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Islands fishing industry gears up for snook opening

September 5, 2014
by CRAIG GARRETT ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Some say forget the Silver King. Snook season starts this week.

Sanibel and Captiva's welcoming machine has been gearing up for the annual flood of snook anglers. It includes guides, marinas, bait, tackle and rental shops, resorts, hotels and restaurants, anyone nourished by dollars at the lowest point in the tourism season. Snook started Sept. 1 and certain permits are required. The season ends in December. It had closed due to severe weather for three years through 2013.

Snook are considered among the state's best gamefish, certainly in southwest Florida. Tarpon is the only other gamefish that attracts so much attention, creates more web chatter and the annual chase for the best guides. In fishing, size sometimes truly matters, even snook anglers concede.

Article Photos

Snook season opened Sept. 1

But every snook angler is profoundly loyal, has a special trick, a favored lure or filament they claim is most attractive to the fish considered a wily gamer in any sportsmen's book. The key, guides agree, is working the waters "as natural as possible," said David Godfrey, a lifelong snook angler and dockmaster at the Jensen's Marina in Captiva. "Spinning, bait cast, trolling, a Calcutta or a bamboo pole, just know that snook are smart. It's why they swim in schools."

Jokes aside, the one absolute snook anglers won't share is a favored spot for the best fishing. Several guides and fisherman questioned about snook season clam up at the first hint of revealing a back-bay hot spot.

Some professional anglers, in fact, are even reluctant to admit the season is an option to outsiders.

"Snook is our premier gamefish," said Frank Ventimiglia, a Fort Myers charter captain. "I'd prefer (outsiders) not harvest it. It's my favorite. It jumps at the bait, runs hard and tests your tackle. It's better than tarpon."

While eager for the season and the tourism it attracts, Florida wildlife and game authorities also caution the snook population is just recovering from a historic freeze that devastated its numbers.

Gulf snook populations were negatively impacted by a 2010 cold snap, a Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission report said. Gulf snook numbers currently exceed management goals but are still rebuilding to pre-cold-kill levels, which is one of the reasons why it is important to handle fish with care in this region and use moderation when determining whether or not to harvest one, the report issued this year said.

"While the fishery is already more than 90 percent catch-and-release," according to the report, "the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission encourages anglers to continue to use moderation when determining whether or not to take a snook home. When releasing a snook, proper handling methods can help ensure the species' abundance for anglers today and generations to come."

In order to preserve the snook population, state guidelines regulate capture sizes. In the Atlantic, snook must be not less than 28 inches and not more than 32 inches total length, which is measured from the most forward point of the head with the mouth closed to the farthest tip of the tail with the tail compressed or squeezed while the fish is lying on its side. In the Gulf, they must be not less than 28 inches and not more than 33 inches total length.

A snook permit as well as a recreational saltwater license are required unless the angler is exempt from having a license. Snook may be targeted or harvested with hook and line gear only. Snagging is prohibited. It is illegal to buy or sell snook. Anglers are encouraged to visit to learn more on the regulations and seasonal guidelines.

While the novice snook anglers are studying tide charts and regulations and talking with the professionals, David Godfrey is kicking back with his fishing and island buddies, Nelson Diaz and Doug Rigsby, at the Jensen's Marina. The trio has decades in the fishing and charter industry, Diaz and Rigsby as charter skippers. Godfrey is a former shrimper with thousands of hours stringing for snook. He sometimes rides his boat to work, throwing a line out on the return trip, he said.

Godfrey is so eager to prove his prowess in capturing a snook, in fact, he hoses a frozen mullet, filets and baits the hook, drops it off a dock into the marina waters. As the bait is ravaged by attacking catfish -- it's the bobbing motion of a pack hit rather than a single strike of a large snook that clues Godfrey -- he pauses to describe one snook strategy.

"You work the mangroves," he said, "but careful not to get tangled. Stay just outside. I've even worked figure eights (looping) on a bridge. And then you see them hit it, like an explosion. It's the greatest experience. I love it."

Lynn Shortridge has fished Pine Island Sound and the Caloosahatchee for decades. On a bait stopover at Jensen's, the Fort Myers angler said snook fishing "is exciting. You forward to it. I grew up on the river and always fished for snook."



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