Best Snook Fishing Tackle and Lures
This post will cover the best snook fishing tackle and lures. Snook are arguably the premier inshore game fish in Florida.
Most snook fishing tackle and lures evolved from largemouth bass fishing. The hard plastic plugs, soft plastic baits, and bladed baits used by anglers to catch snook were designed and developed by bass fisherman. This makes a lot of sense as snook are very similar in habits to largemouth bass.
Capt. Jim Klopfer is a fishing guide in Sarasota Florida. He has been running fishing charter since 1991. While he pursues many different species for his clients, snook are his personal favorite. Also, while many snook can be caught by anglers using live bait, Capt. Jim prefers to cast artificial lures instead.
Anglers can purchase Capt Jim’s E-book, “Inshore Saltwater Fishing” for $5 by clicking on the title link. It is 23,000 words long and covers tackle, tactics, and species.
In this post Capt. Jim will cover the tackle and lures that he prefers to use both on his Sarasota fishing charters and for his personal use. By no means are these the only rods, reels, and lures that will produce snook! They just happen to be the ones that he has found to be effective in nearly 30 years of guiding.
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.
Snook Fishing rods and reels
Spinning tackle is used by the majority of anglers fishing for snook. Spinning reels are easy to use and very affordable. Even novice anglers can learn to cast in a short period of time. The one downside to spinning tackle is line twist. This is due to the line turning 90° when it goes on the spool.
Many serious anglers fishing for snook opt for conventional or bait casting outfits. These are bit more difficult to use as anglers must use their thumb to keep light pressure on the spool as it revolves on a cast. Failure to do so will result in the famous “backlash” or “birds nest”. However, these reels provide more power as the line is wound straight onto the spool. Bait casting outfits are perfect for anglers casting heavier lures such as plugs.
Best Snook fishing spinning combination
Capt Jim uses a Penn Confict combo. This is a great all round combo that is light enough to cast lures all day without causing fatigue, yet heavy enough to muscle a big fish away from structure. This outfit retails for around $220.
Best baitcasting outfit for snook fishing
The number one bait casting reel used by anglers casting lures inshore and saltwater environments is a Shimano Calcutta reel/Teramar rod combo in the 200B size. It is matched to a 6’6″ medium fast action rod.
Anglers looking for a quality baitcasting outfit at a bit lower cost can shop Amazon for a Lew’s baitcasting rod and reel
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Best line and leader for snook fishing
Capt Jim uses 20 pound Suffix braid on his spinning outfits. 40 pound braided line is his choice on bait casting rigs. He feels that braided line is required as snook are often times hooked in or near heavy cover such as docks, bridges, and mangrove trees.
As seasoned snook anglers are aware, a shock leader is required for this type of fishing. Snook do not have teeth, but do have very sharp gill plates. Therefore a 2 foot section of fluorocarbon leader is used between the lure and the running line. 40 pound test is a good all-around size, though Capt. Jim will drop it down to 30 pound test if the water is clear and the snook seem a bit skittish.
Top snook fishing lures
Capt Jim only uses a handful of artificial lures for his snook fishing. These are the Rapala X-Rap Slashbait, Rapala Skitter Prop, Bass Assassin soft plastics, Gulp baits, Strike King Redfish Spinnerbait, and a half ounce gold Johnson Silver Minnow spoon.
Rapala Saltwater X-Rap Slashbait
The Rapala Saltwater X-Rap Slashbait is by far Capt. Jim’s favorite bait when seeking snook. It is a fun lure to fish and is very productive, it will elicit some exciting strikes!
The #8 X-Rap is often used by Capt. Jim for fishing the inshore waters. It is a smallish bait but has excellent hooks and closely imitates the 2 inch to 3 inch forage that is most often found in Sarasota Bay where he fishes. Pilchard and Ghost (white) are his two favorite patterns. White works very well in clear water. Pilchard or olive is a great all round choice as it closely resembles both greenbacks and finger mullet.
This lure will dive down around 3 feet. That makes it an excellent choice for fishing the shallower flats on a high tide. It is also an effective lure for fishing out on the beach in the summer time. Anglers snook fishing around docks and residential canals will catch them in winter as well.
