Check out the passes for big snook and more

Published September 23, 2005

The middle of September through October is the best time to fish at night in areas just inside the passes that lead to the gulf.

Most of the snook, redfish and trout that hang along the beach during the summer move to the residential canals and bridges inside a pass. They head toward their winter hangouts and feed heavily during the trip.

Look for dark shadows lining the edge of the dock lights and work the pilings and fenders of the bridges closest to a pass. These areas should hold fish until the first few cold fronts drop water temperatures.

The docks are the easiest to target, because you can see fish in the light. If you don't see dark shadows in the light, move to the next light. Keep checking the lit docks until you find one that holds fish.

There are a few good ways to fish each light depending on how much time you want to spend. The fastest is to use big baits rigged to heavy spinning tackle. I like to drift up to the light and drop the anchor if I see fish, then skip-cast a live scaled sardine with a heavy spinning rod, 50-pound braided line and a 40-pound leader.

Hook the sardine through the nose and cast it under the dock. You need only leave the bait there three to five seconds before reeling in to make the the next cast. If you leave the bait longer, the sardine will swim around a piling and snag. Give each spot 10 to 15 casts before heading to the next stop.

When you get a strike, start reeling and pulling until the fish is clear of the dock. I have caught my biggest snook using this method.

When I'm just looking for some action, I'll use 15-pound gear and a tail-hooked shrimp to catch trout, redfish or smaller snook. Cast the shrimp up-current and let it drift through the light. I give each stop 10 casts before moving to the next light.

For those who like to catch big snook and don't mine spending the time, heavy tackle and grunts are the ticket. Find a light that has snook in the shadows. Use at least 50-pound line, 80-pound leader and a 5/0 hook. Run the hook inside the grunt's mouth and out the top.

Cast the grunt as close to the dock as possible. Use enough weight to keep the grunt where you cast it. Don't put the rod in a holder - most big snook get into the pilings before you can clear the rod from the holder.

Wait until you feel the rod tip start to bend, then with the drag set tight, start reeling until the snook clears the dock. This method works if you have the patience to give each stop a minimum of 45 minutes.

The heavy tackle and grunt is what you'll want around the bridges, and you want to fish the right tide. For the next few days, fish the strongest moving tides. After the 25th, fish the incoming tide.

- Doug Hemmer charters out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-1389.