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Snook season’s officially open; some fishing tips

By CAPT. GEORGE TUNISON - | Mar 9, 2023

Capt. George Tunison

Ira’s, Union, Armed, White, Black and Sword spine are names of just six of the 13 species of snook known to swim in Atlantic and Pacific waters with the Black snook growing the largest, like the 59-pound, 8-ounce Costa Rican giant holding the current world record. There certainly could be more species discovered in the future as Ira’s snook was first documented in Brazil as recently as 2019.

In Southwest Florida, we deal with four species with the Common snook the largest of the group. A 44.3-pounder from Fort Myers holds the current Florida State Record slot.

Most old salts know that snook are born male with some becoming females at 18-22 inches. The Common snook has a high dorsal fin that’s divided. The Sword spine is our smallest snook, but has the largest scales. As the name implies, the Fat snook is short and stout, and our Tarpon snook is the only snook with 7 anal fin rays while the rest of the group only has 6.

That’s all good and fine, you say, but I like eating snook and harvesting has been closed for years trying to help snook rebound from the big freeze back in 2010. Well, you must not have heard. Gas up the boat and clean the grill because as of March 1, running to May 1, a snook measuring not less than 28 to not more than 33 inches can be the guest of honor at your next bar-b-que. It’s one per angler per day and remember that in addition to your regular saltwater license, you’ll need to purchase a snook permit.

In the past I enjoyed a snook dinner once or twice a year but nowadays not everyone agrees with this opening and would like to see even more population growth before harvesting is allowed. Visions of 2010’s dead snook-choked canals, the surface so thick with the dead and dying you could almost walk across them, still haunts many locals. Even though there is no legal commercial harvest allowed and even at one per day, recreational anglers will still harvest large numbers of one of Florida’s most popular inshore gamefish species during this short season. Hopefully fisheries biologists have made the right call in opening this harvest considering hurricane related water contamination still an unknown long-term factor plus ongoing red tide events both occurring as the fish start making their way to local beaches for their summer spawn.

During this transition to the Gulf, it’s now your job to figure out the best spots to intercept them for sport or food. Locals and guides all have their time-tested hot spots but for the new angler it can be confusing simply because “it all looks good!”

Where do I start?

Firstly, if you’ve grown up throwing top-waters, swimming plugs and spinnerbaits for largemouth bass, you’re already ahead of the game as the same basic lure choices, equipment, techniques and shallow cover presentations also catch Florida snook.

Location is your challenge. As mentioned, snook are moving to the Gulf so along the way look for likely snook-holding cover like docks, piers, seawalls, bridges, anything to break the current flow so they can hide behind it conserving energy while waiting to dart out and grab prey being swept along by a strong tidal flow. If there’s enough water, some mangrove shorelines, all oyster bars and especially island points should get attention.

Tip: Fish for snook during stronger tidal flow days. Consult your tide chart for this information.

Tip: The typical walk-the-dog top-water retrieve works well, but as the water warms, try a medium fast, erratic and splashy panic retrieve, every 4th or 5th cast.

Each year giants are caught by patient anglers simply fishing half a ladyfish or mullet head on the bottom. The live bait trophy hunter will be using a 12-inch live mullet with heavy rod, line and leader.

Capt. George Tunison is a Cape Coral resident fishing guide. You an contact him at 239-282-9434 or via email at captgeorget3@aol.com.