CLASSIFICATION OF THE COMMON SNOOK
Order – Perciformes
Family – Centropomidae
Genus – Centropomus
Species – undecimalis

Habitat

Juvenile common snook are generally restricted to the protection of riverine and estuary environments. These environments offer shallow water and an overhanging vegetative shoreline. Juvenile common snook can survive in waters with lower oxygen levels than adults. Adult common snook inhabit many environments including mangrove forests, beaches, river mouths, nearshore reefs, salt marshes and sea grass meadows. Adult common snook appear to be less sensitive to cold water temperatures than larvae or small juveniles. The lower lethal limit of water temperature is 48.2°-57.2° F (9°-14° C) for juveniles and 42.8°-53.6° F (6°-12° C) for adults.

Geographical Distribution

Common snook are the most widely distributed species within the Centropomus genus and have been reported as far north as New York (USA) and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Common snook are abundant along the Atlantic coast of Florida from Cape Canaveral south through the Keys and Dry Tortugas, and north to Cedar Key on the gulf coast. Common snook occur infrequently along the coast of Texas to Galveston and then more or less continuously south to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Distinctive Features

Common snook have a slender body and a distinct lateral line. The dorsal fins are high and divided and the anal spines are relatively short. The common snook has a sloping forehead with a large mouth and a protruding lower jaw. Adult common snook can grow to over 48 inches in total length , which is larger than any other species in this family.

Size, Age & Growth

Common snook on the Atlantic coast of Florida commonly grow to larger sizes than common snook on the gulf coast of Florida. The world record for a common snook caught on hook and line is a 53-pound 10-ounce (24.28 kg) in Parismina Ranch, Costa Rica. Theoretical longevity estimates from age and growth studies suggest that common snook can live to about twenty years old. On the Atlantic coast, the oldest sampled common snook was an eighteen-year-old female and the oldest male was fifteen. On the gulf coast, the oldest common snook sampled was a fifteen year old female and the oldest male was twelve.

Reproduction

Common snook are protandric hermaphrodites, changing from male to female after maturation. This transition is identified by the presence of both male and female sex cells in the gonads and takes place when they grow to between 9.4-24 inches (24.0-82.4 cm) fork length which corresponds to 1-7 years of age. A study conducted in 2000, indicated that the sex ratios for common snook ages 0 – 2 are significantly skewed between the east and west coasts of Florida (USA) due to protrandry and differences in growth and mortality rates. The majority of small common snook are male and most large snook are female. Males reach sexual maturity during their first year at 5.9-7.9 inches (15.0-20.0 cm) fork length. Research shows that female gonads mature directly from the mature male gonads shortly after spawning. The probability that a common snook of a particular size will be a female increases with length or age.

More Facts

  • There are five different species of snook that inhabit Florida waters: common snook, small-scale fat snook, large-scale fat snook, swordspine snook, and tarpon snook.
  • Snook are also known as robalo, linesiders, and sergeant fish. In the past they were known as “soapfish” when some sections of the “soapy” tasting skin were left on the fillets due to poor cleaning practices.
  • Snook can tolerate a wide range of salinity and may be found in fresh water. However, they are extremely sensitive to temperature and a strong, fast moving cold front through an area containing snook may claim many lives due to the rapid drop in water temperature.
  • Snook are protandric hermaphrodites and change sex from male to female. The actual cause of the change is not known, but current research may provide an answer.
  • Snook are known as “ambush feeders” meaning that they’ll surprise attack their prey as it swims or moves into range. This occurs especially at the mouths of inlets where currents play a role while the snook waits in hiding behind bridge pilings, rocks, or other submerged structures.

Species of Snook

From top to bottom: common snook, tarpon snook, swordspine snook, and fat snook.

Common Snook

Common snook have a more slender body and dorsal fins are high and divided and the anal spines are relatively short. The common snook has a sloping forehead with a large mouth and a protruding lower jaw. Common snook on the Atlantic coast of Florida commonly grow to larger sizes than common snook on the gulf coast of Florida.

