I’ve lived in Florida for a number of years, and being an avid kayaker I have been lucky to have the opportunity to explore some of the most beautiful and exotic springs, rivers, estuaries and coasts in America. I’m always running into kayak fishermen when I go out, and not being much of sport angler, I am always fascinated by the variety of species that are the favorite quarry of individual Florida anglers. Some folks I meet love fishing for Red Drum and Spotted Seatrout. Others are trying to hook a Peacock Bass. Pompano, Sheepshead, Cobia, King Mackerel are all common answers whenever I ask kayak fishers what they are trying to catch.
Then one day I met an angler out fishing for Snook. Snook?!? Did I hear that right? What type of fish is that? And where did it receive such as unusual name? Just as when paddling and I feel compelled to go exploring seeking out new things, I felt compelled to go exploring more about Snook and get some answers.
Snook, it turns out, are some of the most prized of all of Florida’s inshore species of game fish. But aside from being known for making fantastic fighters and equally fantastic fresh fish dinners, they can be tricky fish to catch. When they are on, Snook fishing is said to have few rivals, but when they aren’t biting, it’s almost impossible even for experienced Snook anglers to hook up. Seems that despite tasting good and fighting hard, there isn’t anything common about Common Snook at all.
Snook are highly dependent on water temperature as it turns out. Widespread throughout the tropics, Florida marks the northernmost extent of their range. Florida has a sub-tropical climate, and sometimes the shallow coastal flats and brackish estuaries Snook prefer to inhabit can be hit with a hard cold snap. In waters below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, Snook tend to shut down and lose their appetites. Many will survive off body fat alone during these periods. During the warmer months, they inhabit shallower water, and during the winter they will head up freshwater rivers. A few individuals will head out to deeper water offshore though, sometimes up to 20 miles out, when there is a deep hole or structure available for them. So despite inhabiting consistent territories throughout the year, Snook move about these territories a lot, adding to the difficulty in targeting them.
And Snook are full of more surprises that make predicting where, when and how to catch them one of the most challenging tasks for sport anglers. Turns out both their feeding and movement are also powerfully influenced by lunar activity. With full and new moons, tidal effects are bigger, and experienced Snook hunters have to take yet another variable into account. Barometer, time of day, habitat, disposition, tackle and preparation all can combine to make Snook one of the most difficult challenges in angling. But that’s precisely why certain anglers love them. The more challenging the pursuit the more rewarding the catch. If you are a novice angler like me, they sound like fun fish to go out for, and an experienced Snook specialist is essential. As for how and why they were given the name Snook, I never did figure that one out. Maybe because they are best known for “snookering” even the best fishermen! Probably not, but sometimes not knowing the real answer is a good thing too.