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Fishin' in transition

Understanding the seasonal movements of snook can increase an angler's chances of catching these elusive fish.

By MIKE SCARANTINO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 15, 2001


Tis' the beginning of the jolly season, if you can follow the fish through their seasonal transition.

From now until December, anglers wishing to catch a snook will have numerous opportunities.

Some anglers are rumored to have an uncanny knack for tracking these fish, similar to an Indian on the warpath. Many anglers can only wish to be so blessed, especially where snook (Centropomus Undecimalis) are concerned.

Whether any angler actually can track fish or not, there are those who consistently produce more snook season after season. Sure, there are the slow times or bad days, but it is fishing after all.

Snook anecdotally are known as Florida's most sought after, yet elusive, gamefish. Often, you will hear an angler say, "I've been fishing the flats a long time and still haven't caught my first snook."

With September upon us, snook season has reopened and the fish are being targeted heavily. You can hear the oddest conversations between anglers searching for this popular quarry.

Whether they are cast-netting for bait in the early morning or spending afternoons at the tackle shop, you can hear bragging rights being vocalized by successful anglers the day after they catch a good fish.

"You should've been out yesterday," a lucky angler says.

"Yeah, where were you fishing?" asks the newcomer.

"Thatta way," the first angler says as he points over his shoulder without looking up.

Typical response. No self-respecting snook angler would give up even a tidbit of true information regarding the secreted location of good fish.

Such conversations don't yield good fish, but they are great for their entertainment value. Instead, finding fish on your own is best. Understanding their seasonal behavior helps.

Snook follow distinct biological paths to and from their winter haunts. Year after year they can be found traveling the same basic routes. No matter where you find them this time of year, they will be on a feeding mission.

This month, snook will have just finished breeding. Females will be exhausted from the rigors of three full months of egg laying.

Many will be gaunt, sporting sunken, empty bellies. Some will have used much of their available body fats and oils to keep their metabolisms running at full tilt.

Males will be tired from milting the eggs laid by females.

All this intense activity has taken place in areas of strong moving currents in order for the eggs to be dispersed well.

Finding these places is biologically instinctive behavior on the fish's part. They seek them out in order to give their larvae the greatest chance of survival.

When they're finished breeding, snook will take some time off from most activities, including feeding. It's during this period when the fish rest and begin to regain strength. Then they will start an intense time of replenishment, feeding on baitfish and crustaceans.

When baitfish supplies are high, snook will focus their attention on the largest forage they can find. Instinctually, they know to seek the highest calorie meals possible while expending the least amount of energy. As snook begin to migrate back toward their fall haunts, they will spread out significantly. A few will be found lingering around barrier islands. Some will be transiting the flats, headed for outside points and rocky areas. Other snook will go straight for their winter haunts up river systems, in deep canals and areas that offer thermal refuge from the onslaught of cold weather that lays ahead.

Finding them can be the hard part.

Anglers should begin by following this natural progression backwards. If snook seek barrier islands during summer's breeding season, then start by searching from those areas toward the mainland.

Along the Nature Coast -- with its myriad of river systems, creeks, tributaries and salt marshes -- the chore of locating fish is made more difficult. But it is not impossible.

If you're fishing mainland structure and can't find schooling fish, look for areas holding large amounts of bait. Scaled sardines, pinfish and mullet are prime forage for snook. If you can locate feeding areas, finding active and aggressive fish will become easier.

Tides will exert a dramatic affect on snook feeding patterns through this period.

During times of excessively fast moving currents, snook will feed heavier in order to make up for the extra calorie consumption caused by having to maintain a faster metabolism. They can be found along mangrove edges and flats that border deep water.

If the weather turns sour, snook can quickly retreat to the safety of the depths.

If finding snook is your pleasure, this is the season to ratchet up your powers of observation, plan your trips well and fish hard.

- If you have a question or comment, call Capt. Mike Scarantino at (352) 683-4868.

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