SUMMERTIME BEACH SNOOK
I started fishing the beaches of south florida about 15 years ago and I can tell you its incredible. Prime time is during the closed season May through August on the Gulf Coast, June through August on the Atlantic coast. And the east coast gets lots of large bonus fish during the annual mullet run as well, typically in September and October. Put your polarized glasses on and the view of the world changes, in this case the view of the water and seeing snook change. On clear days you either stay put and wait for the fish to come to you, or you slowly walk the beach looking for them (usually to only be a few feet from shore during high tide). Just don’t make the classic tourist mistake of wading out to your belly and then casting as far beyond that as possible, because if you do, most of the fish are going to swim behind you. On low tide, some fish likely will be outside the first bar, but otherwise they’re usually inside the trough. Lucky for us these fish prowl along the beach in the trough which makes it possible to get several casts at them if needed. Preferred live bait is a large pilchard, sardine, or mullet placed well ahead of the fish being sure not to spook them. Best gear is probably the same spinning tackle you’d use for all-around applications on the flats; a 7-foot medium-action rod, 2500 size or slightly larger reel, 10 to 15 pound test, and then a 20-40 pound fluorocarbon leader with a 1/0 bait hook. If you prefer artificial then a small x rap, plastic shrimp, or mirr-o-dine will work early in the morning or when the sun is going down. We offer all the necessary tackle in our store right here on FishForSnook.
Along the Atlantic coast parallel to the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee locks control water drainage to the ocean. After much rain, usually near the end of summer, but it happens all year, thousands of gallons of water are dumped daily into canals that empty into the Intracoastal Waterway, which eventually, through the inlets, carries the Glades’ water to sea. As the water cascades through the locks, bait fish are carried along and in the resulting brackish water snook have a picnic eating their way through the sudden food bonanza. Anglers have a picnic, too. Live bait is by far the best, Shad, brim, cichlids, mullet, or even a small bass.
Artificials also work very well. Large plugs like a bomber or an x rap work well. Also large swim baits like Storm or Spooltek. Bucktail Jigs also work very well. Just make sure you are fishing on the bottom. After casting, let it sink to the bottom and retrieve slowly.
HEAD THEM OFF AT THE PASSES ( This is a great article by Frank Sargeant in the Snook Book)
IN THE GOOD OLD days of snook fishing, some 70 percent of the annual catch came from the passes during the spring and summer spawn, beginning around the full moon in May on the west coast and extending through the end of August on the east coast. In those days, up until the mid-1970’s when DNR biologist Jerry Bruger figured out that too many snook were being killed by fishing during the spawn, anglers from all over the country gathered in spots like Big Marco Pass and Redfish Pass, both in southwest Florida, in such numbers that the fleet of boats was similar to that swarming over the tarpon at Boca Grande. It was a great fishery, but like so many great fisheries unregulated, it invited overfishing. With the closure of the spawning period a decade ago, most of this pressure disappeared. The prime spots in the prime times these days rarely attract a half-dozen boats. But for anglers who don’t mind catch-and-release snooking, a visit to the passes in spring can provide some of the best action and biggest fish of the year.
Where To Find Spring Spawners
Among the most productive passes, on the west coast, are Stump, Gasparilla, Captive, Redfish and Big Maco. On the east coast, inlets from Sebastian southward all have snook pods in spring and summer. Snook not only stack into the major passes during this time, but also school heavily in much smaller flowages, anywhere that strong tides will sweep the eggs into large bodies of water. The eggs need to be supported by strong nows for 18 to 36 hours to hatch, and these conditions are found in many of the larger bays on the west coast. Snook sometimes gather around the channels between small bayous and larger bays in remarkable numbers. The Port Manatee channel, in Tampa Bay, is locally famous for producing huge numbers of big fish. There are also good numbers at many of the small but deep channels leading from the estuarine bays into the larger harbors along the west coast, including the Joe Bay. Bishop’s Harbor and Cockroach Bay channels on middle Tampa Bay, and the deeper cuts between most of the islands outside the Skyway Bridge on the south shore of lower Tampa Bay. Also good are the areas where causeways span this bay, creating stronger current flows.
Charlotte Harbor has spawning aggregations at the mouths of Bull and Turtle Bay, as well as in the deeper passes between islands in Pine Island Sound.
And on the East Coast, the fish often move out along the beaches adjacent to the inlets to drop their eggs.
Wherever you pursue them, the techniques for catching spawners are much the same.
I am not big into fly fishing but here is another good story article by Frank Sargeant
The Masters Book of Snook, by Frank Sargeant
FLY-RODDING FOR SNOOK
Catching a 30-pound snook on any tackle is a feat worth remembrance. Catching one on a flyrod is an angling achievement that many thought would never happen. But it did happen, a few years ago in Everglades National Park.
