Perspective is everything and I got an eyeful last week when I watched a school of snook from the elevated perch of a towerboat.
Probably a hundred silver shadows with pale yellow fins and dark lateral lines were ambling through maybe 20 inches of beach brine. These were the mature males, old enough to participate in the summer spawn and clearly eager to do so.
I also noticed two large snook — both in the 15-pound range — cruising in tandem around the school's perimeter. These were certainly big females keeping to themselves and shying away from the boys club.
So goes the annual snook aggregations during which hordes of linesiders flock to the shallow, clear waters off coastal islands.
From May through September, the genders will occasionally mingle, but their interactions are casual at best during the softer tides of quarter moons. Once the water gains momentum on the strength of new and full moon phases, linesiders gather and move into super skinny water to perpetuate their species.
Snook eggs must remain buoyant for about three days to fully develop, so spawning on coastal beaches during the strongest outgoing tides is critical. This sends the eggs seaward where little snooklets have plenty of time to hatch before heading back east.
Snook will spawn several times throughout the summer season, but between these relatively brief procreation periods the fish feed aggressively.
Snook season closes May 1-Aug. 31 in Gulf waters, but fantastic catch-and-release action keeps anglers coming back for more. You can literally wear out your arms on small snook, but summer offers the best statistical shot at a trophy fish.
Best beach baits
Live sardines work just about anywhere you find snook. You'll do a lot of casting and retrieving on the beach, so hook your baits through the nose. Circle hooks facilitate easy release.
Resist the urge to sling out dozens of live "chum baits." This backcountry tactic may jump-start the snook bite near a mangrove shoreline, but it can be counterproductive on the beach.
Snook will certainly respond to the samples, but so will the seagulls and terns. Snook feel safer in darker backwaters, but once the sky rats start shrieking and diving above fish in shin-deep water, it's game over.
Between spawns, snook may slide into deep tidal cuts like the one at the north tip of Anclote Key. Baits that naturally run to the bottom (i.e. pinfish or grunts) do best in this scenario.
Productive artificials include white or chartreuse bucktails, soft plastic jerkbaits on light jig heads, suspending twitchbaits and topwater plugs. Avoid heavy splashes right over snook. You'll do best by casting past the fish and bringing a lure by their noses.
Fly fishermen armed with 8-weight outfits and sink tip line fare well by presenting clousers and other minnow patterns. A stripping basket is very helpful in managing the loops and keeping sand off your line and out of your reel.
Walk the walk
Boaters will catch a few beach snook, but you'll do better on foot. Secure your vessel in shallow water, hop out and approach your quarry with a lower, less intimidating profile.
Considering most snook will be in the swash between the beach and the first bar, heaving a big cast toward the horizon is pointless. Moreover, wading waist deep means the fish are behind you.
Walk no deeper than a foot of water and cast roughly parallel to shore. This keeps your bait in the common strike zone.
Morning trips are best, as the rising sun peeks over your shoulder and illuminates the beach water. Afternoons find the sun facing west coast beaches, so you'll struggle with glare.
Also, afternoon sea breezes and increasingly common thunderstorms make the water choppy, thereby diminishing visibility.
'On top' of the action
Now back to the elevation thing. Getting up high for an overview will help beach anglers monitor what their quarry is doing.
You can beach your boat and watch from the deck or tower (when available), but that means you're locked into a set position. If a pod of snook swims by, you're in business. If not, you're just working on your tan.
A simple tool for beach recon is a 5-gallon bucket. Flip it upside down and you have an instant platform.
The bucket in my garage measures about 14 inches and that's enough height to gain valuable perspective. Move that bucket up the beach grade and your advantage increases.
Polarized sunglasses and a wide brim hat will help you peer into the water to locate the next pod of hungry snook.