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ASK THE EXPERTS

Can an inexpensive reel and rod hold up to the stress of a big snook or redfish, or even a small tarpon?

Robert Schmidt, via e-mail

What do you consider inexpensive? You won't get a fly reel that will last for less than $100. If you're on a tight budget, and fishing for redfish and snook, put your money into the rod. To quote the great Stu Apte: "A fly reel is nothing more than a line collector."

If you are fishing for tarpon, bonefish or permit, however, you will need a reel that has a good drag system. And that costs money. You will pay a minimum of $350-$400.

If you are looking for a good introductoryreel, the new Redington Machined Disc Drag fly reel costs about $140 and has a lifetime guarantee. Redington also makes a good starter rod. Figure on paying $139 for a 6/7 or 8/9 weight, 9-foot, two-piece Redington Red Start fly rod with an unconditional lifetime guarantee.

Go to www.eAngler.com for more information.

Snook are illegal to keep in parts of December and January as well as June, July and August. I understand the summer months are closed because they are spawning, but I don't understand why they are closed during December and January.

Andrew Cronin, via e-mail

Snook don't like cold water. They prefer temperatures of 74-76 degrees. If the water is colder than 65 degrees, snook become sluggish. If it decreases another 10 degrees, they die.

"Snook are more vulnerable during severe cold weather," said Ron Taylor, a biologist with the Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg. "They can't swim and just float at the surface. Anybody could just come along and grab one."

And since the regulations prohibit the taking of snook by any other means than hook and line, a law enforcement officer would have no way to determine whether the fish was taken legally.

The worst cold fronts have historically occurred in late December and January, so that is why snook season is closed during those months, when the fish are most vulnerable.

Tampa Bay lies at the northern terminus of the species' range. Charlotte Harbor is known for its big snook; that's because the area seldom sees killer freezes, like Tampa Bay does every decade or so.

_ TERRY TOMALIN

_ Send questions to Ask the Experts, Times Outdoors, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, or send an e-mail to tomalinsptimes.com. Include full name and address.

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