In the shallow waters of Tampa Bay, there are generally three desirable sport fish for anglers: trout, redfish and snook. Perhaps the most challenging, and fun, fish to catch is snook. While snook are in local waters year round, they tend to become more active in the spring and summer. The harvest season for snook begins Wednesday. Here are a few things you need to know:
There are different regulations for snook in the Atlantic Ocean. For our purposes, these are the regulations for the Gulf of Mexico. The harvest season runs from March 1 to April 30. The window for keeping a snook is very small in order to protect the population. Anglers may keep one snook per day that is not less than 28 inches or more than 33 inches in length. The measurement is taken from the forward point of the head with the mouth closed to the farthest tip of the tail.
A snook permit is required to keep snook, along with a saltwater fishing license unless exempt from the license requirements. Only hook-and-line gear is allowed to harvest a snook. In other words, don't use a net. Or dynamite. It's also illegal to buy or sell snook. For complete regulations, go to myfwc.com.
What's the big deal?
Snook are beautiful fish with a distinctive shape and a powerful body used for attacking bait. They have a tapered head and tiny, razor-like teeth. The most identifying feature is the black stripe that runs from the middle of the tail to the top of the head. The tail and fins are usually a light yellow. The Florida snook record is 44 pounds, 3 ounces. Most snook range between 3 and 15 pounds.
Snook are delicious, but are not common fare at restaurants or fish markets because of the limitations. One piece of advice: Take off the skin before cooking. Cooked with the skin, it can taste a bit like soap. On the grill or in the frying pan, snook has a light, flaky meat that tastes great with lemon or blackened seasoning.
Where to find them
During winter, snook are a little more lethargic and tend to hang out in creeks and canals. But now that the water temperature is rising, they are coming into the more open waters near passes where the tide races in and out. Snook can be found on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Generally, snook hang out in the waters from the central part of the state southward. On the Gulf side, snook are caught mainly south of the Homosassa River. They thrive in warm water, so the prime season is from about now through the summer. Basically, snook love bridges and pilings, grass flats or mangrove shorelines. Anywhere they can hide and ambush their prey.
How to catch them
Try to think like a snook. They are feeding on the small baitfish in the area. Live bait works wonders. Schooling bait fish like sardines, pilchards or small mullet are irresistible. Then there is live shrimp or crabs, another can't-miss bait for snook. If artificial baits are more your style, there are several out there. Basically, any lures that mimic the live bait, like a DOA shrimp, a Love's Lure or a MirrOlure are worth trying.
As for tackle, light saltwater spinning rods or fly-fishing rods are best. Generally, they should be at least 7 feet long. Snook are ferocious fighters. Smaller ones can jump clear out of the water while the bigger ones can still get half their bodies out of the water. So when one does take the bait, hang on. Make sure to have the right kind of tackle. If the line is too light then there is a very real risk of having a snook snap your line. It's best to use 20-pound test line or above with a 40-pound leader. There are different colors of line and that's just the angler's preference.