Sarasota snook fishing
Visiting anglers love Sarasota snook fishing! Snook are without a doubt Florida’s premier inshore game fish. Snook grow quite large, the state record is 44 pounds. They fight very hard, hit artificial lures with abandon, and are available here all year for clients taking out a Sarasota fishing charter.
Snook habits are a lot like those of largemouth bass. They are structure oriented ambush predators. Snook are usually found under or near cover such as docks oyster bars, bridges, mangrove shorelines, and other structure, natural or man-made. They use their broad powerful tail to quickly overtake prey. Snook have very large mouth and can easily inhale a large bait fish. Sarasota has a good population of snook and offers good year-round fishing for them.
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.
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Snook have a very distinct seasonal migration. Let’s go through the annual process. In the winter, especially if it’s been chilly, snook will be up in creeks, rivers, and residential canals. The water in these areas is warmer than the exposed shallow flats of Sarasota Bay. Snook are very temperature intolerant; extended exposure to water below 60° can kill them. Most canals creeks and rivers have deeper holes where snook can find sanctuary. Often times, the water is darker as well. Darker water is usually warmer. Finally, bait fish move up into these areas for the same reason thus providing forage for the snook.
As it begins to warm up and spring, snook will migrate out of these creeks canals and rivers. They will move into the backwater inshore areas of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay. These bays have expanses of shallow grass along with mangrove lined banks. Oyster bars, mangrove shorelines, and docks will hold snook as a set up feeding stations.
Summertime snook habits
By May, many of the snook, especially the larger ones, will move into the passes and out onto the beaches. Snook spawn out on the beach and in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. They tend to school up this time of year. By September, the pattern reverses itself. Snook will move back into the bays to feed up, eventually winding up in the creeks rivers and canals by the end of the year.
Tackle for Sarasota snook fishing needs to be a bit stouter than what is used for speckled trout and other species. A 7 foot fast action rod (that is strong at the handle with a lot of back bone but with a softer tip) and a 3000 series reel is a good outfit. Braided line is best as a lot of snook fishing is done near structure. A “shock leader” is used when snook fishing. They have a razor sharp gill plate, so a 24” piece of 40 pound flourocarbon leader is required.
River snook fishing
I really enjoy fishing for snook in the creeks and rivers in the wintertime. Snook are relatively concentrated in the smaller bodies of water, thus easier to locate. There are several creeks in the area; Philliippi Creek, Bowlee’s Creek, and Whittaker and Hudson Bayous that hold snook in the winter. Siesta Key and Longboat Key have many miles of residential canals that hold fish as well.
I especially enjoy making the short drive out to several of the area rivers. The Myakka River in Venice Florida and the Manatee River in Bradenton Florida offer terrific winter snook fishing. These rivers have a freshwater feel to them. Using my 14 foot Alumacraft Jon boat, we drift down the peaceful river with the current while my anglers cast lures to likely fish holding structure. Downed trees, rocky banks, and deep holes are all likely spots.
Both the Manatee River and Myakka River are just a short 30 to 40 minute drive from the Sarasota beaches. But it seems like a world away! The Myakka River in particular offer some fantastic scenery in a very unique fishing opportunity. Bird life is abundant and large alligators are seen regularly. Another bonus is the opportunity to catch largemouth bass mixed in with the snook.
Snook thrive in brackish water
These rivers are brackish, which means they are a mixture of fresh and saltwater. This is an environment that both snook and bass thrive in. Jack crevelle, redfish, catfish, juvenile tarpon, gar, sunshine bass ( a striper white bass hybrid) and other species are also taken on these river fishing charters.
The Braden River is a tributary on the Manatee River and offers good winter Sarasota snook fishing. It is strictly saltwater, the dam at Lake Manatee keeps the fresh water from mixing with the salt water. Large jack crevelle are plentiful there in the winter. The Braden River is a bit more developed, but is also closer to Sarasota. It is a good winter snook option on Sarasota fishing charters.
I prefer artificial lures for my winter snook fishing. My favorite lure is the Rapala X Rap. These lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water quickly which is important. The erratic action of the plug’s triggers some jarring strikes! The pair of treble hooks results in a good bite to hookup ratio. Gold with a black back is a great color in the tannin river water.
Soft plastic swim baits such as the Bass Assassin Die Dapper are used as well. Dark colors such as Golden Bream work well in the dark, tannin water. Most times the bait is taken on the fall or after the first couple of hops. Anglers can rig soft plastic baits weedless on a horizontal weighted hook. In more open water, a 1/8 ounce jig head works well.
Artificial lures work well when snook fishing on the flats
Fishing for snook in the inshore flats and backwaters of Sarasota Bay and Roberts Bay is also very enjoyable. Once again, artificial lures are my choice as they allow anglers to cover as much water as possible. Clients will work oyster bars drop-offs, docks, and other likely ambush points. The same Rapala X Raps work well here, with olive and ghost being better colors in the lighter water.
