Florida Snook Fishing

 

Florida snook fishing is often challenging, sometimes maddeningly so...but after you've hooked your first one, you'll understand the attraction that keeps "snookers" coming back to familiar fishing holes year after year.

If you've never been to Florida, or have never been saltwater fishing before, many anglers believe bass fishing is comparable to Florida snook fishing.

Both fish like to hang out near shore in cover.

Both species are similar in size and ferocity. Snook and bass like to lurk and pounce on their meals. Similar baits and lures work on both species.

Both snook and largemouth bass are native to Florida. The pursuit of snook becomes for many anglers a single-minded passion. Just as bass fever strikes more than a few otherwise rational folks, snookers are a dedicated breed in pursuit of a single species, too.

Like bass, snook not only are edible but have a nice flavor, too.



Photographer: Stacey Lynn Brown | agency: 123rf.comLook for the telling black stripe to identify the snook
The full-length black stripe easily distinguishes the snook


While there are similarities, there are a good many differences between snook and bass. For starters, snook aren't limited to freshwater as bass are, but enjoy brackish and their native saltwater, too, which gives the snooker a greater variety of environments to explore for his prize fish.

Unlike bass, snook cannot tolerate cold water very well. They're hard to find in temperatures less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit, because snook cannot survive for long in colder waters.

But that's enough of the comparisions. Let's get down to what you're here for: facts about the snook.






Florida snook fishing: a little about snook...


Snook are a tropical species found on the larger islands of the Caribbean. In Florida, snook fishing is best where the most snook are found in the southern half of the state, but loners may wannder as far north as Jacksonville on the Atlantic side, and the Panhandle on the Gulf side. Warmer weather might bring larger fish a little further northward.


Florida fish identification: Snook

While there are a dozen species of snook worldwide, there are only four kinds of snook caught in Florida waters: common snook, swordspine snook, tarpon snook, and fat snook.

oranse | CC License
Snook caught, as long as this man's leg
Leg-length snook catch

The common snook has the greatest numbers (hence the name 'common') and is the one species caught most often in Florida. Those found on the East Coast tend to live longer and consequently grow a little bigger than the West Coast snook. This occurs because the east coast snook are a slightly different strain. Atlantic snook live to be about 15 years old, Gulf Coast snook live to about 12 years of age.

The sword-spined snook is both the rarest and the smallest of the snook species in Florida, achieving a maximum length of only twelve inches. This fish is so rare, the only place you'll catch one is in the freshwater canals in the Miami area.

The tarpon snook gets its name because of the tarpon-like upturn of the jaw and a body that is not as long and narrow as other snook species.

The fat snook is the second largest variety found in Florida waters, reaching a length of about 18 inches. It is commonly found from the drainage at Lake Okeechobee south down through the Keys.

Snook have no teeth; their rough upward-jutting jaws bring to mind a similar structure in tarpon. As mentioned, they have a clear dark lateral line running from head to tail on both sides. Because of this distinctive marking snook are sometimes called 'sideliner', while their general coloration is usually a gray-green back with silver sides in snook that hang out in the coastal areas.

Anglers traveling to Florida for snook fishing venture up the creeks of the Everglades, and know that snook in those waters can have gold sides with nearly black backs due to the tannin in the water. During spawning season, snook fins are a bright yellow color.

Snook are naturally agressive, ferocious fighters when hooked, often favoring the lurk-and-strike method of feeding. Pound for pound, snook are exceptionally strong and wily opponents. They have an advantage when trying to free themselves because of their razor-sharp gill plates. Use heavy-duty leaders to protect your line from those gill plates that'll slice clean through your line, bringing an abrupt end to your battle.

You won't find snook in deeper water as they favor depths of 60 feet or less, and are at home in shallow lagoons and estuaries (particularly in winter months) and along beaches.

An unusual fact about snook is that all are born male; many transition to female between 2 and 7 years, or when their fork length is between 17-30 inches. Snook generally mature at around the age of 4-5, when they reach about 24-26 inches in length. Because of this, most very large snook caught are females.

While the Florida snook fishing state record is 44 pounds, 3 ounces, and the World Record is 53 pounds, 10 ounces, the average length caught is between 18 and 30 inches. An average size of snook caught is 16- to 30-pounders, with a maximum of about 30 to 40 pounds.

Speaking of state records, this video from the Chew on This saltwater fishing show records a possible record snook being landed by Capt Ben Chancey. His obvious delight at landing his prize won this video a spot on our home page, because this is what fishing in Florida is all about.




If you didn't know that Captain Ben enjoys Florida snook fishing regularly, and gets paid to do it, too, you'd never guess it by watching this video. Here's a man who loves what he does for a living! The rest of us only dream of a few days a year like this one, devoted to Florida fishing.




Florida snook fishing: seasons and seasonal movements


Let's spend some time talking about the open seasons and closed seasons for Florida snook fishing. A good understanding of the snook spawning seasons and the subsequent movements of the fish, along with the laws regulating Florida snook fishing, will help you to plan your fishing vacations.

