Snook have made a major comeback in the Southwest Region since the big die-off during the winter freeze of January 2012. The snook fishing still isn’t as good as it was back before an estimated 70% of the snook population in my region died, but it’s very good and getting better every year.
Late August and early September are prime time to target snook in my region, whether looking for the big fish on the offshore wrecks or targeting the slot and sub slot fish on the beaches, in the passes or along the outside points. Late summer is the time when bait is most prevalent in my region, so there’s lots of food and the fish are actively beefing up for the winter months.
Probably the best snook fishing this time of the year takes place along the beaches, in the passes and around the docks near the passes from Ft. Myers to Boca Grande. That’s where the larger population of spawning age fish are holding, as they come off the back of the summer spawning season. It’s not uncommon to catch multiple fish over 15 or 20 pounds during the course of a good day of snook fishing at this time.
The snook have been actively spawning since early June, so the majority of the population is either along the beaches or in the passes. In the southern end of my region, from Marco Island working south into the Florida Everglades, the fish will be holding on the outer points of land along the Gulf of Mexico. And ifwe get a lot of rain in September, with the increase in water flow there will be a lot of fish in the Everglades Rivers.
If you’re going to use live bait, pilchards, sardines, threadfins, pinfish, sandperch and mullet are the top options. I like to freeline them on 10 to 20 pound tackle in open water or along the beaches, and then go up to 30 pound gear around the docks and in the passes. You’ll want the heavier tackle to control the large fish around the structure, or they’ll just go into the structure and break you off.
I fish 60 to 80 pound fluorocarbon leaders for the big snook, and drop down to 40 or 50 pound test when fishing the smaller fish. You can go lighter with the smaller fish, but then you have to retie your hook to the leader after just about every fish because of the chafing from their mouths and gill rakers.
I use circle hooks exclusively when snook fishing with live bait to make sure the fish don’t swallow the hook and get hooked in the stomach or throat, which severely decreases the survival rate of any released fish. Use an appropriately sized hook for the size of the bait you’re using, usually somewhere between a 2/0 and a 5/0. You want the hook to be small enough that putting it through the bait doesn’t kill it, and so they can also swim naturally with the hook in them, while still having a large enough hook that it will get them in the corner of the mouth.
Freeline the baits along shorelines and around bait schools, toss them up against seawalls or pitch them up-current and let the natural flow of the water sweep them through a strike zone. In the passes, you want to drift along the shorelines using a slip-sinker rig to keep the bait on the bottom. You’ll know when you get a bite, because it’ll be all you can do to retain possession of your fishing rod as the fish takes off.
If you like to throw lures, the key is not to focus on mimicking the different bait species, but to replicate the general size of the baits at this time of the year. Whether you’re throwing topwater plugs, swimming
plugs, soft plastics or swimbaits, you want them to be 3 to 4.5 inches in length—the average size of the different baitfish that are in the area. Lures work quickly through a strike zone and the fish often only see the silhouette, so if it’s the right size and color, they attack. If it’s too big or too small, it looks unnatural.
Bright colors are the way to go in the fall, with whites, pinks and pearl colors the top offerings. Solid colors work best. If the water is very tannic stained from a lot of rain or runoff, then you can go to rootbeer or dark green colors, and the two-tone colors on topwater plugs like black and silver or green and gold.
There’s also going to be a good nighttime bite around the lighted docks throughout my region for mostly smaller fish, although some real monsters are caught at night around the bridges and piers. As a rule, you want to find an area with good water movement and target the fish around the shadow lines, not directly in the light. The fish that are in the light can see your lure or bait really well and are less likely to bite than the fish feeding in the shadows.
Put your time in, and you’ll catch plenty of snook in the Southwest Region for the next month or so. As the first cold fronts of fall start to roll through, expect the fish to move into the backcountry rivers and canals and to feed less often. By then, you’ll have already had your fill of September snook fishing.
Captain’s Tip of the Week #22 Snook - 2015
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