Welcome to our “How to Catch Snook Fishing Guide” where we tell you every possible Tip for catching the amazing gamefish, Snook are one of the most highly targeted fish in Florida’s waterways. They are excellent eating, sometimes difficult to catch, and they put up a good fight. If you haven’t caught this amazing Florida fish yet, you must give it a try!
[Page Updated – 20 April 2022. Bookmark this page (Windows CNTRL+D, MAC CMD+D) so you don’t lose it.]
For Sarasota Bay down through Collier County, snook are catch and release ONLY through May 31, 2022. This covers ALL STATE WATERS SOUTH OF STATE ROAD 64 in MANATEE COUNTY including PALMA SOLA BAY through GORDON PASSin COLLIER COUNTY. Does not include Braden River or Manatee river or its tributaries.
HOW TO CATCH SNOOK—Guide
Snook Gamefish Ratings
- Size: 8/10 stars
- Fight: 7/10 stars
- Difficulty to Catch: 6/10 stars
- Taste: 8/10 stars
INDEX to Sections in this Guide:
- WHY catch Snook?
- WHERE found?
- What do They EAT?
- HOW to catch Snook?
- WHEN is best for Snook?
- GEAR? (our best recommendations)
- Snook LAWS in Your State
- How to COOK Them?
PRO TIP – Snook are also called landsiders, sergeant fish, and robalo. If you have any more names, let me know!
Species: Seriola dumerili in the centropomidae familiy
Most anglers don’t realize it, but there are actually 4 different species in Florida waters. Only one species grows big enough to reach the slot length and can be harvested as the law allows. The others are very rarely taken, so are protected from commercial and recreational fisherman.
Common Snook (Centropomus undecimalis) – this is the largest growing one and the one that is kept most often because it can easily grow to lengths that fit the legal slot limit.
Common Snook Identifying Features
- Maximum length 48 inches, common under 20 inches.
- Mouth extends to further than the rear of the eye.
- Black lateral line extends onto the tail
Fat Snook (Centropomus parallelus) – .
- Maximum length 28 inches, common around 10 inches.
- Mouth extends to below horizontal center of the eye
- Black lateral line extends onto the tail
- Prefer freshwater more than other snook species
Swordspine Snook (Centropomus ensiferus) – .
- Maximum length 15 inches, common around 10 inches.
- Anal fin extends past the base of the caudal fin.
- Largest scales of all snook.
- Prominent lateral line extends onto tail.
Tarpon Snook (Centropomus pectinatus) – .
- Maximum length 22 inches, common around 15 inches.
- Only snook species with 7 anal fin rays, other species have only 6. (see arrow)
- Prominent black lateral line extends onto tail.
Similar Species: There are other species with morphology similar to the snook, but the black lateral line running down the length of the body to the tail distinguishes it from other Florida fish instantly.
IUCN Redlist Status: Least Concern (LC) the snook is not considered threatened in any way at the present time. In Florida, these fish are plentiful and a well-managed resource.
Appearance: Long body and extremely long lower jaw. They have an unmistakable black horizontal line (lateral line) running along each side of the body. Snook are strong fish with a lot of fin area. In comparison to other similar fish, the snook has a compressed, sloping, and elongated head/jaw region.
Color is typically white on the sides with some darker green or yellow on the top of the dorsal and darker tails. Some fins may appear yellow.
Length: As you’ve seen above, various species of snook are smaller and will never reach the slot length. That may mean you are catching the wrong species. Fun, nonetheless, but not going to give you anything for dinner. Large fish of this species can reach 53″ in length and over 50 lbs. On the Atlantic Coast, they are slightly longer, with a maximum length of 43.5 inches. On the Gulf coast, the largest observed was 40.6 inches.
Weight: 5 to 10 lbs. is average, and the large ones can reach 50 lbs. or more.
Range/Distribution: South Florida starting in April and May.
Habitat: This fish prefers inshore waters, especially brackish rivers and saltwater canals. When the weather gets cold and the water temperatures dip to under 60°F, they can perish. During these cold periods they come into saltwater canals and can be found in very shallow water taking advantage of the warming sun to keep their temperature above 60°F.
