Recently switching from live shrimp to live baitfish has shifted our focus from snapper and sheepshead to snook. Morning low tides have brought the fish out from under the mangrove roots, where they have been prowling for an easy snack. Scaled sardines and threadfin herring have worked equally well drawing strikes. Free-lining nose-hooked baits allows the bait to swim naturally, which attracts the snooks' attention. It has been common for our baits to quickly swim back to the boat for protection after being cast out and not liking what they found waiting for them. If the snook eventually get wise to the nose-hook presentation, try switching to a belly hook option. This makes the baitfish flash differently and appear wounded. In either case, light leaders and smaller hooks need to be used in clear water. Check the lighter leader material after every catch for abrasion and retie as necessary. When fishing near mangroves, don't chum with live offerings. The birds in the area pay attention to this and will send fish running for cover. Even without chumming, the birds have learned to follow fishing boats and often have plucked hooked bait from the surface, taking it away from the snook below. If a bird gets hooked or entangled in the line, reel it in and carefully release it. Cover its eyes with a towel to calm it. Never just cut the line and let the bird fly away. That is a death sentence.
Brent Gaskill runs Summer Vacation Charters out of the St. Petersburg area and can be reached at [email protected] and (727) 510-1009.