Alabama High Schooler’s First Snook Is a Pending State Record

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There were still a few hours of daylight left when the final bell rang at Alabama’s Elberta High School last Tuesday. So, Gardner Love, a 17-year-old student there, hurried home, grabbed a fishing rod, and hopped in the family boat.    

“Our 20-foot [bay boat] was tied at a dock we use near my house, so I went there and started fishing in Soldier Creek off Perdido Bay,” Love tells Outdoor Life. “I was looking for seatrout or redfish. But there are some small tarpon around, and I thought I saw a snook one night a year or so ago, so that’s always something to try for.”

Love had never caught a snook before, but he knew he had the right gear for it. A part-time deckhand for a local charter boat, he was using a spinning setup with 8-pound braid and a silver-chartreuse Devil Soft Bait.  

“It’s kind of a weird soft plastic jerk bait, but it’s great for shallow water fishing,” says Love. “I was going way up the creek where it’s weedy and full of snags, so that lure is perfect.”

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He fished his way up the creek, catching and releasing a few small seatrout. Then, around 5 p.m., he headed to a knee-deep area full of marsh grass and shoreline cover that looked prime for redfish.

“I made a cast and the lure hung up in a tree,” he says. “I jiggled the rod a couple times and the lure fell out and hit the water. As soon as it landed there was a big explosion from a strong fish. I thought it was a tarpon from the way it hit and pulled.”

But shortly into the fight, the fish jumped. Love had seen enough photos of snook that he easily recognized the dark lateral line along the fish’s flank. The snook jumped several more times before Love was able to work it close to the boat.

“I saw that it was barely hooked, and I didn’t have a landing net,” he says. “So, I stepped overboard into knee-deep water, grabbed the fish, and put it on my boat deck. Then I hopped back into the boat.”

Gardner Love called his dad (pictured) as soon as he landed the snook because the species is so rare in Alabama. Photo courtesy Gardner Love

After landing the fish, Love immediately called his dad, who told him he’d meet him back at the boat dock. Snook aren’t common in Alabama waters, and his dad was eager to check it out.  

“We were both excited and figured it might be a record because they’re so rare to see in Alabama,” Gardner explains. “We put the snook on a fish stringer to keep it alive, then took it to a nearby marina to weigh it.”

The marina’s certified scale registered just over 7 pounds, which is nearly 2 pounds heavier than the current Alabama record. That fish also was caught from Soldier Creek, according to James Swarthout, the state fisheries biologist who officially weighed and measured Gardner’s fish.

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The snook was put on ice until the following morning at 8 a.m. when Gardner met Swarthout at the state’s marine resources office in Gulf Shores. Swarthout certified the snook’s official weight of 7-pounds, .4 ounces. It was 26.49 inches long with a 13.14-inch girth.

The fish is still frozen and will remain at the office for about two weeks, Swarthout says, in case more information is needed. He explains that although it could take a month or two for official certification, Love’s snook will almost certainly become the new state record.

“I’m pretty stoked about the whole thing,” Love says. “I never held a snook until that one, and it’s a state record. It’s pretty awesome.”

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