September 30, 2010
Snook are a favorite of inshore anglers all along the southeast coast of the Sunshine State. Here's how to find and catch some of these linesides in the late summer.
Photo by Barry & Cathy Beck
By Capt. John Kumiski
Frantic mullet flung themselves up into the air, desperately trying to escape from predators below. In my excitement I shouted, "Cast up there!" Gary Clark quickly tossed a black and silver lure into the melee, and the response was immediate. His rod bowed into a deep arc. A large head, followed by a silver body with a black line down the side, erupted from the water, gills rattling.
By mid-August summer's long days are becoming noticeably shorter. Baitfish like the silver mullet notice this and start moving out of estuaries for their annual migration south along the beach. By mid-September a trickle of bait has become a major flood, and huge shoals of finger mullet blacken nearshore waters.
Every species of fish that eats mullet has a major smorgasbord of bait presented to them, and they respond by eating like gluttons, fattening up for the coming winter's scarcity. Snook are one of the most popular of these, and the stretch of coast between Port Canaveral and St. Lucie Inlet is one of the best places in Florida for catching a few linesiders at this time. Let's look at fishing this area, starting at Port Canaveral and working our way south.
Snook can be found anywhere in the port, from the locks (no fishing allowed, but it's fun to watch them) out to the beaches adjacent to the jetties. For much of this fishing, a boat is a huge help. Since Sept. 11, 2001, security of the port is an issue.
You cannot fish within 25 yards of any dock. But you can still find fish along the north side of the port from the Trident basin to the north jetty. The jetty is particularly good, since it not only provides cover for the snook, but is also a barrier to the movement of the mullet.
The south jetty and the beach just south of the riprap can also be good. When the fish are really feeding, your senses of both hearing and sight inform you that there are hungry snook there!
"I like using a 1/4-ounce or 3/8- ounce jighead instead of a bare hook," said Capt. Jim Ross, a charter guide who fishes for snook along the beaches adjacent to Port Canaveral. "I use the jig to hook the mullet through the lips. I look for bait being crashed. I then fish through this area with the jig-hooked-mullet, using it like a regular jig, although much more slowly."
Ross likes to use a trolling motor to work along the shore if the weather permits, when obvious feeding action isn't observed. His clients use the jig- and-mullet rig, casting them literally right up onto the sand, then dragging them back out into deeper water. When they nail a fish or two, the captain anchors the boat and fishes the area thoroughly.
For any beach fishing this time of year, live finger mullet are often the best bait, either live-lined, weighted down with an egg sinker rig, or hooked through the lips and worked like a conventional jig. Various types of lures that imitate mullet will also produce, in both shallow- and deep-running versions.
This isn't just daytime fishing, either. Angling in the dark can be exciting and productive. Generally after sunset it's best to use bait, since it entails less casting, thus less likelihood of tangles. A big tangle in the black of night is always a distraction, at best.
From Patrick Air Force Base south past Sebastian Inlet, a live worm rock reef runs parallel to the beach. These rocks are close to the water's edge and are usually visible at low tide. Although the fish use different stretches of beach during different years, most summers the rocks hold large numbers of snook, and they tend to be sizable fish. Since these beaches are all public, the best time to fish is from first light until the bathing beauties start showing up, usually about 9 a.m.
The technique here involves driving along State Route A1A and turning out at the various beach access points. Walk to the top of the boardwalk and scan the beach below for signs of activity.
The best thing to see is breaking fish, of course, but terns diving, nervous bait, or any other clue you can glean that snook are there may also lead to fishing action. If you see any of these things, the next step is obvious. If you don't see anything, hop back into the chariot and drive to the next access point.
Lures are best for this work, since you are doing a lot of casting. The rocks have a huge appetite for sinking lures, especially those equipped with treble hooks. You want to use something that stays on or near the surface. Popping plugs, floater/divers and shallow-running plugs all work well.
My friend and fishing guide Capt. Rodney Smith has developed an easy and surefire way to determine if it's worth fishing the beach. The day before the trip, he walks to the beach with his snorkeling gear and dives the rocks, looking for fish. If they're there, he fishes the next morning. If not, he goes elsewhere, or works in the yard. Nothing works better than the direct method!
Sebastian Inlet has a well-deserved reputation for being an enormous fish magnet, and this renown is never more appropriate than late August through September. During the summer, aggregations of breeding snook lie in eddies at the inlet along the jetty rocks that break the current, using them as ambush points when feeding.
Through more than 20 seasons, Capt. Terry Parsons has been fishing the Sebastian area for snook.
"Snook are winding up their spawning by September and are starting to leave the inlet," he explained. "Some move back into the Indian River Lagoon and others go north or south along the beaches. In the lagoon, the water level is usually fairly high then, so fish relate strongly to mangrove shorelines, residential docks, and other similar types of structure. While most of the time this is blind-fishing, when conditions are good you can sight-fish for them.
"I really enjoy fishing around culverts at this time of year," he continued. "The fish are usually small, but if water is running there are lots of them. You can often get 15 or 20 per culvert. They are a blast on light ta
"Because the mullet run is starting, fishing along the beach with mullet imitations can be excellent. The best fishing is early or late in the day, or on overcast days. Finding any type of bait concentration, especially if there are rocks around, usually results in explosive action, right from the beach," the captain concluded.
The area around the St. Lucie Inlet also offers superb snook action. Capt. Marcia Foosaner has had these fish patterned for years, and here she shares with Florida Game & Fish readers some of her techniques for linesiders.
"I like to plant myself on a flat (in the south end of the Indian River Lagoon) that has lots of mullet. Then I throw something that looks nothing like a mullet. If I'm using flies, I use a small glass minnow or a pilchard pattern about 2 inches long. If I'm using soft plastics, I use the DOA Standard Shrimp, fished slowly just under or at the edge of the mullet school.
"Surface plugs also work well," Foosaner added. "If it's calm I like a fairly subtle bait. If there's a lot of racket with showering mullet and breaking fish, then I want a bait that makes a big commotion.
"I also like to fish the beach along the north side of the inlet at Sailfish Point," the guide pointed out. "For fly-fishing I use an intermediate line and a good-sized pilchard pattern. If that fails to produce, I fish even deeper with a big Clouser Minnow. Spin tackle works too. I like the root beer or avocado DOA Terror-Eyz. Fish it very slowly, bumping it along the bottom.
"When you're fishing the beach, try to fish as close to parallel to the beach as you can, paying particular attention to rocks or any other structure that might be there. We have lots of rocks all along the beach here, which the snook strongly relate to."
Late summer offers the finest snook fishing of the year to savvy anglers. Use the tips and tricks offered here to get your share of these incredible fish. And please remember to practice catch-and-release!
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