St. Petersburg Times
tampabay.com

The common snook, largest of the four species found in Florida waters (the other three are the sword-spined snook, fat snook and tarpon snook), is prized for its fighting ability and table fare. This silvery green fish is easily identified by the black lateral line running from gill to tail. Sometimes called “linesiders” by anglers, snook can be caught on a variety of live and artificial baits. Every spring snook gather in the passes in large numbers forming "snook cities" before dividing up into smaller groups for spawning.

Common name: Snook, linesider or robalo (Spanish)
Scientific name: Centropomus undecimalis
Size: Up to 4 1/2 feet and 54 pounds
Florida Record: 44 pounds 3 ounces, Ft. Myers, April 25, 1984
World Record: 53 pounds 10 ounces, Costa Rica, Oct. 18, 1978
Status: No commercial sale.

Range: South Carolina to Brazil. In Florida, snook can be found south of Sebastian Inlet on the Atlantic coast and south of Cedar Key on the Gulf Coast.

Habitat: Estuary and nearshore waters; common along mangrove shorelines; passes and beaches in the summer. Tolerant to a variety of salinities, snook have been found 90 miles up rivers and 8 miles offshore.


Life History
Marine biologists believe snook can live for more than 20 years. Protandric hermaphrodites, all snook start off as males, but some later change into females. The largest fish are usually females. There is no physical difference between male and female snook so anglers cannot tell the difference. Snook are extremely sensitive to cold. If the water temperature drops below 60 degrees, snook become sluggish. If the temperature drops to 54 degrees, they die. In the winter of 1989-90, more than 60,000 snook were killed by a spell of cold weather in Tampa Bay.

Tackle
Many anglers compare snook to largemouth bass because both species are structure-oriented and often lurk along shadowlines and dropoffs to ambush prey.

Tactics
In the winter, snook move from the beaches and passes into the residential canals and sheltered rivers and streams that feed Tampa Bay. Cold water slows the fish’s metabolic rate, which is why anglers must adopt a slower approach if they want to catch fish during the winter months. In the spring, as the fish move to the passes to stage for the spawn, anglers can use a variety of live and artificial baits because the fish are hungry. The spawn, which begins in April, may run into October. Snook feed during times of high water flow. Anglers should fish one hour before the high tide and several hours thereafter. Snook can usually be found around structures. Well-lit docks provide the best success. Anglers should fish shrimp along the edge of the light, in the dark water. During the summer, bridge-fishing is particularly productive. Anchor upcurrent; use ladyfish, large pinfish and grunts for bait.

Management
Before World War II, snook were called “soapfish” because if the skin was left on a filet, it made the flesh taste like soap. Snook were considered cat food and commercial fishermen were paid less than a penny a pound. But people eventually figured out how to clean them, which led to a commercial harvest that ended in 1957. In 1981, the state introduced a two-fish bag limit and closed fishing during two months of the summer. In 1983, the state began protecting snook during the vulnerable winter months as well. In 1985, the minimum size limit increased to 24 inches. More protection, such as reducing bag limits to one on the Gulf Coast, has been implemented.
Times graphics by Steve Madden • text by TERRY TOMALIN and JASON LUSK
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Sources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Seat Stats: Snook; Fish Facts @ Snook; Effects of the Winter 2000-2001 Freezes on Common Snook in Florida; A Sketch of Common Snook in Florida; Management of Common Snook in Florida; Florida Marine Research Institute; Ron Taylor