Tarpon Snook

As the name implies, this fish looks somewhat like a tarpon. The body is very thin laterally like a tarpon, but most noteworthy is the long head and upturned jaw. Thoughts are the two probably share feeding habits, keying on prey swimming overhead, and so over time their bodies evolved similarly. A tarpon snook’s eyes are much bigger than those of other snooks; it may be that the species relies on sight more so than its cousins. These tarpon snook seem to feed mostly at nighttime. One of the key differences among snook species is the size of their scales. The anal fin is another key characteristic. Common, fat, and swordspine snook all have one large hard spike followed by six soft rays. The tarpon snook is the only snook that has seven soft rays on the anal fin, not counting the first hard spike. The spike is always shorter than the longest soft ray. Lastly, the tarpon snook is the only snook that has dark tips on the ends of the anal, ventral and pectoral fins. But, these dark tips fade with age, so don’t assume it is not a tarpon snook if it doesn’t have dark tips on the fins. Tarpon snook also do not get very big, usually maxing out at about three pounds.

Swordspine Snook

These guys usually do not exceed one pound and are so rare that a catch is something to really be proud of. The name comes from the large spike on the anal fin. This is the only snook that the anal spike is so long that it can actually touch the tail fin. These are usually not caught in open water and prefer mangroves or docks

Fat Snook

This is perhaps the most difficult snook to identify because its anal fin goes through a change and juveniles look different from adults. As the name implies, these snook are just plain fat. They are the second largest snook and closely resemble a football but don’t be fooled: tarpon and swordspine snook also have proportionately larger bodies than common snook, so be sure to check for other characteristics. World record for the species is around 10 pounds. Unlike the tarpon snook and swordspine snook, it is possible to catch a fat snook exceeding Florida’s minimum legal size for retention of snook, 28 inches. Fat snook are often found at spillways when large amounts of fresh water is pouring over them.

Atlantic (state and adjacent federal waters) Gulf of Mexico, Monroe County, and Everglades National Park (state and adjacent federal waters)
Closed Harvest Season Dec. 15 – Jan. 31; June 1 – Aug. 31 Dec. 1-end of February; May 1-Aug. 31
Size Limit Not less than 28″  total length (TL) or more than 32″ TL Not less than 28″  total length (TL) or more than 33″ TL
Bag Limit 1 per harvester per day 1 per harvester per day

Fishing Liscence

Florida’s resident saltwater anglers who fish from shore or a structure affixed to shore need a license. The license is free, effective July 1, 2010. However, anglers who obtain the license over the phone will pay a convenience fee of $3.33 to the vendor who provides the service, and those who obtain the license off the Internet will pay a $2.31 convenience fee. (plus administrative and handling fees). Resident anglers may prefer to purchase the regular recreational saltwater license that covers them, no matter where they fish for saltwater species in Florida.

Gulf of Mexico Update

At the June 2012 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) meeting, Commissioners voted to keep the recreational harvest of snook in Gulf of Mexico waters closed through Aug. 31, 2013. This closure will offer the species additional protection after a 2010 cold kill detrimentally affected the population.

Snook closed to harvest in Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic waters in January 2010 after a severe cold kill affected snook population number.

At the June 2011 Commission Meeting, Commissioners received a staff report on the status of the snook population, which suggests that snook on Florida’s Atlantic coast were less severely impacted by cold weather than Gulf coast snook. Based on this information, Commissioners reopened snook harvest season September 1, 2011, in Atlantic waters, including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River.

Catch and release of Gulf coast snook is still permitted at this time. When snook is open in Gulf waters, the bag limit is one fish per person, per day; the slot size limit is 28 to 33 inches; and the season is closed from Dec. 1 through the end of February and May 1 through Aug. 31.

