The Snook Are in Bloom -By Ed Killer for Martin County
Each spring, the sidewalks of Stuart light up with the golden yellow blooms of the tabebuia trees. East Ocean Boulevard is lined by the gorgeous trees, first brought to the area and planted decades ago by “The Flowering Tree Man” Edwin Menninger, the longtime owner of the Stuart News.
What Menninger did not know, was that one of his colleagues at the paper, editor and outdoorsman Ernest Lyons, used the trees as a kind of snook fishing calendar. He knew when the first showy blossoms began to open, sometime after the last cold front of the season had passed in February, and before the first day of spring, the snook bite in the St. Lucie River shifts from pretty darned good to down right incredible.
Snook are one of those fishing targets which bring everything and anything an angler can wish for in a fish. They’re a fantastic game fish known for an aggressive strike, powerful battle, acrobatic jumps and ability to use their submerged surroundings to gain freedom from an angler’s line.
Upon losing a snook in this way, one would believe the fish is only matched in its gamefish status by its gamesmanship status.
Snook can grow as long as a man’s leg, and the ones caught in Martin County waters can reach 40 pounds. Occasionally, a 50-pounder is rumored to be caught.
Since the 1930s, Stuart and Martin County have built upon a well-earned reputation as a world class destination for fishing. The “Sailfish Capital of the World” signs greet visitors to this community.
However, the county could also choose to erect billboards proclaiming the waters here as “Snook Central.” Inshore fishing guides from other parts of Florida have been quoted calling this area, “The Land of the Giants” when referring to its epic snook fishing.
Why is the snook fishing here so good? It has to do with a combination of factors – the warm climate (snook are like a big tropical fish on steroids); the brackish St. Lucie River Estuary, Florida’s largest true river south of where the St. Johns River goes to sea at Jacksonville, lined with red mangrove trees; the shallow waters of the Indian River Lagoon, where seagrass meadows offer habitat for juvenile snook; and a plentiful and diverse food supply.
Snook are nearly apex predators in these waters where only dolphins, sharks, Goliath groupers and humans eat them. So they have been known to eat shrimp, crabs, mullet, pinfish, pigfish, pilchards, threadfin herrings, bunker and virtually anything they can fit into their bucket-like mouths. As a result, sport fishermen enjoy the challenge of trying to fool a snook with a variety of fly fishing tackle, flair-type jigs, plastic lures fashioned after real bait fish, and hard-plastic lures designed for surface action.
Anglers can even catch four sub-species of snook in Martin County waters – one of the only places in the world that can be said. In addition to common snook, anglers may catch tarpon snook, fat snook or swordspine snook.
Snook can be caught offshore on the reefs in 60 feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean. They can be caught around the pilings of the county’s eight bridges linking its mainland communities with its island getaways. They can be caught in the mangroves, around oyster bars, at the base of spillways, along the rocky jetties of the St. Lucie Inlet, under docks, against seawalls, and even in some cases from freshwater golf course ponds.
One of the best things about snook is that they are great fried, with a side of cheese grits and tartar sauce. But don’t worry about them become overfished. The State of Florida has tight regulations with closed seasons to harvest – Dec. 15-Jan. 31, and June 1-August 31 each year – plus, a one fish bag limit, and even that must fit between a 28-inch minimum and a 32-inch maximum length. Anglers must also possess a valid saltwater fishing license and an additional $10 snook stamp in order to take home the one for dinner each day. Complete regulations can be found at www.MyFWC.com.
Spring time is one of the best times of the year to find snook on the prowl. And with any luck, winter leaves early and spring lasts a long time in the waters of Martin County.
A HUGE THANK YOU to Ed Killer, Outdoors columnist with Treasure Coast Newspapers and the USA Today Network for providing the copy.