September Snook

Beachgoers score big with cruising linesiders.

Capt. Steve Dougherty September 19, 2012

As typical summer patterns slowly fade away and the change of season brings new opportunities one thing remains constant. Snook will be holding tight to area beaches as they gorge on a seemingly endless supply of scaly baitfish.

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Sight fishing snook along the beach provides incredible action with easy access. Photo: doughertyphotos.com

Exciting anglers the entire summer, snook have been harassing schools of pilchard and sardines along chosen beaches, with the much heralded mullet run offering a welcomed bonus that keeps the action going strong. While it may sound like a dating cliché, I really do enjoy long walks on deserted beaches and look forward to getting my feet wet.

While it may sound like a dating cliché, I really do enjoy long walks on deserted beaches and look forward to getting my feet wet.

Snook gather at inlets and passes along the southeast coast of Florida during the summer as they prepare to complete their annual spawning rituals. It is believed that snook found along area beaches have already spawned during full and new moon periods and return to the sandbars and shallow troughs to feed and regain strength. This congregation occurs from May through September from Canaveral to Miami, with beaches in the immediate vicinity of area inlets seeing the most consistent action. While the peak of the influx is over by October, the infiltration of mullet keeps many snook lingering in the sand for one last attack. When strolling beaches in search of big shadows there are a handful of tactics that will greatly stack the odds in your favor.

Although snook are somewhat tolerant to beachgoers, they will be on high alert when swimmers are present, so you can expect the best action to take place along unpopulated beaches within a couple of miles of area inlets. You may have to walk a considerable distance to spot snook on an expansive beach, with those featuring small jetties or natural rock formations providing more consistent action day in and day out. Find submerged structure on the beach and you will find fish, but remember that structure isn’t always in the form of hard bottom. Beach erosion can create small pockets and troughs in the sand that can alter the current and confuse baitfish. Not every beach will have snook, but prime stretches of sand can be found in the vicinity of Ponce, Sebastian and Fort Pierce inlets. In the southern stretches of the state Jensen Beach, Hutchinson Island, Jupiter, Palm Beach, Hillsboro, Dania Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami also offer red-hot action.

As you trudge along the shoreline keep your eyes peeled for any sings of life. While backcountry snook take on a more brownish coloration, snook inhabiting the beaches match their surroundings with a silvery hue that blends perfectly with the light sand. Because of their incredible ability to blend into their surroundings, you will likely spot schools of baitfish long before you actually see a snook. Diving birds will also help reveal the action if the water clarity or angle of the sun make it difficult to see beneath the surface.

Once you’ve located a school of whitebait or mullet you’ll want to catch a handful and keep them alive in an aerated baitwell. Some guys prefer to catch and fish a single bait at a time. Either way, to keep the disturbance to a minimum I prefer to catch pilchard with a sabiki rig, although finger mullet require the use of a small cast net. Once you’ve caught enough to start fishing, let the bait school settle down and keep a close eye on their movement. After studying the bait school you’ll notice they typically parallel the beach in a particular depth. This is where you will also encounter snook, so focus on shadows along the perimeter of the forage. You’ll want to be sneaky when walking the beach, as snook will sometimes only be a foot or two off the wash.

While you can’t always have it the way you want and fish when you want, it’s good to know that low tides that occur in the afternoons offer prime opportunities, although beach snook aren’t as tide sensitive as those relating to backcountry mangrove shorelines and points. With the sun coming off its peak and headed to the west you’ll be afforded the best lighting conditions for spotting fish swimming in the troughs. Low tides expose the first sandbar and create war zones for feeding snook just a few feet from shore. Sometimes extreme low tides create small pools and troughs in the sand that trap baitfish. When the water begins to flood the beach, snook will be afforded enough water to charge in for the kill.

When you spot a fish casually cruising down the beach or aggressively attacking baitfish take your time and make your first cast count. Don’t think you have to act fast because the snook are gravitating to beaches and they won’t quickly beeline to deeper water unless seriously spooked. With food easily attainable there’s really no reason for them to leave. Often times, snook cruise down the beach in singles and pairs, but if you’re lucky you may stumble across a pack of hungry fish. You can pick off a few from the school, but only if you are extremely careful. Figure out the general movement of the school and try to cast to the lead fish. You want to avoid casting too close, with a five foot lead ideal. If the water is really clear you may want to place your offering upwards of 10 feet ahead of your target.

With a little experience you’ll quickly notice that these fish will either be hungry and ready to feed, or uninterested and completely unconcerned. It seems that some days they are fired up and will crush whatever you put in front of them, while on other occasions you won’t be able to buy a bite with even the best presented bait. That’s the story with snook and one that can at times be super frustrating.

To capitalize on the bite when it is going off, live baits are highly favored, although some anglers get a real kick out of fooling fish on artificials. The bottom line is that these fish are focused on small whitebait and mullet so proven imitations are required. Solid white bucktail jigs, small twitchbaits and white/silver fly patterns will get their attention. Since many of these fish are pre or post spawn anglers need to take great care to ensure a healthy release. When fishing live baits small circle-hooks are preferred, with the fish also benefiting from the removal of treble hooks from plugs and twitchbaits.

No matter your preference, clear water requires a delicate presentation. To keep the baits as lively and lifelike as possible we often scale down to 2/0 thin gauge circle-hooks on 20 and 30 lb. fluorocarbon leaders. With very little structure in sight, a medium action 7’6″ rod is sufficient. We prefer 20 lb. Diamond Braid. Leader lengths need not exceed 36 inches, which enables easy casting. You may think 20 and 30 lb. test is insufficient, but with circle-hooks and corner hooksets your leader will remain out of harms way while also giving your bait maximum freedom for the most attractive presentation.

Since these are breeder fish that are key to healthy populations of snook, try to minimize stress upon release. Hold fish horizontally and do your best to keep the fight time to a minimum. Since this is classic sight fishing, heavy wind and rough surf will limit your ability to spot cruising fish, so if the tide or moon phase isn’t right but the weather is ideal, go! And remember, while the above recommendations will get you started, without putting bait in the water you’ll never catch beach snook.

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