Several species of snook, or ròbalo, are out there — six in the Atlantic and six in the Pacific — but only four species are capable of growing bigger than 10 pounds. Of these four, only one is found in U.S. waters, in the subtropical Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of México: the common snook (Centropomus undecimalis).
The other large Atlantic species lives in the waters off Mexico, throughout the Caribbean, and ranges as far south as Brazil. The two larger Pacific varieties can be found along coastal Central America.
Three of the large species — the common snook, Mexican snook, and Pacific white snook — can only be differentiated from one another by counting the non-rudimentary gill rakers. This can cause a whole lot of trouble when trying to certify a species.
Fortunately, in the northern part of the range, we can concentrate on the common snook — which we’re just going to call “snook” from here on out to keep things simple.
Snook are prized for their flavor and their fight which is why reelers love to go after them. They were once an important commercial species in the U.S., but the fishery was closed and snook were reclassified as a game fish only.
Even as a game fish, snook are highly regulated. Their sensitivity to water temperatures has led to die-offs during cold snaps in the Gulf of Mexico. From 2011 to 2016, snook were catch-and-release only on Florida’s Gulf Coast, until the population rebounded.
Texas and Florida, the only two states with viable snook fisheries, strictly manage snook seasons, bag limits, and slot sizes. Before you head out with a rod and reel, make sure you check the latest regulations and licensing information.
Where are they?
Snook are tropical fish that thrive in water temperatures between 68 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that the northernmost viable populations are in the waters off Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, as well as in South Texas. Snook have been caught in Georgia and Louisiana waters, but don’t count on doing so.
Snook are inshore fish that rely on estuarine habitats. They enter freshwater ecosystems like the Crystal and St. John’s Rivers in Florida, Gatun Lake on the Panama Canal, as well as mangrove swamps along tropical coasts.
What do they eat?
Snook are carnivorous, eating other fish, shrimp, and crustaceans. They are opportunistic, and as snook get bigger, they chase bigger prey — including smaller snook.
Live bait, like shrimp, crabs, and mullet work well for snook. They also respond well to lures and flies.
How big do they get?
The IGFA all-tackle record for common snook is 53 pounds, 10 ounces (24.32 kg). It was caught in 1978 by Gilbert Ponzi near Parismina Ranch, Costa Rica. In 2015, Heather Connors landed a fat 45-pounder off Sebastian, Florida.
Typically, they run between five and fifteen pounds. The keeper slot in Texas is 24 to 28 inches. In Florida, it’s a little bigger: 28 inches to 32 or 33 inches, depending on where you’re fishing in the state. You have to release any fish outside the slot.
How do they taste?
Snook are delicious, and if you want to taste one, you’ll have to catch it yourself or get yourself invited over to a fellow reeler’s shore lunch. It’s illegal to sell snook, whether in a market, a restaurant, or among friends.