Fly Fishing Strategies for Snook
Most often, when fly fishermen think of coastal angling opportunities, it is red drum that comes to mind. While the venerable redfish may be the most commonly sought saltwater species for anglers wielding a fly rod, it is far from being the only inshore option available. In fact, the southern portions of the Gulf of Mexico's bookend states - Florida and Texas - are home to a handsome, hard-fighting game fish that is an exhilarating catch on fly: snook.
In many ways, snook are an ideal fly rod candidate. They are capable of drag searing runs, as well as gravity-defying leaps and are susceptible to a variety of fly patterns.
Although they are found on shallow flats, where they provide fly fishermen sight-casting opportunities much the same as redfish, they are also inhabit a variety of other locales. From deepwater bridge pilings to sloughs and creeks emptying into inshore bays to beachfront guts and sand bars, snook can be found near virtually every fish-attracting feature in South Texas and South Florida at some point during the year.
Their propensity to transition between radically different habitat means fly anglers seeking snook should be versatile. However, many of the skill sets necessary for a successful snook safari are familiar to both fresh and saltwater fly fishermen, even those who have never fished for linesiders. It is simply a matter of knowing how best to approach fish in each situation. As a rule, these same techniques and approaches apply whether fishing for snook in South Texas, Southwest Florida or Southeast Florida.
Before getting into the 'where and how' of snook fishing, it is prudent to cover a few basic 'rules of thumb' that apply to snook fishing wherever the species is found. The first rule is always use more rod than you think you need. Snook are surprisingly strong and are notorious for utilizing obstructions to gain their freedom once hooked. An 8 wt rod should be considered the bare minimum for snook. Some heavy cover situations dictate double-digit weight rods. In general, a 9 to 10 weight stick will cover most situations.
Tippets are another consideration that must be given plenty of thought. Though they lack teeth in the traditional sense, snook sport extremely sharp gill plates that can slice a light mono tippet in short order. To protect against a shortened battle due to a sliced leader, anglers should arm themselves with 6 to 8 inches of heavier shock tippet. Since they can also be finicky, especially in clear water, fluorocarbon pays big dividends when snook fishing. Depending on the amount of cover and size of fish targeted, 20 to 35 pound fluorocarbon shock tippet will suffice.
Everywhere they are known to roam, snook have a lengthy list of consumables. They will readily eat everything from shrimp to crab, mullet to ballyhoo. However, their preference leans toward jumbo shrimp, menhaden and mullet. Patterns imitating these menu items should be the core of any snook fly selection. Clouser Minnows, both bead- and lead-eye, Half & Halfs, Deceivers, Rattle Rousers, Seaducers, Bend Backs, Cactus Shrimp, and Ultra Shrimp are just a few of the patterns that have proven successful for snook.
WHERE & HOW
Flats - Although they are primarily 'structure fish,' at times, snook will feed in shallow, open water flats. When found in skinny water, they provide excellent sight casting opportunities. However, snook, much like seatrout, are relatively difficult to spot - especially when hanging over grass flats, where they greenish-black back provides perfect camouflage. But, they can be spotted rather easily over sand flats or when they're holding in sandy potholes on grass flats.
Sight-casting to snook on the flats isn't much different than sight-casting to redfish or any other species, anglers need only exercise a bit more caution. At times snook can be extremely aggressive, but they are just as likely to be jittery when found in shallow water. So, rather than going straight to a close-in cast and risking seeing a fish take flight on the first cast, it is always better to position yourself to make 2 or 3 presentations to a lurking snook. Start several feet in front of the fish and make successive casts progressively closer to the fish until it either eats or spooks.
Shorelines - Snook love shorelines, particularly those lined with mangroves or other types of dense cover. Regardless of water depth, snook are usually in 'ambush mode' when found on shorelines. They often squeeze themselves into tight cover and await an easy meal from passing shrimp or baitfish. When possible, it is always best to cast parallel to the shoreline, retrieving the fly as close to the edge as possible. If casting parallel to the shore is not an option, try intersecting the shoreline on as slight an angle as allowable and let the fly spend as much time as possible next to the edge.
Snook are often easy to spot along shorelines, giving anglers the additional option of sight-casting to spotted fish. These 'laid up' fish should be approached in the same manner as fish spotted on the flats - make the first presentation a few feet out from the front of the fish and move each successive cast incrementally inward.
