September 30, 2010
As the weather stabilizes this month in central Florida, the fishing becomes more dependable, which makes it a great time to target snook in the Indian River. (April 2010)
By John Kumiski
Electrifying at the end of a line and delectable on the table, the common snook lays claim as one of Florida's most desirable game fish. You can find snook almost anywhere you find mangroves, but one of the best places to fish for them is near Sebastian Inlet, on Florida's east coast.
The key to locating snook is fishing when the tide is moving around
ambush points favored by the fish.
Photo by Capt. John Kumiski.
Considering The Geography
Several habitat components make this area attractive to snook. The first is the inlet itself. During the summer, snook spawn near inlets. They can also be found along the beach then. Sebastian Inlet offers snook access to both of these critical habitats.
The next important piece of habitat is the Sebastian River and the various other tributaries and residential canals found throughout this region. During the winter, snook find their way into thermal refuges, typically in the above-mentioned residential canals or up in the Sebastian River and other tributaries. Snook are tropical fishes and become lethargic in water less than 65 degrees. These refuges also provide sanctuary from some of their major predators, including sharks, porpoises, barracudas, and, to some degree, man.
The final piece of the habitat puzzle is the Indian River Lagoon and its associated marshes. The grass flats and marshes here provide nursery habitat for juvenile snook and feeding areas for mature fish.
Taken all together, these habitats add up to a snook's version of paradise.
Spring Snook in Transition
Beginning in early April and continuing through May, mature snook leave the canals and creeks in which they have wintered. They move toward their spawning grounds, where they spend most of the summer. Because they are moving, they are active. Because they need energy for spawning, they are eating. So local fishermen eagerly look forward to these months.
"April and May are good times to fish for snook because the water is warming up," explained Capt. Eric Davis, who has been fishing this area for 30 years. "The fish are getting more active as they prepare to spawn. They're moving from the Sebastian River and the other smaller creeks toward the inlet and the beach.
"The guys throwing bucktails at the inlet -- the ones who are there almost every night -- get very excited about snook fishing then. Hungry snook start showing up after having been gone all winter," Capt. Davis added.
"Fishing in the Sebastian River is especially good in April. There are good amounts of good-sized snook in the river then. If you use a boat with a trolling motor to cruise the shoreline, you'll see them laid up on the surface near and under docks, apparently trying to get just the right amount of sunlight to comfortably warm them. As you get into May, these fish thin out of the creeks. There are still some in there but not nearly as many as there were."
But that's not the only area to target.
"You find the same situation in Turkey Creek in Melbourne and in Taylor Creek in Fort Pierce," the captain noted. "April is probably the best month of the year to fish any of these creeks for snook."
But once found, you still have to hook the linesides.
"As far as what the fish eat, the mojarra population really starts to increase at this time of year. They are an important food fish for the snook. Croakers are another favored food. Of course, snook will eat mullet, pinfish, pilchards, shrimp and other forage. But the mojarras and the croakers are the preferred baits that they're eating, especially in May."
Where To Look For Snook
"I always look for snook in places where there is current flow," Capt. Davis offered. "It might be on a point, it might be on a dock. But water movement is important.
"The closer to the inlet you get, the more current you'll find. If you're fishing a ways from the inlet and things are slow, move towards the inlet where the water flows better."
Also, remember that the higher tides around the full and new moons create stronger current flow in the lagoon.
"Culvert pipes are other good places to look for snook at this time of year. I prefer the top of an outgoing tide to fish these pipes because again, that's when the current flows best. The fish congregate at the pipes, waiting for the current to bring them an easy meal," Capt. Davis pointed out.
"I like to fish near or at the mouths of the creeks and canals when water is flowing out of them, for the same reason. Snook congregate there when the water is flowing. When the fish are feeding hard it will be obvious. You'll see skipping baits and see and hear the popping of the snook. It gets very exciting then."
Other likely locations are in cuts between islands, points adjacent to sandbars, and in channels through the flats. On those cold, windy days, find a bar or sandy bank on the northeast shore of canals or creeks and work the area well.
The deeper holes at the mouths and in channels of the rivers usually contain some lunker snook, and they may be enticed with a live mojarra or croaker fished near the bottom at the beginning of an outgoing tide.
The Tackle You Need
Spin, plug and fly tackle all work for this angling, so use your favorite. Since you frequently find snook around structure like docks or roots, you may want heavier line than you'd ordinarily use on the flats. Serious stopping power comes in handy when a fish heads for the roots or pilings! Twenty-pound-test line is not too heavy.
