Key West Fishing Report: Snook
The late summer sport fish that we see around Key West are thriving. The long, hot days are filled with fun as we get to hunt a few select target species. Getting out in the backcountry to sight fish these species can be difficult if the water temperatures have risen too much during the day, so getting out early is preferred. The tides are really the key ingredient for success on these hot summer days. Cooler waters filling in the shallow areas can really make a big difference for productivity.
A rare Key West species that can be caught this time of year is snook. We don’t have many snook down here in Key West, but this is the time of year where we do see a couple here and there. The very clear waters help us see into spots we would normally overlook. Snook in Key West are usually in areas that are nearly impossible to fish effectively. They hide in the mangroves sharing their habitat with baby mangrove snappers and barracudas. Who do you think is going to get your bait first? Snook usually won’t butt out in the middle of a hundred baby mangrove snappers to eat a pinfish, or charge in front of a barracuda to eat first. Snook fishing in Key West requires a precision bait presentation as close to the fish as possible, which means sometimes waiting for them to move out of their comfortable habitat. The ways I’ve caught snook down here are usually when the fish moves to a sand flat near its habitat, and casting small live bait as close as possible in front of him. 2/0 Owner circle hooks and twenty pound fluorocarbon always do the trick.
Permit, the most popular hard-to catch sport fish in the Lower Keys, are also a summer time favorite. Permit are found in a bunch of different environments, but mostly fished for up on the flats in the backcountry. Finding areas with lots of tidal flow up onto the flats is a good place to start. Different types of bait are now available for permit to eat as the tide slowly comes in. They work their way along the edges of these shallow areas until there is enough water for them to get up on top of the flats. This can be a very good time to hunt for these fish, especially if you aren’t in a boat with a real shallow draft. Using a trolling motor, you can cruise these shallow edges and look for signs of fish waiting for the tide. Permit usually won’t stick their tails out of the water during this period, so looking for shadows and outlines of them is your best bet. This requires the maximum amount of patience. Permit can be caught with buck tail jigs tipped with shrimp, live shrimp on a 1/0 Owner J hook, or a small live crab (their favorite). The smaller permit are usually fished with buck tail jigs simply because they can’t fit a cast-able sized crab in their mouth. Permit are also abundant among many reef structures and shallow wrecks. I rarely use anything else other than crabs in these environments since there are so many other types of game fish that will rip you off. There are only two types of fish on the wrecks or reefs that will typically eat a crab at the surface: cobia and permit. This will help narrow down other un-targeted species from robbing your crab.
Lastly, bonefish are a big time summer fish that everyone raves about. Even though they are harder to find and spot than the permit, they are easier to hook up to. Bonefish push up on the flats and push off of the flats with the tide, just like permit. The best way to look for them is on the first of the incoming or the last of the outgoing tides. They will be one of the first fish to enter the shallows and the last ones to leave. I like to look for the incoming tide spots early in the morning when the water is still cool. Regardless of most wind speeds, the water this shallow will always be pretty calm, so seeing their wakes are easy to notice. Since our waters are so clear right now, actually seeing their shadows and outlines as they move along the flats can be pretty amazing. The best thing to throw at bonefish is a small buck tail jig with a piece of shrimp to help seal the deal (scent wise). Bonefish will surprise the most experienced angler with their hard runs and drag ripping fight.
Regardless of which species you’re after in Key West right now you’ll be sure to experience beautiful weather, active fisheries, and rich wildlife like no other coastal Florida ecosystem.