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Cold snap fish kill is a sad sight

January 23, 2010

First the good news. The sun is back and water temperaturess are back in the 60s, and both the fish and anglers are much happier.

While the rest of the country continues to freeze and outdoor types are sitting in the kitchen eying the calendar waiting for spring, here we are in shorts, sandals, enjoying Florida's outstanding winter weather.

The bad news is this week has been bittersweet with massive fish kills in many places that I consider wintertime "honey holes." One creek where I take my cold weather clients every year like clockwork, with a decent flow from an outbound tide, produces snook consistently. Typically the snook are not big, but once in awhile we will put a whopper in the boat.

Article Photos

Capt. George Tunison

On a trip last Tuesday, clients wanted to catch their first snook. No problem, I told them, as I fired up the outboard for a long run to snookville. I was fully aware of the fish kill from the freezing temperatures, but since this is a rather deep creek I had hopes everything might be okay.

All aboard were excited as we rounded the corner and prepared to cast Mirr-O-lures for hungry snook. As I brought the boat off plane the stench of rotting fish filled our noses and overwhelmed us. In front of us for 100 yards, the surface was littered with hundreds of dead sand perch of all sizes and big snook. Both shorelines were lined with rotting fish stranded there by the earlier falling tide. In one 40-yard stretch we counted over 30 snook from 24 to 39 inches with several trophy fish in the 15- to 20-pound class. Surprisingly only one small 12-inch snook was spotted. We were stunned.

As we idled along, a few very big female (35-38-inch) snook slowly swam just under the surface apparently stunned or dying and not bothering to move away from the boat. In this particular creek only the perch and big snook were affected. No trout, tarpon, reds or snappers were spotted.

We left the area saddened by what we saw and puzzled wondering what had happened to all the small snook, thinking how many years it will take to replace all the really big females we saw floating.

As the water warms trout fishing will return to normal. This past week trout fishing was good, but the fish were not in their normal grass flat locations. I found large concentrations of trout bordering deep channels and dropoffs. These fish readily took small jigs and flies with the fly rod being the weapon of choice. Small flies fished on a slow sinking fly line was deadly and outfished the typical small jigs that trout love to eat, two to one.

The key was to use smaller jigs or flies as larger offerings were refused or just followed. Warming waters should put them back out on the grass flats and back to their normal feeding patterns. Bait slingers can't go wrong with the classic popping cork and shrimp setup and try substituting a GULP Shrimp if live bait is not your bag.

Redfishing was very good on my boat before the cold snap with long casts using gold spoons taking most of the fish. Reds are scarce for me so far this week, but fishing for them should improve with the rising temperatures.

This weekend, enjoy the good times at the annual Taste of Pine Island. Food, fun, music, crafts, art, something for everyone at $5 per adult with kids entering for free.

Make sure to see Capt. Dick May and check out his new recipe book; "Capt. Dick's Florida Gulf Coast Seafood & Much More" containing 247 delicious recipes for local seafood.

Release each fish carefully; never know when there might not be any.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. Contact him at, or Flying Fins Sportfishing.



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