It’s a good thing that Sept. 1 falls on a Sunday this year; if it were a weekday, a lot of South Florida anglers would be skipping work. That’s because snook harvest season is now open statewide following the annual three-month spawning closure.
Sunday also marks the first time in more than three years that anglers may keep snook in the Keys, Everglades National Park and the Gulf.
Anglers may take one snook per person per day within the slot limit of 28 to 32 inches (total length) in the Atlantic and 28 to 33 inches in the Gulf. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission decided to reopen the west coast fishery — closed since the massive cold-kill in early 2010 — after staff scientists determined snook populations could handle it.
But the FWC issued a news release last week urging anglers “to use moderation” to decide whether to take a snook home and to handle released fish with great care because the stock is still rebuilding to pre-freeze levels.
Many who fish for snook during the harvest season have no intention of keeping them.
Dave Baskin of Homestead loves to catch and release them using fly rod in Everglades National Park’s Flamingo backcountry. He doesn’t believe populations have recovered to pre-freeze levels, “but there are good signs,” he said.
“I personally don’t want it opened,” Baskin added. “I know people want to kill snook, but I’m just not into it.”
He said he finds fish along mangrove shorelines and creek mouths wherever there is strong current flow and pays special attention to downed trees, which snook use to ambush baitfish.
There are also a lot of opportunities for catching snook along Florida’s Atlantic coast, according to Tommy Greene, a 40-year veteran snook fisherman who owns Custom Rod & Reel Tackle Outfitters in Lighthouse Point.
Greene said a wetter-than-normal summer has discouraged snook from traveling upriver as they normally do in September. Instead, he said, they can be found in inlets, under bridges, near spillways, along ocean beaches and even offshore.
“It’s kept them out everywhere,” he said.
Greene advises walking the beaches from Palm Beach Inlet south in the early morning or late afternoon using live pilchards, sardines, pinfish, small grunts or artificial lures that look like small baitfish.
“Cast parallel to the beach,” he said. “These fish are running in the troughs.”
Snook are expected to be in ocean inlets through the full moon Sept.19, which historically marks the end of their summer spawning season. They may lurk near the jetties at inlet mouths all the way inland to the spillways — most of which are wide open and funneling baitfish into their eager jaws. Greene prefers the outgoing tide for inlet and bridge fishing.
Offshore anglers also are encountering snook — from sunken barges in the Gulf outside Everglades National Park to artificial reefs more than 60 feet deep from Palm Beach north to St. Lucie Inlet. However, most anglers are avoiding the St. Lucie Estuary because of the huge volume of polluted freshwater pouring in from Lake Okeechobee.
The FWC is continuing to monitor snook stocks on both coasts and requests anglers to report their catches on the Snook and Gamefish Foundation’s website, Snookfoundation.org, by clicking on the “angler action” link. Researchers also would like anglers who keep snook to save their filleted carcasses and turn them over to participating bait-and-tackle stores.
Drop-off locations in Miami-Dade County include: El Capitan Sports Center, 1590 NW 27th Ave., Miami; Capt. Harry’s Fishing Supply, 8501 NW 7th Ave., Miami; and Don’s Bait & Tackle, 90 N. Homestead Blvd., Homestead. In the Keys: The Yellow Bait House, 101741 Overseas Highway, Key Largo; Bud N’ Mary’s Marina, 79851 Overseas Highway, Islamorada; and The Tackle Box, 1901 Overseas Highway, Marathon. In Broward: Custom Rod & Reel, 1835 NE 25th St., Lighthouse Point; LMR Custom Rods & Tackle, 1801 S. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale; and T & R Tackle, 228 Commercial Blvd, Lauderdale-By-The-Sea.
Snook season will remain open until Dec. 1 in the Gulf, Everglades National Park and the Keys, and Dec. 15 in the Atlantic, including Lake Okeechobee.