Remember the sound?
The first one snaps a quiet, nighttime canal to life. Soon, if the conditions align, a chorus of "pops," varied in pitch, escalates to a crescendo. Distant lightning chimes in, stinging the horizon and flashing the water to highlight an orchestral masterpiece.
What a sound, right? Sort of like spiking a marble off a metal wall. But louder. It's the bone-on-bone collision of a snook's mouth slamming the trap on a bait fish.
Your head turns. A boil on the water ripples and multiplies.
Cast right there. Three o'clock.
Bach, do your thing.
Unfortunately, the music skips following a 2009-10 snook freeze. Snook Foundation executive director Rick Roberts estimated it killed about a half-million snook statewide. Another cold wave shocked snook for about a month this past December.
Fishing isn't the same without Snook Music.
Few fishing reports are mentioning Florida's premiere inshore fish for sport and economic health. Snook are out of season, and captains don't want you targeting them. Some anglers remain on the "hush" about snook spots. Can't blame them.
Many snook have fled backcountry areas, headed for the flats as they do during the early spring. In the late spring and early summer, snook congregate around the passes as they prepare for their spawn off the beaches.
Ready to bury a hook in a snook?
Three o'clock, remember?
“Nature will determine your catch,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission snook biologist Ron Taylor said. “If they're abundant in numbers that can support a harvest, you'll be catching snook.”
“But I suspect it's nothing like the 50- to 100-snook days people used to have in the summertime.”
Our economy misses the music.
Taylor said he is about to publish a research paper that states the common snook, known for its picky bait-chasing habits and ferocious fighting skills, is the most highly-valued fish to the economy. In 2004, he said, 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.
There also is a “trickle down” economic effect of $2.5 billion, Taylor said, which includes hotel room reservations and other travel expenses.
Taylor said since 2004, those values likely have increased 30-40 percent due to inflation and increased expenses, such as gas.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has a snook stock assessment due in November. “As far as knowing the conditions of the stock, I don't think anyone has a good idea,” Taylor said. “I can tell you all the guides and anglers from New Port Richey to Key West I talk to, they just don't see snook like they used to.”
Nothing like in 1995 when a 45-pound brute shook the rod held by “The Mad Snooker” Capt. Dave Pomerleau.
Pomerleau, a Sarasota fishing guide who specializes in targeting big snook from Sarasota to Port Charlotte, said he was fishing in Fort Myers by “a seawall near a small bridge and an island.” (How's that for avoiding the details of a spot?)
“It was kind of a tug of war,” Pomerleau said of the snook slab that gulped his bait — a live ladyfish.
Pomerleau said the catch was witnessed by about five people. Because he weighed the 45-pound snook with a propane scale and not an International Game Fish Association-certified scale, the snook remains an unofficial state record.
The official state record, according to the FWC, was landed in April 25, 1984 by Robert De Cosmo in Fort Myers.
That snook weighed a 44 pounds, 3 ounces.
Pomerleau said snook fishing still is strong from Sarasota southward. Bay water temperatures during mornings are holding at about 72 degrees. Snook become aggressive feeders when the water's around 74 degrees.
Aggressive enough to wait in ambush — as snook usually do — facing a ripping tide that delivers the bait. At night under a dock light, the snook is a still predator, seen as a black stripe amid a pool of sea-green illumination.
Still the snook remains, until the tide rushes bait fish before its nose.
And the music begins.