- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
A sports aficionado couldn't dream of a better species to battle than snook. These sleek game fish hit a plug with the fury of Lennox Lewis, make lightning runs like Jerry Rice and can flop through the air better than ol' Fosbury himself. It even looks athletic, with a dynamic body, jutting jaw and a distinctive black lateral line on each side that makes it easy to identify, and from whence it gets the nickname "linesider."
Faithful snook anglers are downright phobic and go to extreme lengths and distances to get one on the end of a line. Snookers disprove the adage that people over 40 don't fish anymore after dark—and I should know: No other species can get me out from between the sheets at 4 in the morning to chug across a choppy bay in a small boat, just to make a few casts at the mouth of a promising creek at daybreak.
Years ago I did just that with two pals from the Florida Keys. We anchored within casting distance of Slagle Ditch—a small, manmade canal at the southern tip of Florida's mainland—and my red-and-white rattling lure plunked into the water about 30 feet up the mouth. As I slowly twitched it with the outgoing tide, my knees buckled when a snook crunched the plug with considerable wrath and sent our blood pressures sky-high. Water spewed this way and that as it frothed the surface, and I hung on for dear life as the treble hooks dug in. The fish ran straight toward the boat, cut right, left, and then did the same in reverse order as I pirouetted around the 18-foot skiff like a ballet dancer.
What a rush! After several great runs, a wonderful aerial display and furious headshakes, the estimated 15-pounder calmed down enough to allow the leader to be taken and hooks carefully removed before setting it free. It was the only snook to be caught that morning, but the memory was worth every second of lost sleep and wet discomfort.
Athleticism is just one of the many qualities found in snook.
A coastal species that favors warm, tropical climates, snook (Centropomus undecimalis) prefer salt water but can often be encountered in brackish bays and freshwater lakes. They change sex from males to females between the ages of two and seven, with spawning occurring from spring into early fall (they can spawn every four to six days, with peak activity on full- and new-moon phases).
During fall, hunt for linesiders around passes, inlets and along beaches. In winter, snook travel inland and seek deeper areas where temperatures are more stable, so check out bridges, channels, power plants and estuaries. As temperatures warm up, snook migrate back to bays and river mouths, and can even be found on near-shore wrecks and artificial reefs.
Snook are notorious for letting current sweep baitfish to them. They float headfirst into the current while hiding in shallow holes, behind pilings, in the eddies of currents at points of land, and along shorelines behind submerged branches or trees. Accordingly, toss your offering upcurrent of a promising ambush point, then work it with the current as naturally as possible.
Gearing Up For Battle
Although snook can reach 50 pounds or more (the world record is a 57-pound, 12-ounce brute caught in 1991 off Costa Rica), most encounters involve fish in the 5- to 10-pound range. A 12-pound spinning or plug-casting outfit will handle most snook battles, and add three feet or more of 30- to 40-pound leader between your line and lure to deter cut-offs from structures or sharp gill plates. Most snookers also like to add a portion of double line as a shock cushion between their running line and leader, which can be tied with a Bimini twist or surgeon's knot.
Snook attack top-water plugs, but you'll usually find bigger predators in deeper water—work a jig or bait close to bottom. Lures that have traditionally taken snook include Zara Spooks, MirrOlures, Rat-L-Traps, Johnny Rattlers, Creek Chub Darters, spoons and jigs. The best natural bait will tend to be whatever food fish is prevalent in the area, such as shrimp, crabs, pilchards, pinfish or mullet. When the water's really ripping, use bigger live baits such as mullet or pinfish because they can battle current better and are more visible. Cut baits work well too—many a big snook's been taken simply on a mullet head fished in a creek mouth at night.
As a rule, bigger lures and baits often lead to bigger snook.
My personal record took place on a typical rainforest day on the northeast coast of Costa Rica. As I stood on the beach in a drizzly rain and watched water flow out of Rio Colorado into the sandy Caribbean waters, I noted a well-defined eddy just outside the mouth. I cast a hinged diving plug to the edge of the waterline and let the current sweep my lure out the mouth as I twitched it right into the eddy.
Ka-pow! Something crunched the lure with deadly force and I set the hook hard. At first it felt like I'd latched onto an immovable object—did I snag a sunken tree, I wondered? That thought disappeared in a nanosecond when a giant linesider rose half out of the water and straightened my line tighter than piano wire. I instinctively shoved my rod toward it to create slack and fortunately deterred a snapped line. Just when I thought it would spool me, the snook reversed course and let me to take up line.
Twenty minutes later, the tired adversary finally slid into the shallow surf and glided to my feet. It went 35 pounds if it weighed an ounce, and I was so spent from the excitement and stress worrying about losing this once-in-a-lifetime snook that my hands shook as I raised it briefly for the viewing pleasure of my fishing buddies.
Snook can be found in good sizes and numbers from about Cape Canaveral on Florida's east coast down to Miami, along the Florida Keys, throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines of Central America. Four species of snook can be encountered in Florida, although the common snook is the most prolific. Black snook make up the main target on the Pacific side.
Always be sure of licenses and regulations for the state or region you're fishing. For example, Florida has a daily bag limit of two snook that must measure between 26 and 34 inches. You cannot possess any snook from December 15 to January 31, and June through August. Unless fishing with a guide, in most cases you'll need a saltwater fishing license ($13.50 annually for residents, $31.50 for non-residents), and also pay an extra $2 permit in order to keep one or more for the dinner table (they're delicious, by the way).
Try your hand at snook fishing and it's a slam-dunk that you'll become a "mad snooker" like me.
Doug Kelly, an outdoor journalist in Tampa, Fla., is a former editor of Sport Fishing magazine and produced the award-winning 4-set video series Saltwater Fly Fishing From A to Z. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard Master's license and is presently a member of an advisory panel for the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council, and an IGFA representative.