyage
On April 30, Ralph Brown and Patrick McMun of the Hudson-based Dream Boats, Inc., will attempt to cross the Gulfstream from Atlantic Beach, N.C. to Bermuda, then cruise to New York Harbor and dock at Liberty State Park.
What's the big deal? They plan to make the trip in a 21-foot flats boat. Brown said his tunnel hull catamaran - the Intruder 21 - floats in 7-8 inches and runs in four inches. With next week's voyage, Brown hopes to prove his vessel can handle big water.
Brown and McMun will carry 288 gallons of fuel, along with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, a satellite phone, a spare motor, life jackets, three GPS units and a backup compass. They'll carry tackle for high speed trolling, along with smaller gear for survival fishing in the event of a mishap.
Brown estimates 25-40 hours for the first leg of the trip, and 30-50 for the second. They will file a float plan for emergency reference, but will make the trip alone.
"We are traveling unescorted, " Brown said. "We're 100 percent relying on the seaworthiness of the Intruder 21 and are comfortable with that."
Brown said that while proving the versatility of his shallow-draft vessel has been the primary motivation, there may be more at stake.
"It was not until long after this trip was planned that we started hearing that this could possibly be a world record - the longest unescorted oceanic crossing in a flats boat, " Brown said. "We then checked with the people at Guinness World Records. We should hear back soon."
For information, including a pre-trip blog, visit www.dreamboats.net.
[Last modified April 28, 2007, 07:23:25]
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