Fishing report: The great snook survival

The opinions ranged from guarded hope on one end to certainty on the other—with some anglers believing the snook that have taken hold far north of their historic range along Florida’s salty coasts had somehow developed a resistance to winter’s coldest water temps that kept them to our south in prior decades.

Others winked, nodded wisely and maintained there would surely be snook bellies dotting the waterscape off Horseshoe, Suwannee, Cedar Key, Waccasassa, Yankeetown, and probably even farther south yet when weekend temperatures plunged for hours into the low 20s.

The water in these gulf shallows was already low enough, they figured, to put the linesided interlopers in peril—even before the big freeze arrived.

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Well, we’ve collected numerous accounts from anglers and boaters who visited the rivers, tidal creeks, and flats in question over the days following the freeze. Each one saw the same number of cold-killed snook. Zero.

You can count me among the surprised doubters. Doug Stringfellow and I launched at Waccasassa one cold morning several years ago on the heels of a bad freeze. We (and about everyone else) knew that there was a solid population of snook in our favorite gulf river.

We were shocked on that January morning to see just what a large bunch of fish had lived there. Of course, they didn’t live there anymore.

Snook up to maybe 15 pounds littered the shorelines and buzzards were crowded onto every branch of every tree along the river. I’d never seen so many buzzards or so many snook.

So when people asked me last week, I told them I expected there to be lots of dead snook after the weekend. How, I reasoned, could these fish build a resistance to cold within the span of just one decade? These changes develop over the course of many decades, right?

Wrong, I guess. The Big Bend snook, now impressive in size and number, live and thrive. And now they’ve survived what might have been this winter’s hardest swing at them.

The frigid weekend led to a few rescheduled fishing tournaments, but the three contests that went on as planned produced better results than might have been expected.

The Power Pole Pro Redfish Series tourney, scheduled for Saturday but wisely moved up to Friday, produced several very fine two-red limits, topped by a nearly-15-pound pair. The top 27 teams all had redfish limits topping 10 pounds.

A buddy tournament out of Astor on the St. John’s River Saturday presented eleven competing teams with an uncomfortable mix of wind and cold, but the winners managed a fine five-bass limit totaling nearly 20 pounds.

Then on Sunday morning, an Xtreme Bass tournament went on as planned in 21-degree weather on the Suwannee River. Again, it took an impressive bag of bass weighing about 20 pounds to win.

Some would say every team that voluntarily marched into those weekend conditions deserved to win. The weather should be nicer Saturday for the first “Speck Headz Classic” speckled perch tournament to be held at Powers Park on Newnans Lake.

One unique rule in this one: All fish must be weighed in by 2 p.m.

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