Memo to Curt Gowdy: Snook is the one with the black line down its side.

Remember a few weeks ago when you were in Tampa and the Buccaneers were still in the NFL playoffs?

Billy Brener was watching that game in Great Falls, Va., setting in for a pleasant day at home while the cold winds blew.

But you dropped a bombshell. As a way of telling people how beautiful it was in Tampa you said three little words.

"Snook," you said, "are running."

It was no doubt just an idle way of filling some dead air. I'm sure 99.9 percent of the people didn't even hear it. But Billy heard it. And after that he couldn't sit still anymore.

I bring this up just to remind you about how weird and intense fishermen can be, and to let you know we're listening, sometimes when we probably shouldn't be.

You see, 10 years ago, Brener caught a snook in Florida. He was on a vacation trip to Naples over the Memorial Day weekend. He looked out the window one morning and Naples Bay was jammed with boats. The snook run was on.

Brener rented a little skiff and buzzed through the aquatic traffic jam. He fished all morning but never got a bite so he gave up. As he headed for dock a one-ounce pyramid sinker buzzed past his nose, inches away. A wild woman practically had taken his head off with an errant cast.

The line sank behind the skiff and fouled in the propeller. The boat came to a crunching stop.

"I was screaming at the woman," he said. "Finally I calmed down enough to start picking the line out of the motor. I still had a pinfish bait rigged up, so while I was working I threw the pinfish overboard. The thing no sooner hit the water than it took off. I saw this huge fish jump. It was a snook."

It took Brener 15 minutes to boat this snook, which jumped and ran and put up a great fight. While he was battling it he was shouting at all the people around because he didn't have a net aboard. Finally someone piled through the crowd, which by then encircled his boat, jumped aboard and netted the snook.

It weighed 15 pounds, and that night Brener cooked it and fed 14 of his friends, and each one said it was the best fish he'd ever eaten. He was a hero.

Memories like this die hard.

So when you said snook were running in Tampa Bay, Brener went a little nuts.

He called Tampa information and got the names of all the tackle shops. Then he called the stores up one by one. One by one they told him they had never heard of any snook run in the winter -- that if there was a snook run it would be in the spring, as it always has been.

But fishermen, as you know, are that curious breed to whom the glass is always half full and never half empty. Brener pressed on, reasoning that he was just calling the wrong people.

In the end he found what he had to find.

He found Phil Woods.

Woods, who does a local radio show on fishing, said he sure hadn't heard about any snook run either, but a year before, on Super Bowl Sunday, he and his wife had gone out in the Hillsborough River and hooked 20 snook and boated seven, the largest 22 pounds. It was all Brener had to hear.

"I'll be there," he said. "Tuesday."

Then he called me. He knew I was going to Florida and he wanted to share the good news.

"come to Tampa," said Brener. "Snook are running."

So I called Gerry, who will fish at the drop of a hat. And he called Ranny. They drove down from Virginia with their boat and on Tuesday we five were at the Hillsborough River boat ramp just outside town with a snook gleam in our eyes.

Woods had dragged his Mako skiff up from its winter home in Boca Grande for the big event.

"Fellows," said Woods, "I don't know what we're going to find out there."

"Don't worry," said Brener. "Snook are running."

Curt, you probably can guess where this story is going. We ran up the river and down, dragging silver spoons, drifting live shiners and casting plugs. But we never did find those snook.

As the day wore on we cruised downstream, right through the heart of town and into the bay. And a half-hour before sunset we slid by a little tri-hull out in the ship channel and we watched two fellows haul in fish, one after another.

They were silver all right, like a snook, but there was no stripe down the side. They were silver trout, which rarely grow bigger than a pound. The snook run turned out to be a lowly silver trout run.

Well, all is not lost. That night we called up Archie Blount, who writes the fishing column for the local paper, and he said he'd actually boated a snook the week before, fishing in the warm-water discharge of the Big Bend Power Plant on the south end of the bay.

Gerry and Ranny had to go back home, but on Wednesday Phil and Billy and I headed out again. It was a long, gruelling trip across wind-whipped water and nothing bit for the first two hours in the hot-water lagoon.

I was falling asleep on the foredeck, idly trolling a silver spoon along the bank, when there came a tremendous tug on my rod. I woke up just in time to see a sleek silver head emerge from the water and begin a startling leap.

"Snook!" I shrieked.

And it was.

We wound up catching two, along with a nice nine-pound redfish, which is called a red drum or channel bass in the Chesapeake Bay.

As far as we're concerned, victory is ours and vindication is yours.