This month will be a transitional period for large Snook. As the cooler temperatures approach these sub-tropical fish will be looking for an easy meal making their moves to Winter refuge areas. As long as water temps stay in the 70’s, the bite will remain hot. Once our first few cold fronts hit, you will have to dig deep to target some of the bigger fish. That’s the beauty of Tampa Bay and the estuary we call home; we can target these fish year-round. You just have to follow the fish. Rivers, residential canals, creeks, back country bays, oyster bars, power plants, industrial ports, bridges, and even our local reefs will all provide a safe haven for Snook during the colder periods of the year.
For the last couple weeks, we have been catching fish 40+ inches in the deeper pockets on the flats during the lower tides. Most of these fish have been congregated in areas adjacent to areas of normal winter time haunts on the lower tides. On the higher water, you can find them deep in the mangroves or nestled in the open pockets along the shoreline. If you plan to target big Snook specifically, there are a few things to consider. First and foremost, they aren’t big for no reason! You are going to have to step up your game in more ways than one. Unlike juvenile Snook, the bigger ones don’t generally feed quit as “rambunctious”. They will often methodically approach and take a bait. For this reason, one of my favorites is cut-bait. Ladyfish, Mullet, Shad, Pinfish, or even a Blue Crab will get the job done. This gives the fish plenty of time to investigate the bait and decide if it will be a meal. More often than not, they can’t refuse. They key is having an idea where they are sitting or will be traveling through during a tide cycle. If you study the habits of Snook, you will notice that they will occupy a rather small area for certain durations of the tide cycle. During periods of slack tide can actually be some of the best times to target the big girls on cut bait. On the stronger tides, I will often prefer switching over to live bait. For me, a hand-sized pinfish or finger mullet is ideal. Keep in mind you are fishing for big fish. Don’t be afraid to use a larger than normal bait, just size your gear accordingly. It is not uncommon to fish with Tarpon class gear especially around structure. For example, I rarely pitch a bait for big Snook with anything less than 40 lb leader and a 5/O circle hook. When fishing cut-bait, I will use 60 lb leader on a regular basis. They are extremely powerful fish and normally have some advantage of cover they are looking to get back too. Being able to control the first couple runs on the fish is imperative – not only for successfully landing them but not exhausting them to near death trying to get them to the boat.
If you are lucky enough to land the beast of a lifetime, please remember fish care is important. These big girls are the future of our fishery and tremendously valuable to their species prosperity. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. If you choose to remove them from the water for a quick photo, be sure to keep their belly well supported and refrain from holding them vertical at any time. Keeping the fish horizontal is vital to their health. Last but not least, before letting her off into the sunset and “fist-bumping” everyone on board – make sure they have plenty of recovery time boat side. During the fight, they will have built up extreme amounts of lactic acid in their muscles and will have trouble keeping up right after darting away. Holding the fish by the tail and slowly moving side-side for at least a few minutes generally does the trick! Good luck and tight lines!
The Suzuki Repower Fishing Report is sponsored by Suzuki Repower and Mastry Engine Center.
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Read some of Capt. Travis’ other recent posts for Old Salt including: The Hunt For Red October