River snook fishing
Anglers seeking the chance to catch a trophy snook in a unique environment with awesome scenery my choose to do a river snook fishing charter. Several area rivers offer anglers this opportunity. The Myakka River and Manatee River experience snook migrations in the winter. Anglers can catch trophy snook along with largemouth bass in a very cool setting.
Snook are the premier inshore gamefish in Florida. They are a saltwater version of largemouth bass. Snook are ambush predators with a huge mouth and big, broad tail. They are very powerful! Snook are found from about Orlando, Florida south along both coasts and in central America. The Florida record snook is 44 pounds, but they grow to over 50 pounds. Clients on these river snook charters catch fish of 25″ on most trips. 30″ snook are not uncommon and fish to 40″ are hooked every year. That truly is a trophy on medium spinning tackle!
Seasonal snook migrations
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. They spend spring, summer, and fall our in the inshore bays, passes and inlets, and open Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. They spawn out in open water. Snook spend their winters in creeks, rivers, and residential canals. They do this to escape the temperature extremes that can occur on the open flats. Shallow water can change temperature quickly. The water temperature on the flats can drop ten degrees in a couple of days.
Snook are a sub-tropical species that can not tolerate water below 55 degrees for very long. For this reason, they migrate up into creeks, rivers, and canals. River waters are dark and stained. They also have deeper holes. For these reasons, snok move nto these areas to survive a harsh Florida winter. River waters are generally significantly warmer than the open bays. Many fish species migrate up into freshwater streams and rivers. However, snook are one of the few fish species that do this for reasons other than to spawn. Snook can live and thrive in both pure fresh and pure salt water.
There are three rivers near Sarasota that experience these migrations. They are the Myakka River, Manatee River, and Braden River. All three offer good snook fishing. They are similar but each has it’s own character and advantages. The Myakka is the prettiest, the Manatee has the most variety, and the Braden is the most convenient. Let’s go through the three of them.
The Myakka River
The Myakka River is one of the two rivers in Florida designated a “Wild and scenic river”. That means that there is limited access and development. The Myakka River flows 70 miles from a small stream in Manatee County to Charlotte Harbor. It flows through Myakka River State Park. There is a dam that creates Lower Myakka Lake. The water below the dam is the tidally influenced portion of the river that holds snook.
The best place to access the Myakka River is at Snook Haven. It is right in the center of the best river snook fishing. There is a brand new ramp with ample parking. The river does get shallow in spots. The entire river is a “No Wake” zone, idle speed only. There are canoe and kayak launches at Myakka River Park in Laurel and Sleeping Turtles Reserve in Venice.
As mentioned earlier, the scenery is awesome on the Myakka! It has an “Amazon River” like feel to it. Bird life is prolific and other wildlife will normally be seen. There are some large gators! The Myakka River offers anglers the best chance for trophy snook. Largemouth bass are present in decent numbers as well. Juvenile tarpon, jacks, catfish, and gar are occasional catches.
The Manatee River
The Manatee River flows west from Manatee County 20 miles easy of I-75. A dam created Lake Manatee, which provides drinking water for Sarasota and Manatee Counties. The river below the dam runs for 10 miles or so and empties into Tampa Bay. There is more development on the Manatee River, but it is still pretty, especially upriver from Rye Road Bridge. This area of the river has some shallow bars and can be difficult to navigate during periods of low water.
I like to fish the stretch between Ft. Hamer and Rye Road. I usually launch at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway, a place that time kind of forgot! The ramp is narrow and a 16′ boat is about the limit. There is parking and facilities, along with a little store. They offer canoe and kayak rentals. There is a very nice ramp with facilities and parking at the new Ft. Hamer Bridge. This ramp is much better suited for larger boats. The best river snook fishing is usually up-river.
The Manatee River offers anglers the opportunity to catch multiple species along with trophy snook on a river fishing charter. Snook, jack crevelle, redfish, juvenile tarpon, snapper, and ladyfish are saltwater species that are taken there. Freshwater fish are plentiful, especially the further up-river and angler goes. I think that during the summer floods fish get washed over the dam. Bass, bluegill, catfish, sunshine bass, and crappie are all available.
The Braden River
The Braden River is located in Bradenton west of I-75. It again is a stream with a dam, creating a lake. The stretch below the dam is about five miles long before emptying into the Manatee River. The water is quite salty, due to the short length. Therefore, it really does not offer the opportunity to catch freshwater fish. The Braden River is fairly developed and the scenery does not match the other two rivers. It is very convenient, especially to the Bradenton beaches. That is the trade off. Snook fishing can be very good, though.
Anglers access the Braden River at the ramp at the State Road 64 Bridge. The ramp is decent, with parking and a clean Porta Potti. In the cooler months the best fishing is up-river. Anglers do well in spring and fall right at the mouth of the Braden River.
