Though sardine flingers have largely overrun many areas that used to be prime topwater plugging spots for snook, there are still plenty of locations along much of Florida’s southwest coast where this breath-stopping action can be found.
And there’s no better time for it than late April through May as fish head for the sloughs, passes and beaches to spawn.
The fish pod up just prior to spawning, and if you find one of these concentrations and put a topwater lure over it, the result is nothing short of spectacular. The fish are hungry and in prime shape, and they’re more than willing to go out of their way to blast the biggest, noisiest plug you can throw at them.
Catching snook on artificials depends on strong tide flow, even more than does catching them on live bait. The strongest flows each month are on the new and full moons. The full moon in April is Tuesday, and in May it’s the 14th, with the new moons falling at about the end of each month.
The ultimate spring topwater snooking tide is the last couple hours of a strong outgoing tide at dawn or dusk. The low light periods make it harder for the fish to clearly see the lure, and if it looks reasonably baitfishy, they’ll usually smack it.
Some of the more effective topwaters include noisemakers such as the Super Spook and the Gunfish 115, as well as floating jerkbaits that can be pulled under with a pop, then allowed to resurface; large Rapalas and Rebels work well for this duty. In dead-calm water, more subtle topwaters such as the MirrOlure 7M are the ticket.
Baitcasters with 15- to 20-pound test mono work well, but some veteran anglers are partial to spinning gear with braided line because the no-stretch braid — 10- to 15-pound test on a 3,000-size reel — gives such a positive snap to the lure on the twitches, much more lifelike than even heavy mono. You will need 18 inches of 25-pound-test mono shock leader on the end of the braid, however. Otherwise, the very limp braid will constantly loop over the treble hooks as you work the plugs. Tie the braid to the mono by first doubling the braid, then tying a double uni-knot. The extra thickness of the doubled braid cushions the mono and prevents breakoffs.
Whatever the lure, the trick is to present it as if it’s a struggling baitfish being swept out on that big tide. Throw upstream and bring it back with the flow. The fish are waiting headed into the current, and when they see it they’ll take it from there.
A typical pass might be several hundred feet wide, but all the snook might be stacked up in one hole only 10x10. Look for them behind current breaks, bridge pilings, boat docks, sand bars or any other obstruction that breaks the main flow of the pass and might give them a moment’s protection if a hungry dolphin shows up.
Part of the trick to getting bit is to put yourself in the right position to bring the lure directly over the fish, while at the same time staying well back from them so they don’t spot you. It’s often best to get out of the boat and wade or walk the beach once you know where the fish are located; they can sense a boat at some distance.
If you get in the right spot at the right time and make the right presentation, and you might catch a half-dozen snook off one school before they wise up to your act.
The fish you’ll catch this way usually won’t be true giants — 5 to 10 pounds is typical. If you want 20-pounders, you’ll probably do better with big live baits deep in the main passes or around the big-water bridges after dark.
But there’s nothing quite like that explosive kapow! that a 10-pounder makes as it engulfs a topwater, then heads for the nearest rock pile or piling. Some anglers say they’d take one this way rather than 10 caught on sardines. Good thing, too, because that’s about the ratio for topwaters versus live baits.
The snook harvest season ends May 1, but catch-and-release fishing remains legal throughout the summer closure. For detailed regulations, visit www.myfwc.com.