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Time to prepare for return of snook

Anglers have grown tired of trying to get fish to bite but they can start thinking about spring. From now on, even a slight increase in water temperature will make a difference in feeding.

One of the most anticipated changes is the return of snook to the flats, mangroves and oyster bars. While it probably will not occur this week, the big linesiders' arrival usually happens between the last week of February and mid March.

Now is the time to re-spool the rods with fresh line. When targeting snook most guides prefer braided lines, which have low stretch and high strength-to-diameter ratio, making them perfect for pitching live baits around heavy cover where fish are often found. Being able to exert maximum pressure upon first strike can make the difference between turning them away from pilings or tree branches and getting cut off.

Braided lines can be troublesome, however, as they are highly visible.You cannot tie a hook to it and expect fish to bite most of the time. Adding a section of transparent leader line such as monofilament or flourocarbon will keep the opaque section of the line away from the bait. In clear water around flats, most anglers use 2 to 3 feet of leader. On rare occasions very long leaders are necessary. For permit, mutton snapper and sometimes redfish, I have used 12- to 15-foot leaders to get fish to strike. Knots are critical in such rigs since they must pass smoothly through guides on the rod during the cast. When a fish is landed, the leader is simply wound onto the reel.

As spring approaches, you should also consider your landing net. It doesn't take much to lift 2- to 4-pound trout or redfish but when a 20-pound snook is caught, it's nice to have a net handy.

When scaled sardines return, many flats fishermen will switch to live bait. These baitfish can make a huge difference in the number of fish landed. Obtaining sardines isn't easy. Since baitshops cannot keep them alive and healthy overnight, anglers must catch their own but they're not always easy to find. Chum is an alternative when sardines are absent. The main ingredients in most chum recipes are canned cat food and mackerel. A variety of fillers can be added but the meat is what attracts them. It is best to purchase a case of canned chum ingredients to avoid shortages.

Getting prepared now will pay off when fishing turns around and spring is here.