Having grown up only steps from the beach, I was well aware of the explosive snook action that was about to take place. It was a flat calm fall morning along the southeast coast of Florida and the highly anticipated mullet run was only a couple of weeks away. While the bite was going off all summer, during the early fall snook stage in the vicinity of area beaches, inlets and piers waiting for the first line of scaly baitfish to parade down the beach.
As hurricane season persists through the summer season our prevailing weather patterns change dramatically, with wind swaths changing from southeast to northeast quadrants. Along with shorter days and more comfortable air temperatures, veering winds signal the beginning of the fall bait migration. With the changing conditions, hordes of mullet, pilchard, silversides and threadfin herring begin their southerly migration along area beaches. From Cape Canaveral south you can get in on the fish-catching game, although my home waters of Palm Beach County arguably hold the greatest snook populations in the entire state.
Fortunately, with clear and calm water we were able to scan the bottom for signs of life. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, monster snook began emerging from their shadowy lairs.
I reached out to local snook aficionado Captain Danny Barrow to see if he was up for some snook action. A native Floridian born and raised in West Palm Beach, Captain Danny has been fishing these waters for over 35 years and chases snook nearly every chance he gets. To say he has an addiction to snook is a vast understatement and if you’re looking for incredible action, Captain Danny can put you on the bite no matter the time of the year.
My last phone conversation with Danny was highlighted by whopper fish tales of snook almost too big to mention in public. I knew the bite was about to go off and I was eager to get on the water and away from the gloomy fluorescent lights of my tiny home away from home. Not more than 12 hours later and my cell phone came to life. “Steve, meet me at the ramp tomorrow morning at sunrise.” Danny remarked.
While I certainly enjoy catching lunker snook on light tackle, I asked Danny if it was ok if I brought along a professional model to pose and fish with him since I would be behind the lens most of the day. I could hear the excitement in his voice as he quickly replied, “Of course you can!”
Under the impression that I was going to show up at the boat ramp with a bikini clad college lassie, it was quite a shock when I introduced Danny to legendary bartender, Captain Ben Espinoza of Delray Beach. Ben is an offshore guru and having spent years running charters in Panama and Mexico I knew it would be a welcomed change for him to chase linesiders in shallow water. Danny seemed a bit depressed that I didn’t show up with a runway model, yet he was relieved and excited when he saw Ben’s casting accuracy and angling intelligence.
We proceeded to make our way out the inlet and cruised the beach looking for signs of life. Instead of a continuous flow of forage training south, the fall bait run typically occurs in pulses. As is always the case it was another one of those “you shoulda’ been here yesterday” kinda days. We didn’t see a single school of baitfish as we made our way north to the local fishing pier…but things were about to change.
In The Shadows
When we arrived the area came to life as baitballs clouded the water for as far as the eye could see. Offering to assist in the bait-catching endeavors, Captain Danny told us to sit back and relax. Within a few minutes the baitwell was loaded and we were fishing. With a 500-foot buffer zone around the pier, it seemed as though we had no chance with the jumbo snook holding in the shadows beneath the seasoned structure. Fortunately, with clear and calm water we were able to scan the bottom for signs of life. As the sun climbed higher in the sky, monster snook began emerging from their shadowy lairs. Fishing 3/0 and 4/0 circle-hooks, we free-lined our live baits hoping they would make a beeline for the bottom. As is usually the case, our baits were aware of the dangers lurking below and kept swimming for the surface. This didn’t matter, as the snook were so fixated on the live offerings that they rushed the surface in an effort to gobble down the scaly morsels. We managed to catch and release a few snook at the pier before heading south to intercept fish hanging in the troughs paralleling the beach.
When targeting the beach it’s best to focus on shorelines in the vicinity of an inlet, as the tidal flow will be stronger. If you don’t already know, snook feed best under periods of moving water. Captain Danny mentioned that the outgoing tide was ideal for finding snook on the beach and once we made our way past the sandy stretches protected by lifeguards, we stealthily cruised the shallows in water just deep enough to operate the Minn Kota trolling motor. In this endeavor sunlight beaming over your shoulders is conducive to spotting fish by boat in the morning. If you’d rather walk the beach do so in the afternoon so the sun is at your back. These fish are almost invisible, as their light colored sides seemingly melt into the surrounding sand and shadowy water. Like all sight fishing applications, quality polarized sunglasses are a must.
When you come across snook on the beach they will either be cruising or laying motionless in ambush mode. Your approach will be determined by their attitude. Laid-up snook want food delivered and often hang near small jetties, groins and underwater structure. The second scenario of snook encountered along the beach will be cruisers. These fish are actively searching for forage and can be found in singles or multiples.
With eyes like a hawk, Captain Danny spotted two lunkers moving down the beach. Ben made a perfect cast, leading the fish by about 10 feet. The snook eyed the bait and both rushed in for the kill. Since we were fishing shallow, clear waters we were forced do downsize our leader to 20 lb. test. With circle-hooks resulting in a perfect corner hookset, we weren’t too worried about losing fish to chaffed leaders.
The Streak Continues
Having been successful in two venues, we decided to race back to the inlet to hit the last of the outgoing tide. Dirty water had already converged with clean ocean water, and it was difficult to see the torpedo shaped snook holding a mere 10 feet below the surface. With Captain Danny a veritable snook professor, he knew exactly where they would be holding and instructed Ben and I to tie on heavier leaders since the dirty water would help hide our terminal tackle. I spotted a lunker below the boat and dropped my live bait right on its nose. The fish inhaled my offering and the fight was on. We released several more bragging size fish including an incredible double header before the tide receded to a trickle.
Known the world over for their alluring beauty and tenacious fighting attributes, snook are one of Florida’s greatest sport fish. For truly hair-raising experiences with bragging size fish, you owe it to yourself to fish the East Coast bait run. While we encountered incredible action in Palm Beach County, equally exciting moments play out along the beaches, piers and inlets from Cape Canaveral to Miami. Remember that most of these fish will be too large to harvest, so be sure to handle and release with care. At all costs avoid holding fish vertically, and if you want a photo to remember your catch be sure to support the belly and only remove the fish from the water for a few seconds.
Captain Danny Barrow
Silver Lining Fish Charters