Snook love to hug the coast by the bank, piers, docks, and structure of any sort inshore.
Diet: Pinfish, mullet, other baitfish.
On the 18th of October 1978 Gilbert Ponzi caught this massive IGFA world record common snook on hook and line at the Parismina River, Costa Rica. The record has stood for 42 years!
Florida State Record
A 44 lb. 3 oz. common snook was caught near Fort Myers, Florida and remains the state record. There are big fish all over the state, and the area the record was caught is not necessarily indicative of where the next one will be caught. For instance, I’m pretty sure we had some big fish that were very close to the record under our dock where I lived in St. Petersburg.
Why Target Them?
Half of Florida’s resident anglers have a fascination with catching snook. Why that is, I am not really sure, but it’s a fun fish to catch and broiled, it’s one of the best fish I’ve ever eaten. Part of the reason for fanaticism of anglers targeting them is because they’re so accessible. You can catch them from a boat, a pier, a dock, the shore, or wade-fishing. You can catch them from any inshore boat and you can catch them most of the times of the year. They get really big, so there’s the bragging factor the comes into play when telling your friends about the huge fish you caught. The slot size is rather large, so bigger fish are common. The average size Redfish is much smaller in length than the average sized snook. The fact that you can only keep one fish per day is also a factor that makes them more desirable than other fish. You have to choose the one you’re going to keep and hope it’s the right one!
Where To Find Them?
Habitat – They prefer to stay in water that isn’t moving much at all, next to water that is moving fast. When they see prey go by, they’ll attack it. They wait in ambush. Snook fishing is usually best on an incoming tide, but you can catch them just about anytime, including night time.
This fish is most commonly found inshore along the coast and especially in shorelines lined with mangroves, in seagrass, and around structure.
Diet – What Do They Eat?
When I think Snook, I think pinfish. I’ve caught more of them on pinfish than anything else by far. Some people prefer using artificials but I really love the live bait option when I can find it. Pinfish and mullet are excellent snook baits and they’re usually common where I fish around Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Other great baits are live crabs, squid, sardines, and big shrimp. If you can find them, throw a castnet over some pinfish in the seagrass and you’ll increase your chances of having a fantastic day of fishing.
How to Catch?
From a Small Boat – Kayak, Canoe
Though you don’t need a kayak or other small boat to catch snook, you can cover a lot more area and increase your chances on finding them hiding out close to the banks. Just toss a live pinfish over by the shore and under mangrove trees to prompt an explosive bite. There are well-known places where snook stack up when it’s cold and these are excellent spots to fish in. Some anglers reveal the spots over the years, you can find them on forums mostly. Personally, I think saltwater canals are the best place to find snook during morning or night. You can see them sometimes because they are not afraid to stay near the surface.
When Is the Best Time to Catch Snook?
From now until Sept 1, you cannot keep any, so give them a rest and target them after that time. The red tide has killed a lot of fish and they need to recover.
Typically the best time to catch snook is in the winter months when they’re easy to spot in the shallows under piers.
I told the story already here somewhere (here on this page) about my Uncle Jim who sat on my dock in Tampa, Florida one afternoon. it was a high tide and the water wasn’t moving much at all. He had a lightweight action rod and a small spinning reel that was nothing bigger than a 1000 series. He had on two or four pound test line and a hook that was almost like a Sabiki rig hook.
He somehow fitted a thumbnail sized piece of shrimp on the hook and well, you can read the story here. He caught the biggest snook I ever saw with that bit of shrimp and undersized gear!
Best Rod for Snook
I think just about any rod can catch a snook, but a medium-weight action rod is probably best. I love the Ugly Stiks, and I still prefer to use them for all my inshore fishing. Snook have a fast initial run when hooked and they can fight for a while, but as long as they aren’t wrapping your line around barnacle covered structure, you’ll probably be able to land it.
I like this rod for nearly all my inshore fishing…
UGLY STIK at Amazon
Best Reel for Snook Fishing?
Baitcasting / Trolling Reels
I love baitcasting reels, and have ever since I learned how to use them two decades ago. They are more accurate, twist the line less, and like being able to control the drag by adding my thumb to the spool. I almost always buy Penn baitcasting reels, but I’ve also used Abu Garcia for my smaller reels and I love them too.
