Cool Weather Means Hot River Snookin'


Capt. Butch Rickey

Most anglers think of snook as warm water, warm weather fish. Devoted snook anglers, their boats and their passengers, expose themselves to all manner of natural elements in the water, on the water, above the water, and in the sky, while chasing Mr. Linesides. The most devoted snookers chase snook through the night hours when the added element of darkness and the threat of having all your blood siphoned by encephalitus infected mosquitoes makes the challenge even greater. No, chasing snook during the warm months is not an activity for the fair weather fisherman.

When the first big blow comes roaring through in late November or early December, it mysteriously blows both the snook and the fishermen out of the shallows where they've been all summer. Ironically, the snook move to the warmth of deeper waters, while most fishermen move to the warmth of their living rooms for the winter.

For snook, warm winter waters usually means deep creeks and canals, shipping lanes, deep basins, and rivers. Yes rivers. And, the colder it gets the further upriver they're likely to go. You could wind up just a pitch over the dam from bass country, or even in bass country. A couple of winters ago, after a really cold front moved through and the wind was howling out of the north, we caught bass, snook, and redfish on the same plugs in the same waters of the Peace River, near Arcadia, Florida. That's some 40 miles from the salt water. You probably won't have to wash your tackle down at the end of the day because you're likely to be fishing water that's just a salt shaker away from fresh.

So, you see, you don't have to stop snook fishing just because the winter cold and winds set in. All you have to do is change your tactics a little. Just think like a snook that is trying to keep warm, and you should be able to find snook all winter long. And the best part is that you can probably keep doing it from the same boat you chase snook with in the summer. But, you could also do it from a canoe. I live on the west coast, and fish mostly the Manatee and Braden Rivers in the Sarasota area, and the Caloosahatchee River in Ft. Myers, as well as the many canals along the Intercoastal Waterway. Excellet winter snooking also can be found on the Peace and Myakka Rivers to the south, and the Little Manatee and Alafia to the north. If you like city fishing, you can try the Hillsborough River in Tampa.

Although I have very little experience on the east coast, I'm sure winter snooking in the rivers from Miami to points north where the water stays above 60 degrees is a good bet. Warm water is the key. If a front catches snook in waters that drop below 60 degrees for too long, you're likely to find snook floating belly-up, hard as a carp. One place it's easy for snook to stay warm is in the warm water outflows of the many electrical power plants found on both coasts. So, if you live within easy traveling distance to one of these, don't forget to try them in the dead of winter. The warm water not only attracts snook, but all manner of other critters you may be interested in.

Both live and artificial baits will do the job on those cold days, but I lean heavily toward artificials. Large hand-picked shrimp are always great, but often attract unwanted company. I'm not real keen on getting soaking wet cast-netting for live bait on a 32 degree morning, especially when there probably isn't any, or of repeatedly getting my hands wet trying to use live bait on those cold mornings. Artificials are easier, offer many more choices, and suit my style of fishing better. Besides, some live baits can be very difficult to find on those frigid mornings.

If you're going to use livies, I recommend a 1/0 to 2/0 wire hook, as fine and light as possible. You need at least 18 inches of 25 to 30 pound test shock leader. I prefer twice that, tied to the main line with an Albright Special or a Tie-Fast knot, both of which will easily pass through the line guides on your rod. I recommend you use a premium grade line instead of leader line. For instance, I usually use Bass Pro's Excel 8 pound for my main line. I use Ande 25 or 30 pound fishing line for my leader line. Why? It's much smaller in diameter than regular leader line, and is therefore less visible to the wary snook. It is also much more supple, with less memory, and I think, just as abrasion resistant. I'm convinced you'll draw more strikes, and catch more fish if you keep your leader material as invisible as possible.

If you're going to fish shrimp, there are two good ways to hook them for a natural presentation. If you're going to cast them and let them free-line in the current or just lay near cover, hook them just under the horn toward the front of the head. Be careful not to hook the shrimp any deeper than necessary to get under the horn. If you're going to cast and slowly retrieve the bait, cut the tail fins off at the body, so the shrimp tapers to a natural point, then hook the first knuckle from underneath. With the tail fin gone, the shrimp will pull through the water naturally. If you leave the tail on, it will spin and not draw many looks, as well as making a twisted mess of your line. The shrimp will also survive a harder cast with this hookup. This may be a plus if you're fishing in something like a narrow mangrove creek where heavier tackle is required. Now, let's talk artificials. There are lots of choices, but my favorites are topwater plugs with a trailer jig. Any topwater that will support a 3/8 to 1/4 jig will probably work. The plugs that I most often make my trailer rigs with are the Johnny Rattler, the Rebel Jimpin Minnow, and the Dalton Special, the Boone Castana, and the Heddon Zara Spook. I also like floater/divers like Rapalas, Bomber Long A's, floating Rattletraps, Snookers, Bagley's Top Gun, A.C. Shiners 550's, and of course, the Rebels. When it's time to go deeper I like crankbaits like 1/2 oz. Rattletraps, Rapala Rattlin' Raps, and the Mirrolutre M33 rattler, along with jigs. One winter, on one of my first trips up the Braden River, I caught 9 snook, several redfish, and a number of big river jacks sitting on a flat that gets a lot of current flow across it on the inside of a bend in the river. They all hit a red and white Johnny Rattler with a Bubba Jig ties two feet behind, and sporting a green augertail grub with a red firetail. I'm also a lover of the spoon, and fish them a lot when I'm fishing for my own fun. Overall, I don't think there's a better universal artificial bait than the spoon. It casts like a bullet over great distances, is very easy to cast accurately, is almost totally weedless both in 6 inches of water and 6 feet up into the mangroves, and can be fished shallow or deep, casting or trolling. It is attractive to all manner of inshore species, and I've cuaght everthing but mullet on them. I even catch the occasional brave sheephead on the spoon, especially when working it slowly. One thing's for sure, snook will suck the chrome off them. Don't overlook the spoon as a prime snook bait, especially when you're fishing in the shallows where other baits won't work well, or around the mangroves. The spoon's qualities make it a prime artificial for snook.

Once you arrive at the river of your choice, it's not that different from fishing other places for snook. When you're on the river look for creeks joining the river, the junction of two or more creeks, small bays or bayous draining into the river, or deep water (5 feet or more) right along a shoreline. They all signal probable strong current flow, and that is the hallmark of Mr. Linesides. He like moving water. These should be really good spots on the outgoing tides.

Most rivers have at least a few islands scattered along their lenghts. When you find them, fish any point that has a yard or more of water along the shore. The same goes for any depressions or potholes you might find in the area, as long as you've got moving water.

Spoil piles, sand bars, oyster bars, and flats that have current flow over them on incoming tides are also likely places to find snook. The rising bottom will tend to stack bait up on the front side and makes a nice little snack bar for the snook to dine at.

Where ever you're fishing on a cold winter morning, try to fish the spots that are on the north side of the creek, river, bank, or bar you're fishing. With the sun low in the winter sky, these banks will warm up first. The snook are more likely to be here in the warmer water than in colder spots.

So, the basic rules then are, fish the mangrove lined shorelines, and the front sides of bars, etc., on the incoming tides. Fish the mouths of creeks, bays, and tributaries on the outgoing tides. A good tactic to find those loosely schooled winter snook is to slow troll any of the above mentioned baits in close to the bank until you draw first blood. Then go back and work the area well by casting. If you do, you're likely to find some hot snook fishing on those cold winter days.

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