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How to Catch Snook in Spring: Best Spots, Rigs & Tactics

At the first flash of sardines, snook break out of their winter funk. Here's how to find and catch snook in spring plus bonus hot spots to catch snook in Tampa Bay

How to Catch Snook in Spring: Best Spots, Rigs & Tactics

As the waters warm in spring, the snook are ready to eat, you just have to find them.

Snook are on the move in spring, from backwater winter refuges to open bays and passes, where they'll spawn in summer. How to catch them at this time of year isn't complicated—they're hungry, after all. The trick? Figuring out where to intercept them.

Captain Kevin Little specializes in fishing the south shore of Tampa Bay.

“If you know those deep holes and you know those areas where snook congregate in the spring,” Little said, “they're hungry and aggressive.”

tampa bay fishing captain holding up tampa bay snook
Kevin Little with a Tampa Bay snook.

One major factor in play here: During the winter, snook are somewhat deprived of sardines and herrings. In spring, Little said, “They're trying to eat every one you put in front of them because they need to fatten up for their summer spawn. If you bring baitfish from out in the bay, you can catch all you want.”

Where to Find Snook in Spring

places to find snook in spring
Canal mouths are a good place to look in spring.

Cold-weather sanctuaries include deep bends in rivers. When fishing for snook in Tampa Bay, search in areas such as the Palm, Alafia, Little Manatee and Manatee. Troughs tucked inside wind-shielding mangroves and canals with 6 to 10 feet of water are also good. In early spring, key areas include the first few docks at the canal mouths, small passes between mangrove islands (to catch snook in Tampa Bay look in the Cockroach Bay and Weedon Island areas), deep cuts and holes on the backsides of islands.

With snook in various stages of departure from wintering spots, Little said it's important to pay attention to the characteristics of areas from which they'll be coming. A big one for him is a south-facing bank with a dark bottom; snook favor this combination during the winter, is it blocks cold north winds and the dark bottom absorbs the heat of the sun. Draw a line from a place like this to the nearest Gulf pass, and you'll get a good idea where the fish are likely to be moving in spring.

Best Live Bait & Rigs for Snook

best live bait for snook mojarra and sardine
Bait at top is a mojarra; below, a sardine, a.k.a. whitebait. Both darn near irresistible to snook as waters warm.

Snook prey on a wide range of meals from needlefish, mullet and baby trout to crabs and shrimp. Top bait for spring snookin' is the scaled sardine (aka “pilchard” or “whitebait”), which appears in massive schools sometime during the year's first quarter and remain a dietary staple through fall. While the jumbos tend to entice whopper snook, Little prefers baits of about 3 to 4 inches. “I like this size because they move more and that excites the fish,” he said.

Little intersperses his sardine presentations with the occasional silver Jenny—a mojarra species that often turns up in his castnet. Unlike the hyperactive sardines, a silver Jenny tends to swim down and sit still—until he's spotted.

“You can always tell when you're going to get a snook bite on a silver Jenny because it barely moves; but when it goes to kicking, you're about to get a bite.”




Using a 2/0 circle hook, Little typically runs the point through the soft cartilage between the bait's eyes and the tip of its nose. Offering the greatest range of motion, this hooking style works for short to medium casts, but if he needs more distance, Little sets his hook through the fleshy spot behind the pectoral fin.

snook feeding on surface bait in tampa bay
A welcomed sight once the weather starts heating up and these fish are back in business.

“When you hook a bait there, it casts better because it's like an airplane wing — wider on the front edge and thinner on the back,” Little said. “This is a better hooking style for fishing a specific spot, like a deep hole, because it makes the fish swim down.”

“With either hook placement, I throw the bait out there and if I don't get instant gratification, I reel tight to the bait, sweep my rod a little and give him a little twitch. This makes the bait dart to one side and that can trigger a snook to bite.”

Freelining tops Little's presentations, but he keeps a handful of corks handy for when the snook play hard-to-get. Sometimes, a strong tide pulls his baits out of the strike zone too quickly; other times, some combination of weather and water clarity may minimize the fish's interest in chasing. Use a pectoral hook placement for corking baits, as it tends to keep the bait down. This prevents tangling around the leader.

Recommended


Other bait options include live shrimp, pinfish, grunts and mud minnows. Also, don't overlook the snook's willingness to scoop up a chunk of cut mullet or ladyfish or some whole, dead baitfish.

Best Artificial Bait & Lures for Snook

Suspending bait lure
Suspending bait.

On the artificial side, suspending twitchbaits do a good job of imitating snook forage. Topwaters also offer a ton of excitement, especially when snook chase chummers to the surface and blow holes in the water. A full-size bait, like a Heddon Super Spook or a Rapala Skitter Walk might earn you the occasional monster bite, but for numbers you might drop to a topwater that better matches the baits you're fishing/chumming.

artificial shrimp lure for snook
Soft plastic shrimp.

Spring snook welcome shrimp. I'm a big fan of fishing artificial shrimp, which I initially work with a dead-stick presentation punctuated by a couple of twitches to simulate a real crustacean that just spotted a real snook. Captain Little prefers the incoming tide for spring snook because it floods the interior areas and allows access to the key staging spots. As late spring progresses and water temperatures rise, he'll favor the outgoing cycle, which brings the classic ambush feeding strategy to the forefront: falling water pulls baitfish out of cover.

Seeding the target zone with appetizers will rally the snook. Little likes to “spray” his chummers across a broad area to stir up a big crowd and give multiple anglers plenty of active water.

chumming for snook
Make it rain.

“That's what gets those fish excited— seeing those minnows spread out when they hit the water,” Little said. “They're disoriented and the snook know they're easy meals.”

It is wise to cast in the general area of chum-grabbers, but bigger snook that tire of elbowing through the young-and-dumb ones may slide out to the perimeter. That's why you'll periodically see big busts 20 or 30 feet from the chum target—an often-overlooked area worth a cast or two.

How to Catch & Release Snook the Right Way

snook jumps in the air with splashing water below
Snook airs its grievances, so to speak, after being duped into biting a hooked sardine. Fun fight for the angler, and usually a non-event for the fish. Release mortality rates are very low, with care.

On a good day, you'll weed through little snook to find a photo fish, but don't get sloppy; each one deserves a careful release. When he's on a bunch of juveniles, Capt. Kevin Little uses a long-handle hook remover for a hands-free release. Simply hold the leader about 12 inches above the fish, trace the hook remover to the hook's bend, invert the hook and with a good shake, the fish's weight pulls it free.

A healthy little linesider that takes 20 seconds to subdue will bolt away the second you flip it into the water, but bigger fish burn more energy during a fight. Winded snook make for easy dolphin meals and, while Flipper has to eat too, don't give him any advantage.

Take a moment to gently lower the fish into the water, support it horizontally and give it time to recharge. A revived snook will let you know it's ready by clamping its toothless jaws around your thumb. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2020

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