Mike Holliday, a Florida east coast fishing guide and author, can't help himself. Try as he might, he just can't keep his bait away from hungry snook.
"It is a feeding frenzy," Holliday said. "The fish are on fire."
June, July and August are the peak spawning months for snook on both coasts of Florida, so fishing is strictly catch and release.
Snook populations throughout the state are particularly stressed this year as a result of the winter's freezes, which killed an unknown number of the state's favorite game fish.
But just because you can't keep them doesn't mean you won't catch them.
"You just have to use your head," said Holliday, who will be talking linesiders when the 2010 Shimano Fishing Tour stops in Seminole on Saturday.
"There are steps you can take to make sure you release your snook so it will swim away to be caught another day."
Holliday, author of Secrets for Catching Sea Trout and Sportsman's Best Inshore Fishing, is a self-professed snookaholic. But he prides himself on releasing the vast majority of the fish he catches.
Live bait tactics
Like most successful fishermen, Holliday prefers to fish with live bait.
"You need to keep the reel engaged and use circle hooks. So if a snook eats the bait, you will hook it immediately and, thus, avoid hooking the fish deep," he said. "Most of the time, you will catch the snook right in the corner of the mouth."
Holliday uses thin wire 6/0 circle hooks such as the Owner Mutu Light or Mustad Ultra Point Circle Hook.
"The thinner wire makes a smaller hole in the fish's jaw," he said.
Keep it wet
Holliday is a stickler for proper fish-handling. And the less you handle a fish, the more likely it is to survive.
"Try not to remove the fish from the water," he said. "Anglers often drop fish in boats or on the beach, which will injure it and remove the protective layer of slime."
While the fish is still in the water, grasp it by the lower jaw and remove the hook.
"Then just shoot a photo of the angler holding the fish on the surface," Holliday said. "It makes a much better photo with the water in the background."
If possible, use a dehooking tool such as an ARC Dehooker. That will allow you to take the hook from the fish without removing it from the water.
Barracuda and dolphin
If you use heavier line, you will land the fish quicker, making it less susceptible to predators after release.
"If you see a dolphin or barracuda near the boat and think it might be waiting to eat your snook, then hold the fish in the water by the lip and motor the boat forward," Holliday said. "Once you are free and clear, release the fish."
If possible, let the snook go near some type of structure so it will have a place to hide and recover.
"If that is not an option and your snook keep getting eaten," he said, "then stop fishing there and move to another spot."
Words of wisdom
Treat snook with respect.
Never toss a snook overboard or casually flip it into the water.
"Take the time to release the fish gently at the side of the boat and make sure it is fully revived and ready to swim off," Holliday said. "You're fishing for snook when they're most vulnerable to capture and predation, so do your best to make sure they survive."
Holliday also knows when to give it a rest.
"Don't stay on a school of fish all day," he said.
"After catching a handful, move on."