Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

August is one of the best months of the year to catch snook


Seth Leto said we should have been there yesterday. "They were biting real well," the Tarpon Springs fishing guide tried to explain. "They must have moved on." But that's often the story when you're fishing for snook. One day it's hot. The next day it's not. Snook have confounded many an experienced angler. Just when you think you've figured out their pattern, a front rolls through and all bets are off. You've got to start over with a new game plan. August is traditionally one of the best months to catch these fish along local beaches and in the passes. Even with the population drastically lower as a result of a series of freezes, the fishing has been good throughout most of the Tampa Bay area.

Snook season is closed for at least another year, but that doesn't mean you can't target these fish as long as you practice catch and release. Most anglers would rather catch one or two monster fish purely for sport. These big, breeding females, regardless of the regulations, should be released anyway, just to ensure the future of the stock.

So I didn't worry about the momentary lull in the action. I knew Leto would find snook. I'd be satisfied with one good fight and call it day.

A tropical fish

Tampa Bay anglers should consider themselves lucky. Technically, snook range from South Carolina to Brazil. But these fish are only found in large numbers in this area and south.

Snook are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures; they become lethargic and even die if temperatures drop suddenly. Last year's fish kill was not as bad as the one that occurred in 1977 (the year it snowed in Miami), but it was worse than one that happened in 1989, an event still relatively fresh in many anglers' minds.

The difference, however, between 1977 and 2011 is the number of anglers that fish for snook. An exact figure is unavailable — the saltwater license law did not take effect until 1990 — but most experts agree the increase in angling pressure has been dramatic.

State biologists estimate that before the most recent freeze, Florida had about 1.7 million snook. About 500,000 lived in the state's Atlantic waters, while 1.2 million snook lived in the state's Gulf of Mexico waters.

A new stock assessment is due later this year. At that time fishery managers will have a better idea how badly the snook population suffered and when the season will reopen in the gulf.

Until then, we anglers must be satisfied with the thrill of the hunt.

A rising tide

All fish feed when the water moves. Anglers may debate which is better, an incoming or outgoing tide, but all will agree that the slack tide is to be avoided.

Here on the Gulf Coast, where the water may fluctuate only 1 to 2 feet on the grass flats, tides play a particularly important role. All the things fish love to eat — crabs, minnows and shrimp — get caught in the current on a strong tide. And snook, like any other fish, will wait at an ambush point for the food to come to them.

From his vantage point on the bow of the flats skiff, Leto could see the shadows of snook lined up in the shallows, waiting for the buffet line to begin. I tossed a pinfish up current and it drifted to the impact zone where it was instantly consumed.

Knowing I might have only one chance at the fish (and a picture), I kept the drag loose and the rod tip high. The snook sped off the flat and jumped as it tried to shake the hook. The fish circled the boat a couple of times but finally tired itself and succumbed to the ritual photo and release. I watched from the bow as the snook lingered for a while and then swam back to the shallows to rejoin his friends.

Live another day

There was a time when if the season had been open I might have considered keeping that snook. They are the best tasting fish in the ocean. But my days of eating snook may be over.

In Everglades National Park, where fishing is tightly regulated and the local guides view snook as a sustainable resource, catch rates have skyrocketed during the past three decades. Before the freeze, anglers were catching an average of five snook per trip, according to state biologists.

"If you kill a lot of snook, it is like shooting yourself in the foot," said Florida Guides Association president Pat Kelly, who guided out of Everglades City for 19 years. "If you put it in the cooler, that is the last time you will be catching that fish."

Luiz Barbieri, head of fisheries for the state's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg, said that in areas where recreational anglers and guides promote catch and release, snook populations have improved dramatically.

"In areas such as the Everglades the catch rate has just been phenomenal," he said. "The fishing experience has greatly improved. You find more fish. You find larger fish. Right before the cold kill it was snook paradise."

Fishing 101 online

Outdoors Editor Terry Tomalin discusses snook techniques that work in Tampa Bay waters with fishing guide Seth Leto at outdoors.

August is one of the best months of the year to catch snook 07/28/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 28, 2011 8:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  2. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  3. This Tampa Bay Lightning wing rides the newest wave of fan interaction

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There are photos of Lightning fan Shaun Egger as a toddler at center ice at the then-Thunderome, aka Tropicana Field. He's played in the Lightning's high school hockey league for Palm Harbor University. But his closest personal encounter with players had been waving through a crowd after a training camp …

    Tampa Bay Lightning player J.T. Brown wears his anti UV glasses as he talks over the headset with a hockey fan while they play against each other on line in an XBOX NHL video game in Brown's game room at his home in south Tampa. The fan chose to be the Washington Capitals and Brown, of course, was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brown interacts with fans through video game systems as he streams the games live on Twitch with plans for the proceeds to go to charity.
  4. ‘Biggest fight' behind her, Petra Kvitova returns ahead of schedule


    PARIS — Five months after a home invader's knife sliced into her left hand, Petra Kvitova will return to competitive tennis at the French Open, a last-minute decision to make her comeback earlier than expected.

    Petra Kvitova adjusts her hair during a news conference at Roland Garros Stadium, where she will make her tennis return at the French Open. Kvitova's left hand was badly injured by a knife-wielding intruder in December; she has recovered ahead of schedule. [Associated Press]
  5. Video: Rays Souza on that oh-so-bad dive, and reaction from Twins fans


    What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking when he made that oh-so-bad dive for a ball in the seventh inning Friday? Well, we'll let him tell you ...