Growing up on the Manatee River in Palmetto, I can remember my dad—an avid fisherman—unloading his daily catch on the dock, beaming as he hoisted the biggest of the bunch for the camera. Few fish made him prouder than the legendary Gulf of Mexico snook. The quintessential choice for a communal fish fry, snook are lauded for their white, mild taste and flaky texture. Our family had to buy a second freezer to hold all that Dad caught.
Snook can be found in equal numbers along the Atlantic coast, but our shallow waters add a special twist: the thrill of the chase. Snook are renowned for their picky bait selection, cunning evasion and ferocious fighting. Once hooked, they are a test of strength and stamina, experts at finding a rock, piling, mangrove—anything, really—to break the line. Any local fisherman can tell you the sob stories, broken-hearted tales about the one that got away.
After a bitter cold snap wiped out nearly 15 percent of the statewide snook population in 2010, a catch-and-release order went into effect for more than three years to allow them to replenish. When the ban was finally lifted last September (though strict regulations still apply), local anglers returned to their secret spots, and the chase resumed. Up and down the coast, you could hear the fryers sizzling to life.
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