Snook. It does a body good.

Last month my youngest son, Drew, brought me pan-fried snook, one of my favorites. I’d been dry-docked for a while, recovering from the consequences of a fall. The fish was white as snow and couldn’t have been more delicious.

Drew and his friend, Tom, have been into some of the best snook fishing I’ve heard of in more than 40 years. Man do they catch them—fishing at night, pulling these jigs about a foot under the water, really slow.

I remember years when snook were not that common.

Back in the 1950s, Florida took snook off the market. The story is, they traded with the commercial fishermen to allow market mullet fishing during roe season. It was sort of a ruse, because snook were not that desirable by netters, because they could cut the monofilament with their gill plates. They were also called soapfish back then; people didn’t know you needed to skin them. But of course when you skin them it turns into a different fish!

For years, snook were popular among South Florida fishermen—but at a distance. It was one of those fish you didn’t necessarily expect to catch, but if you did, it was a good day. For many years you could keep four, only 18 inches. But who’d get four snook? We’d go to Flamingo and maybe get one or two. Some guides in the Keys were pretty good at it, and of course in the inlets, like Jupiter, the snook sometimes ganged up by the thousands.

Vic Dunaway, founding editor of this magazine, would teach us the art of gentle jigging—and he would outfish everybody, moving that jig really slow. I’d always hesitate to do it, because it seemed like I’d get hung on bottom. Vic didn’t mind getting hung once in a while.

And then there were the years when they introduced rattles into topwater lures. One time I remember snook fishing with Bill Barnes in Key Largo, 25 years ago at least, and he outfished me five to one. I was fishing exactly like he was, but he had a rattle in his plug.

Bill was a school teacher who’d lost interest in the public school system. But he was a wonderful guy and an absolute fishing nut. He wanted to try writing, and we worked with him and he picked it up. He was friendly and laughed a lot. He spent a lot of time in Costa Rica—and in fact became partners in the Casa Mar Resort, which is famous for tarpon and snook.

Florida had snook kills during cold winters in the 1970s and late 1980s. The fish would loll around on the surface, and some guys would snag them when they shouldn’t, like down around Marco. Another bad one was 2010. But the fish always came back. In recent years we’ve had snook populations up in Jacksonville, and a reliable fishery in Ponte Vedra some years. That didn’t use to be the case.

I think today snook would be called a success story. The limits, if anything, may be too tight, but I think that’s better than too loose.

Under present management, snook fishing is open in Atlantic waters from February 1 until June 1. On the Gulf side, it’s open March 1 until May 1; the Gulf season includes all of Monroe County, which covers the Florida Keys and Everglades National Park. Fall snook seasons around the coast reopen September 1.

The bag limit is 1 per person per day, and one snook in the slot limit provides a feast for a family.

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2018

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