In the waters where they roam, common snook, also known as ròbalo — or as we call them in the United States, “snook” — are a prized game fish. They will typically fight hard, exploding into long runs and showing off their aerial abilities, as they attempt to shake a hook. They also have a mild, flaky meat that makes them popular on the table.
Where the snook are
Snook like structure. They use it as camouflage and to regulate temperature.
Nicole Spenc says snook are reclusive. “They don’t come to you, you gotta go find them.”
Snook are able to tolerate low salinity and prefer estuarine environments with current or tidal flow. The fish face into the current and lie waiting for the moving water to sweep bait toward them.
The northernmost extent of snook range is the southern and central coasts — on both the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic sides — of the Florida Peninsula and the southern Gulf Coast of Texas. Snook have been known to range farther north when the water is warm enough, but doing so often has disastrous consequences.
Their comfort range falls between 68 and 78 degrees Fahrenheit. Snook are unable to tolerate water temperatures below 60 degrees.
A cold snap in 2010 resulted in a huge die-off of snook and closed Florida’s Gulf Coast snook fishery for several years. In 2016, it was reported that snook had moved northward and were being caught along the Nature Coast, north of Tampa.
In early 2018, however, the water in Tampa Bay was cold enough that dead snook were reported across the fishery. Your best bet for chasing snook is to find the warmer waters in their range, like South Florida and the extreme southern tip of coastal Texas.
Between water temperature fluctuations and a history of overfishing, snook are a highly-managed game species throughout their U.S. range. Seasons are short and regulated, and reelers often require a special license. When they are allowed to be harvested, the bag limit for snook is typically restricted to one per day.
The keeper slots are very narrow, as well. In Texas, you can only keep snook that are 24 to 28 inches long. In Florida, the Gulf Coast and Atlantic snook fisheries are managed separately and have their own slot sizes. The minimum length is 28 inches in either fishery. The Gulf Coast maximum length is 33 inches, and the top of the keeper slot on the Atlantic side is 32 inches.
Regulations can change, though. Check with the fishery department in the state where you’re fishing before grabbing your rod and hitting the water.
What this effectively means is that you’re going to release more snook than you keep. So, you need to prepare accordingly.
You can only target snook using hook and line. Use circle hooks and techniques that minimize the mortality rates of released fish. When possible, leave them in the water. If you have to take them out to remove a hook, do so quickly and get them back in the water as soon as possible.
Nicole Spenc cautions about setting the hook too hard, though. “Snook are different. Their mouths are really soft, so you have to be careful not to rip the hook out.”
This is one of the reasons that a snook battle can be such an awesome challenge: You have to combine finesse with power to reel them in.
Live bait ensures the best success when targeting snook. Mullet, sardines, shrimp or crab can be suspended or fished off the bottom where snook are lying. Lures that mimic live bait patterns in the natural environment can also be effective with these aggressive opportunists.
If you do catch a snook in the slot and want to make a meal out of it, it is best prepared in fillets. Grill it with some lemon. However, be sure to remove the skin: When cooked, the skin permeates the meat with a flavor that’s been described as “soapy.”