Florida's cold spell is the worst the state has endured in years. And it's killing lots of saltwater fish.
Our fish aren't used to the cold. I'm not either, but I can retreat to my house or put on extra clothing when I have to go out.
Snook, in particular, are susceptible to cold. Arguably Florida's No. 1 inshore fish, snook are sub-tropical fish which can't tolerate water temperature much lower than 55.
It has been reported the water temperature in New Pass is 51 degrees. And it could drop even more.
"It's the worst we've had in years," said Capt. Jonnie Walker, who runs the Bay Walker out of New Pass Bait and Tackle.
Walker toured Sarasota Bay on Monday with a representative from Mote Marine Laboratory. He discovered dead and dying fish, including snook, pinfish, pompano, jack crevalle, mangrove snapper and other species. He reported most of the dead fish were found in canals along Longboat Key.
"It's not good," Walker said.
Walker also said he saw thousands of live mullet in the canals.
"I just hope the commercial netters don't find out about them," he said. "Most were alive, but I saw some spinning near the surface."
Reports have been filtering in from throughout Florida's West Coast. Kills have been reported from Hillsborough County south to Naples.
"It's the worst I've seen since 1977," said Capt. Scott Moore, who runs the Primadonna out of Gasparilla Marina. "This isn't good."
Snook kills aren't rare in the Sunshine State. They take place whenever there's an extended period of cold weather. This cold began after Christmas and has continued into the second full week on January. Most agree that this has been the coldest winter since 1989 when the last severe snook kill took place.
There is good news. The weather is supposed to warm, with temperatures in the 70s by weekend. That should help the fish that haven't perished.
Those who encounter dead snook should remember the species is out of season and it's illegal to possess them. The rule was implemented in the 1980s to protect stunned snook that appeared dead. That often happens and when the afternoon sun warms the water, stunned snook revive and swim off.