Almost every fisherman has his favorite species. Some pick them for the fight, some for the challenge, and some for the taste. While it’s not up to me to judge, I have found that Snook trumps all others in every way that’s important. They fight like none other and once you have one cleaned, skinned, and lightly grilled, the taste will convince you forever that the fight was the most worthwhile in all the world of fishing.
There are few foods more coveted along the Gulf Coast than fresh Snook. Unfortunately, it is illegal to fish them commercially or even to buy or sell them so if you want one, you are going to have to go get it yourself. Sharing isn’t even a great possibility because the daily limit is usually a single fish.
As for how they fight, if you like long runs and occasional jumps, you’re going to love Snook fishing. You spend about half the fight trying to drag them off the bottom while the other half is trying to control them as they run, often right under the boat. Considering these fish get over 4 feet long and weigh upwards of 50 lbs., they are a hell of a good fight.
Whether you are a first timer on the hunt or a veteran trying to hone their skills, let’s dig right in and find out what it takes to land this first-class fish.
Though Snook are a semi-common fish from the southern tip of North Carolina all the way to Brazil, your best bet for catching them in the U.S. is the Florida Gulf Coast and Texas from Corpus Christy to the Mexico border. You may find them anywhere along their range but they are by far less common. Florida from Pensacola to Key Largo is by far the most commonly fished water for Snook.
Within their range, Snook prefer estuary environments often near coastal wetlands, island networks, and inflows of creeks and small rivers. Generally, Snook prefer a lower salinity than pure ocean water but not to the point of moving into fully brackish habitats. Due to their increased sensitivity to salinity and habitat, high amounts of rainfall and tidal action will have a more pronounced effect on where you are likely to find them.
Snook are also more temperature sensitive than most other fish in the Gulf Coast Region and will change depths with the seasons and with even mild temperature fluctuations within seasons. This sensitivity led to a halving of the apparent Snook population and a moratorium on fishing for them for three years after. Seasons and limits are still strictly enforced for their preservation.
Most of the Gulf States have two seasons for Snook, a winter season in December through January or February and a summer season from either May or June through August. The months of the season will depend on your state and even the location within the state with areas around the Everglades having the longest season.
Where the Snook hole up depends on the season. Summer is often regarded as easy with Snook hanging around the usual summer fishing spots near their preferred habitat. Piers and jetties are always a worthwhile spot as well as any other shady cover. On milder days and at dawn and dusk, sandy flats are always a solid bet.
Snook seem to be more resistant to warm water and direct sun but will move to lightly deeper channels as the water passes 90 degrees or so. In summer, you will often be able to see congregations of Snook in the clear Gulf waters.
Everything said about summer before will go somewhat out the window from spawn and leading up to the mullet run in mid-summer. Snook can often be found gliding just offshore, especially as the tide is coming in. As they head along the coast looking for food and mating areas, you have a prime time for catching Snook from the beach.
Winter gets more challenging but with a little effort, you can land some very large fish. You won’t see them gathered anywhere so you have to be a little more persistent. Deep holes near shore and deep shipping channels are likely spots but so are mangroves around timber. On sunny days, you may see them move up to shallow sunny flats. Most Snook won’t feed in water less than 70 degrees so look for the warmer days in shallow water.
As with all fish, lure selection has to be based on what foods are preferred, the location you are fishing them, and most importantly on the fish’s biology. There are a large number of lures that will work for Snook and will cover a broad cross-section of those lures but before we get that far, let's look at why those lures work.
Snook often patrol the bottom or very near it but aren’t equipped to take food off the bottom. Their lower jaws are longer making it easier to feed from below. That’s why most bait fishermen use rigs that keep the baits closer to the bottom but not on the bottom.
That said, some people do get decent topwater action on Snook, especially in the spring but even slightly rough water conditions will make most topwater baits all but invisible to a Snook. I don’t prefer topwater but if you have a favorite and you get to an area where Snook are feeding and want to give it a try, it will be an exciting time if you hook one!
Plugs, swimbaits, and crankbaits are all solid producers for Snook. All of these should be a diving or suspension bait. You want them under the surface but not on the surface. You also don’t want them on the bottom. I like a diving crankbait that I can control at the depth that I want it. Match any of these up with natural baitfish patterns and you should be set.
Bucktails and spoons also do well for Snook. You aren’t going to land any monsters on a spoon but a good one rigged weedless can do wonders on mid-sized Snook in vegetation. Bucktails, especially larger bucktails are a solid saltwater bait any time of the year. White/Yellow and White/Blue are good color choices and a little bit of crystal flash always helps.
