Although we were fishing live bait that particular morning, Holliday points out that lures can be extremely effective on snook when worked properly. “The best snook fishing with lures comes before about 8:30 a.m., when the light is low and the fish don’t get a good look at the lure,” he says. “Once the sun gets up, the fish see very well and will dog the lure, but not eat it. The majority of strikes you get after that are going to be reactionary-type strikes, which dramatically decreases the number of hookups.”
Live bait works better in the glare of the midday sun, but then live bait is almost always effective. It just comes down to personal choice, as some people greatly prefer fishing artificials. But there’s strategy involved with baitfishing too. “If a fish eats a bait and you miss it, don’t reel the bait away from the fish,” Holliday says. “If you leave it there, the fish thinks it just escaped from its jaws, and will hunt it down and eat it again.”
Some of the largest fish come from around the pilings of Stuart’s numerous bridges. Some of the best action takes place on topwater plugs worked around the bridges at night during the fall mullet run. “When mullet swim into the light, it disorients them, and they freeze and just drift through the light with the current, so you want to do the same thing with your topwater plug,” Holliday says. “Work the lure through the dark areas and pause when it comes into the light. It seems weird to stop the lure, but the current will carry it through the light, and the fish will crush it even when it’s not moving.”
Of course, you can also fish live mullet around the bridges with deadly results, and it’s key to use circle hooks, both for effective hookups and for conservation reasons. “Circle hooks really do work, you just have to have faith,” Wakeman says. “And don’t set the hook!”
Large grass flats around the Crossroads offer both wading and boat-fishing opportunity. “On the flats, I want an extreme low tide,” Holliday says. “That concentrates the fish in the deeper potholes and pulls them off the grass so there’s less terrain to cover. On extreme high tides, the fish on the flats can go anywhere, so they’re spread out. That’s when I like to fish seawalls because there’s a lot of water depth on the wall, and the big fish show up.”
Snook are still rebounding from the devastating cold of recent winters in Florida, but the fishery gets stronger all the time (see sidebar). But Holliday stresses that the fish need special care to make sure they continue to thrive. “I see a lot of people not respecting the fish, particularly during the spawning months, when we really need to take extra care to make sure the fish are handled gently, revived and released in good shape,” he says. “Too many people simply toss the fish back overboard instead of putting it gently back into the water and taking a minute or two to revive it. You have to remember that the fish you let go represents not only a larger fish in the future, but also a direct link to future generations of snook.”
Good points, ones that we all should heed if we hope to preserve this incredible fishery. With a little care, our children and grandchildren will all be able to enjoy the exceptional snook action found at Stuart’s Crossroads.