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Alabama teen hopes to set state fishing record after reeling in species new to waters

A teenager from Alabama who went solo fishing to blow off some steam after his final exams returned to shore with a pending state record for a species that was new to the area.

“It’s not the biggest fish I’ve ever caught,” Gardner Love, 17, an Elberta resident, told Fox News Digital.

“We catch a lot bigger fish offshore, but I’ve never caught a state record before – so this is definitely one for the books.”

Love caught a 27-inch, 7-pound snook on Tuesday, May 14, while fishing in the brackish waters along Soldier Creek, which leads to Perdido Bay.

The catch is awaiting official certification by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources – a process that could take up to 15 days.

“I wasn’t really fishing for the snook,” Love said. “I was fishing for whatever it was biting, trout or redfish. The weather was nice. It had been raining for a few days and it was finally starting to clear up, so I thought I’d just take the boat out for a little while because I didn’t have anything else to do.”

Love said he set down his rod, hopped in the water and grabbed the fish and pulled it into the boat.
Love said he set down his rod, hopped in the water and grabbed the fish and pulled it into the boat.

Love, who said he’s been fishing since before he could walk, grew up on the Gulf Coast.

Besides being a recreational fisherman, he also works as a deckhand on a sport fishing boat.

“I was back in the back of the creek, and it’s a spot that I normally don’t fish,” Love said.

“It’s like a big grassland back there, a big marsh, and there was a little tree hanging over, right there on the edge of the marsh.”

Casting toward the grass, Love’s lure got snagged in the tree, he said.

“I yanked it, and it fell on the water,” Love said. “As soon as it hit the water, the fish blew up on it through water and into the air. And at first, I thought it was a tarpon. I didn’t think it was a snook at all until I got midway through fighting and it jumped out of the water and I saw it.”

Love’s fish is only the second record-setting snook in Alabama.
Love’s fish is only the second record-setting snook in Alabama.

Murky waters, due to all the rain, made it difficult to identify the fish.

“I got up really close and was probably about waist deep in the water,” Love said.

“I didn’t have a net on the boat because I wasn’t expecting to catch anything that big. Usually, I’ll just slip them [into] the boat on the line. But I saw that he was barely hooked when I got him up next to the boat.”

Love said he set down his rod, hopped in the water and grabbed the fish and pulled it into the boat.

“I knew I’d had something right when I hooked up,” he said.

“As soon as I got the fish in the boat, I called my dad. By the time I got back to the dock, it was only a two-minute ride away — he was already waiting down there for me and he said, ‘You got the state record.’ He was really excited.”

The snook tipped the scales at 7.04 pounds.
The snook tipped the scales at 7.04 pounds.

The young angler and his dad, Len Love, brought the fish to Zeke’s Marina to weigh it on certified scales.

The snook tipped the scales at 7.04 pounds.

The current official snook record is that of a fish weighing 5 pounds, 2.6 ounces, caught in 2023 by Richard Carver Webb of Orange Beach, Alabama, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

What makes the catch even more interesting is that Love’s fish is only the second record-setting snook in Alabama, Scott Bannon, director of the Marine Resources division of the state’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told Fox News Digital.

That’s because it is a species not native to Alabama.

“We’ve seen a few over the last couple of years show up in that particular area of Baldwin County, which is adjacent to the Alabama-Florida line,” Bannon said.

“But snook are native to Florida,” Bannon added. “We knew that they were in the Pensacola area and over the last few years, they started showing up in Alabama, mostly juveniles.”

Last January, the department certified a snook (Webb’s fish) as a state record for the first time, Bannon said.

“It was the first common snook that was landed that met the minimum criteria to establish a state record,” he added.

The young angler and his dad, Len Love, brought the fish to Zeke’s Marina to weigh it on certified scales.
The young angler and his dad, Len Love, brought the fish to Zeke’s Marina to weigh it on certified scales.

“We have several rules that you have to follow and one of them is [that] the fish needs to be considered an adult and in the top half of its size class or weight class.”

Bannon explained that as water levels change and water temperatures increase slightly, snook are more at home in Alabama.

Now, what has previously been an unregulated species in the state may soon get more official recognition.

“We don’t have a season on [snook], with a minimum size limit or a possession limit,” Bannon said.

“So, we’re in discussions now about putting something in place.”

Bannon said the upside to the environmental changes that have brought in snook, for example, is that it provides more opportunity for fishermen in the state.

“We look for diversity in our fishing opportunities,” Bannon said.

“It adds a little excitement to fishing. So, at the end of the day, it’s a good thing. I love to see the quality of fish that people are able to catch in Alabama because that means that we must be doing things correctly to ensure that we have healthy fish stocks and that we provide that access to the public.”

Bannon added that there are “several” record-holders who are kids, and he believes that’s because fishing is a family sport in Alabama.

“Fishing has just always been my favorite thing to do,” Love said.

“It means a lot to me and everybody down here on the Gulf Coast. I’d definitely like to catch another record fish if I could.”