Fishing with the #10 X-Rap
If larger bait is present, Capt. Jim will bump up to a #10 X-Rap. This lure is identical to the other, just a bit larger. It will dive down five or 6 feet. The same colors are productive in the inshore waters. Capt. Jim does do a lot of snook fishing and brackish rivers. Gold is the best color in these tannin stained waters, with pilchard being his second choice.
Rapala X-Raps are in the family of baits known as jerk baits. They have a very erratic action and the water which simulates a wounded bait fish. The best retrieve is a sharp twitch or two with a pause in between. The pauses is important is that is often times when the snook strikes. This is also an effective lure for anglers trolling and rivers and residential canals.
Rapala Skitter Prop
The Rapala Skitter Prop is Capt. Jim’s favorite top water plug. The single propeller on the rear puts out a lot of commotion and will draw snook and other game fish up to the surface. One reason he prefers this bait over the popular “walk the dog” baits such as the zero spook is that it is easier for clients to master quickly. This plug has a lot of built in action.
Fishing this lure is very easy. Anglers simply cast it towards some likely structure, let it settle, then twitch the rod tip sharply. The lure is allowed to rest a few seconds then this is repeated. One important note is that anglers need to wait until the weight of the fish is felt before setting the hook. Often times anglers see the surface explosion and jerk the rod. This will result in the fish being missed and a lure with multiple treble hooks flying back towards the boat.
Bass Assassin soft plastic baits
Bass Assassin makes a fantastic line of soft plastic baits and are Capt. Jim’s preferred choice. The 4 inch Sea Shad is a great all round paddle tail bait. It comes in a myriad of colors and puts out a good vibration. Capt. Jim’s two favorite colors are glow/chartreuse and new penny. These are rigged on a 1/8 or 1/4 ounce jig head depending on the water depth and current.
This is a versatile lure that can be worked in several different ways. The most effective retrieve is generally to hop it along the bottom and allow it to fall naturally. This imitates a wounded bait fish and will draw strikes from snook. Anglers can also crawl along the bottom when grass is not present or swim it steadily back to the boat.
Gulp! Jerk Shad
Gulp! baits are extremely effective for snook. While this is a soft plastic bait technically, it is heavily scented. This can really make a difference on a tough day. Capt. Jim rigs that on a jig head just as he would other soft plastic baits. His top producer is the Gulp 5 inch Jerk Shad with white being the top color.
Strike King Redfish Spinnerbait
The Strike King Redfish Spinnerbait is an excellent lure for snook as well as redfish. It is one of the few spinner baits made specifically for saltwater applications. This bait has a large gold blade which puts out a nice vibration, weighing 1/4 ounce. It also has a 4 inch Shad tail grub on the hook. Anglers can quickly and easily change the color of the grub.
One of the beauties of this bait is it has a ton of built in action. This makes it a great choice for novice or inexperienced anglers. It is heavy and casts a mile. All anglers need to do is retrieve it in a steady manner and they will catch fish. It works well around structure such as fallen trees and does not hang up very often. It is a great search bait on the open flats.
1/2 ounce gold Johnson Silver Minnow spoon
The last of Capt. Jim’s favorite snook fishing lures is the venerable Johnson Silver Minnow in the gold color and 1/2 ounce size. This bait has been around for decades and has accounted for untold numbers of largemouth bass and snook. It is a fantastic search bait when fishing the open flats as it will run in very shallow water with the grassy bottom without hanging up. As an added benefit, it is a top redfish bait as well.
This is one situation where Capt. Jim does use a snap swivel. While he feels that this snap swivel impairs the action on other lures, it is necessary in order to avoid line twist when using a spoon. The lure is very simple to use. Anglers simply cast it out and reel it back in steadily with a few twitches and pauses in between.
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Summertime snook fishing tips
Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. They spawn out on the beaches and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean May through September. Many snook will stay in the inlets and passes as well. They find the deep water, good current flow, and abundant structure quite attractive.
Late spring and early summer are great times to catch a trophy snook in the passes and inlets. They are bunched up and relatively large schools in a pretty small area. While artificial lures will produce, live bait works best in this situation. Live shrimp, pin fish, grunts, mullet, and large scaled sardines are the top baits. Most anglers anchor and cast the baits out near docks and rocky shorelines.