Passes - Spring and summer see snook spending a good portion of their time in passes that drain bays and lagoons into either the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic Ocean. Current is the key when fishing a pass. Simply put, when the current moves, the fish feed. At that point, it is usually just a matter of putting a fly in front of a fish in order to draw a strike.
In deep passes with swift moving current, that often is easier said than done. Unlike flats and shorelines, there is no place for floating lines when fishing passes. Depending on the depth of the pass and the velocity of the current, an intermediate line may get the job done. But, in order to consistently accomplish the task of presenting a fly to snook holding in deeper passes, a Class III full sinking line is a better option.
The best presentation in this situation calls for casting across or slightly up current. Allow the fly to sink and let the current move it 'downstream' until the line is running parallel to the direction of the current flow, then begin with a new cast. This method isn't altogether different than fresh water nymphing, sans mending.
Deep structure - Wherever there is deep structure within their natural range, there will be snook. Deep structure is heavily utilized by snook during the temperature-extreme seasons of summer and winter. However, some linesiders will remain in these areas year around. Docks, pilings and bridges are perfect examples of deepwater vertical structure that snook find appealing.
The name 'deep structure' belies the complexity and dynamics offered by this type of habitat. Certainly, there are times when fishing deep structure means presenting flies in the lower portion of the water column. But, depending on the prevailing weather conditions, snook may be found suspending anywhere from the surface to the bottom when relating to deep water vertical structure.
For this reason, a variety of rods, lines and flies are applicable in these areas. Floating lines towing poppers or unweighted streamers are applicable for surface or near-surface feeding snook. Intermediate lines paired with lightly weighted flies are best for hitting the mid-depth range, while fast sinking lines and sink-tips partnered with heavily weighted patterns are best for probing near the bottom.
In every instance, deep structure requires stout sticks. Rods ranging from 9 through 12 weight can and should be employed. Select your stick based on the size of the fish being targeting and the density and 'gnarliness' of the cover.
Surf - There is a somewhat primal appeal to catching snook from the surf. Perhaps it is the simplicity of approaching these fish afoot or maybe being able to enjoy their raw power without the worry of mangrove roots or oyster shells to end the fight prematurely. Whatever the reason, snook are highly enjoyable to battle along the beachfront.
Late spring through early fall is typically prime surf snook season throughout the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. The timing of surf run snook usually coincides with calmer, clearer beachfront waters. This allows anglers to sight-cast to snook in the surf with some frequency. Unlike fish found 'inside,' snook along the beach are rarely as flighty, so sight-casting anglers can be more aggressive with their presentations.
When snook aren't visible, anglers should take to blind-casting in the 'guts' that run parallel to shore. Snook, and other game fish, use these guts as feeding avenues. In order to thoroughly work a gut, begin by casting parallel or nearly parallel to the shore or sand bar. Make subsequent casts at increasing angles, with the final cast intersecting the gut at a 90-degree angle.
Whether sight-casting or blind-casting, intermediate lines and weighted flies are the way to go in the surf.
Jetties - Any time snook are found along the beach or in passes, they will also be found hanging around the jetties and rock groins that line the passes and dot the beachfronts.
In order to be successful, it is important for anglers to understand that even the 'cleanest' jetty is far from a uniformed structure. Though every rock groin has a general pyramid design - wider at the base than the top - placing jetty rocks is an inexact task. Every jetty structure has spots where rocks were distributed unevenly or perhaps shifted as a result of storms and currents. Snook seek out these anomalies and use them as ambush points. Obviously, these areas are where angling efforts should be concentrated.
Similar to deepwater vertical structure, snook can be found feeding at various depths along a jetty structure based on prevailing water and weather conditions. So, the same upper, middle and lower range presentations would apply. Pay particular attention to areas where rocks have 'spilled' away from the main structure. Cast behind these outlying rocks. At times, these individual stones may be too close to the main structure to allow for a full overhead cast, necessitating anglers employ a roll cast instead.
Snook will also utilize jetties much the same way they use shorelines. They'll often back themselves into cracks and crevices and wait to pounce on passing prey items. So, casts should be made parallel to the standing rock structure. Again, make sure to work all portions of the water column.
Although this hardly covers every instance and situation in which anglers may encounter snook, these six scenarios are by far the most common. They also help illustrate that due to the diversity of their seasonal habitats, snook represent the 'new' species with which most inshore and fresh water anglers can find relatable experience. Whether you're accustomed to nymphing for rainbow trout, tossing popping bugs to bass or stalking redfish on skinny flats, your skill set will translate to at least one snook fishing strategy.