Catching Snook in the Fall
As the summer starts to cool off, and the fall approaches, the snook – like all fish – feel the change in season. They begin to prepare for what might be a very long and very cold winter, both of which the species has fortunately survived since the dawn of time. They are not quite as easy to catch as they are in the springtime, but they are easier to catch – and it’s more likely they’ll survive a good, gentle release – than in the summertime.
Where the Fish Are in the Fall Months
During the summer the fish were in and around relatively skinny water, where the water is relatively hot. That’s does not include the fish that are at the nearshore structure most of the year (except during the spawn). But nearshore fish, and fish that hang around the flats during the warmer months begin moving to where they’re gonna spend the wintertime.
Catching Snook on and Outside the Edges of the Flats
This is where you will find fish at the beginning of the spring when the outside flats are starting to warm up. Then they’re moving out of the canals and rivers to the passes and flats and beaches. At this time they’re moving back into those same spots. So beginning in late summer and early spring, you start to catch the fish near the outside edges of grass flats and outside mangrove growths. The fish are ready to get into outside/deeper water if it suddenly gets too hot, but they are getting ready to go inshore. That means they’re on the outside of their winter home – on the outside edges of the grass flats.
Catching Snook in the Fall on the Inside Flats
As the snook get ready for winter, and the water temperatures continue to drop, the fish get closer to where they ‘re going to spend the winter. They move from the outside edges of the flats onto the flats themselves, eventually hanging there for a transitional period. It’s at this time of the year – fall – beginners are most likely to be in a position where they can catch fish on flies. The fish are preparing to winter, so they’re eating almost anything, the water’s gin-clear, and although spooky, the fish are quite catchable on flies.
Catching Snook at River and Canal Mouths
As the season develops, snook are moving to the mouths of the canals, rivers, and even small springs and estuaries. You have to give thought to the shape of the area you’re fishing in. If the fish are definitely going to be in the residential canals during cold months (which they are), it only makes sense that they’re going to spend at least a little time able to ‘retreat’ to the larger flats they are coming in from.
An Overview of Catching Snook in the Fall.
Snook are aggressive predators, but they’re fish. They are big and challenging and very smart, but they’re fish, and because they’re fish they’re totally connected to the water they’re in, the air above the water, and everything down to the chemistry and salinity. So as seasons repeat so, too, does a snook’s behavior. In the winter, they’re laying deep inside and underneath residential docks, inside rivers, and as deep into the available “backwater” as they can get. As the water warms, they’re moving towards the passes and beaches, where they mate and lay eggs. When the water cools, they move back onto the flats, then to the mouths of the deepest backwaters – any access they can find – and stay there for a while. It’s then that you can catch fish in the fall – on those flats and outside the mouths of those winter haunts.
They are just fish. But arguably the best fish in the water to try – try, mind you – to catch.
Catching Snook in the Winter
In the winter, the fish are in one of two places. They are either back in deep nearshore water at relatively shallow wrecks, and natural and manmade structures. The second place you will find them is deep inside rivers, residential canals, and backwaters including the estuaries and springs. You will find them deep, careful, and not always hungry. You can catch them at night and you can catch them under docks in the middle of the day. Wintertime is snook time for some anglers – their favorite time to fish for the species.
Where the Fish Are in the Winter Months
When the water is cold, the fish avoid it wherever and whenever possible. If the water is below about 65 F, they become dormant, and when it gets colder then can die. A few years ago an extended freeze killed thousands of fish south of Tampa Bay, but the bay’s fish seemed to survive it fairly well. Regardless of whether or not the fish are threatened by extended freezes – they get as deep as they can and as near to warm and consistently warm temperatures.
Catching Snook in the Wintertime in Residential Canals
If you read the articles about catching snook in the spring and fall, you know that the fish are moving out of the residential canals and onto the flats (and then the passes and beaches) in the springtime, and back into those same canals in the fall, as water temperatures drop. By November and December, even in years where the water’s relatively warm all over – there are snook under the docks. The past 10 years or so have been pretty cool, and before that a warming trend kept big snook outside on the flats all year. Despite (supposed) global warming, we caught big snook more often inside residential canals than anywhere else. The docks provide a “roof” of sorts, the pilings plenty of structure, and they attract natural food in the form of shrimps and crabs. Add to that the fact that the dark (albeit oxygen and grass-limited) mud stays pretty hot when the sun heats it up, “December Docks” are very productive snook spots. Every dock in the state might – and often does – hold a snook.
