Ultimate Guide • Updated Mon, Nov 13, 2023
Snook are a long-time favorite for light tackle anglers in Florida. Known for their epic eats, relentless fights, aerial acrobatics, and expertise in ambushing prey, snook are a highly prized catch for many inshore anglers. Snook are habitual in much of their behavior. Learning what makes these game fish tick will significantly up your chances of success on the water. Before jetting off on your fishing adventure, here are a few best practices and things to keep in mind to make the most of your snook fishing escapade.
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There are a few subspecies of snook that inhabit Florida’s waters — including common snook, tarpon snook, fat snook, and swordspine snook. Most of these subspecies are isolated to certain inshore waterways across the state, but common snook are found throughout many inshore and nearshore fishing spots. Snook are sleek and powerful with a very distinct dark lateral line which helps them sense the movements of prey at night. Their protruding lower jaw makes them very efficient at gulping down baitfish and shrimp. They will often alert anglers to their presence with a signature pop at the surface. These fish dwell around dense mangroves, docks, mud flats, oyster bars, and passes on both coasts of Florida. On average, Snook caught in Florida are about 18 inches but can grow in excess of 40 pounds. Some of the best places in Florida to snook fish are Fort Myers, the Everglades, Naples, Islamorada, Key Biscayne, Stuart, and Jupiter, Florida.
Dwelling in inshore coastal waters, snook depend on the small fish and crustaceans living in these estuaries to survive. They are found in saltwater, freshwater, and brackish water mostly in mangrove shorelines, seagrass beds, and ground structures. Snook are also very comfortable feeding under the cover of darkness, and many anglers use night fishing techniques to up their odds. Some lures, like the Flair Hawk snook lure, are specifically designed for snook fishing at night.
These fish feel safest in heavy cover adjacent to strong current flow, like docks and mangroves lining tidal channels and creeks. These ambush points provide them easy access to disoriented prey caught in the current while giving them current breaks to conserve energy and refuge from predators like ospreys, dolphins, and sharks.
Snook are also found cruising the shallow troughs off the beaches in shallow water from April to the end of October to reproduce and feed. On sunny days with no heavy onshore wind, the water may be clear enough to sight fish for them. Our guides utilize strong gear and heavy shock tippet for snook, as they burst into long runs when hooked. As they shake their heads and jump, their rough mouths and razor-sharp gill plates will wear through light fishing lines.
To learn more about fly fishing for snook or tying leaders heavy enough to handle their power, check out these articles.
Snook fishing takes many forms in the state of Florida. Since these fish dwell in many environments towards Florida’s coastlines, it is essential to go with a guide who is well-versed in fishing for snook in Florida. Our expert fishing guides use both blind casting and sight fishing techniques when targeting snook in Florida, depending on the conditions, location, and time of year.
Light tackle fishing for snook is very similar to fishing for largemouth bass, as many successful snook fishing lures originated from the bass fishing world. Small baitfish are a prime target for snook, especially between April and September when larger snook move towards the estuaries, inlets, and bays to feed on these baitfish.
Most lures that are relatively small work just fine, though lures with some reflective luminescent features may perform better. Topwater plugs and soft plastics are the favorite choices of our professional fishing guides. On early morning charters and overcast days, they’ll often use walk-the-dog style lures to entice vicious topwater strikes.
Fly selection is not as crucial as your presentation when fishing for snook in Florida. When sight-fishing, use something light that lands without too much splash to avoid spooking fish, especially in calmer waters. Weighted flies tend to have more success near cuts and in deeper channels. While snook do eat crustaceans off the bottom, they are more likely looking up for their meals due to their anatomy. Your guide’s fly selection may vary based on the conditions and the prey available in the area you are fishing, but shrimp and small baitfish imitations are most common.
8- to 9-weight rods are a safe choice when fly fishing for snook inshore. Your guide may opt for a 10-weight setup in the presence of larger fish. To learn more about fly fishing for snook, the best flies for snook, fly tying snook flies, and choosing the right fly fishing gear for snook, check out our Ultimate Guide on Fly Fishing for Snook here.
Shrimp, finger mullet, pinfish, and white baits (sardines, greenies, pilchards) are some of our guides’ favorite baits for Florida snook fishing. A popping cork or float rig is often used to control the presentation of your bait in the water column, although freelining baits or using sinkers are also successful in certain situations.
