SLOW DOWN FOR WINTER SNOOK
by
David Brown


If it’s true that patience is a virtue, it’s gotta be a downright requirement for winter snook fishermen. That’s because this voracious predator of summer months turns into a docile couch potato from December through February.

For this subtropical species, even sunny Tampa Bay is considered in the northern end of its range (the Weeki Wachee River is the limit). Hence, when cold weather dips bay and inland waters into the mid 60s, snook and snookfishermen make the transition into winter patterns.

Capt. Jody Coscia specializes in cold season snooking. He believes understanding 1) what the fish want and 2) how to play the game on their terms are the crucial elements. “In the winter months [the snook] are just trying to survive and they’re going to look for any source of heat like residential canals, powerplant outflows and rivers.”

Unlike humans, who fret over everything from after-Christmas sales to planning Super Bowl parties, snook are completely satisfied to lay low and motionless, hoping their bodies can retain enough warmth to get them through another night. Basically, when you’re a snook in the winter months, any day you wake up to is a good day. Still, this is an opportunistic species. Meaning, if food presents itself, snook will eat. Anglers just have to make it real easy on their quarry. “Since the snook’s metabolism is low, they don’t want to burn any calories chasing something,” he said. “Ninety percent of it is just slowing everything down.”

Good thing is, the “everything” is basically the same in the winter as it is in the warmer months. For artificial lures, Coscia uses the Bomber Long A, Maverick Golden Eye and 7M MirrOlures. Because winter’s cold, algae-free water creates optimal clarity, bright, vivid colors such as silver, red and orange grab plenty of attention.

Another of Coscia’s favorites is a soft plastic bait, mostly 12-Fathom’s 3 and 4-inch shad tail jigs and 7-inch Slam-R jerk baits. He likes orange for and gold or silver flake for the jerk baits. An 1/8-ounce jig head works with either.

Whatever the lure, the more action the better and the longer it stays in one place the better. If your normal retrieve is something like crank-crank-and flutter like a wounded baitfish and the snook will have a tough time resisting the easy meal.

The basic design of all the productive artificials is intended to imitate the snook’s normal dietary preference of small baitfish. Naturally, though, nothing works as good as the real thing and a live threadfin herring (“greenback”) or pinfish won’t last long in the snook’s neighborhood.

The waters beneath the Sunshine Skyway will hold threadfin herring and pinfish year-around. Castnetting is an option, but jigging with gold hook rigs yields healthier baits. The standard rig is a string of tiny hooks hanging from dropper loops with an ounce or two of lead at the bottom. When jiggled near a bridge piling, the gold hooks resemble the larval crustaceans baitfish eat. When they bite the hooks, they become ensnared. If the baitfish play hard-to-get, large shrimp will do. With the latter, most bait shops offer hand-picked “selects.” These are the largest in the tank and that’s what you want.
Another live bait option, reserved primarily for river fishing is the native forage. Creek chubs or young nile perch (tilapia) are staples in the winter diet of snook who’ve pushed into the coastal waterways. Fish live baitfish on a 3/0 short shank hook and shrimp on a 1/0. Coscia prefers Gamagatzu or Owner hooks for their superior strength. For standard snooking duties, Coscia prefers 7-foot medium-action graphite rods with Daiwa 1600 Whisker spinning reels carrying 8-pound Triplefish monofilament. He opts for florescent yellow line because it disappears in the water, but remains highly visible above the surface for monitoring bait location. For leaders, he’ll use about 18 inches of 17- or 20-pound Triple Fish camouflage line — also low underwater visibility.

This concern with appearance is well-founded. For, working in high-visibility conditions is great for locating fish and bottom structure, but if you can see the fish, they’ve already seen you. Therefore, a stealthful approach is important. Shut down the outboard engine well away from your target area and drift in with the wind or ease along with a trolling motor or push pole. Even expert winter snooking techniques won’t produce if you scare off all the fish.

Look for snook around docks and boats in residential canals. These structures absorb the sun’s heat and radiate the warmth through the water. Also, most dead-end canals have a deep hole at the end. This is usually a warm spot, which attracts snook. In canals, rivers or creeks, the rising sun will heat the west side first, so fish there early in the morning and work into the deeper water and across to the east side as the day progresses. Also, look for bends in the waterway where tidal flow has cut a deep trough. Again, the deeper, warmer water is most attractive to snook.

Finally, anywhere a creek or runoff canal dumps into a main waterway creates a natural feeding station for snook who lay and wait for minnows, crabs and shrimp to slide down the tributary. Also, if the flow is significant, the moving water will generate heat, making the juncture a little warmer than surrounding water. Wherever you fish, Coscia noted, give the spot a chance to produce. The fish might be there, but it could take a little longer for them to respond in the chilly water. So instead of a couple of casts, work a dock or a deep hole for 30 minutes and move on if nothing happens.

Now, although snook are in slow motion during the winter, a hooked linesider won’t give up peacefully. Still, no need to rip his lips off on the strike. “You still get the quality fight, but you just don’t need a big monster hookset,” Coscia said. “You just reel the line tight then give it a little witch with the rod.” Snook season is closed for keeping through January 31, but catch-and-release is allowed. When the season reopens on Feb. 1, legal snook must be at least 24 inches long. Anglers with a valid Florida saltwater fishing license and a snook stamp may keep two snook each day, only one of which may be longer than 34 inches.
For winter snook fishing, call Coscia at Complete Angling Services, (888)
570-9261.

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