This knowledge will also help you to decide where the best fishing spots are likely to be found, and when to try your luck.

Florida snook fishing seasons: The Gulf side is closed for snook from Dec 1 through the end of Feb as well as the months of May, June, July, and August. The rest of the state is closed for snook from Dec 15 through Jan 31; additionally, the Atlantic side is closed in the months of June, July, and August. (Regulations are effective as of 7/12/07)

During "open" seasons, you may keep one fish per person per day IF you have purchased the required snook tag for $2 per person. During "closed" seasons, you can still catch fish, but not keep them.

The snook you do catch and keep must meet the size requirements in order to have them in your possession. Florida snook fishing bag limits: On the Atlantic side, 28 to 32 inches total length; while on the Gulf side the range is 28 to 33 inches.

Anything smaller or larger cannot be kept. You may only have one snook in your possession per person at any given time.



As always, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with the Florida State fishing laws. For more info, visit www.floridaconservation.org


Now that you know the seasons, let's talk about the life cycle of snook, patterns of movement related to the natural cycles, and how it all relates to Florida's snook fishery conservation efforts which are reflected in the state laws regarding snook seasons.

Much of the movement patterns of snook are due to that low tolerance of colder temperatures as we've already mentioned.... In the winter, snook congregate where the water temperature is most stable - in the backwaters and offshore reefs; in deeper inland waters; brackish creeks, ship channels, and under bridges. They can and do go upriver at times and are quite adept in brackish and even fresh waters.

Snook are especially fond of warm-water outflows near power plants; the upper reaches of estuaries, and sometimes are found in more shallow water if the temperature stays warmer. Winter feeding is limited to the warmer days since their activity lessens with colder temperatures.

Hence the reasoning behind the state laws regulating Florida snook fishing during the winter months; the season is closed December 15 through either January 31 or through the end of February (depending on which coast you're snook fishing), because snook become so lethargic during severe cold that they are very easy to catch with a net or even your hands (those methods are not legal, by the way).



Photo credit: Full Boat Charters
Beautiful snook catch, and a beautiful sunset.
A typical Florida sunset enjoyed while snook fishing.

On warmer days in the winter, snook will venture from the shelter of deeper waters into the flats, grabbing up any baitfish they can find. The bay anchovy are often a favorite target for the insatiable snook appetites.

With the increasingly rising temperatures of spring comes a veritable snook feeding frenzy. The fish agressively seek to rebuild their mostly depleted fat stores as they prepare for the coming summer's spawn.

You'll find them at night in their favorite haunts around piers and bridges, lurking in the shadow lines awaiting to fill up on baitfish like menhaden or mullet.

In early spring they move to the mouths of bays, rivers, creeks, and canals, moving out to shallow waters in late spring in preparation for spawning.

The summer months are the snook spawning times. During this time, the Florida snook fishing is closed.

Why?

Snook are found in large groups during spawn, the food is limited, and consequently, their appetites are fierce. This makes fishing for snook somewhat like shooting fish in a barrel. Closing the season gives the snook the best chance to reproduce and keep the fish supply in healthy numbers, so that future anglers may enjoy snook fishing in Florida waters.

During the summer, you'll find snook gathering, sometimes in large groups, in inlets, passes and along the beaches. Larger numbers are found offshore around underwater structures that provide cover, as well as inshore around piers and bridges. Summer fishing is the most productive as they're found in large numbers in concentrated areas and are ravenously hungry, too. Look for snook hanging out at openings in points, bends, jetties and other spots that create eddies in the current.



Photo credit: Capt Wayne Extreme Flats Fishing ChartersBoy displays his snook
Boy showing off his snook catch


Remember, however, that you must catch and release only during the summer months as that's a closed season for keeping any snook.

Snook follow the mullet run in the fall, stuffing themselves silly and rebuilding their fat reserves to carry them through another winter. Look for mullet rain, as the locals call it (airborne mullet), around docks, bridges, and seawalls, and you'll know where the snook are waiting to ambush their dinner. Florida snook fishing can be very fast-paced and exciting in the fall; don't miss out on the action.

As the temperatures drop again in the fall, snook make their way in and up into shallow creeks where the sun will warm the bottom and their sluggish bodies as well as they wait out another winter season.




Best spots for Florida snook fishing


While there are numerous places in the waters surrounding Florida to try your luck in fighting and landing snook, we'll touch briefly on just a few.

The flats of southern Florida draw many anglers each year in search of several famous Florida gamefish: tarpon, bonefish, permit, and snook. Florida Bay, which lies north of the Florida Keys, provides many hours of exciting Florida snook fishing at its best.

Biscayne Bay, which lies just north of Key Largo, is home to a respectable number of snook during the winter and spring months; try your luck around the bridges at night.

On the Gulf Coast, you can fish off the famous Skyway Fishing Bridge in St. Petersburg or fish around the bridge at night during the late spring to fall months for your best chance at tangling with the monster snook.








   
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