For fishermen, September means more hot, sticky weather. For snook, this is the month of transition.
From a regulation standpoint, the big change is the Sept. 1 opening of fall snook season. The May-August Gulf Coast closure protects the fish during their primary spawning months.
Now that the procreation period has concluded, the thousands of linesiders that flooded area beaches and spoil banks are making their way back toward the mainland.
Snook know food sources are more plentiful east of their summer beach habitat, plus fall's approach has them thinking about preparations for the chilly months.
"There are still some smaller snook and a few big ones on the beach, but for the most part, the fish are moving back inside," said Capt. Greg DeVault of Port Richey.
Where to find 'em
Look for snook along the edges of grass flats just inside the main passes between barrier islands. The spoil islands along the Anclote River channel, particularly the edges of Two Tree Bar, provide strategic ambush points for snook.
The Gulf Harbors spoil banks, as well as the docks along the outside edges of this and other residential areas are good September staging areas. The docks just inside the mouth of the Cotee River will also hold fish.
On outgoing tides, check potholes, troughs and tidal cuts — any depression where snook can lay and pick off baitfish, crabs and shrimp flowing with the current.
Snook will feed mostly on moving water. Just remember that rising tides grant shoreline access, while falling tides pull a buffet line of forage past the ambush points.
What to throw
On the beaches, savvy snook anglers throw a lot of pinfish and grunts — two baits that instinctively go to the bottom and end up on the snook's radar.
Starting this month and lasting until the schools head south for winter, scaled sardines (a.k.a. "whitebait") will be the primary snook bait. Live shrimp will also work, but keep it moving to avoid the clouds of pinfish.
Fish live baits on 2/0 circle hooks. If you have trouble detecting strikes, float your bait under a small cork. When the cork submerges, reel down until your rod tip bends and you feel the fish's weight.
As September marches on and fall draws closer, snook will ramp up their feeding and tone down any shred of pickiness.
This means tremendous opportunities for artificial lures. Baitfish and crustacean imitators are best, so soft plastic jerkbaits, bucktail jigs and suspending hard baits will tempt plenty of snook in the food mood.
Topwaters can also prove highly productive, particularly during low-light periods or when snook are crashing schools of sardines or finger mullet.
If a snook strikes and misses a topwater plug, let the bait sit still as long as you can stand it then twitch the plug. Snook will often hang just below a stunned bait and launch a vicious followup attack at the first sign of movement.
A successful snook fight starts with the right equipment. Personal preferences aside, a handful of principals guide the selection.
First, you'll want a rod with plenty of snook-stopping backbone. For live baits, a 7- to 7½-foot rod with a flexible tip lets you whip a sardine a good distance without ripping it off the hook.
If you're working artificials, a 6- to 6½-foot rod with more rigidity in its tip yields the best lure control.
If you can handle the revolving spool mechanism of a baitcasting reel, this is traditionally the best choice for artificials. Otherwise, spinning gear will handle lures or natural baits.
Monofilament has its die-hard fans, but for maximum strike sensitivity and fish-whipping power, go with braided line. Something in the 40- to 65-pound range will handle any snook you hook locally.
Bolster your braid with about 2 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon leader. Check this section after every fish, as a snook's raspy jaws will abrade in tough fluoro.
If nicks and burs weaken your leader, replace it. You don't want to find out how weak it has become when you're fighting a big linesider.
Remember the rules
Catch-and-release is widely practiced, even after snook season opens. However, licensed Gulf Coast anglers with an additional snook stamp are allowed to keep one snook a day if it measures between 28 and 33 inches with its tail fins squeezed together.
If you decide to keep a legal snook for dinner, you'll find the firm white meat some of the finest the sea has to offer.
Just be sure to skin your filets. Unlike redfish, mackerel and trout, you don't want to cook snook with the skin intact.
Snook skin makes its meat taste so bitter that anglers used to call the species "soapfish." It wasn't until someone decided to try a skinless filet that the snook achieved its status as prized table fare.
Baked, broiled or fried, a snook dinner adds an enjoyable conclusion to a hot day on the water.