Snook have such powerful jaws that you can hear them hit a bait in shallow water from quite a distance away, and it is an unmistakable sound. On the other hand, when fishing deeper water, you will feel the thump of a large snook and know exactly what hit you once you have experienced the heavy thump of a large snook. This thump is what all the snook junkies live for. It is that few seconds of feeling the hit and knowing already from the severity of the thump that when you set the hook you are in for a fight.
September 1st marks the start of snook season in our Tampa Bay area. In normal years when there are no special circumstances, the acronym MASON is what I like to teach at my fishing seminars to help anglers remember when the season opens. The beginning of the year March and April are the first M&A of the year, then at the end of the year September, October and November.
Their life cycle is similar to the tarpon’s life cycle, especially in the early stages. During the spawning season, May through September, females go to passes and mouths of bays to lay their eggs which they can do every two days, releasing 1.25 to 1.5 million eggs at a time. The higher salinity water areas are better for making the eggs and newly hatched larvae more buoyant, which gives them a better chance to float to a nearby estuary habitat suitable for their survival. In the early stages, under one year old small snook will seek out low salinity areas or fresh/brackish water with low oxygen that their young bodies can adapt to, that the predator fish can’t. Around one year old (10-12 inches) they will start to need higher oxygen and salinity levels which will make them move to the lower estuary with their grown counterparts. They must be careful, because snook will eat their own if they are hungry enough. One of the notable things about snook is that most males (not all) with age will turn into females.
Large snook can be found in a variety of habitats; from the backwaters to the swash channels at the beaches and everything in between, especially bridges and piers for some big ones. The typical fall migration would be to move from the beaches to the inshore waters, continuing to rivers or deeper canals as the water cools. Snook are cold blooded, so they are only as warm as the water. Knowing this and the water temperature, can help keep you on the snook bite as they migrate. Right now, they are out and about since the water is so hot. So, up inside Tampa Bay you will have a similar pattern to the beach described earlier, but the river and creek mouths are the passes.
So now you want to catch snook–well there are many different tactics. Nighttime fishing vs daytime fishing, live bait vs artificial, all has its place and preference. Much of this is up to each individual and the style of fishing that they prefer.
Early morning, before all the beach goers get out there, look for snook in the swash channels near each side of the passes leading into the Gulf. Cast parallel to the beach with lures that imitate bait fish like a white bucktail or a MirrOdine using a slight twitch. Twitch retrieve motion ‘till you figure out the speed that gets you the hit. At night or early morning, you can work the pass bridges with a Flairhawk jig or something similar with the weight heavy enough to get you in contact with the bottom. White and red has always been a good choice of color, but ask the tackle shops in your area for what color has been hot lately. Around the bridges, you will want to use a heavier set up like 30-pound braid and a 40 to 50-pound fluorocarbon leader due to the pilings and, at night, you can get away with a heavier leader since they can’t see it. Bridge fishing with live bait like pinfish, small lady fish or finger mullet on the same set up with a 6/0 to 7/0 hook can also be fun.
Light tackle fishing during the day for snook is also very fun and enjoyable. During the day, most of the time, you cannot run too heavy a leader, because they will be able to see it and you will not get as many hits. Use 10 to 20-pound braided line with 4 to 5 feet of 25 to 30-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader with a 1/0 to 2/0 Owner Mutu Light circle hook. This, on a 7’ 6” medium fast taper 8 to 17 or 10 to 20-pound pole with a size 4000 reel, is a good set up to hit some inshore mangrove tree lines, smaller bridges or rock jetties. On the flats, topwater lures like MirrOlure’s Pro Dog or a subsurface MirrOdine are great choices along with live baits like pinfish, finger mullet, threadfin herring and scaled sardines.
Now go out and have a blast!