March is a transitional month for much of Florida, but this year finds part of its annual emergence forestalled. Due to the vast numbers of fish lost during January's record freeze, snook season typically opened statewide on March 1 remains closed through August 31.
Shortly after the devastating cold kill, Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issued an executive order extending the winter snook closure through the spring season. In normal years, snook harvest closes from Dec. 15-Jan. 31 on Florida's Atlantic Coast and Dec.-Feb in the Gulf, Monroe County and Everglades National Park. Summer closures are June-Aug. and May-Aug. in these regions, respectively.
Anglers will lose their opportunity for spring harvests this year, but this is unquestionably a necessary sacrifice for the long-term health of Florida's premier inshore fish. Snook are a subtropical species, so cold water presents serious physiological challenges for them. The fish that survived the January freeze have remained holed up in the deep, stable environment of coastal rivers, canals, ports and other backwaters.
Once weather patterns stabilize and water temperatures begin to rise, snook will start to venture from their winter refuges. This emergence coincides with the spring explosion of baitfish like scaled sardines ("whitebait") and threadfin herring ("greenbacks"), so snook will feed voraciously through spring in preparation for their summer spawn.
Such fervent feeding will mean off-the-charts fishing action, as linesiders chew like mad. However, while catch-and-release fishing remains legal, anglers should consider going light on the snook this year. Tugging on one or two a day won't doom the species, but the all-out assault that usually takes place each spring will be too stressful on a population still reeling from the massive losses sustained at 2010's opening.
It's tough to tell Florida fishermen not to enjoy the much-awaited spring snook bite, but we are facing a very grim reality with preliminary loss estimates in the hundreds of thousands. Florida lost yearlings and mature spawning class snook, so the population took a big hit on both ends. Therefore, giving snook a break this spring will be best for the species' long-term. Anglers who choose to target snook should use tackle sufficient for quick capture. Keep the fights short, carefully revive the fish at boatside and give each snook the best chances of survival.
Trout season open statewide
March 1 brought the statewide opening of spotted seatrout. (Harvest closes annually Nov.-Dec. in the south region and Feb. in the Northwest and Northeast.).
Despite their relative soft body design and paper-thin mouths, trout are one of the most aggressive inshore predators, with a reputation for pummeling topwater plugs. Table fare ranks among the best in Florida and with bag limits of four per day in the south region and five in the northwest and northeast, trout will be a top spring target.
Reports indicate good trout action throughout the state. In the Tampa Bay area, Capt. Billy Miller has been consistently catching nice ones in the 15- to 20-inch slot range with the occasional "gator" trout up to four pounds. Drifting deep grass flats with live or artificial shrimp under a clacking cork is a tactic that anyone can master. Corks provide strike indicators and help keep your bait from snagging in the grass.
Miller will be speaking on this subject during his "Family Fun Fishing" seminar at the Tampa Tribune Southeastern Outdoors Exposition at the Tampa Fairgrounds, Saturday at 1 p.m.
His father, Capt. Bill Miller will also talk about trout during seminars based on his book "Fish Smart Catch More!" at 3 p.m. on Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday. For expo details visit triboutdoorexpo.
Editor's note: David A. Brown has a B.A. in journalism from the University of South Florida and you can see his work in Florida Sportsman, FLWOutdoors.com, Cabela's Outfitter Journal, TIDE, In-Fisherman, Louisiana Sportsman, The St. Petersburg Times and Saltwater Angler. He also ghost-wrote and published "Fish Smart Catch More!" for Tampa's cable TV host Capt. Bill Miller (www.billmiller.com) and a couple more publishing projects will be docking soon. He operates a professional writing/marketing agency, Tight Line Communications.