Soft plastic baits work very well in this application as well. A 1/8 ounce Bass Assassin Pro Elite jig head is a good choice. A stout hook is required when fishing for big snook. The Die Dapper swim bait in root beer works well. White Gulp jerk worms are another proven bait for backwater snook fishing. Redfish and jacks will also hit the same lures in the same areas, just an added bonus!
Snook fishing with live bait
Live bait certainly produces when Sarasota snook fishing in the back country. A live large shrimp fished near the dock pilings, oyster bar, or other structure will often produce snook as well as other species. Shrimp produce very well for anglers fishing lighted docks and bridges at night as well. Small bait fish such as pin fish and grunts will produce, often catching larger fish.
There is a specialized technique I utilize in the spring and the fall to catch a lot of snook. This is called live bait chumming. When conditions are right, I will use my cast net to catch a bunch of good-sized pilchards in the 3 inch range. I will then anchor the boat near a likely spot, be it a dock or mangrove shoreline. I will toss out a couple handfuls of baits that are not hooked. These free swimming baits will hopefully attract snook. Once the snook are excited and into a feeding mood, hooked baits are tossed into the fray. This technique gives even the novice angler a chance to catch a nice fish.
Night fishing for snook
Night fishing is another very productive, yet kind of specialized technique. Snook are nocturnal feeders and do most of their active feeding at night. All area bridges have lights on the fender systems. These lights attract glass minnows and shrimp, which in turn attracts game fish. Snook can be seen stacked up under these lights. Many docks have “snook lights” on them as well.
Boat positioning is very important when night fishing. The best approach is to anchor forty feet or so out from the light and a bit up-current. This allows for a natural presentation to the fish in the light. It is not quite as easy as it sounds, especially on a breezy evening with strong tides.
Live shrimp works very well for night fishing. They will catch speckled trout, snapper, ladyfish, and other species as well. A medium sized shrimp is perfect. Free line the shrimp on a #1/0 bait hook and add a split shot if required due to a strong current. Lures such as plugs, jigs, and shrimp imitations work well, too. Fly anglers can catch a lot of snook at night! Small white bait fish patterns mimic the glass minnows perfectly. Flies can also be very subtle in their presentation.
Tides are very important when it comes to locating snook. Very low tides will concentrate fish in the holes and in the deeper water of channels. Snook will not allow themselves to be exposed on a very shallow flat at low tide. As the tide rises fish will move out of these deeper areas and up on the flats and shorelines to feed. High tides allow anglers to get all the way up into the back country, but can also make it difficult to locate fish as a scatter over a large area.
Think of tide direction like current in a river. Game fish will take up station down tide of a piece of structure. Tide ( or current) will bring shrimp and bait fish to them. It is a lot like a freshwater trout holding behind a rock in a stream. Tides will position fish on a piece of structure as well as a large flat. Understanding tides and how they affect fish movements is critical to being a successful snook angler.
Falling tides are my preferred tide for snook fishing. As water pulls out of the bays, fish will stage at likely ambush points. Even the slightest depth change can hold fish. Cuts and oyster bars, mouths of creeks, and points with tide swirling around it are all great spots to targets snook on a fallen tide. Schools of bait fish such as glass minnows and others small bait fish only increase the chances. Add in some cloud cover or low light conditions such as early-morning late afternoon, and you have very good chances of catching and inshore snook!
Snook fishing in the passes
Both big Sarasota Pass and New Pass hold a lot of snook all summer long. The north end of Siesta Key in Big Pass in particular has abundant structure and deep water. Snook and other game fish find this very attractive. As much is I enjoy using artificial baits, live bait works best in the passes. Large hand picked shrimp are fantastic bait! 3 inch to 4 inch pin fish and grunts also work well, as does a large pilchard.
Again, outgoing tides are preferred for snook fishing in the passes, however, they will feed on the incoming tide as well. A 2/0 live bait hook with a 24′ piece of 40 pound leader and just enough weight to hold bottom is the preferred rate. During periods of very little title movement, the bait can be free lined. This means no weight is used at all, just the hook and bait. Some of the largest snook of the year will be caught using these techniques.
Fly fishing for snook
One little secret we have in this area is the fantastic site fishing for snook off of the Sarasota and Siesta Key beaches. When the water is clear and the surface calm, snook can be seen cruising right in the surf line searching for crabs and bait fish. Anglers can use light spinning tackle and fly tackle to sight cast to these cruising fish. Light tackle can be used as this is all open water, there are very few obstructions for the snook to wrap up in.
Although snook can be caught at all times of day off the beach mornings are best. The prime time is from around 7:30 AM to 10 o’clock or so. At this morning our it is still cool and there are very few swimmers. Anglers will pick a likely stretch of beach and walk north with the sun at his or her back, optimizing sight fishing possibilities. Once fish are spotted, the lure fly is cast out a bit ahead of the fish and worked back to it. It is great fun to watch the snook take your lure fly and then put up a great battle!
In conclusion, this article on Sarasota snook fishing will help anglers catch more of these terrific game fish!
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236