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Arm yourself for big snook

By RICK FRAZIER
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

Snook season opened Friday, and it's time to grab your favorite snook outfit and head to the backwater bays and bayous. Big snook have set up in wintering holes, and with a little planning and good fortune they may bite.

The easiest way to find big snook is to walk along sea walls and the banks of backwater areas in the middle of the day. The ones you see sunning will be in relatively shallow water, usually close to or under a dock.

Usually when you see these big fish lying there, they also can see you and won't bite. Since you know where they are, the best thing to do is return later and not let them see you.

The hardest part of fishing in these backcountry spots is getting a snook to the net. Pilings with sharp edges are common, as are barnacle-encrusted boats and docks. Just about every piece of structure is a potential line-cutter.

Tackle in the 20-pound range is a must. Lighter tackle will catch the pups, but for the big ones you need a locked-down drag, heavy line and tarpon-size rods.

It's not finesse fishing. It's rod tip down, reeling like a mad man and doing anything possible to drag that fish away from structure.

One advantage for anglers is braided line. Suited perfectly for this brand of snooking, the braids are strong enough to resist cuts from barnacles and concrete edges. Its diameter is smaller than mono, which makes it much easier to cast. The diameter of 50-pound braid is equivalent to 12-pound mono.

When braids came out, anglers had to learn new knots because the line was slippery and normal cinch knots would pull through. Now there are braids available that require no special knots.

Even with this new, strong line, leaders are important. The water is clear this time of year, even in the canals, and snook will see braided line, so try fluorocarbon leader.

Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible under water, and it will fool snook. Since line diameter isn't a factor with fluorocarbon, it's better to go heavy. Eighty- or 100-pound leader isn't uncommon.

Some savvy snook anglers use short pieces of wire for leaders. This is the same material used for kingfish. Unlike mackerel, snook will not cut line with their teeth, but they do have sharp gill plates that will cut line. But most of the time snook wrap the line around something with sharp edges. Steel leaders have an advantage over mono in that instance, but they are more visible.

In areas such as canals and muddy bayous, snook don't see a lot of prey. They survive on shrimp and crabs until moving to gulf passes in the spring. Pinfish and sardines are another prey they'll see, but snook are less likely to chase fast baitfish.

The snook's metabolism is slower now than in warmer months, and they may feed once every day or so and not go far out of their way to chase anything.

If you're interested in using live bait, try a few dozen select shrimp. Don't get the big "jumbos." Go with shrimp a bit smaller but heavy enough to be cast.

Small rock or mud crabs are great baits, but they take a little more work to obtain. Most bait shops do not carry these little crustaceans. At low tide search along rocky sea walls, where there will be plenty under small stones and rocks.

A strong hook is needed, but a big hook will kill shrimp and crabs. The best bet is to use a strong, short-shank 2/0 live-bait hook small enough in diameter to keep the bait alive and strong enough to resist bending.

Free-lining shrimp is best, but if a weight is needed for casting add a small split shot above the hook. The weight will not hamper the bait and will cast much better.

With crabs, hook the bait through the leg socket or through the corner of the shell. This will keep the crab lively and will not restrict its movements.

Artificials that imitate shrimp and crabs that can be dragged along the bottom also will work.

When using jigs, lighter is better. The jig should fall slowly through the water, and most strikes occur on the fall.

Slug tails work well on jigs, as do split tails and shad tails. Color is a personal preference, but root beer, electric chicken and strawberry are good choices.

-- Capt. Rick Frazier runs Lucky Dawg Charters out of St. Petersburg and can be reached at (727) 510-4376. If you've had a great day fishing from land and want to share it with readers, contact the LUBBERLINE at (727) 893-8775 or e-mail captrick@luckydawg.com

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