Hooked on Snook!
The snook is a quite difficult fish to catch, especially specimen. Nevertheless it is worth to study him and give it a try. Snook are great fighters!
During my recent trip to the Caribbean I noticed quite a number of good fish patrolling along the beaches early in the morning in sometimes only 20 cm of water. Up and then even their backs were cutting the water. They were hunting for little baitfish in the turbulences of the waves that coloured the cristal clear water greyish when running back from the beaches. In this greyish line you could always spot them early in the morning and late in the evening as well as at night. Some huge females of the same species were hanging around or hunting along some mangroves at the outlets of salt ponds where thousands of sprats and mullets where searching for food being pulled into the sea from the ponds at dropping tide. These hunters are well known among fly fishers as they are great fighters and sometimes quite difficult to catch. They are called snook (Centropomus undecimalis) and belong to the most sought after fish for fly fishers. Their strength is unbelievable and especially their first runs belong to the strongest of any comparable fish of the same size you might find in the salt. The snook are a subtropical marine/estuarine species which can be found in the Western Atlantic and the Caribbean from South Carolina USA down to Brasil and of course also on many islands. They need good structures and are very sensitive to dropping water temperatures. Snook like to hide in ambush close to moving water. A snook’s menue consists mainly of baitfish and crusteans which they hunt along the shoreline. In July/August the big females are moving into the mangroves and lagoons for spawning. So that is prime time for catching really big ones. A snook can grow up to 50 lbs. The females get larger than the males. Fish of 5-6 lbs are most common, snook exceeding 15-20 lbs are regarded as really big ones.
Where to find them
Their shape reminds me of the European pikeperch aka zander (Stizostedion lucioperca). The silvery fish have well visible fins. Except the back fins all fins are coloured in canary yellow. A prominent black lateral stripe is running from the gills to the tail. Another big difference to pikeperch can be found if you look at their mouth. The typical dog teeth of the pikeperch are missing. Instead of them snook have a lot of tiny teeth like perch which act like a rasp and make the use of a strong shock tippet necessary. As especially big snook jump during a fight and shake their massive heads aggressively, without a shock tippet many fish would get lost during the powerful fights. In fact the leader sometimes looks even worse than after a tarpon fight. Unlike pikeperch snook are great fighters. Snook cannot grab their prey with big teeth like our zander. So they have to use a completely different technique to catch their prey. The special hunting behaviour of snook has to be taken into account when fishing for them. Otherwise one would probably not get any takes at all.
Snook fly fishing tactics
The mouth of the Snook opens slightly upwards so their anatomy points to the fact that they are surface hunters or at least prefer prey which they spot above them. This helps the snook especially at night, their preferred hunting time, when they can still recognise their prey towards the surface. So hunting snook usually follow their prey slowly by staying always a little bit below them. If their prey is moving at the surface (like mullet) they will be moving approximately 50 cm below. If their prey moves into their small action radius they will attack it by swimming to the surface very fast by opening their big mouth at the same time. This creates depression which sucks their prey into their big mouth creating a noisy “blopp”. Sometimes they prefer to hide at a corner where the bait fish cruise along regularly and when they are in reach they attack all of a sudden. They are pure ambush hunters, so usually they do not follow their prey for long. If they follow your streamer but don’t take it within the first meter you are stripping in your chances for a take will probably drop to 5%. So your aim should be to present your streamer softly on their imaginary hunting trail about 1-2 m in font of them. The streamer should swim or only sink very slowly because you have to leave it there without any motion and wait until it is within the action radius of the snook. This is a circle with a diameter not much larger than its body length. So you should wait until the streamer is between 30cm to 50 cm in distance from the snooks` mouth depending on the size of the snook. Then you should make two very short twitches so the snook will move towards the fly. Wait until the head is in about 20 cm distance from the streamer then make two more quick but very short twitches. Usually the snook will then speed up to take your streamer. This technique brought the best results for me no matter if I was sight fishing in the morning or at night in the spotlight in the harbours or along piers.
Don't spook a snook
Sometimes you can even get a take by provoking a u-turn by casting onto the tail of a cruising snook. You can even try to cast behind a snook if the is swimming towards you and pull the streamer along his side from the back to the mouth. As soon as it gets into the sight of the snook it will probably be attacked. Sight fishing is by far the best technique for snook due to their special hunting behaviour. So a fly fisher is usually more successful than a spin fisher provided that he can get close enough to the fish in order to be able to present the fly correctly and ... if he stays cool and does not move his streamer too early. As they are ambush hunters they have to see the fly as late as possible. Although a fish swimming close to the surface cannot see a fisherman that well as one staying deeper(provided that the water is clear) it is very important not to spook a snook by getting too close to it or making any well visible body movements or unpredictable noise. A snook is a greedy and aggressive fish which will attack your streamer like a cannonball if you present it well but if you make a mistake you will miss your chance as he will refuse to take it.