Most of our guides use around a ⅛ ounce jig for shallower depths with 3 to 5-inch white paddle tails. The flair hawk is an effective jig for deeper waters, especially at night. Consider your conditions as well, and opt for darker-colored jigs in off-colored water and low-light conditions.
Snook are found almost everywhere on the coastlines of Florida, from the vast flats facing the Atlantic to the dense mangrove forests of the Everglades and the Florida Keys. Here are a few snook fishing hot spots that also have world-class inshore fishing guides:
Snook are known to be a bit larger on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The inshore habitats and coastline near Tampa Bay, Fort Myers, and Naples are ideal for snook, making them one of the most popular game fish in these regions. If you are looking to catch a trophy snook, March through November yield some of the largest fish and the best of the year.
The southern end of Tampa Bay is a known ground for snook fishing, though most sandy beach areas along the shorelines are snook grounds as well. Your Tampa fishing guide will know the best spots for snook fishing depending on when you are planning your trip.
Islamorada always lives up to its nickname as “The Sportfishing Capital of the World”, and great snook fishing fits right into this title. Most snook are targeted near or within Everglades National Park around the many mangrove-lined islands and shorelines. In the spring and summer, they are found closer to the Florida Keys themselves and can be sight-fished with the help of your guide. In the winter, you will find them in deeper waters like canals, sloughs, and creeks. Be sure to check with your Islamorada fishing guide about the best times to snook fish.
The Florida Keys backcountry is a haven for snook as well, where tree structures and mangrove shorelines are abundant. Snook often hang in the shallow ankle-deep flats and inshore habitats waiting for baitfish and are best targeted in the warmer months from March through September. Our guides usually plan to snook fish during a moving tide. Using light tackle and live bait has immense potential when targeting snook here, especially pilchards. Flies, lures, and artificial shrimp are great alternatives to use when fishing in the flats. You’ll be able to learn from your guide about best practices when targeting snook in the Florida Keys.
While many of our guides adhere to catch and release practices, especially when snook fishing, snook can be kept if they are between 28 and 32 inches in length, and harvest is limited to 1 per harvester per day. The recreational harvest season for snook begins on September 1st across the state of Florida, though the snook season is split into two regulatory sections: Atlantic and Gulf Coast. Atlantic snook season closes from June 1st to August 31st and from December 15th to January 31st, while the Gulf Coast snook season starts from September 1st and runs until November 30th. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) will have the most updated regulations for snook fishing in Florida. Make sure to comply with related size limits, bag limits, and seasonal closures regarding snook fishing in Florida.
If you want to keep fish, be sure to communicate this to your guide beforehand to set expectations.
Snook prefer water above 70 degrees, so plan your trip when cold temperatures won’t shut the fish down. During cold snaps, your guide may resort to shallow areas with darker bottoms, as these spots heat up faster with the sun and provide snook warm refuge from the cold.
Snook are not always obvious but present themselves when feeding near the surface. Look for signs of their presence and anticipate their movements depending on the tide and seasons. Snook feed most heavily during a moving tide. Snook also makes distinct popping sounds when feeding, so listen for these cues as you fish. Observe how snook responds to your bait or lure when sight fishing. If they begin to pursue your bait, keep it moving away from the fish to entice a strike.
As mentioned, snook seek cover when feeding on baitfish and will remain in mangroves or other structures most of the day in many inshore habitats. Learning how to fish near docks, mangroves, and other underwater structures is crucial for snook fishing. When hooked, they may try to snap the line by weaving it into the cover. Your guide will position your skiff with a clear angle to prepare for their initial bite. The closer you can cast to the structure the better. You may want to practice your cast for accuracy if you are fly fishing or light tackle fishing.
For some quick tips to improve your fly cast before your next fishing trip, check out this article.
Snook feed mostly at night, and are more successfully targeted once the sun goes down. Dock fishing is a common practice for targeting snook in the dark. Imitations of baitfish, shrimp, or live bait can be very successful for fishing at night. Consider your conditions and be aware of your surroundings when fishing for snook at night, but it can be a rewarding and unique experience. Ask your guide about night fishing trips for snook. These are often full of non-stop action and are a great way to get the whole family in on the fun.
Snook fishing in Florida can take many forms and is dependent on a variety of conditions as well. AnyCreek works with a number of expert snook fishing guides in Florida who are well-versed in snook fishing in their respective regions. Insider knowledge and the right tools can help you catch that trophy snook you’ve always dreamed of.
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