SCIENTISTS REMAIN AMBIGUOUS on whether it's possible for a mangrove to reach out and grab a snook plug. But personally, I'm convinced. I've seen them do it many times.

In fact, I suspect that the mangrove was genetically engineered by a crazed snook-plug manufacturer, for the express purpose of maximizing his sales. That's the only explanation of a tree that grows with its twisting, tangling, blankety-blanking roots sticking up in the air, instead of down in the ground where all respectable plants keep their privates.

Those roots are designed like Velcro, with millions of microscopic little hooks bio-engineered to perfectly fit the hooks on your plugs. Whenever the plant sees one pass close by, up go the roots, shooting out like the tongue of a giant frog, and snatch goes your $5.95 lure.

Did you ever notice how the thickest stands are always planted right over the best holes? You can't tell me somebody didn't put them there. Either that, or they grow each time they eat a plug. Do MirrOlures make good mangrove fertilizer? They're still doing the research on it.

Be all that as it may, not only snook but also a lot of other species of Southern fish love mangroves. Redfish and sheepshead are regular patrons of mangrove mazes, as are, obviously, mangrove snapper.

Extracting these creatures from the living fingers of the obstinate botanicals, however, takes some doing.

The problems begin with getting the lure into the overhung hidey-holes where the fish lie. Most productive mangrove shorelines are along channels and creeks, where deep, flowing water goes right up to the bank. As the limbs spread, competing for the sunlight over the open water, they reach out far from the actual shoreline to create a sort of artificial shore that may be 10 or 15 feet from the real edge.

Guess where the fish are?

Yep. They never see the light of day.

Mangrove migraines. A narrowing of the vision, and a feeling you're looking through a tunnel. Intense headaches. Vertigo.

The fish prowl in there, sucking crabs and killifish and other small edibles out of the roots. They're usually looking toward the shore, or parallel to it, rather than out toward open water. So that's where your lure needs to get in order for many of them to notice it.

In order to make the presentation, you've got to be an angling magician, capable of making your lure materialize in spots with about as much space as there is under the average living room couch It's impossible. And to make things worse, those big old hawg snook and yard-long reds like to get back in there and wallow and root and blow bait out on the bank, just to tease you. It's enough to make you take up golf.

However, where there's a will, there are greedy relatives. No--there's a way.

In this case, it's skippin'. Or poppin'.