I’ve said it many times before in these guides, but you should really buy the best reel you can afford. When I started spending over $100 for my reels (a piece) my satisfaction level went way up. I can’t recall breaking any of my baitcasting reels. Ever. They’re reliable and as long as you grease them up every now and then, they’ll last forever and you’ll be handing the down to your kids. That alone, makes them worthwhile.
My Favorite Reel (at Amazon) for Inshore Fishing (Snook, Redfish, Cobia) Made in America (Philadelphia, PA.)
Here’s a less-expensive alternative (at Amazon) that is also great for catching inshore fish, but more of a beginner’s baitcasting reel.
Best Spinning Reel for Snook?
Here’s a basic Sienna Spinning Reel (at Amazon) that works well for this and other inshore fish. This is a beginner’s reel that you might buy if you’re not sure you’re going to go headfirst into the fishing hobby or not.
This is one of my favorite Shimano Spinning Reels (at Amazon) that is for anglers who spend a lot of time on the water and need to use one of the top reels for consistency and reliability.
If you know you’re likely to hook into a big snook, you’re better off going with 50 lb. test line (braided). If not, you might drop it down to 30 lb. test. Snook have a strong pull almost like a cobia and you’ll want to have a line that can handle the pull and a hook that won’t bend.
Don’t Forget the Leader
50 lb. clear leader is ideal for snook. Keep in mind, they have very sharp gill plates that can cut smaller diameter line quickly.
The best hooks (at Amazon) for snook are the strongest 6/0 circle (non-offset) hooks you can get. Forged Vanadium Steel circle hooks are the best for this tough fish. Mustad hooks are high tech and trusted in the industry for decades. Get a good one to ensure the hook doesn’t bend or snap. A twenty pound snook has a strong pull and can bend hooks. Don’t buy cheap hooks, invest in something that isn’t going to bend and lose your fish. One of the worst feelings ever.
Best Fishing Rigs?
The Old Egg Sinker Rig. This is nothing more than stringing your line and leader through an egg sinker to bring the bait down to the bottom of the water you’re fishing in. Your hook will be a 6/0 circle hook with a live pinfish, sardine or threadfin fish on it. This rig has worked well forever and you won’t go wrong like this. Personally, I just like to freeline a pinfish, but try them both and see what works for you.
Laws in Florida
See top of page (red text) for current limitations on Snook Fishing in Florida.
Snook are never permitted for commercial harvest and sale.
Florida snook laws are different for each coast and federal waters. As you can see with the recent restrictions on keeping any snook until September 1, 2021 fishing laws are constantly adjusting to protect fish which are in danger of overfishing or threatened by other factors. It is your responsibility to check the latest laws on the Official Florida Game and Fish Commission here before you fish.
Snook License Requirements
Fishing requires a snook permit and Florida recreational fishing license.
Legal Gear for Harvesting Snook Fish
Hook and line is the only way permissable to catch snook. No netting, gigging, or snatching allowed.
Normal Gulf Coast Laws
During regular years without special restrictions, Gulf Coast Laws including Monroe County and the Everglades are:
Season: Closed Dec. 1-end of February and May 1-Aug. 31 NOTE: All state waters from the Hernando/Pasco county line through Gordon Pass in Collier County is catch-and-release ONLY through Aug. 31, 2021
Slot Limit: Not less than 28″ or more than 33″ total length
Daily Bag Limit: 1 per harvester per day; zero captain and crew for-hire limit
- Minimum Size Limit: 28-inch length to 33-inch.
- Daily Bag Limit: 1 per person, except during present-day restrictions ending 1 September 2021. Captain and crew on for-hire expedition cannot keep any snook.
- Season: Closed for a large portion of Florida’s West Coast – see red text above. Typically closed only during 1 January to the end of February and May 1 to August 31st.
East Coast (Atlantic) Laws
During regular years without special restrictions, East Coast Laws including adjacent federally governed waters and including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River are:
- Season: Closed from December 15, 2020 to January 31, 2021 and from June 1 to August 31, 2020
- Minimum Size Limit: Length Necessary to Keep is at least 28 inches and not more than 32 inches. Outside this slot, fish must be released in healthy condition.