Snook are sight fished off of the Florida beaches. This is great sport, especially on a fly rod. Snook can be seen cruising right in the surf line just inches from shore. They are bit spooky and a quiet presentation is required. This is part of what makes fly fishing so effective. Small white buck tail jigs, small plugs, and small white flies are the top lures. Anglers can go fairly light on the tackle as there is very little structure for the fish to break off on.
Fall snook fishing
After the spawn as fall arrives and water temperatures begin to cool, snook will move out of the passes, inlets, and off the beaches. They will spread out into the inshore waters to feed. Fall is an excellent time to target snook. Flats and structure in the inshore bays will hold good numbers of snook.
Anglers who enjoy bass fishing and casting lures will find fall snook fishing appealing. Top water and shallow diving plugs, soft plastic baits, and weedless spoons are the top lures. Mangrove shorelines, docks, and oyster bars are prime spots. Anglers can cover a lot of water and a lot of likely looking spots using artificial lures. It can also produce some very exciting strikes!
One deadly technique this time of year is to chum using live bait. This is a bit of a specialized technique. It requires a large bait well, good pump, and a large cast net and the ability to throw it. Once the angler has several hundred 2 inch to 3 inch baits in the well, the boat is anchored up in a likely spot. A few of the live baits are tossed out unhooked to attract snook up behind the boat. Once they are attracted and excited, they are usually fairly easy to catch using hooked live baits. This is a great opportunity for an angler who is less skilled and experienced to catch snook.
Winter snook fishing
Every winter is different in Florida. If the winter is mild, snook will remain on the flats all year long. However, a severe cold snapper to will push them up into residential canals, rivers, and creeks. Snook are a tropical species and cannot tolerate water temperature below 58° for very long. These canals and creeks are warmer and offer snook a refuge from the exposed open bays.
Countless miles of residential canals provide sanctuary for snook in the winter. Casting or trolling artificial lures allows anglers to cover a lot of water quickly. Shallow diving baits such as the Rapala X Rap work very well. A 5 inch or 6 inch soft plastic swim bait on a light jig is another effective bait. Large live shrimp can be deadly once a productive area is located.
As it starts to warm up in spring, snook will move out of their winter haunts and spread back out onto the flats and inshore waters. This fishing is a lot like the fall fishing. Both artificial lures and live baits will be effective. There is one difference however, normally the large scaled sardines have not arrived yet. Once they do, live bait chumming again becomes a very effective technique.
River Snook Fishing
Many anglers visit Florida with the hopes of catching a big snook. River snook fishing gives them that opportunity. Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are caught year round in the southern half of the state on both coasts.
Snook move into rivers to spend the winter. They do this to escape the harsh conditions on the open, shallow flats. Rivers concentrate the fish, making them easier to locate and catch. Anglers also have protection from the winter wind.
Snook make a distinct seasonal migration. In the cooler months, snook migrate up into area creeks, rivers, and residential canals. This is especially true if it has been unseasonable cold. They do this to escape the temperature extremes of the exposed flats.
River snook can tolerate fresh water
Snook can tolerate a wide range of salinity levels and can live in fresh water. They are one of the few fish species that migrate into fresh water for reasons other than spawning. These areas are fertile with both freshwater and saltwater fish that the snook and other game fish can feed on.
Florida river waters are dark and most have deep holes. This results in the water temperature being significantly warmer than the nearby bays. Here on the west coast of Florida where I live, the Manatee River, Myakka River, Peace River, and the Caloosahatchee rivers all have winter snook migrations.
There are several aspects of river snook fishing that I find appealing. The scenery is stunning! It is also easy and relaxing fishing. Anglers ease down the river with the current, casting lures towards the shoreline cover. It is quiet and serene. Most rivers are “No Wake Zones”. Gators, birds, and other wildlife is seen. Rivers also offer protection on windy days.
River snook fishing lures
I prefer casting artificial lures when river fishing. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water in a relatively short amount of time. Anglers will normally be more productive covering as much of the river as possible. The best spots in a river are almost always the outside bends. These spots usually have a deep hole created by the current along with submerged cover.
Plugs are great lures for anglers river snook fishing. They cast well and run at a good depth. Shallow diving plugs will dive down three to five feet, yet run above the submerged cover. They elicit reaction strikes and the hook-up ratio is good. Anglers can cover a lot of water with these lures. They are also effective when trolled.
