Loads of snook will remain on area beaches several more weeks, but a shifting of tactics will improve your chances of bending a rod with a big one.
Most folks think of summer snook fishing as wading in ankle-deep water and casting to fish cruising so shallow their fins nearly break the surface. No doubt, there's plenty of skinny action during the summer season, but don't hesitate to try the deep game.
Tidal cuts at the ends of barrier islands, sand bars and spoil banks offer comfortable retreats when summer's swelter turns the beach brine into bathwater. More importantly, these deeper holes provide excellent ambush spots for hungry snook.
Particularly productive on strong tidal flow, such scenarios allow snook to lay low and out of sight until baitfish roam within range, or tumble past with the current.
If you've ever seen a pod of baitfish shower toward the beach and nearly strand themselves on the sand, they're probably running from a snook that suddenly blasted forth from its deep abode.
Baits for the bottom
Without question, scaled sardines (a.k.a. "whitebaits") are the most common offering for snook in just about any setting. These shiny nuggets work very well in shallow beach water, but they are not so effective when snook lie deep.
Reason: whitebait tend to stick near the surface. For a snook in the surf, rising 8 inches to grab a bait is no big deal, but the temptation diminishes for snook lying in 3-plus feet of water.
This is where bottom-oriented baits become the strategic preference. Grunts, sand perch and pinfish are the common choices. The latter is most popular because of its abundance, ease of capture and durability.
Pinfish often show up in castnets thrown for whitebait, so you'll often load both options into your live well. To target pinners, chum a grass bed with canned cat food and fish cut squid on small gold hook.
Tip: A chicken rig, comprising two hooks on dropper loops and a weight dangling below will hasten your bait collection by frequently snaring two pinfish at a time.
If you like slinging artificials, use heavier models than you would in the surf, or throw something designed to run deep. You can't go wrong with a white or chartreuse bucktail jig, a shad body jig or a swimbait. Just use heavier models than you would in the shallow beach setting.
Diving plugs and lipless crankbaits can be especially productive for probing deep snook holes.
Because snook harvest remains closed until Sept. 1, use circle hooks (set through the lips or tail) to help ensure a safe release. Formed with their points facing inward, circle hooks are designed to rotate to the front of a fish's mouth and bite into the front of the jaw — usually toward one of the corners.
This practically eliminates deep hooking, while providing a secure connection that a snook will rarely shake. A hook set high in a fish's mouth facilitates your job of dehooking and liberating your catch.
No need for heavy leaders on the beach, as there's rarely any significant snagging points. Eighteen inches of 20-pound fluorocarbon will suffice, but check your leader for abrasions after every catch.
Also, you can leave the corks at home — it's mostly a free-lining scenario. The only exception would be novice anglers who are not yet accustomed to detecting strikes.
Beach snook often slurp down a bait without much fanfare, and the longer a fish swims unhooked the more chance it has of freeing itself. Also, the longer you wait between a strike and the point at which you set the hook, the greater the chance of your fish swallowing the hook.
Adding a cork will help you recognize strikes and respond in a timely manner.
Seven- to 7½-foot medium-heavy spinning outfits strung with braided line are standard for snook duties. If you can throw a baitcaster, you'll enjoy better casting accuracy for lures, but spinning gear will suffice.
Rods with flexible tips are best for live baiting. The extra "give" prevents you from ripping your bait off the hook with a strong cast. Stiffer rods serve artificial better by imparting more direct action on the lure.
However you catch your beach snook, take time to revive the fish by supporting its body and leading it through the water to wash oxygen across its gills. Sending each one back in good shape helps perpetuate this fishery.