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January 16, 2009

Textbook Snook

Everglades National Park provides a classic backdrop for snook fans.

Some of the best snook fishing in the U.S. is found within the 1.3 million acres that make up Florida's subtropical wilderness: Everglades National Park. This includes more than 100 miles of coastline - if measured along a straight line - starting at the east end of Florida Bay and continuing around Cape Sable to its northern end near Everglades City. Multiply that by 10 for an approximation of total fishable shoreline. I seriously doubt there is any water within ENP borders where snook are never found. They have been encountered everywhere, from under the docks at the boat ramps to the farthest reaches of the interior, including lakes, creeks and at times even ponds that are seemingly isolated from tidewater. Snook appear to be equally happy in both fresh and salt water and anything in between.

However, there are definite places where they are more likely to be. At the top of the list is anywhere in tidewater, and that includes the larger freshwater creeks and sloughs that are directly connected. Whenever they are not spawning, snook are almost always looking for something to eat, and to that end they are ambush predators with a preference for structure. But at the same time, keep in mind that they are also willing to cruise open water, choosing a stealthy approach over structure as yet another way to bushwhack their prey.

Even though they may be anywhere, if you concentrate your efforts along beaches, shorelines, creeks and creek mouths, tidal runoffs and sandy potholes on the shallow flats, your chance of success increases greatly.

Like every other predator, snook tend to hang out where food is available, which means you can spend a lot of time scouting open beaches and mangrove shorelines without success until you hit a spot where baitfish are abundant. But as Chokoloskee guide Steve Huff has been heard to say many times, "If you cover enough shoreline, sooner or later the snook will find you." Over the years I've caught hundreds of snook just fishing along one shoreline or another until I get lucky, but there are ways to improve your odds in this situation. Often, there are visible signs indicating the presence of fish, whether they are snook or not. Wading birds chasing baitfish along a stretch of open beach, for instance, can be a good sign. The same is true if they are bunched up around the mouth of a tidal creek. Or perhaps there are a lot of nervous baitfish gathered in one spot.  In many cases, the obvious nervousness is due to the fact that something is trying to eat them.