Nail polish to repaint a lure? Tips from the pros

Releasing snook safely away from sharks

We’re doing fishing tips this season. You could call it lazy journalism; others have done all the work to accumulate most of the knowledge. I listen and scribble, often illegibly. Then when I have a lot of notes I type the ones I’m able to read — no guessing! — and call that a fishing column.

I excuse it on grounds that every time I do this, someone tells me “Hey! Great stuff! I didn’t know that!”

Once or twice, I think, two or three people said it. At least this is more important than celebrity gossip, even if not as popular.

I want to begin with snook guru Dave Justice because snook-keeping season opened Feb. 1 and this is a good way to report that.

The last couple of weekly law enforcement roundups from FWC tell of scoundrels being busted for catching undersize snook (a violation) with cast nets (an offense) in January (illegally) when it was against the law to keep snook.

The December-January closure is meant to protect snook in cold weather, when they may be sluggish and too easy to take. It’s a bad thing that stinkers catch them anyway, but a good thing that wildlife officers are there to catch the stinkers.

In Florida, when folks say they can’t wait for snook season, they mean they really cannot wait.

My favorite thing about Dave Justice is that he, like me, hates treble hooks on a lure. He replaces them with singles — one forward, one aft, none in the middle of a long plug that came with trebles there.
Some people think that has a bad effect on the lure’s action. Not really, but if you can’t get over that... “Clamp a split shot on the belly ring to keep it tracking straight,” Justice says.

Here’s more, partly paraphrased, partly word for word: “Fish a Zara Spook plug with an inline hook at the rear only.”

(A replacement inline hook trails the lure with the point straight up, not turned sideways like a regular single hook. You can also cut off the hooks that point sideways in a treble set).

“Use Sinful Colors nail polish to repaint a lure. It won’t crack.”

Justice used to develop and sell fishing lines for Stren and Sufix, so he’s an expert on line choice, too. He prefers monofilament over fluorocarbon: “Mono is clearer than fluoro. Fluoro’s kind of milky. You want to match the water color. I’m a big believer in that,” so he uses coffee and sand-colored monofilaments, and is convinced it’s better for tarpon fishing too: “Tarpon will hold on to mono leader and spit fluorocarbon right out.”

He likes a wire leader on a monofilament line: “wire cuts through the water better and they can’t see it at night.”

Justice’s favorite lure is a Spooltek, which he invented. It contains a 100-pound-test-cable leader that comes out when a snook strikes and retracts afterward. Like a wire leader, that makes it nearly impossible for a snook or tarpon to abrade his mono line.

The early Spoolteks included an orange one, Justice’s favorite lure color. When the company he sold it to discontinued orange, he collected a horde of them.

“A bucktail jig should have orange in or black and purple is a good lure color at night if there’s a full moon.”

He takes advantage of the snook’s tactic as an ambush predator: “I prefer the line to come from behind a snook and go away from him. I like to bring it away from the fish whenever possible.”

Whenever there’s been a lot of rain upland and canal dams are opened by South Florida Water Management, that’s a good time and place to fish for snook.

“When the door opens there are two boils with a crease in the middle. Fish the corners behind the boils and where the current slows.”

He said just about any place where fresh water pours into salt, even if it isn’t directly downstream from a dam, is a good place to cast for snook.

I knew that, primarily because Justice himself told me quite a few years ago, but here’s something new: “Snook will eat armored (hard-head) catfish. They love ‘em.”

Now it’s Bouncer Smith’s turn. He’s an offshore charter captain, but he also can go on for hours about inshore fishing — and even if that’s your specialty he’ll tell you stuff you didn’t know or once knew and didn’t remember.

At his last presentation I attended, Smith told the audience something every snook fisherman should know, but I didn’t: “Wherever you go, sharks are more and more
prevalent. (I knew that part). Release snook right up beside the mangrove roots so sharks won’t get them.”

I’ll use more Bouncer material in a later piece, but this month I want to add some more stuff about snook. The Feb. 1 opening was only for Atlantic coast snook, plus those found in eastern freshwater locations like the near-shore canals, Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River. We can keep only one a day and the size limits are narrow — no shorter than 28 inches total length, no longer than 32 inches. The next closed season will be June 1 to Aug. 1 when we can catch but must release snook.

Gulf coast snook — the zone includes the Keys, the rest of Monroe County and all of Everglades National Park — cannot be kept until March 1. The keeping season is short, closing again from May 1 until Sept. 1. The minimum length is also 28 inches, but the max is 33 and the bag limit is one snook per day.

Because most snook must be released, responsible anglers should flatten hook barbs in order to minimize tearing the fragile cartilage of the fish’s mouth. Plug lures should have single hooks — no more than two of them — instead of trebles. Because snook gulp their prey, circle hooks should be used for fishing natural baits. I use them for fly fishing too.