Late August and all of September are still summertime in Florida, although the majority of fish have already spawned and are starting to move inshore or out to the wrecks. The largest concentrations of fish will still be along the beaches, around the passes and on the nearshore wrecks.
Since the freeze of 2012 when a lot of our snook died during a 10-day cold snap, the fish have been coming back strong. The largest fish are going to come from the wrecks, passes and bridge—deeper water areas, but there will still be some nice ones coming from the beaches.
There’s still a lot of small pilchards and glass minnows on the beach that time of the year, so the fish won’t move far from the steady supply of food. One of the keys to having success on the beach is to go where there’s not a lot of foot traffic or fishing pressure. Look for sections of beach that aren’t populated, and that’s where the snook will be cruising in tight to shore.
The best time for beach fishing is during the high tide. That’s when the snook move up into the trough right against the shore to feed. If you have a high tide in the early morning, you’ll have low light so the fish can’t see your lure as well, and a good population of snook right up against the shore.
Since the fish are feeding on small baitfish, you want to throw lures that represent what they’re eating in size, shape and color. Lipless crankbaits, shad-tail grubs, bucktails and swimming plugs in chartreuse, white or green and white all work well. You want them to be 3 to 4 inches in length, since most of the baits are small. One of my favorite lures for targeting snook in the surf is a ¼-ounce chrome or silver spoon, which mimics all of the different baitfish species.
On the nearshore reefs you can target them with swimming and diving plugs, or with live baits like a threadfin herring, Spanish sardine or pilchard. And if you’re looking for a trophy fish, put out a mullet head or chunk of ladyfish around the marinas or the mouth of a pass and it’ll get picked up by those big lazy female snook.
For tackle, I like 3000 to 4000 size spinning reels with 10 to 20 pound braided line and a seven foot fast action rod. Snook have great vision, so you want to make the longest cast possible, but still have the power to set the hook and move a fish that is trying to get into structure. On the beach, or anywhere the water is clear, you want to go with a light leader—say 25 to 30 pound fluorocarbon, so the fish don’t see it and shy away from your offering. The same applies to hook size—you want to use the smallest hook possible so that it doesn’t weigh down the bait and make it look unnatural. Because it’s still very warm, the best snook fishing is going to take place at dawn and dusk, the coolest periods of the day, and also when the light levels are low. On rainy or overcast days, the bite will go on all day.
Keep in mind that snook season is still closed in August, and pay attention to the differences in slot sizes between each coast. If you catch an undersized or oversized fish, handle it with care, and if at all possible don’t even take it out of the water when removing the hook. The less stress you put on a fish, the better its chance for survival, and the better the odds that someone else will have the chance to catch it again.