The other way round!
Where salt ponds or lagoons are connected to the sea the tidal difference may create little streams that flow back to the sea and will provide food for many baitfish who are awaiting it. So the best time for catching snook with a fly is when the water is getting low and when the fish concentrate at these inlets. This will probably be best during the last hour of the outgoing tide. During that time you will sometimes find foam carpets close to such inlets under which hundreds of mullet and other little fish are usually feeding. The snook will for sure be somewhere below them. Such foam carpets make it impossible for the snook to see you. So you can use them for another technique. You can now hit the surface quite hard with the streamer to get their attention. Then you can even move your fly line quickly to the left and right and back again creating noise that is similar to hunting fish. The snooks will now get greedy and will move towards the noise. Give it a little pause and after half a minute present your streamer to the same spot again followed by two hard and very short twitches. Be prepared because your streamer will probably disappear all of a sudden in a loud “blopp”.
Fighting a snook
Snook live along and between the mangroves. That’s where they usually hide at high tide. So they cannot be caught then. When the water is low they have to leave their shelter. So the best time to catch them is usually between the last hour of the outgoing tide and the first hour of the rising tide. But be prepared! If you hook a snook it will try to get back into the mangroves or will try to reach some under water logs or pillars. Once a snook is in the mangroves he will hardly find the way back out through the labyrinth of roots. This means you will have to break the line. So your aim is to fight the snook whenever possible in open water and to do whatever you can to stop him running into the mangroves or any other obstacles. This sometimes really needs brutal force especially when fighting a big lady so you have to rely on your tackle.
As big snook are quite tricky to catch and require a good presentation as well as a good fishing tactic they are fish every fly fisher who loves to fish the salt should at least try to catch some day. Get hooked on snook!
When fishing for snook of up to 8-10 lbs of weight a #8 rod may be sufficient if you go for them at the beaches. But if you fish for them near obstacles or mangroves you will probably not be able to stop even a ten pounder from running into them. Therefore as an overall rod a #10 rod is the one you are looking for when fishing for snook along a structured shoreline. Very big fish lying close to obstacles might even need more power. However, with a #10 you will be able to master probably 95% of all situations. I like the X-grip of the LOOP saltwater rods very much and you can be sure the LOOP Evotec Saltwater #10 rod is a perfect rod for fighting big snook.
As snook usually go for baitfish moving close to the surface a floating line is the best choice. IBesides that I like to fish a transparent intermediate monocore, too. I just like them, not only for tarpon. Be sure you will have enough backing on your reel. In the salt you never know what passes by... You will get tapered leaders in the shops which are designed for permit and snook with tippets around 0,45 mm in diameter. For a permit a 25 lbs. fluocarbon leader may do for a big snook you will better use a stronger shock taper of up to 0,60 mm. As I already mentioned the little snook teeth together with the fish’s power will probably destroy the 25 lbs leader. For bonefish and permit such tapered leaders are a good choice. For snook and tarpon which are usually not leader shy at all I normally use a leader made of only one piece of level monofilament of 2-2,5m of length. 0,6mm for snook and up to 0.8mm thickness for tarpon. Between the fly line and the leader I use a short class tippet. Instead of one class tippet I use two short pieces of monofilament with loops on both sides. One of them is about 20cm the other about 23cm in total. I use them parallel to each other so the loop of my fly line(figure 8 knot) and the one of my monofilament leader is connected to both loops. If one of the class tippets breaks during the fight I still have the second one which might hold and give me a second chance. The more important reason for using two of them is, that both loops together support the unrolling of the leader much better because they are stiffer than only one class tippet.
For snook mainly baitfish flies are used. They should somehow imitate the baitfish the snook are after. You can of course try it with a crab or shrimp imitation, too. I prefer using circle hooks as they showed good results for me in the past. You just have to be patient and hold the line without striking. As snook take the streamer in a turn they will usually hook themselves properly. When fishing for snook please don’t forget to debarb the circle hook. Snook use depression to suck in their prey like our giant catfish do so a hook with a barb sitting deep into a snook’s mouth may cause survival problems after the release. Nevertheless snook are said to have a very high survival rate after relasing. In any case pliers with long jaws do a good job, too. Use gloves to grab their jaws during removing the hook. Although the teeth are little your skin will probably be destroyed without them.