Make us your home page

Snook: The rock stars of inshore fishing

Anglers from all over the globe travel to Florida to catch snook, the elusive "linesider" of the grass flats, a fish so aggressive it's been known to feed on largemouth bass, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the state's rivers and lakes.

Technically speaking, snook are considered a saltwater species, but research has shown that these shallow-water predators may spend up to 80 percent of their lives in fresh water, which is why estuaries such as Charlotte Harbor on Florida's Southwest Coast have become international fishing destinations for the world's top anglers.

The bay, encompassing nearly 5,000 square miles from Venice in the north to Bonita Springs in the south, is fed by two major rivers, the Myakka and the Peace. These freshwater highways flush baitfish and crustaceans into the open estuary waters where snook, some tipping the scales at more than 30 pounds, lie in waiting ready to pounce.

But what makes the state's second-largest estuary so good for fishing? The answer is one word: wilderness. This sheltered bay has miles and miles of mangrove shoreline, which is protected from development under the auspices of the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.

In the summer months you'll find snook along the banks and in the passes that lead to the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Nearby Pine Island Sound, Matlacha Pass and San Carlos bay also provide prime feeding grounds for this shallow-water hunter of the grass flats.

For nearly three years, fishing has been strictly catch and release, as state officials worked to rebuild the stocks after a series of freezes decimated West Coast snook. But fishing recently reopened and anglers can once again catch and keep these prized sportfish.

You could say snook are the rock stars of Florida's inshore fishery. According to the FWC, in 2004, the last year statistics were available, Florida anglers made 1.8 million snook trips, pumping about $620 million into the economy.

In general, Florida's management of snook is widely considered a conservation success story. One reason is because over the years an increasing number of anglers has embraced catch-and-release fishing for snook, even when the season is open to harvest.

The species is particularly hardy in this respect. Studies by state biologists show that 98 percent of snook, a higher percentage than for red drum or spotted seatrout, survive upon release.

The common snook, the one most commonly caught by anglers, is one of four species found in Florida waters. The other three are the sword-spined snook, fat snook and tarpon snook. This fish, prized for its fighting ability and as table fare, is easily identified by the black lateral line running from gill to tail, hence the name "linesider."

Snook, called robalo in Spanish, can reach lengths of up to 4 1/2 feet and weigh 54 pounds. While they may range from South Carolina to Brazil, the bulk of Florida's snook population can be found south of Sebastian Inlet on the Atlantic coast and south of Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast.

Common in nearshore waters, snook can tolerate a wide range of salinities, and have been found 90 miles up rivers and 8 miles offshore. Marine biologists believe snook can live for more than 20 years.

Protandric hermaphrodites, all snook start off as males, but some later change into females. The largest fish are usually females. There is no physical difference between male and female snook so anglers cannot tell the difference.

Snook are also extremely sensitive to cold. If the water temperature drops below 60 degrees, snook become sluggish. If the temperature drops to 54 degrees, they die.

Veteran anglers often compare snook to largemouth bass because both species are structure-oriented and often lurk along shadowlines and dropoffs to ambush prey. In the winter, these fish move from the beaches and passes into the residential canals and sheltered rivers and streams that make up the state's estuaries.

In the spring, as the fish move to the passes to stage for the spawn, anglers can use a variety of live and artificial baits because the fish are hungry. The spawn, which begins in April, may run as late as October.

If you're looking to land one, remember that snook feed during times of high water flow. Anglers should fish one hour before the high tide and several hours thereafter.

Before World War II, snook were called "soapfish" because if the skin was left on a filet, it made the flesh taste like soap. Snook were considered cat food and commercial fishermen were paid less than a penny a pound.

But people eventually figured out how to clean them, which led to a commercial harvest that ended in 1957. Today, snook are one of the state's mostly prized sportfish.

If you're lucky enough to catch a snook, let it go to be caught another day. To help increase its chance for survival, keep the fish in the water and use a pair of pliers to remove the hook. Barbless hooks simplify the process. Handle the fish as little as possible, and odds are it will swim off, no worse for wear.

This story originally appeared at Visit Florida.

If you go

Florida's snook stocks are managed in two regions: the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. There is no commercial harvest. The sale of snook is not permitted.

License requirements: Snook permit and saltwater fishing license

Gear: Hook and line only

Regulations: Gulf of Mexico - Closed season, Dec. 1 through end of February, and May 1-Aug. 31; season reopens Sept. 1; size limit, not less than 28 inches or more than 33 inches; bag limit, one fish per day; Atlantic - Closed season, Dec. 15-Jan. 31, and June 1-Aug. 31; size limit, not less than 28 inches or more than 32 inches; bag limit, one fish per day

Snook: The rock stars of inshore fishing 10/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 15, 2013 11:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Recipe for Chicken Wings with Coconut Sweet Potato Puree


    This dish is an homage to one of my favorite Epcot International Food and Wine Festival dishes: Grilled Beef Skewer With Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree from the Patagonia kiosk. A boniato is a sweet potato with whiter flesh and a typically sweeter flavor. I use standard sweet potatoes in this recipe, plus a little …

    Chicken Wings with Sweet Potato Puree. Photo by Michelle Stark, Times Food Editor.
  2. The 'Total Eclipse' song from the '80s you never knew you loved


    Depending on when you read this, you are eagerly awaiting the eclipse or have seen all the commotion come and go for the first total solar eclipse across America since 1918. Without any doubts, sometime today you will probably have a chance to hear Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse Of The Heart, but here at Stuck in …

  3. Hollywood lost a serious filmmaker in Jerry Lewis


    The day the clown died, Hollywood lost a serious filmmaker in Jerry Lewis.

    Jerry Lewis in 2005. Lewis, the comedian and filmmaker who was adored by many, disdained by others, but unquestionably a defining figure of American entertainment in the 20th century, died on the morning of Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017, at his home in Las Vegas. He was 91 (New York Times)
  4. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 22


    Gulfport Tuesday Fresh Market: With live music, vegetables, fruit, baked goods, herbs, teas, plants, crafts and handmade jewelry. 9 a.m., Gulfport, along Beach Boulevard, Gulfport. Free. (727) 902-2326.

    SP_347707_KEEL_NAYMARKETS_SCOTT KEELER (12/20/2011 GULFPORT) 1. Shoppers choose various produce items recently at the Gulfport Fresh Market. The market is held on Tuesday mornings.      TIMES PHOTO SCOTT KEELER
  5. My plan for the #solareclipse at 2:51 pm today


    "Marion, don't look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don't look at it, no matter what happens!"