Taking On Florida's Fighter
Taking On Florida's Fighter
By Fred Everson
The surface temperature on the bay drops, hurricane season draws to a close, and snook begin to move into their winter quarters, hoping to avoid water that will drop below 60 degrees -- a fatal situation for this tropical native.
On Tampa Bay, snook will seek warmth and security in freshwater rivers, or deep cuts in the backcountry, or hide out under docks in residential canals. Depending upon the weather, snook fishermen have an opportunity here, but as with everything related to this fish, it should be approached with cautious optimism. Snook will concentrate and they will feed, ever trying to put on that extra ounce or two of fat to carry them through winter.
The catch is this. Snook are moving off the open, unobstructed water of the flats where 10-pound test will do, so long as you have enough of it.
Now the game changes, and the odds favor the snook. Long, drag-searing runs through shallow water on your favorite grass flat are only a memory. The drag may still scream a little, but often enough it is punctuated by that deflating crack that fishing line makes when it parts. For now the snook are in an element where they can negate the sophistication of modern fishing equipment. Here, if they can get the line coming their way, they just take it into structure and break it off. Sometimes they do it so quickly and with so little effort, it seems routine. And when they do it a half dozen times in a row, habit is a better word.
Late Season: Take A Special Approach
Late season snook require a special approach. Take your average residential canal. It is probably teeming with big linesiders as the New Year breaks. All you need to do is find a dock in six or seven feet of water then skip a bait or lure under it as far back into the shadows as you can. It's not an easy cast, but should a snook hit, it will come out a lot harder than it went in. If the snook is 26 inches or better, you probably won't ever see it again.
If you need to practice your fishing knots, winter snook fishing is the perfect opportunity.
This is not the place to throw those $8 plugs, unless they are attached to 20-pound monofilament and 60 pound leaders on a baitcasting rod with the flex of a pool stick. Even then, your chances of bulling a big snook clear of structure are less than even. Baitcasting reels offer the most control, but they also cause the most trouble. Skipping a lure with this reel is a recipe for birds' nests. But this rig will sometimes pry snook away from pilings and roots and give you a chance.
Braided line now offers spin fisherman a similar advantage, with less hassles of tangle. However, it still requires a stiff rod and quick and unyielding pressure on the part of the angler as soon as the fish is on. Give the snook under the dock an inch, and he will break you off. They are big fish, easy to find, and very hard to catch... now that's a recipe for fun on the water!
I have a couple of custom-built rods I use for snook. Since long casts are less important than pulling power, a shorter, stiffer rod makes the most sense around dock pilings. I like a 6-1/2-foot rod rated for 20-pound test line. I have been using Power-pro by Innotex and it is tough stuff. Here when a snook takes a wrap on a piling, you don't get broken off, you just unravel him. One problem is that the fine diameter braid will cut through a monofilament leader, so I use a small barrel swivel between line and leader.
RipTide plastic baits are effective here. I like the salt rat in Pearl, and their 3-inch shrimp in tomato, on one of their jig heads. They have a really stout hook and a durable finish. I prefer plastic baits to plugs because they can be fished slower, and when you do get broke off, it costs half a buck instead of $5.
Many anglers fish for winter snook at night under the dock lights, but if you would rather fish for them in the daytime, try looking for them on extreme low tides, which are practically a way of life in winter.