Gulf Coast and Everglades anglers won’t be filleting snook for supper for a while, thanks to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's decision to close snook season through August 2012.
Snook season will re-open on the East Coast this year, on Sept. 1, as scheduled.
As snook recover from freezing temperatures the past two winters, the FWC is trying to protect the species, which biologists have said was hit harder by the cold on the Gulf Coast than on the Atlantic side.
The Snook Foundation estimated a half-million snook were killed statewide in early 2010.
Still, some area captains say snook populations are in good shape considering the wipe-out, as decent numbers of big snook have been reported in the passes and off the beaches, as well as in channels, river mouths and the edges of bars on lower tides.
Catch-and-release snooking will go on as scheduled. The FWC and many charter captains are asking anglers to release snook quickly — boatside if possible. Snook should not be held vertically, a position some captains say damages a snook's spine.
A popular method of catching snook includes chumming a flat with scaled sardines and then free-lining a shiner on a 1/0 circle hook with 10-pound test line and a 25-pound fluorocarbon leader (increase that by at least five pounds when around mangroves, bridges or oysters).
The snook closure will do little to attract visitors and jolt the economy. FWC snook biologist Ron Taylor said snook anglers in southern Florida made 1.8 million trips specifically targeting common snook, a direct economic value of $620 million. This includes money paid for charter guides, bait, tackle and sunscreen.
Also at the last FWC meeting, regulators created a “Special Permit Zone” for all waters south of a line running east from Cape Florida and south on a line west from Cape Sable. Areas north of these lines comprise a different management zone.
Recreational anglers are allowed one permit per person, and two per vessel, at minimum fork length of 22 inches. No commercial harvest is prohibited in the Special Permit Zone, which includes a May-July closure.
Beyond the Special Permit Zone, recreational anglers can keep two fish per person between 11 and 22 inches, including one of more than 22 inches. (Vessels are limited to two permit of more than 22 inches in length.)