Catching Snook in the Rivers and Estuaries in the Winter
As the water chills and eventually turns downright cold, the snook populations move into the rivers and estuaries. Why? Warmth and consistent water temperatures are the reason, of course. Water temperatures six or eight miles up into big rivers like the Hillsborough or Peace rivers in Tampa Bay or any major “feed” rivers on both coasts of Florida is roughly the same in December (by a few degrees) as it is in June or September. The fish know that. Most move up into those spring-fed (at some place) waters in the winter, and some live there all year round, just like they do in the passes to some lesser degree. Any fish that can handle brackish (mixed fresh and saltwater) and even – in the case of snook – freshwater – run up deep into the rivers. We have caught largemouth bass on one cast, and a dozen casts later a 20-lb. snook high up Florida rivers (the Hillsborough in the case of this story).
Catching Snook in the ‘Backwater’ in the Wintertime
What one person calls “Backwater” another might call “mangroves” or “back country,” but whatever you call it it’s the same – water on the high edges, or the southern or eastern edges of harbors, bays and pockets here on the west coast. On the east coast of Florida, look on the left/west side of deep inlets, pockets and bays. Backcountry can roughly be defined as the furthest place water touches land inside the big entrances, passes, bays and open water locales. They are deep mangroves, they can be small open bays, and they can be a small island deep inside an enclosed feed like Double Branch in west central Florida, or Indian Lagoon on the other side of the state. The same winter rules apply however; the fish are spooky, the fish can become very dormant in the coldest months, and the fish need to be handled with extra care because they’re cold.
An Overview of Catching Snook in the Wintertime.
The winter brings a lot of wind, cold rain, and cold air. The rich schools of scaled sardines we use in the winter are gone or at least hard to find and net (Sabikis in deep water are great in the winter for snook bait). Shrimp rule the day as far as live bait, although anything live – and sometimes a fresh piece of dead bait put near a dock for a redfish – will attract fish. Again, remember that whether you’re fishing for them deep in some mangrove islands or underneath the dock of a multi-million-dollar waterfront mansion, be quiet. They do not eat with the same intensity they do in the spring or again in the fall before they retire for the winter, and you have to approach, present the bait, and even fight the fish a little differently than at any other time of the year.
The best bet in the winter – of all the places we talk about – are docks at nighttime near lights. The best bait is live shrimp and the best artificial bait is one that can be presented and that smells and tastes and even acts like a live shrimp. Jigs on the bottom work well in the winter when you’re looking for that record (or first or thousandth) snook. They’re wonderful to find, catch, and release or enjoy on your table.
Catching Snook in the Springtime
You can catch snook all year in many parts of Florida, but no time of the year are they easier to find or hungrier than then are in the springtime. If you know where the fish are likely to be during that change from winter to summer, you will find them biting and you will be able to catch one or more.
Where the Fish Are in the Springtime
Snook move all year. They are in one place in the winter, and when the season starts to change, they move. They’re moving from the deeper rivers, estuaries, and residential canals where the water’s the warmest. As the water warms on more open waters, the snook move out and can be found in the following places.
Catching Snook on and Outside the Edges of the Flats
The first place they start to show up when the water warms up is outside the deeper channels, rivers, and canals that they were in during the colder months. On the first days, they come out onto the flats close to the openings of the canals and backwaters. As warm days start running together, the fish move out onto the flats and into the deeper water of the channels. The best place to find them early in the spring are on the outside edges of the flats and edges of the channels.
Catching Snook in the Springtime on the Beaches
As the waters warm, the fish move onto the beaches, and might even be coming in for the late-spring spawn from deeper nearshore structure. We have certainly caught a fair share of snook in 30 feet of water (and deeper), and they could very well live in that deeper water in the colder months and move inshore – not from deeper inshore like most of the fish we target in winter months. There are many springs nearshore, where consistent temperatures arise from deep in the aquifer into the salty waters of the Gulf of Mexico. At any rate, you can start catching snook in the middle of the spring – usually starting the second-or-third week of April – on the beaches. It makes for great shore fishing, and if you walk a mile of beach, casting in front of you and fanning the casts to cover the most possible water, you will catch a lot of snook on the beaches in the springtime. The fish often are running parallel to the shoreline, and in the slight trough that’s often formed by the flow running parallel to the shore.
Catching Snook in the Passes
Late in the springtime is the best time of year to catch snook, and while a boat sure makes it easier, what happens in the big passes is also happening on the beach. That ‘something’ is called “Balling”, or “Spawning Balls.” Part of a regular annual cycle of spawn, egg-laying, egg-placement, and the changing role of the embryo as it transforms to a living predator, spawning balls are huge round schools of snook that form in the big passes and off the beaches in late spring and into early summer. The schools are very active, and the fish very aggressive. They will hit almost any appropriate lure or bait, and they tend to size in large collectives. You will see a thousand 24 inchers one night, and a school as big or bigger with all the fish at 34” the very next night. You can read more about this concept in an article we wrote a while ago called “Catching Snook: Spawning Balls”.
