BIG Snookin’

Among the many inshore game fish anglers enjoy targeting in Sunshine State waters, snook can be some of the most challenging. These fish are fairly common in Florida’s southern latitudes with a range that seems to be expanding north, but are unpredictable in their feeding behavior. Additionally, as these fish grow larger and max out their growth potential, they can become very difficult to catch.

The common snook is without a doubt one of Florida’s favorite inshore game fish. These fish provide a formidable challenge to anglers of all skill levels, testing tackle with acrobatic jumps, screaming runs and more. Furthermore, snook, particularly big ones, are very wary predators and won’t fall for just any presentation. This presents a challenge when fishing near unforgiving structure, where large snook often congregate, as anglers need relatively heavy tackle to land these fish but need enough stealth to get the bites they seek. Like any other fishery out there, successful big snook fishing hinges on achieving the perfect balance.

Let’s start with the rod. This is likely the most important component of the whole setup, and you’ll need a stick with enough backbone to pull huge linesiders away from nearby structure while also yielding enough sensitivity to detect a snook’s subtle strike, better known as a “thump.” First, it’s important to choose – and much of this comes down to personal preference – a spinning or conventional rod. Many diehard snook anglers keep both variations in their arsenals, but if you’re just starting out, you’ll likely have to choose between the two. Spinning and conventional outfits each have their own advantages and disadvantages, but they’re both suited for this style of fishery as long as you’ve got the right rod.

Rod length is another important consideration and, in this scenario, we recommend a 7- to 8-footer. For those fishing from piers, bridges and jetties, a longer rod is a better bet. This allows you to fight fish with more leverage from land, keeping them from hanging you up in structure. A longer rod also yields better casting distance and control. Similar to the rods used by musky fishermen slinging heavy artificials, your snook rod should be rated to handle heavy lures such as large swimbaits and big bucktails.

Next up is reel selection. Whether you choose a spinning, baitcasting or conventional reel, it’s important to understand this is not a light tackle fishery. You may be accustomed to fishing for snook on light spinning tackle from the beach where there is no structure nearby and you can let the fish run, but this close-quarters combat calls for a different approach entirely. For those who are proficient with baitcasters and prefer them, there are several options here. The Lexa 400 from Daiwa offers a great deal of line capacity and 25 pounds of drag yet yields a comfortable grip and a smooth spool for all-day and all-night casting. Similarly, the Shimano Tranx offers the same max drag with a 6.6:1 gear ratio, retrieving 43 inches of line per crank. For those who prefer spinners, there are even more options out there and, using a spinner allows you to repurpose a reel traditionally designated for offshore use. However, you’ll need different line.

When it comes to line and leader in this fishery, seasoned snook anglers are very particular about their selections, and for good reason. A determined snook around structure can cause tackle failure in the blink of an eye, so it’s in your best interest to stack the odds in your favor, and this begins with your line and leader. As far as main line is concerned, braid is the only option. You’ll need the sensitivity of braided line to detect subtle strikes, otherwise you’ll be missing way too many bites. Additionally, braided line offers incredible breaking strength at thinner diameters, allowing you to fit more on your reel. Couple that with the impressive abrasion resistance of today’s top brands and the choice is clear. If you’re targeting big snook around heavy structure, you’ll be putting a lot of strain on your main line, so it’s not uncommon to use 50 to 80 lb. braid.

Leader material is another tricky decision that you’ll be confronted with. Naturally, you’ll want to go heavy here with big fish and heavy structure, but not so heavy that the wary snook you’re targeting can see the leader and ignore your presentation. While heavy monofilament, sometimes up to 150 lb., is still a valid choice in some scenarios, we recommend fluorocarbon because of its stealthier properties. 60 lb. fluoro is a good starting point, but if you lose a fish or two to the structure, you’ll want to bump it up.

There are many ways to effectively target snook, some even involving light spinning gear and 20 lb. leader. However, these wide-ranging inshore game fish are difficult targets and when the big girls make their way to docks, jetties, bridges and more, it’s time to put away the light tackle and break out the big guns.