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Young snook boycott beach
Not all linesiders hang out where the surf meets sand during summer months.
By DAVID A. BROWN
Published June 23, 2007
Summer camps - some kids go, some don't. In the Gulf coast shallows, summer snook fishing parallels this variance.
Typically, anglers eagerly anticipate the beachward migration of mature linesiders that head west for the annual spawning season. From about May through September, big female snook and their smaller male suitors take to the shallow shores where strong tides of full and new moons wash fertilized eggs seaward.
These beach aggregations offer outstanding opportunities to hook a legitimate trophy snook, while almost certainly churning the water with dozens of slot-sized fish. No doubt a blast, but this isn't the only snook game in town.
Plenty of younger fish - many of respectable size - remain in the backwater areas around docks, mangroves and grass flats. These relatively inexperienced fish are still learning the ropes of inshore life, so their appetite outweighs their apprehension.
That means lots of aggressive bites and dazzling displays of leaping, gill-rattling belligerence. The scene may not be as tempting as the alluring beach fishery, but if you're looking for some predictable rod-bending action, the homebound snook will fill the bill.
Snook are creatures of habit and figuring out when they'll eat best is usually just a matter of looking at the day's tide schedule. In short, the fish will feed best during periods of strong-moving water because it's a food delivery service.
Snook will stake out ambush positions behind various shoreline structure or bottom contour that allows them to nab forage as it floats into range. Topping the snook's preference list is a tender morsel known as the scaled sardines, or whitebait.
Several other baits like pinfish, shrimp and threadfin herring will tempt snook, but you'll seldom go wrong by following the timeless angling axiom: match the hatch. Summer snook prey heavily on whitebait, so feed the fish what they're used to eating.
Catch a day's supply of baitfish by castnetting along the edges of grass flats. On good days, thousands of shimmering shards shower across the shallows. However, when baitfish play hard to get, flip little chunks of canned catfood downtide and you'll usually gather a crowd in short order.
An 8- to 10-foot castnet with 3/4-inch mesh usually does the trick, but don't waste your effort by beating up your baits. Dropping captured baitfish into a plastic tray, then dumping them directly into the livewell is much better than dropping baits onto the hard deck and scooping them up in typically rushed fashion.
Make sure your livewell maintains strong circulation so baits don't die in the warm summer water. Also, if you've applied sunscreen, thoroughly rinse your hands before touching baitfish or reaching into the live well.
Rounding up a well full of baitfish offers the strategic option of chumming. Sometimes, you need to locate snook scattered across a broad area. Toss out a handful of live baits, wait for the frothy boils and cast toward the hot zone.
Moreover, if you locate snook, but the fish don't seem interested in your hooked bait, serving up a round of appetizers usually flips their feeding switch.
Present scaled sardines on 1/0-2/0 live bait hooks. Circle hooks have become a popular choice for live baiters, as the design almost always yields a solid connection in the corner of a snook's jaw. This prevents the fish from shaking off and facilitates an easy release.
Some anglers hook their baits through the soft, fleshy pocket behind the pectoral fins. This hides the hook and makes the bait swim down to where the snook hold. Nose-hooking works well in shallower water. It's also easier to reel a baitfish through the water when it's hooked through the nose.
Snook strikes are usually vicious and unmistakable. Nevertheless, novices may find that floating baits under bright green corks helps them recognize a strike in time to properly respond.
Regardless of what option you choose, don't skimp on snook leaders. About 18-24 inches of 30-pound fluorocarbon does the trick, but never assume invincibility.
The linesider's raspy mouth will severely abrade even tough fluorocarbon, so check your rig after each hook up. Run your fingers over the leader and if you feel any nicks, burrs or abrasions, clip off the damaged leader and tie on a new one.
Even the younger snook that stay home from summer beach camp will fight vigorously. Medium- to medium-heavy spinning outfits strung with 20-pound braided line will put the brakes on any backcountry linesider.
After the fight, be sure to revive your fish before release. Hold a snook by its lower lip and lead it through the water for a few moments to allow it to catch its breath.
Snook harvest is closed May-August on Florida's Gulf Coast. When the season reopens Sept. 1, licensed anglers who also hold a valid snook stamp will be allowed to keep one snook a day with a 28- to 33-inch slot limit.