Tonight, many children will don a diverse array of costumes in hopes of scoring a basket full of candy. Although the whole trick-or-treating thing seldom fools anyone into thinking there's actually a monster, Martian or Man of Steel on their doorstep, other fall impersonations are taken much more seriously.
Specifically, we're talking about fooling snook with artificial lures. A year-round possibility, catching snook on plastic and metal shaped to look like their natural forage will become increasingly common as fall cold fronts signal winter's approach.
Besides weather, another key element in fall snook behavior is their food supply. Throughout spring and summer snook have plenty of easily accessible chow, thanks to abundant schools of scaled sardines ("whitebait") and threadfin herring ("greenbacks").
Fall, however, sends the surviving baitfish on a southward journey toward their wintering grounds in warmer South Florida waters.
As these baitfish populations begin to dwindle, two things happen: 1) snook will start to look more toward crustaceans like crabs and shrimp; and 2) artificial baits will become more productive, as their authentic competition decreases.
The usual suspects
Although practically any artificial lure may tempt a fall snook, a few tried-and-trues will deliver more consistency.
Topwaters: Floating plugs imitate finger mullet or sardines wiggling at the surface. Whether they're sunning their backs or languishing wounded, forage fish at the upper limit present a silhouette that snook can easily target and attack.
Topwater plugs with dark backs and light bellies look most realistic, but red/white, orange and chrome/blue are also effective. Anglers optimistic about tangling with trophy snook often substitute larger and stronger treble hooks for the standard hardware.
Just about any erratic retrieve will create the appearance of enticing vulnerability, but the classic side-to-side "walk the dog" action typically produces best. A 6- to 61/2-foot baitcasting rod and high speed reel work well for this game.
The key to an effective topwater presentation is to keep the bait's nose up, or at least level with the water, so don't overweight the plug with a long heavy leader. Keep topwater leaders under a foot and go with 20- to 30-pound fluorocarbon.
Some may opt for tying braided main line directly to their topwater plug, but there's a fly in the ointment. Braided line falls limp much easier than fluorocarbon, and that leaves slack line sinking right in front of a lure's front treble hook.
This leads to frequent tangles that disrupt your lure's action and impede hookups.
Subsurface Plugs: Slow-sinking lures allow you to probe those deeper pockets and channels where snook like to lay. It often takes a slow, steady presentation, but if you can create the appearance of a wounded or disoriented baitfish wandering into the strike zone, you'll tighten the line in a hurry.
Lipless crankbaits with rattles will get plenty of attention, as they emit sharp sound and strong vibrations that speak to the snook's predatory instincts.
Along the edges of spoil banks like those outside Gulf Harbors or the Anclote River Channel, as well as deep channels like the Anclote Power Plant's outfall canal, crankbaits that bump along the bottom and kick up sand may do a good enough crab impersonation to draw a strike.
Lead Heads: Jigs are probably the most versatile lure for any inshore scenario, as the ability to quickly change the body size, shape and color enables you to experiment and adapt to varying conditions and surroundings.
For shallow flats, 1/8- to 3/8-ounce jig heads will suffice. In deeper water of channels, troughs and under docks, you may go up to a 1/4- or 5/16-ounce jig.
Shad tails are most common, but don't hesitate to try a grub or curl tail jig. White, chartreuse and root beer will cover your bases.
For a larger profile, rig a soft plastic jerk bait or even a bulky bass worm on your jig head. If the plastic stuff doesn't get the job done, bucktail jigs have a fine history of snook capture.
If you spot snook busting bait, don't hesitate to "swim" a jig by holding your rod tip high and reeling quickly. An erratic retrieve with side-to-side twitches of your rod tip will make the jig look like a minnow darting and dashing for its life.
However you catch your fall snook, remember to carefully revive any fish you release. Hold a snook by its lower jaw and lead it in broad figure eight patterns to send oxygenated water across the fish's gills. You'll know a snook is ready to go when it clamps those toothless jaws around your thumb.
Remember, legal snook must measure 28-33 inches on the Gulf Coast. Daily limit is one per angler, and you'll need a Snook Stamp in addition to your saltwater fishing license.