An Overview of Catching Snook in the Springtime.
When the water warms, the fish begin moving towards the passes. Early in the spring they’re just outside the residential canals and at the mouths of springs, estuaries, and any pocket that held warmer water during the winter. They also start moving from nearshore wrecks and natural structure to the inshore spawning grounds in the passes and beaches. Early in the season they stay close enough to those canals so they can retreat in the event of a late-season cold front. They’re that smart and that accustomed to changing weather conditions. Once the water warms, they’re outside the flats and near the edges of the channels.
As the water warms more, the snook move to the beaches and the sea walls, edges, and structure near the beaches or near the big passes. Late in the spring and into the early summer, the fish “ball-up” in the big passes and close to area beaches (the same place they start showing up midway through the season).
Catch’ em in the springtime – they’re aggressive, hungry, and easier to catch then than at any other time of the year.
Catching Snook in the Summertime
Of the four seasons that you can catch snook in Florida and other locations that the fish thrive, catching snook in the summertime is the toughest and most challenging. In some cases the challenge is for both parties – the angler and the fish.
Where the Fish Are in the Summer Months
Hot water is comfortable for the species. Not too hot, but very warm water – close to 90 F – is just fine with a 50-inch fish. We’ve seen and caught-and-released big fish in very hot water and in very hot air. That said, they’re not stupid, and if they can get a few degrees cooler, they’re gonna do it. They will not go dormant and stop eating on a 12” flat on a 98 F day like they will in cold water, but they’re gonna be in the shade if there’s any shade. That includes the shade of deeper water.
Catching Snook in the Summer in the Passes
When snook come out of their winter haunts (backwater, residential canals, rivers and estuaries) they hang on the flats, move off the edges of the flats, and eventually to the beaches and passes. If you ever read the story about passes, pockets, and points, you’ll know that anything where water is “choked” and then flows into the open Gulf (or an open bay area) is a pass in our eyes and most importantly in the eyes of the snook. The fish mate in those passes, but a lot of them stay there until the water gets too cold. You can catch big snook all summer in any of the big passes, and a lot of the small ones, too.
Catching Snook in the Summer on the Beaches
The same movement and behavior the snook exhibit in the big passes applies to the beaches, too. They come there to mate and lay eggs in the late spring and early summer, and even when the spawn is over (as late as August) a lot of the fish that already laid eggs or found their girlfriend-of-the-hour stay there. The water is moving hard (big currents in those passes, as you will know if you ever fished them), and the tide changes harder then it does in backcountry locations, which fill and empty more than they flow, and the food never runs out. Fish in the passes anytime of the year and it’s likely you’ll grab a snook or three, but the summer makes it hard to find fish in a lot of other common locales. The passes make it easy to find hungry fish even on the hottest of days, and they’re fun and beautiful to fish. Be careful of other boaters – and more importantly be respectful of other boats, anglers, or people floating on sticks if you’re fishing a pass. It’s everybody’s water – not just ours.
Catching Snook in Deeper Water in the Summertime
By deeper water we mean just that – deeper water. You will find deeper water in a couple of great and very productive snookie spots during the hottest of days. That’s nearshore. By nearshore we mean the same places we say the fish come from in the fall. We said that some fish spend the winters deep in the residential canals and rivers and estuaries, while some move offshore to relatively close structures – usually not much deeper than 35’-40’. Like their cousins that stay in the rivers all year, and can be caught in the winter, spring, summer, or fall, there are some fish that live on nearshore structures all year, leaving only when they want to mate during the spawn.
An Overview of Catching Snook in the Summertime.
The water is hot and the water is often gin-clear if it’s not dark and dirty from rainfall or lasting storms, and the fish are very spooky in the summertime. Even the fish that hang in the deeper channels on the edges of the flats and go onto the flats for food are spooky when they’re up-top or down-deep. Make a banging sound on your boat and it’s far more effective at scaring summer fish then deep-laying winter fish. So be quiet.
Bait is usually more abundant in the summer – live bait, that is. Shrimp are sometimes harder to find, and often smaller then they are in the wintertime. But overall you can find scaled sardines all over the place when the water’s warm, and using a castnet or even a Sabiki bait lure will produce excellent and productive live bait in the hottest months.
A final word on catching snook in hot water, and that’s on stress levels. There are some people that think you should continue to use relatively heavy tackle in the summer, so as to better land the fish quickly and release it quickly. Others say that fighting them on light tackle – very light – does no additional harm as long as you handle them properly. Whichever side of the argument you stand on is your choice. We mostly feel that light tackle does not kill fish, but not all our team members agree. That said, the choice is yours as long as you handle them gently.