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Textbook Snook

Everglades National Park provides a classic backdrop for snook fans.

January 16, 2009
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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.

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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.

Sometimes signs aren’t so visible.  When this is the case, I look for structure, including dead trees along a shoreline – the heavier the timber the better. Often you’ll see agitated baitfish at the mouth of a tidal creek during an outgoing tide, but if not, it’s still worth a quick cast. Mangrove points often hold snook waiting for unsuspecting baitfish to drift by, and on open flats, white-sand potholes are a favorite snook hangout: They hide in dark grass surrounding these white spots.

Don’t overlook channels that cut through shallow flats. Snook often cruise along them, sometimes just deep enough to be invisible. Nevertheless, if you fish these areas carefully,  these fish are catchable.

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There are times when it is possible to find snook wandering the shallows on open sand beaches. If it is calm enough, you’ll see them gliding along in search of something to eat. There are several ways to catch them under these conditions. If the water is shallow enough, the boat can be poled. Get into position just far enough from shore to cast to them without spooking them. If the water is too deep, drop your trolling motor. Some anglers even prefer to beach the boat and stalk them on foot.

Pay attention to the tides. I prefer an outgoing tide, but I’ve enjoyed good action on the flood as well. Each spot seems to have its own most productive tide, and that’s just something that has to be learned through observation and experience. Mangrove shorelines with deep openings that flood at high tide often produce best when the water level has dropped sufficiently to flush both snook and baitfish out into the open.

Small shoreline creeks that eventually dry up at the bottom of the tide typically produce best when the water level has dropped just low enough to begin to flush baitfish out into the jaws of hungry game fish. But on the other hand, some large tidal creeks that have plenty of depth at low tide often fish best right at the mouth during the incoming tide, when hungry fish gather to welcome incoming baitfish. In a situation like this, you may well find snook, redfish, seatrout and tarpon all sharing the wealth.

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Since Everglades snook fishing is essentially a shallow-water event, and because snook become increasingly more wary as depth decreases, a stealthy approach is essential. In really shallow, clear water they are far more flighty than any bonefish I’ve ever encountered; sometimes just raising the rod for a cast is enough to send them streaking for deeper water. And even if they don’t flush like frightened rabbits, that does not mean they are unaware of your presence, and often when they know you are there, they simply won’t bite.

Snook, if hungry, will readily attack any lure or fly that looks like a fleeing baitfish. Every angler I’ve talked to has his or her favorites, and colors are all over the place. Probably the single most effective all-around artificial is a soft-bodied jig that weighs just enough to reach the bottom quickly. Topwater plugs are among my favorites; the noisier the better. Ditto on underwater plugs, especially those with erratic swimming motion. Noise is a big plus.

Most important is the action the angler applies to the lure. A fairly rapid retrieve with steady sweeps of the rod tip seems to get consistent results.

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One of the bonus features of the tidal Everglades is this: The same habitats snook love so dearly are also frequented by other game fish. Tarpon (especially the juveniles, up to 30 pounds), redfish and seatrout hang out in these same places and readily bite the same lures, flies and live bait. You will also likely encounter some “small” Goliath grouper, up to 15 to 20 pounds, which by federal law you cannot keep. But they do put up a very strong fight and are fun to catch and release.

***

Rods: Spinning or baitcasting, 10- to 20-pound-test line. Fly: 8- to 10-weight floating or slow-sinking line.
Reels: Good drag, at least 200 yards of line.
Lines: Mono or braid.
Lures: Plugs that imitate baitfish; also soft-body lures and jigs. Popular colors are white, red-and-white, green-and-white, root beer.

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