October 12, 2021
Growing up, I can recall countless hours of my father and I meandering our way through the St. Lucie River aboard our 16-foot Ouachita john boat, with a rod on each gunnel and a few plugs in tow; trolling was our tactic. I remember fidgeting around the boat, wishing I was at the sandbar, while my father calmly held the tiller of the 25-horse outboard, focused on the rods and putted along. We caught many snook, some of them likely bigger than me at the time!
Coming full circle, I’ve found myself thinking about this technique and how it has slowly found its way into the book of “Yeah, my grandfather used to fish that way” techniques. But don’t kid yourself: Trolling for snook still works!
This is a relatively simple technique. A two-rod spread is all you need; you can run three if you’re feeling frisky, but any more and you’re asking for trouble. I prefer a 4000 to 6000-sized spinning reel or a baitcaster paired with a 7-foot medium-heavy rod. Spool it with 30-pound braid and a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader and you’re set.
Two lure styles excel when trolling for snook: large swimbaits and lipped plugs. You want lures which track true at speed and give off good vibrations, which is attractive for snook. The bigger baits may replicate mullet, a staple for big snook, especially in the estuaries where trolling works best. I try to have a variety of plugs with different-sized lips as well as different weighted swimbaits, depending on the depth I'm trolling, average being 6 to 12 feet.
When setting a spread, I typically like to run both lines between 30 and 40 yards back if in a relatively open channel. If it is a tighter residential canal with a lot of docks and structure, I will run them closer. Snook are quick to grab your lure and beeline to a dock or mangrove where they can break you off. The more line you have out, the more scope he has and chance to do so. Also, making turns when trolling can be difficult if your baits are way back. If I ever do run a third line, I will keep it snubbed up close, say 10 yards back in the whitewash. Slow and steady wins this race, three to five knots is the perfect speed for snook.
Also, keep the big boat on the lift: Smaller boats are best for inshore trolling. No need for a crazy, wide spread, and small boats are much more nimble when it comes to navigating with lines out as well as when fighting the fish.
Now that you got your spread down, where do you drag those lures? Snook are very structure-oriented: channel edges, dropoffs, deep holes, docks, mangroves, bridge pilings, you get the idea. These are all places to troll by. The endless canals throughout South Florida are perfect territory for a troll. Pay attention to your fishfinder when trolling and note any significant marks you come by to swing back around to if you get a bite. Often you will mark a fish and then get a bite a few seconds later. When you do get bit, don’t pick up the rod and make a really hard hookset; the moving boat has already done that. Just lift the rod and make a few cranks of the handle to ensure the hook is stuck. FS
Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2021