A Refresher in Spring Snook Tactics
By Mike Hodge
Spring has arrived, which means longer days, warmer water, less wind, and with a little luck, more snook.
The key is to be flexible. Typically, snook move from the backcountry, to the flats and then to the beaches from season to season. Perhaps that pattern is an oversimplification --- inlets and passes and offshore wrecks come into play --- but for the recreational fisherman, those three spots are the ones to focus on.
Since spring is a transitional season between winter’s chill and summer’s swelter, the challenge is to find which of those three locations --- the backcountry, the flats or the beach --- produces. And it’s not an exact science. A few years ago, I tried a formulaic approach, but found myself exasperated after consecutive fishless trips, so I called a guide friend of mine for moral support. His explanation: “Fish move.”
And so they do. Here’s a few tips to help you figure out where spring snook should be in the state of Florida, depending on where you live and the conditions, and how to catch them.
Find the Bait.
Pretty basic stuff here, but sometimes it pays to have a firm grasp of the obvious. Fish want cover and they want food. And the main table fare in spring is mullet and shrimp. You can fish live bait or artificial, but don’t skimp on the size.
“The fish are focused on shrimp and the mullet,” Stuart guide Mike Holliday said. “A lot of these mullet are large, six, ten inches, so you have to use bigger baits. Throw topwater; they’re great to throw. Throw the larger topwater plugs, five, six-inch ones. Same with swimming plugs.”
With the shrimp, Holliday recommends a Bass Assassin. Or shrimp on a jig head for those who prefer bait.
If you’re in the southern part of Florida, the fish should be on the flats by April.
“In the spring, we have extremely low tides. Concentrate on potholes,” said Holliday, a regular contributor to the Chevy Florida Insider Fishing Report. “Some of these flats might be a mile long, and a lot of those fish stack up in the potholes.”
Or look along the edges of the mangroves.
“Sometimes the fish are sunning themselves along the shoreline,” Holliday said. “That’s where shrimp is money.”
Head off the Beaten Path
The fish should be on the flats, but that’s assuming you fish in the warmer parts of the state ---- Tampa and points south. If you live north of Tampa --- in Daytona for instance --- your local snook population may be concentrated in the backcountry, depending on bait movement and water temperature.
Northeast Florida is traditionally a haven for redfish, but the area holds pockets of snook, St. Augustine-area guide Tommy Derringer usually probes the Palm Coast-area creeks for clients who want the linesider.
“The best areas in the region are those creeks that turn into brackish water, like Pellicer Creek,” Derringer said. “Right now there are a lot of snook back in Pellicer Creek. A lot of guys are catching them. You’ve got to go pretty far back. We haven’t had a whole lot of rain. That saltwater has crept way back up in that creek, so it’s a good time of year to do it.”
Look for creeks with a freshwater influence.
“Without rain, it’s saltier,” said Derringer, who owns Inshore Adventures. “You have to go pretty far back. If you catch a bass or two, you know you’re in the right spot.”
Fish at Night
You can never go wrong fishing the dock lights on a rising tide. Try the lights close to the water. The baitfish congregate around the obvious glow, and the snook know it. Artificials that mimic small white baitfish work best. The same goes for flies.
“Dock lights are always a safe bet,” Sarasota guide Chris Hargiss said. “It’s the easiest way to catch a snook on a fly anywhere.”
The farther south you are, the earlier you can fish bridge and dock lights. For anglers in the northern or central part of Florida, you might have to wait until the water warms up.
“But you can get them under the dock lights,” said Tim Boothe of Ancient City Guide service in St. Augustine. “Summer is the best time.”
Find the Structure
Snook like cover. Bass fishermen and trout anglers understand the formula: Current and structure equal fish.
“If I’m not on the dock lights, I usually focus my time (during the day) around points, mangrove points,” said Hargiss of Fly Quest Charters. “I look for places that there’s a point and then there’s current. A lot of times snook will sit right outside that current. They stack up, sometimes on deeper, cutted shorelines. At times you’ll find 20, 30 bunched up waiting for something to come around a corner.”
X Marks the Spot
If you find a snook in one location, chances are you will see fish in that same spot again.
“Snook like potholes on the flats this time of year,” Tampa guide Spencer Goodwin said. “Redfish like to roam the flats. Snook are more stationary. Redfish, you don’t always see them in the same spot. Snook, you’ll see in the same spot.”
Hit the Beach
Walking the beach and looking for snook in shin-deep water is usually a summer-time proposition after the big females leave the passes. However, the males roam the beach most of the year. Of course, you can’t see them year round because of water-clarity issues, but once the winds and surf lay down, you can sight fish. Flat, calm conditions are the best. Use the same flies and artificials as you would for dock light fishing, anything small and white. For bait, a well-placed pinfish works wonders.
Mike Hodge is freelance writer from St. Augustine, Fla. and a regular contributor to SGF.
Photos: Mike Hodge and Tommy Derrenger