TL in. ATLANTIC GULF
Season MEAN MIN MAX Season MEAN MIN MAX
20″ May–Oct 2.3 2.0 2.7 Apr–Sep 2.0 1.9 2.5
Nov–Apr 2.2 1.9 2.8 Oct–Mar 2.2 1.9 2.5
21″ May–Oct 2.6 1.9 3.2 Apr–Sep 2.4 1.7 3.3
Nov–Apr 2.5 2.1 3.0 Oct–Mar 2.4 2.0 2.9
22″ May–Oct 3.1 2.0 4.4 Apr–Sep 2.8 3.2 3.4
Nov–Apr 3.1 2.4 3.5 Oct–Mar 2.9 2.5 3.4
23″ May–Oct 3.6 2.9 4.2 Apr–Sep 3.3 3.2 4.4
Nov–Apr 3.5 3.1 3.8 Oct–Mar 3.4 2.4 4.1
24″ May–Oct 4.2 3.4 4.7 Apr–Sep 3.7 3.2 4.6
Nov–Apr 4.0 3.4 4.6 Oct–Mar 3.9 3.2 4.7
25″ May–Oct 4.6 4.0 5.5 Apr–Sep 4.3 3.5 5.0
Nov–Apr 4.6 4.0 5.7 Oct–Mar 4.3 3.5 5.8
26″ May–Oct 5.4 4.4 6.1 Apr–Sep 4.7 2.3 6.0
Nov–Apr 5.3 4.5 6.5 Oct–Mar 4.9 4.3 5.6
27″ May–Oct 6.3 5.0 7.5 Apr–Sep 5.4 4.6 6.2
Nov–Apr 5.9 5.2 6.6 Oct–Mar 5.9 5.0 10.0
28″ May–Oct 7.1 5.0 10.0 Apr–Sep 6.6 5.2 11.4
Nov–Apr 7.1 6.5 8.4 Oct–Mar 6.7 4.5 11.8
29″ May–Oct 7.8 6.2 9.6 Apr–Sep 7.1 6.3 8.3
Nov–Apr 8.5 7.0 11.0 Oct–Mar 7.4 5.9 11.6
30″ May–Oct 9.0 7.4 10.4 Apr–Sep 7.8 7.0 8.6
Nov–Apr 8.8 7.2 10.0 Oct–Mar 7.8 6.5 9.0
31″ May–Oct 9.8 8.2 13.5 Apr–Sep 8.4 7.3 10.3
Nov–Apr 9.8 8.5 11.4 Oct–Mar 8.9 8.2 10.3
32″ May–Oct 11.1 9.0 14.0 Apr–Sep 9.6 7.7 13.2
Nov–Apr 11.3 10.0 12.5 Oct–Mar 9.9 8.8 11.7
33″ May–Oct 12.1 10.0 14.5 Apr–Sep 12.2 9.8 15.0
Nov–Apr 13.1 11.0 17.0 Oct–Mar 10.8 9.4 12.4
34″ May–Oct 13.2 9.0 18.0 Apr–Sep 12.8 11.4 14.7
Nov–Apr 15.2 12.5 18.0 Oct–Mar 13.4 11.0 21.0
35″ May–Oct 14.5 12.1 16.7 Apr–Sep 14.4 11.3 17.7
Nov–Apr 16.5 14.1 19.0 Oct–Mar 12.8
36″ May–Oct 16.4 11.8 22.0 Apr–Sep 14.6 11.5 16.3
Nov–Apr 15.4 14.2 18.0 Oct–Mar 14.9 14.0 15.6
37″ May–Oct 18.1 14.0 22.5 Apr–Sep 16.1 15.8 16.5
Nov–Apr 21.4 20.2 22.5 Oct–Mar 16.5 16.0 17.0
38″ May–Oct 19.0 15.5 24.0 Apr–Sep 16.0 14.0 17.9
Nov–Apr 20.8 18.0 23.2 Oct–Mar 19.4 18.7 20.2
39″ May–Oct 21.7 19.2 28.5 Apr–Sep 18.7 16.4 22.0
Nov–Apr 22.0 Oct–Mar 20.3 18.3 21.9
40″ May–Oct 24.0 19.6 28.0 Apr–Sep 22.4 21.4 23.3
Nov–Apr 24.7 21.7 28.0 Oct–Mar 22.6
41″ May–Oct 25.7 20.0 32.2 Apr–Sep 23.7
Nov–Apr 25.5 25.0 26.0 Oct–Mar 23.4
42″ May–Oct 27.3 24.0 31.0 Apr–Sep 24.7
Nov–Apr 30.2 28.9 31.5 Oct–Mar 27.9
43″ May–Oct 30.7 28.0 35.0 Apr–Sep 28.0
Nov–Apr 31.5 24.0 37.5 Oct–Mar
44″ May–Oct 30.0 26.0 32.0 Apr–Sep
Nov–Apr Oct–Mar
45″ May–Oct 32.7 30.0 35.4 Apr–Sep
Nov–Apr Oct–Mar