River snook fishing lures
I use artificial lures when river snook fishing. There are several reasons for this. The primary reason is that lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. Lures will elicit reaction strikes from fish that may not be in a feeding mood. Finally, I just think it is more fun feeling the strike when working artificial baits. They also fool other species such as largemouth bass and jack crevalle.
Capt Jim has been a fishing guide in Sarasota, Florida since 1991. Anglers who are interested in purchasing the equipment that he uses and writes about in his articles can do so HERE on the PRODUCTS page.
My favorite lure for catching river snook is a shallow diving plug. There are many fine plug manufacturers out there. My personal preference is the Rapala line of baits. The three plugs that I most often use are the #10 Rapala X-Rap slash bait, #10 Rapala BX Minnow, and the Rapala Jointed BX MInnow. Gold and Firetiger have been the most productive colors for me and my clients. These lures also run at the perfect depth. They go deep enough yet run above much of the submerged cover.
River fishing with plugs
These lures cast well, are easy to use, and produce some exciting strikes! The plug is cast out towards some shoreline cover. It is then retrieved back in using sharp twitches followed by a short pause. Many strikes occur on the pause. No hook set is required when a fish takes the plug. Anglers should just come tight and sweep the rod smoothly off to the side. Care must be taken when plug fishing as they have multiple treble hooks! Angler need to fish the bait all the way back in. Strikes occur regularly right at the boat.
Soft plastic baits can produce as well, especially in cooler water when snook are not as active. They are also effective to thoroughly work an area once fish are located. Bass Assassin baits are my preference. They come in many different sizes and colors. I like darker colors with Golden Bream being my favorite. The Die Dapper on a 1/8 ounce Pro Elite jig head works well. These baits will hang up more often that plugs. The hook-up ratio is lower as well as the bite can be more subtle.
River snook fishing techniques
Fishing these rivers is relatively uncomplicated. Anglers drift with the current and cast lures towards structure along the shoreline. Even if cover is not visible, chances are there is a ledge or come submerged cover that may hold a fish. The best areas of the river are those that twist and wind. Outside bends and corners in the river tend to be deeper. Current flow gouges out a hole in the bends. Snook and other fish will concentrate in these spots.
Long straight sections of a river tend to be less productive. I will usually move a little quicker through these stretches. Anglers will still give each trell or piece of brush a cast or two, but we will move faster and concentrate on the more high percentage spots.
Drift with the current
I have found that it is much more productive to drift in the direction of the current. Trying to fish while going against the current results in a “bow” in the line. This is especially true when fly fishing. I either case, this causes the lure or fly to be presented in a less than natural manner. The slack created makes hooking the more difficult as well. The angler must remove the extra line before coming tight on the fish. So, fewer bites, less hooked fish equals; drifting with the current and not against it!
River current is caused by both the natural flow and by the tidal influence. This can be a bit confusing. There can be a swift down stream current from rain and then an incoming tide, causing the water to rise. This is another reason that falling tides are preferred. However, tides are tricky. There are no charts for anglers fishing this far up-river. I use the closest tide tables and add an hour or two. However, only experience and time on the water will give an anglers the tide variables.
Tackle for river snook
Medium spinning tackle is most often used for river snook fishing. It is versatile and perfect for the size of the lures being cast. It works well for the size of the fish being targeted. A7′ medium/heavy action rod with a fast action works best. A “fast” action rod is stout at the butt with a limber tip. This allows lures to be cast but backbone for fighting fish.
Experienced anglers, especially bass fishermen, may opt for bait casting tackle. That is perfectly fine, as the lures are heady enough for that tackle. Bait casting reels are great for casting plugs towards the shoreline. They also provide a bit more power than spinning reels do.
Braided line is a must for fishing in this environment, in my opinion. Snags and cover are plentiful. It is important to be able to stop a big fish. Also, the line will often rub up against cover when fighting a fish. 20 pound braid works well with spinning outfits. 40 pound braid is a good choice with conventional rigs. A 30″ piece of 40 pound flourocarbon shock leader is attached to the braid.
Fly fishing for river snook
Fly anglers can certainly target river snook as well. A stout 9wt outfit is required in the heavy cover. An intermediate sink tip line works best to get the fly down in the water column. The leader need not be long, 6′ to 8′ is fine with a 40 pound bite tippet. Fly selection would include bait fish patterns in white, chartreuse, and gold/black. Clouser Minnow and Puglisi patterns have been productive for my clients. The fly should be cast out and allowed to sink. It is then retrieved back in using sharp strips.
River snook fishing is not for every angler. It requires patience and some casting skill. The river fishing angler is there as much for the experience as the fish. Quality is the goal, not quantity. However, every angler goes knowing that each cast can produce a 30″ snook. Come out with me on a river snook fishing charter and experience the “Old Florida” on these rivers! For other Florida fishing reports, click HERE.
In conclusion, this post on river snook fishing charters will excite anglers into taking a trip!
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236