May 16, 2011
Snook to the left. Snook to the right.“They're everywhere, they're everywhere!” Jeff whisper-shouted.
We must have seen 400 snook of different sizes as Editor Jeff Weakley and I picked our skiff's way through a mangrove-lined creek just a few days ago. An hour earlier we had caught and released a 15-pounder along the beach. That was a ho-hum catch to a friend who's caught linesiders by the dozen there on many recent days.
Then came reports of thousands of large snook spotted at sunken barges and other artificial reefs. Wow.
These strong showings of snook, in most areas, provide an interesting thought in noting Florida Sportsman's 35th birthday year.
Seems like yesterday that we planned the magazine on an old broom closet door straddling two file cabinets.
Since then, so much has happened in fisheries management, and so much of it has been good.
Those snook, for instance, in our early days needed to be only 18 inches long to be kept, and the bag limit was a generous four. The liberal limits were part of the reason snook populations were depressed then.
Now, with the laws periodically tightened to today's 26- to 34-inch slot, and a bag of one or two fish per day (depending on which coast) during almost half the year, the snook biomass is clearly up, despite a people biomass that also grows faster than many of us might prefer.
Redfish also have rebounded tremendously since sportsmen finally managed to get them off the commercial market in 1989, achieving a one-fish bag that protects the stocks (although a much larger hatchery effort would do further wonders).
Not long after the redfish victory came passage of the recreational saltwater fishing license, an act that not only has raised millions for marine enhancement and given sportsmen a new measure of political clout.
ur most satisfying moment on the soapbox is the public's 72 percent adoption of the constitutional gillnet ban, almost 10 years ago.
Considering the large size of Florida's commercial netting forces and their entrenchment in the halls of Tallahassee during the decades before the net amendment, the victory over commercial over-exploitation has been called the most significant reform in saltwater fisheries history.
There are virtually no veteran anglers who dispute the tremendous fisheries improvements caused by the gillnet ban. Still, it scares some of us to think how many of today's fishermen weren't around in those days of overfishing and are therefore be vulnerable to commercial propaganda.
ut remember we must.
Not that all memories are sweet.
There was the time we fished all day in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River. Caught two emaciated jacks. Both had oozing tumors. The water consisted of mud-brown, polluted fresh water being discharged to tide in order to drain the Everglades for sugar farms.
That was 28 years ago.
The same drainage machine still attacks us now after rainy seasons. Much of it could be tamed by the “Zone D Diet” (see On the Conservation Front).
But for a moment or two, let's think about those hundreds of snook to the east and those eventful 35 years that have raced by.