Jigging, especially for winter Snook can be a great method. This also works well off of docks and piers where most of your motion is up and down. You can opt for a rubber jug or nylon depending on what you like. Bouncing a jig, especially around estuary bridges is a great technique for Snook and a variety of other saltwater fish.
You can expect Snook on pretty much any tide with good success but there are certain tides that are more productive. Understand the exact relationship between the tides and fish, not to mention the science behind it is a complicated topic and one far too long to cover here so we will use a cheaters method.
Instead of worrying about what the tide is at, worry about what it’s doing. How much water is moving in or out at a given time? That moving water will push mass amounts of baitfish around in the water and our Snook are primed to find those times to feed. Inward flowing tides to tend to be a little better but not by enough to worry about.
So, you want to fish about halfway between maximum high and low tides or vice versa. The peaks and troughs of a tide are the slowest and worst times for Snook and most other fish. On an outgoing tide, you want to fish flats away from shore but on an incoming tide, you can fish either the same flats or move in a little closer to estuaries, bays, and island chains.
Daytime Snook fishing isn’t the best but you can still find them lurking around deep structure like bridges and pylons. Though there is a lot of competition, pier fishing trout during the early part of the day can be decently productive. You can also head deeper into inshore island chains, especially at mid-day. If the water is cooler, you have a decent chance of fining Snook.
Daytime through the cooler months can also see Snook moving into sun on shallow flats. If the water gets reasonably warm they will often take this time to feed and will do so voraciously. Some of the larger Snook are caught in these conditions.
Both morning and evening are great times for Snook fishing as with most other fish species. These are good times to fish the common inshore grounds around estuaries and bays. Night time is for hunting and Snook are predatory fish so those few hours before and after nightfall are an important time to get that decent meal.
Night time Snook are active feeders and will move up and down inshore coastlines hitting several feeding spots, especially if the tide is changing or going out. They will stop if they find a good feeding spot. While you can have decent success straight off the beach in the right area, docks and piers are a good bet. Snook may hunt a little deeper than other species so you will want to consider getting down a little farther.
You really don’t need a lot for Snook but you need to make sure what you have is right. The non-specific general equipment that you will need are some egg hooks and swivels if you plan to set up any rigs, and a pole, I like fast action, that can handle the line and casting weight you will be using.
For specifics, hooks are usually the first place people go. I like a 1/0 circle hook for most occasions but if I am fishing large live bait, I may take that as high as a 3/0 but that is rare. I have known a lot of fishermen to use a #1 with good success but it will limit your bait size, especially with circle hooks. No matter the size, I recommend steering clear of wire hooks and using a heavier hook. Snook have a hard jaw and a strong fight, they can straighten out a wire hook before you know it.
Line tends to be the next big component and while you can get away with monofilament in the 40# range, I would not recommend it. The stretch factor of monofilament and its tendency to weaken the longer its in the water make it a poor choice. Fluorocarbon line works as well but it’s very expensive. I generally would look more toward a 20 or 30-pound test braided line for Snook.
Fluorocarbon works great as a leader and should be a part of your setup. The preference here is for an 8 to 10-foot leader of 30# or 40# fluorocarbon which will resist abrasion from Snook bulldozing your line into structure. You can opt for a wire leader but I have never seen the point. If you fish a particularly crusty pier, it may be worthwhile if the fluorocarbon is doing what you need.
One of the most popular rigs for Snook is the Carolina Rig. Normally used with soft baits, this rig allows your weight to move up and down your line so it isn’t attached close to your lure. It works well for fish that may be a little shy of biting and can be used with live bait to allow them to move away from your weight for a very natural look. For Snook, this works very well on sandy bottoms so use it on flats, off the beach, or even off piers and is commonly used with live or dead bait.
For areas with more structure or in high current, the Jupiter Rig is very popular. With a weight captured on a length of line between two swivels, you get a little free movement but not enough to let your bait stray too far away. Fished in the same locations with sandy bottoms, this is a good producing saltwater rig but you can safely throw it in areas where there is some structure.
Though it's not for the Snook themselves, I always carry a Sabiki rig for catching baitfish. These things are slayers and a permanent part of my fishing kit, whether its salt or freshwater. Baitfish can’t resist these them and Snook can’t resist a large variety of baitfish. And if you catch your bait where the Snook are feeding, you know you are getting the right bait.
