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Despite the fact that snook remain closed to harvest because of declining populations, Florida anglers may still practice catch-and-release of snook year-round. The practice of catch-and-release is most popular during the summer months when large spawning aggregations of snook gather in the inlets and passes around the state to spawn.
While hooked and caught fish are released back into the water on a regular basis, some of those fish don’t recover as well as the others. Tops on the list of recovery issues is throat or “gut” hooking of fish, a problem that occurs when anglers using live bait “feed” the fish or give it time to swallow the bait before setting the hook. But there are ways to limit the possibility of gut hooking snook.
“The best way to avoid hooking a snook deep is to use non-offset circle hooks,” said Capt. Ken Hudson of Snook City Charters in Palm Beach, Fla., who uses 6/0 non-offset circle hooks with live sardines or threadfins for bait. “The standard ‘J’ hooks and offset circle hooks will hook a lot more fish deep than a non-offset circle hook that is designed to slide out of the fish’s throat area and catch it in the corner of the mouth.”
|Standard ‘J’-style hooks (left) and offset circle hooks (right) are more likely to gut or throat hook snook when used with live bait than non-offset circle hooks (center). |
Hudson said he also has his anglers keep the reel engaged at all times so if a fish grabs a bait and runs the hook will immediately set itself, avoiding any chance the fish can swallow the bait or get it deep into its throat. Occasionally fish will be gut-hooked or hooked in the throat with the point sticking up. When that happens, anglers should never try to pull the hook out as it may cause serious bleeding. Instead, cut the leader and leave the hook in the fish before releasing it. The hook will erode and the wound has a better chance to heal.
“Don’t freeline the baits with the bail open, and you’ll avoid a lot of the problems with hooking fish deep,” said Hudson, who added that he may catch more than 1,000 snook during the summer months but only hook one or two deep. “Most of the fish we gut hook have eaten the bait when the angler had a backlash or tangle in his line and was feeding out the line to get the tangle out and didn’t feel the fish eat the bait. When he goes to reel the line back onto the spool, it comes tight and the fish is there with the bait already in its belly.”
Hudson also stressed the importance of having a camera out and ready to shoot pictures so any fish removed from the water can be quickly returned. He also suggested always holding the fish vertically with one hand supporting the belly to help maintain its weight when out of the water.
“Handle the fish with care and get it back into the water immediately,” Hudson said. “Then make sure you revive the fish before letting it swim off on its own. That little bite of extra care makes sure that fish survives to provide fun on another day.”