- 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.
Common snook (Centropomus)
The common snook has a slender, streamlined body with large fins. Its yellowish-gray back is separated from its silvery sides and abdomen by a distinct black lateral line that runs from the top of its gills to the end of its tail, which gives this fish the nickname linesider. It has a large mouth with brushlike teeth and a protruding lower jaw. Its elongated head and snout taper to a point and it has a sloped forehead that leads up to tall, divided dorsal fins. Most of the fins are yellowish, and are especially bright during the spawn. Overall color varies according to habitat; specimens living in rivers have a much darker cast.
The first dorsal fin has eight to nine spines and the second dorsal fin has 10 rays. The pectoral fins have 15 to 16 rays. The anal fin has six rays and three spines that are quite short in comparison to those of other snook species. The tail is moderately forked.
Other than the much larger size it attains, the common snook can be differentiated from other species of snook mainly by its more elongate body. There are other distinguishing features as well: the fat snook has smaller scales; the tarpon snook has a more upturned mouth; and the swordspine snook has a disproportionately long anal spine.
Common snook are found in the western Atlantic from southern Florida south to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, including the Gulf of Mexico, most of the Caribbean islands and the Caribbean coast of Central and South America. They are mostly absent in the Bahamas. When the waters are warm enough, they are found as far north as North Carolina.
Common snook are inshore fish that are frequently found in shallow, brackish estuaries and lagoons. They can also be found in some freshwater rivers and canals near shore. They use structures such as mangroves, reefs and rock formations for ambush cover, and usually stay near the substratum at depths of less than 65 feet and not over 72 feet. They can tolerate both fresh water and salt water, and prefer water temperatures of 68 to 78 F. Usually they cannot tolerate water temperatures below 58 F, but recently it has been discovered that if the temperature slowly falls to no colder than about 50 F, the fish can acclimate and survive, though they will become dormant and may float toward the surface.
In late summer or early fall they move to the upper parts of estuaries, where they remain for the winter. However, they do not normally migrate great distances, especially in the Gulf. They may also stay in ship channels, turning basins, warm water discharges near power plants, or under bridges. These areas are protected and have relatively stable temperatures.
Juveniles are found in shallow areas with low salinity, sloped banks, slow currents, overhanging vegetation, and structure to provide shelter. They move to the higher-salinity areas of the lower estuary as they begin to mature.
In late spring to early summer, common snook leave their wintering waters for their spawning grounds, where they remain for the summer. Spawning cannot occur in fresh water, as salt water is necessary to activate the sperm. Schools of as many as 400 or 500 individuals congregate in high-current areas along shorelines, in passes between islands, in the mouths of coastal rivers, and in major inlets. Spawning can occur any time between April and November, depending on region and annual variations in climate and temperature, but activity usually peaks between May and July.
Spawning occurs at all moon phases, but increases during new and full moons. Near sundown, females release the eggs, which are then fertilized externally. The free-floating eggs are not guarded. They are carried in and out with the tide, and they hatch inshore about 18 hours after spawning.
Common snook return to the same location each year to spawn.
Common snook are aggressive carnivores that eat fish, crabs, shrimps and other crustaceans that live in both fresh water and salt water. They have two daily feeding peaks: the first is two hours before sunrise, and the second is two to three hours after sunset. They also feed during strong tidal flows, which carry food into their vicinity. They sometimes feed in open water but are known to hide around available cover and ambush prey as it passes by.
As spring arrives and the necessity arises to regain lost body fat and store protein in anticipation of spawning, common snook move west to look for food in creeks, flats and the mouths of rivers, where sardines comprise the bulk of their diet. Along the way, the opportunistic fish will eat species not normally part of their diet.
Common snook are one of the most sought-after inshore game fish. Its spectacular fighting ability has given it a cult following, and a number of clubs dedicated to the species have formed. For all-around fighting ability, common snook are hard to top. They strike like lightning and leap repeatedly throughout a battle. They dive deep, run frequently and pull with incredible strength.
Fishing for common snook occurs year round, though the best fishing is usually in the spring and summer. They are often caught in the brackish water of estuaries, but they can also be found in the far reaches of freshwater rivers, canals, lagoons, inlets, passes and among mangroves and other cover.
Effective fishing methods include live-bait fishing while drifting or still, casting in shallow near-shore areas, and trolling. If an area is shallow enough, the angler can wade in without a boat. They are also a popular fly-fishing species.
Tackle should be sturdy. Spinning and bait-casting gear is most common, but conventional and fly tackle can be used as well. A medium-size reel with a stiff rod and 8- to 17-pound test line is adequate for all but the largest specimens.
Any small fish, as well as shrimp and crabs, make good live bait. Popular lures include bucktail and plastic jigs, mirror plugs, walking and jerk plugs, and spoons. Large streamers and poppers are effective for fly-fishing. Cut bait is less popular, but a mullet head or ladyfish half fished on the bottom can take some very big snook.
Some of the best locations for common snook are the passes between islands, areas near sandbars, and in channels through the flats. When in passes, use large baits. Large spawning adults reside inside inlets, while smaller snook can be found on flats and around near-shore structure.
For fly fishing, the ideal scenario is casting to visible cruising or milling snook, but often the fish aren't visible, so it helps to know which spots contain snook. During peak spawning months, try fishing on beaches near inlets. The best time is in the late afternoon on a calm day. The sun should be at your front. Look for shadows in surf zone and cast near and in front of them. The fish will take flies that resemble shrimp or anchovies.
Before and after spawning activities, common snook can be found in deep water close to a flat with an abundance of food. Live-scaled sardines will work the best.
For summer night fishing, find a dock light close to the water, and then cast a shrimp or other bait to the edge of the lit area. For bigger snook, anchor upstream of a bridge or pilings, then cast a live ladyfish or a minnow-imitating lure to the base of the structure.
In the winter, artificial lures work best. The cold slows the common snooks metabolism and they become lethargic and unlikely to chase live bait. Effective methods include trolling or fishing in deep holes with jigs. The best fishing will be in the upper parts of estuaries or bays where common snook spend the winter. Fish when there is a current, preferably in outgoing tide. Days with four tide changes are much better than days with only two. Fishing will improve during periods of new moon or full moon because of the strong tides.
- The word snook comes from the Dutch word snoek, which means pike. Most anglers pronounce the word as snuk (like took), but in some regions it is pronounced snuke (like fluke).
- The scientific name of the common snook is Centropomus undecimalis. Centropomus means "sharp-pointed lid," referring to the snooks razor-edged gill covers, which make the use of a wire leader necessary. Undecimalis signifies 11 and refers to the 11 rays of the second dorsal fin.
- The common snooks black lateral line helps them sense prey movement and other objects in the water around them.
- The Florida snook population declined in the late 1970s and early 1980s due to over- fishing, loss of habitat, and pollution, but numbers have increased to safe levels since 1982 when the fish was given protected status in Florida. The state banned commercial capture and sale of snook in 1957.