More than a decade ago, I spent many late winter nights walking the docks of Eckerd College. While many of my colleagues were out chasing parties or girls, I was chasing something else with a few friends.
We would get a few dozen large shrimp and walk the waterfront docks slowly sinking them in the dim shadows. Big snook were in the deep canal seeking warmth on cold nights. As our shrimp slowly fell below our feet under the docks, it took only seconds to turn a big snook that made a meal of our offerings.
The smart ones made quick runs, weaving in and out of the pilings and leaving us with heartbreak more often than not.
Living on a canal, Lee Bass has also noticed big snook frequenting his dock recently on cold nights. With three green deep glow lights underwater, bait often circles the light while predators hang out in the shadows.
On a recent night, Bass decided to take his shot at one of the snook he saw lurking. Merely feet from his backdoor, he often goes out to observe nature and fishes with bucktail jigs, crystal minnows or X-Raps.
“I normally fish from the seawall, and I saw a big snook sticking out from the dock,” Bass said. “I threw my lure past him and it caught his attention. I stopped it in front, then cranked, and he got it.”
When hooked, the story Bass told reminded me of my days at Eckerd College.
“Right as I hooked it, I figured I was going to get broken,” Bass said. “He ran around the underside of the front left piling. I was hung up, but the fish was staying out in the channel.”
Bass grabbed his phone and called his girlfriend who was inside, asking her to get a flashlight and a net.
“I loosened up the drag and kept feeding the fish line,” Bass continued. “I had just got a new reel, a Stella, for Christmas. I thought the only way I’m getting this fish is if I dunk my reel and go around the piling with the rod.”
Going down to his stomach, Bass reached the rod around the piling to grab it from the other side. When he pulled it up the fish was free, but only for a moment.
“It then made a hard right turn and went around a piling behind my boat,” Bass said. “I then jumped on the boat and go around to get him free again.
“Then it started to run toward our neighbor’s house, but I got him turned and finally see him. He did a jump like the big ones do where the head barely came out of the water. That’s when he darted between my legs and went around another piling so I had to put the rod back underwater to get it free again.”
Bass had seen the big snook, but it wasn’t subdued yet.
“The line then wrapped around my tip when I went under the dock again and I had to unwrap it,” Bass said. “Finally, the fish went by the small dock and my girlfriend was able to net it.”
The fight, which took about 15 minutes, forced Bass to drop his rod under pilings four times. The snook was somewhere around 38 inches.
“I only had one of the foldable 36-inch rulers, and it was well past that,” Bass said. “It might have been bigger than 38!”
And yes, Bass did take his reel apart to get it cleaned after its saltwater bath.
“My tackle store friends thought I was crazy when I told them what I did.”