Going for the Wily Snook in the Keys

By: Terry Tomalin


The first thing you learn fishing in the Keys is that a successful snook fisherman must be smart, skillful, patient and, above all, persistent. Every angler wants to land a lunker, but a trophy specimen of the species Centropomus undecimalis can be particularly elusive.

The Florida Keys are famous for tarpon, cobia and bonefish, but nothing gets the blood pumping like snook season. If you want to go snook fishing, you’ll find the largest specimens on the flats and deep in the backcountry of Everglades National Park.

The common snook, largest of the four species found in Florida waters (the other three are the sword-spined snook, fat snook and tarpon snook), is prized for its fighting ability and as table fare. This silvery green fish is easily identified by the black lateral line running from gill to tail which is why veteran anglers often call them called “linesiders.”

Anglers fishing Florida waters in the spring will find that snook can be caught on a variety of live and artificial baits. The top Florida fishing guides understand that while there are many factors that influence inshore species – water temperature, moon phase, barometric pressure – the most important is tide.

Anglers armed with a little local knowledge can head off on their own, but the chances of success are much higher if you hire a guide.

If you go, be prepared for non-stop action. Snook feed when the water is moving. The reason is simple: An outgoing tide flushes baitfish off the grass flats. Snook, like most predators, try to expend as little energy possible in pursuit of prey. They let the tide do the work.

Many anglers compare snook to largemouth bass because both species are structure-oriented and often lurk along shadowlines and dropoffs to ambush prey. Snook are notorious tackle busters, like tarpon, and if timed right, both species can be caught on the same trip.

While snook can be kept certain times of the year, most conservation-minded anglers practice catch and release. Studies show that 98 percent of snook survive after they are returned to the wild.

Anglers can help insure the survival of this prized sportfish by setting the hook quickly so the fish does not swallow the bait. If possible, keep the snook in the water and use a pair of pliers to remove the hook. Barbless hooks simplify the process.

Handle the fish as little as possible to increase its chance of survival. If you want to take a photo to show the folks back home, do so as quickly as possible. There is no greater thrill than fighting a big snook then watching it swim away unharmed.

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