- Daily Bag Limit: per licensed angler is 1 snook per day. When hired, captain and crew may keep zero snook per day.
- Special regulations apply for this species when fishing in Biscayne National Park. See details here.
Laws for Federal Waters
- Minimum Size Limit: None mentioned.
- Daily Bag Limit: 1 per person. Note – for hire captains/crew cannot keep fish when out with clients.
- Season: Open August 1 to October 31.
NOTE – a full list of rules for fishing in Florida can be found at the Florida Rules website here.
Get the Fishing App
If fishing from 3 to 200 nautical miles off the coast of Florida, Georgia, South or North Carolina, you can use this mobile application to stay up to date on the fishing rules on the Atlantic Coast.
The country of Belize is involved in snook farming (common snook). Their weather is ideal and they’re centrally located for reaching a lot of countries close-by. I could find no states in the USA farming them, perhaps because of the ban on commercial sale.
How to Best Cook Them?
The best thing you could do to put snook on your dinner table is to broil it. Broil ALL YOUR FLORIDA FISH. I don’t think there’s any other decent way to eat fish unless you’re going to fry up some junk fish and throw it on a taco. Then you can’t really taste the fish, you taste the fat of the oil and breading.
With this fish, I bleed it immediately after catching and then put it on ice in a cooler. I mean, if you want it REALLY fresh, do that. I’ve also just thrown it in a garbage bag and took it home without any ice at all, thrown it into the freezer for three days and ate it later. It was FANTASTIC. So, you probably can’t really go wrong with cooking them. It’s a fish anyone can make taste great. So, if you screw it up, you know you did something horribly wrong!
Vern’s Broiled Snook Recipe
- Fish – gut them and scale them, but there’s no need to fillet. I fillet very few fish, I just don’t see the need for it.
- Butter – I mean good butter. Whole fat. Salted.
- Garlic – minced.
- Black pepper – finely ground.
- Lemon – squeeze a bit on the top of the fish, but don’t overdo it, unless you really love it. It can dominate the taste quickly with too much.
- Preheat the oven to 500°F or higher. I usually go to 600°F.
- Cut a 5-foot long rectangle of foil (needs to cover length of the fish twice. So, if your snook is 30 inches, you’ll need 5 feet of foil.
- Put a thin coat of olive oil on the foil where the snook will lay on top and put the foil on a thin metal pan for quickest result. Or use a glass pyrex pan, but it will take 5+ minutes longer to cook.
- Put the fish on the foil and make 5-6 incisions into the flesh with a sharp knife. Open the fish and apply butter in side and to the skin on top. You’re not going to eat the skin (I hope), but the butter will drip into the cuts.
- Sprinkle a LOT of black pepper all over the top skin of the fish. The pepper taste will not be strong with cooking, it virtually disappears. You’re not eating the skin anyway.
- Add garlic inside the fish and all over the top with the butter. Close the top of the foil by cinching it closed on top and sides. Poke foil with fork 4-5 times across top to let out some steam.
- Drop that bad boy into the oven away from the heat source. If you’ve got the oven on broil, put the fish on the top rack. If it’s on bake setting, drop the fish down to the bottom rack.
- Let it cook for about 8 minutes then check it. You don’t want it burned AT ALL. When you open the foil to check it, some steam should escape, the liquid should be boiling in the foil. If so, it’s probably ready, but check the thickest portion with a fork and pull some out. Cooked thoroughly? Time to eat!
PRO TIP – just about any fish can have parasites, worms, etc – usually near the tail area, but they can be anywhere in the flesh. Have a look at your fish as you fillet it or gut it and cut out anything suspicious. You can still eat your fish as long as it’s cooked well. When you have a choice, always choose to eat the smaller (younger) fish because they have less toxins and parasites. That’s true for all species!
- Worldwide Snook Distribution
- Recreational Snook Fishing Info / Research
- IUCN Redlist – The International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Image credits: Top of page – . Snook species illustrations ©Diane Peebles.
Outdoor Essentials – Portable Grills
Small Coleman Portable Grill (6 colors) See it here.
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More Fishing Guides with All You Need to Know
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