Hands down the best producer in most season is going to be some form of real meat. There are a lot of options that work at different times of the year or in different locations but Snook readily take most baits if you present it to them in the right place and time.
Live or even dead Jumbo shrimp are a staple of dock and surf fishing. I prefer these rigged with a Carolina style rig or even a Jupiter rig with at least three foot of play if I am casting in the surf. For jigging them off the dock, give a little space between your bait and your weight to avoid spooking the fish. You won’t be able to target Snook with this method so it’s a matter of persistence and a little luck.
Cut baitfish are also a likely bait for Snook with a popular choice being cut mullet. Snook seem to go nuts over it. Try this the same way you would fish shrimp either off docks or in the surf. I always carry a smaller pole for catching baitfish and cut portions of these are almost a guarantee for action. Once again, it may not be Snook but you are guaranteed something will bite. Time this to Snook runs for your best chance.
For most fishermen, live baitfish are king and a large variety of baitfish will work well for Snook if they are appropriately sized. Some favorites are Pinfish, Pigfish, Ladyfish, Mullet and especially Sardines. Live catch what you can or purchase some live Sardines. Hooked through the back or lips, these are some of the best attracting and most productive choices for fishing Snook. As I mentioned in the Rigs section, using a Sabiki rig to catch the bait they are currently hitting is a great method for ensuring you have the right bait at the right time.
For the majority of the fishermen out there, this will be the most likely method of catching Snook since it has a minimum cost up front and takes much less preparation. The bad news that Snook on the beach can be a tough find and getting them to bite can be even tougher. The good news is that Snook, at the right time and in the right place, will readily patrol beaches and feed abundantly there.
The best time of the year is for beach fishing is in the summer during the spawn. There are two criteria you will need to make the most of your beach fishing. One is a beach without a lot of boats or people where the fish will feel less pressured. The second is to fish as the tide is coming in or while it is at its highest.
With these ideal conditions, you can attempt to sight fish if the water is clear and calm or you can blind fish if the water is turbid or rough. Sight fishing can be far more frustrating but there is a lot of excitement to sight fishing Snook. Most of the time, you are going to have to run blind and look for the telltale skipping baitfish, topwater action, or diving birds.
This is, of course, if you are fishing during daylight. It is my experience that Snook run a little later than most fish as the water really begins to warm up. You can even safely fish them at noon if the day isn’t too hot. Snook from the beach at night is a hit or miss prospect but in the heat of spawn with an incoming tide, you may just get lucky.
When it comes to real baits, you want to keep them off the bottom. A Carolina rig can help accomplish this. As for the best baits for Snook on the beach, cut mullet and jumbo shrimp seem to work quite well. Local baitfish, shrimp, and sardines seem to work well for live bait. I tend to choose a Carolina rig with the fish hooked through the back.
Lures can also be productive, especially for sight fishing. Bucktails and spoons are good go-to baits. Soft plastics are also popular. Try a few soft swimbaits. The typical set up is a metal jig head from about ¼ oz to 1 oz. To that you can add a soft plastic shrimp or one of many baitfish patterns. If you are after topwater Snook, early mornings or late evenings with low winds are a good time to try.
A personal favorite is fly fishing for Snook if the right conditions pop up which can be a little rare. In addition to perfect water, having a beach that drops off quickly so you don’t have to cast extremely far is an added bonus. I like most streamer patterns with a silver/white and yellow being a personal favorite.
You can also tone down your gear for most of your beach fishing. Most of the Snook caught from the beach are under 10 pounds. Monofilament works fine but I still like at least a 30 lb. Fluorocarbon leader just in case. You can sometimes get by with lighter hooks as well, as small as a number 1 wire hook if you are brave.
Whether you’re Snook fishing on Florida’s Gulf coast, eastern estuaries or the southern coast of Texas, it can be some of the most exciting and definitely rewarding fishing you can do. Just be aware of the local laws and regulations on Snook. Many places may have entire months that are catch and release and the keeper size is often very specific. Perhaps the tastiest fish of all, they were fished to near extinction and preserving this heritage for generations to come should be everyone’s concern.
Alternatively, you can book a trip to Costa Rica’s Gulf Coast for some of the biggest Snook ever caught and where they have no regulations on what you keep or how many. It may not be fair play but for those who are aching for a taste of this fish and they fight they deliver, this could be your best adventure yet!