Fishing out of Chokoloskee, about 30 miles east of Naples, Captain Pete Villani and his angler, Dr. Rex Garrett of Sarina, Ontario, were poling down a murky tidal creek just after sunup when Villani spotted the tell-tale yellow dorsal and tail of a snook finning along at the surface.
“It had been unusually cold for April,” Villani said. “The sun was shining on the shallow mud flats, and I think the fish was in there trying to warm up.”
Garrett, an experienced fly-caster but a novice to snook fishing, presented a red and white deer hair MirrOlure Fly, a slider with weighted eyes, on 8-weight tackle.
“The fish ignored the first three casts,” said Villani. “It sank out of sight on the third toss, and I thought that was it. But in a little while, it popped back up.”
Garrett placed the fly just right on the fourth toss, and the fish took immediately. It was only after the battle went beyond 10 minutes that Villani realized how big the linesider really was. It scaled 30 pounds, 4 ounces-a new all-tippet record in the International Game Fish Association flyfishing division. The fish was 43 inches long and had a girth of 25 1/2 inches.
The snook was taken on 20-pound class tippet, and holds that record as well as the all-tippet record. It displaced a 27.5 pound fish taken at St. Lucie Inlet that same spring.
FLY TACKLE AND TACTICS
It’s not likely that you’ll get a 30-pounder on fly tackle, but snook readily take a variety of flyrod lures. While the record fish was taken on 8-weight tackle, many snook experts prefer 10 weight rods for mangrove country fishing because the added power gives some chance of stopping a fish from getting to the roots and cutting your leader. And, because the casts are often short and with little room for a backcast, overloading the rods with weight-forward 12-weight line is common. The heavier line makes it easier to flex the rod and make a good cast with a short length out the tip.
Show me a master snook angler and I’ll show you a guy who reads the tide tables before breakfast and maybe again after dinner. He may forget his wedding anniversary, but he won’t forget the date of the spring tides in May. (This may have something to do with the high divorce rate among snook fishermen.) No fish are more reactive to tidal flow than snook. They depend on the flowing water to bring food to them almost like rainbow trout in a mountain stream. When the water isn’t moving, they rarely feed.
But there’s a lot to learn besides what time of day high and low tides come in your fishing area. You know the basics: tides are very long, low ocean waves caused by the pull of the moon and the sun. They’re not evident at sea, but when they hit land the motion of the waves causes the water to rise and fall, and also creates tidal currents as the water flows over shallows and through narrow passages. Anyone who spends any time around the coast knows this much. But the flow varies dramatically based on the shape of the land it meets.
PLAYING THE TIDES
Tide heights are listed in distances above or below the mean low tide at a given spot — the “zero” line. The greater the variations from zero — that is, the taller the wave — the stronger the tide flow and usually the better the fishing.
However, you have to take what the tides give you, and a great snooker plays the ebb and flow like a master violinist working through a symphony. (Or maybe more like a banjo picker working through “Dueling Banjos”.)
Tides follow wider, deeper channels first. In a bayou fed by several tidal creeks you may see that the inflow begins on the main arm and is already flowing strong there while it’s dead or even going out on the smaller feeders.
Time your fishing to take advantage of this, hitting the big feeder first, then the smaller ones as they “wake up” and begin to flow. The best fishing in all these small passes, incidentally, is usually on the downtide side of the points, that is on the inside on incoming water and the outside on outgoing water. These spots create eddies that allow the snook to avoid the flow, yet easily pick off baits swirled in. And if there happens to be a pothole curving around the point, as there often is due to current scouring, you’ve discovered a super snook spot.
The tide comes into an estuary in a plume that you can see on the surface when the water is calm. It has a rounded leading edge, and it stays discrete for a time from the residual water left in the backcountry on the previous low–differences in salinity or temperature probably account for the edge. Baitfish often ride this plume, and as it passes a feeding station snook begin to strike.
THE PULSE OF THE ESTUARIES
Tides flow in cycles or pulses within their larger movements. Particularly on the rise there may be an hour of strong flow, then a lull of 30 minutes to an hour, then another several hours of strong flow all within a given incoming tide. These are the reverse flows that swell to become full outgoing tides on four-tide days, but in the interim they’re simply hesitations in the incoming flow.
Falls tend to be more straight ahead, which is why they are stronger and often produce the best action of the day, but they also have occasional “periods” when they slow down.
The fish usually respond to these minor changes; you may have hot fishing on the start of the rise, then a dead time, then another maJor feed. And when all the water dumps out at once, going from say a plus 2.9 to a minus 0.40, over three feet of water has to get out of the back country in a period of 6 to 8 hours.
This means strong flows for a long period of time, and that means you’ll have lots of opportunities to throw to fish that are in a feeding mode. (Note that “strong” flows in snook country are not anything like strong flows farther north along the Atlantic Coast, where tide ranges of 8 feet are common. We’re talking relative flows here, not absolutes.)