Rapala plugs produce when river snook fishing
My favorite lure for snook fishing in rivers is the #10 Rapala BX Minnow in gold or firetiger. There are plenty of fine plug manufacturers as well, and they will all produce river snook. The plug is cast out and retrieved in using an erratic retrieve with sharp “twitches” and a pause. Snook will often hit on the pause as the plug sits there motionless. Also, fish the lure all the way back, strikes often come right at the boat!
Topwater plugs can also produce some nice snook. Anglers will do best when the water temperature is a bit warmer. The beginning and end of the season are good times to use topwater plugs. I prefer prop baits such as the Rapala Skitterprop. They give off a good deal of commotion while sitting fairly motionless.
Spinnerbaits and soft plastic baits
Soft plastic baits also are effective baits in rivers. They are a better choice once a productive area is located and anglers want to slow down and work the area thoroughly. However, they do hang up more often. 5” to 6” swim baits on a 1/16 ounce jig head or a swim bait hook work well. Dark colors work best with “Golden bream” being a proven color. These can be reeled in slowly and steadily or with a more erratic retrieve.
Spinnerbaits produce snook and bass in rivers as well. Gold single blade baits work best in the darker water. The bait can have a skirt or swim bait type trailer. Both are effective. Spinnerbaits are a great choice for less experienced anglers. The bait is cast out and just reeled in with a steady retrieve. They are also very weedless. The hook-up ratio is good with the large, single hook.
Fly fishing for snook
River snook fishing gives fly anglers a great opportunity to catch a large snook on fly. Short, easy casts are the norm. The fly is cast out, allowed to sink, and stripped back in. 9wt outfits work best as anglers will need to horse fish out of heavy cover cover. Bait fish patterns such as a Clouser Minnow and Puglisi fly work well. Gold/black is a good color pattern, as is white and bright bluegill imitations.
It is very important when fly fishing for river snook to float with the current. Anglers going against the current will get a “belly” in the line almost immediately. This results in a very unnatural fly presentation. There will also be a bunch of slack line when a take does occur. This will make getting tight on the fish difficult.
Anglers should drift with the current when river snook fishing
The fishing technique is pretty basic. Anglers drift with the current, whether it is river or tidal, and cast the lures towards the shoreline. This fishing has a “freshwater” feel to it. As mentioned earlier, outside bends in the river are the prime spots. In fact, anglers should choose stretches of the river that are winding and twisting. Long, straight stretches are generally less productive.
Tides are a critical factor when river snook fishing, but it can be tricky as the tide tables have no correction for that far upriver. The best approach is to add a couple hours to the closest posted tide times, but only experience will give an angler the tide correction factors. Outgoing tides are preferred as the river current and tide current will be going in the same direction.
Trolling for river snook
Trolling is another easy technique that allows anglers to cover a lot of water and help to locate snook. Plugs are perfect for this, they float on the surface then dive down several feet. This is a proven technique for anglers in canals on the east coast of Florida. It is fairly easy and productive.
It is best to troll with the current where possible. The lure is let out a hundred feet behind the boat. Then, the boat is idled along at a slow speed. Strikes will be unmistakable! It is surprising how many large snook will be caught right out in the middle. Ledges and contour changes that are not visible will hold snook. Trolling is a great way to catch them.
Weather influences river fishing
Weather can have a huge influence when river snook fishing. The best time to fish is just as a front approaches. Cloud cover and bit of light rain are perfect conditions. Conversely, post front conditions are tough. Anglers encountering a blue bird sky and north east winds will have to earn their fish.
Another enjoyable aspect of river snook fishing is that other species will fall for the same lures and tactics. Largemouth bass in particular are often caught. Here in Sarasota, the Manatee River and Myakka River both have lakes that overflow. These push bass into the tidal portions of the river.
Other fish species will be taken as well. Juvenile tarpon, jack crevelle, redfish, catfish, and gar are some of the species that will hit a plug or jig meant for a snook. Anglers should check with the FWC for current Florida fishing regulations. So, if you are looking for something a bit different, maybe even “Old school”, give river snook fishing a try!
In conclusion, this article on the best snook tackle and lures will help anglers choose their gear and catch more of these terrific game fish!