Between May and early October, Florida’s most iconic inshore species moves into close range of surf fishermen.
Snook (Centropomus undecimalus) forage right along the beach, marauding after croakers, whiting and a variety of sardines as well as herring. Most of the action takes place on the Gulf Coast from Clearwater Beach south to Marco Island, and on the Atlantic Coast from Cocoa Beach to Key Biscayne.
Hands down my favorite way to target snook in the suds is by sightfishing for them with flies. No need to get up before the crack of dawn. You need high sun to see these silver, line-sided predators swimmingly stealthily through the clear water.
I prefer a 9-weight fly rod with an intermediate-sink line, and eight-foot fluorocarbon leader, and small minnow imitation such as the venerable Clouser Minnow. A few favorite beaches include Sanibel and Captiva on the Gulf Coast, and Hobe Sound and the beaches south of the Lake Worth Pier. If you’re in the Sanibel area, stop in and get great advice and gear from Norm Zeigler at his fly shop.
The relaxing way to fish for snook along the beaches involves a castnet, a bucket with an aerator, and sand spikes for a your bait rods. Castnet pilchards, croakers or any other surf-dwelling forage fish. Use a circle hook that matches the size of the bait, and put a quarter-ounce sinker above the swivel that you attack the leader and hook to. Once you put your baits out, all you have to do is relax in a beach chair and watch your rod tip.
You can also enjoy great fishing with topwater plugs at poppers around dawn and dusk. That’s a really productive tactic when there’s a little chop on the water.
Remember that snook season is closed from May 1 through Aug. 31 on the Gulf Coast, including Everglades National Park. Snook fishing is also catch-and-release only on the Atlantic Coast between June 1 and Sept. 1.
For more information on snook regulations, check out the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.