Fly-casters want an 8-weight outfit to toss the often large flies that can entice the linesides.
Snook have rough, abrasive lips. They also have that notorious cutter in their gill plates. So a heavy leader will keep you from getting cut off.
Snook also have sharp eyesight and a suspicious nature. So a light leader will garner many more strikes.
A 25-pound fluorocarbon leader makes a good compromise. You will lose some fish, but you will also still get bites. Tie your lures and flies on with a loop knot to get maximum action from them.
Many kinds of lures work on snook. When using con
ventional tackle, Eric Davis likes using the DOA CAL jig, the DOA CAL jerkbait, and the DOA Shrimp. For that later choice, the Nite Glow color in the 3-inch size is his favorite. He's also a fan of the MirrOdine made by MirrOlure.
Capt. Davis said flyfishermen should carry Gummi Minnows, Clouser Minnows, the Polar Fiber Minnow, Everglades Minnow and the trusty old Lefty's Deceiver. Because you are fishing around roots, docks, and other structure, these flies often need to have weed guards.
Fishing Tactics Matter
Angling for snook is always challenging and many times frustrating. Be careful not to disturb the area to be fished while approaching. If you do, move off again. Silently return about 30 minutes later. Many times, disturbed snook won't move far and quickly return to the same spot after the disturbance ends. Silence is essential. Do your best imitation of a great blue heron as you stalk these snook.
"Usually the fish you can see are laid up under docks or under mangroves facing into the current," Capt. Davis said. "Put your bait or lure in front of the fish. Sometimes you have to use a skip cast to do this. All the action you need to give the lure then are small little twitches. You don't need to move it a lot.
"When you get your bait in the strike zone, keep it in there as long as you can. A lot of fishermen work their baits too fast, pulling it away from the fish instead of teasing them into striking it. All you need to do is make an artificial bait look alive. If you're fishing a current that's coming at you, such as at a culvert, reel just fast enough to give the lure some action.
"Once your bait is out of the strike zone, reel it in quickly and cast it right back in there. The more time it spends in front of the fish the more bites you will get."
Understanding snook is a key to this action.
"Snook are basically lazy ambush feeders," Capt. Davis pointed out. "If you expect them to work hard to eat your lure, you'll be disappointed a lot."
When you hook a good snook around structure, it is imperative that you get her away from it with a great degree of expedience. Point the rod at the fish and lock the spool up by grabbing it. Then sweep the rod down and back. Quickly reel up the slack line and repeat the procedure. Once the fish has been pulled away from the structure, you can fight it in a more conventional fashion.
When using this technique, hooks will bend and lines will break. The bigger the fish is, the less likely any technique for getting her away from snags will work. But if you don't pull her out of there, she will almost always wrap your line around a barnacle-encrusted obstruction and cut you off. At least this technique gives you a tool you can use to try to get her away from the snags.
You probably noticed the feminine references. Most really big snook are females.What Happens After
Snook season in this part of Florida is open in April and May. If your fish is legal size, you may want to take it home for dinner. Or you may prefer to release it.
Ron Taylor of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute wrote an article titled "A Sketch of the Common Snook in Florida." In it he provided a wealth of information regarding releasing snook.
He pointed out that research has shown that when snook are caught, properly handled and released, only 2 percent of them die. Releasing your snook with a minimum of handling is the key to that statistic.
Fishing with the barbs crimped on hooks reduces injury to the snook. Also, it's important to set the hook immediately so the fish doesn't swallow it and allow the hook to pierce an internal organ. Another of Taylor's suggestions is to leave the fish in the water while taking the hook out with pliers or a special tool.
"If you must handle the fish, wet your hands or wear wet cotton gloves. If the fish is exhausted and has lost equilibrium, properly orient the fish and hold it lightly into the current, preferably in the shade," Taylor also wrote. "After the fish has gained equilibrium, release him immediately. Do not forcibly move the fish in a jerky back and forth motion. Gently support the fish into the current and release it as soon as possible. Nature can revive the fish much faster than any angler can!"
Taylor's advice also extends to how proper treatment of the snook can ensure the survival of more than just the single fish.
"Many guides and anglers voluntarily release all snook that are greater than 30 inches because most of the fish this large are females," he confirmed. "The larger the female, the more eggs she produces at each spawning event. Plus, the release of large fish helps to build a 'trophy' fishery, which means that your chances of catching a large snook are greater if anglers release the larger lunkers.
In concluding, Taylor noted that if we all take only what we need, then one day Florida waters may produce a snook larger than the current world record of 53 pounds, 10 ounces.