Anglers new to snook fishing should realize that the "linesider" is a tropical species, more often found in the mangrove estuaries of central and northern South America. Over thousands of years, snook have migrated to Florida as their northernmost region, although few snook exist in north Florida compared to the central and southern part of the Sunshine State.
|This monster snook was quickly posed for a snapshot and then gently released to insure its well being. Photo: Captain Dave Pomerleau|
A snook can be visualized as a saltwater black bass in its proclivity for structure, ambush and huge suction-style strikes. In Florida, snook range in size from fingerlings to monsters weighing over forty pounds.
The bridge is often the epicenter of go-to hotspots for snook, since this tropical species uses structure as a hiding place to ambush baitfish that are passing through the compressed current that bridges create. Snook are a flexible species regarding habitat; they can easily switch the refuge of jungle mangrove roots for the concrete pilings of bridges.
Snook are also pliable in their ability to tolerate a high influx of fresh water. In fact, snook thrive where there is a mix of inland fresh water, transitional salty bays, passes and cuts that lead to the open sea. The one thing that will kill them is prolonged exposure to very cold water without any refuge to deeper water. The winter of 2010 killed thousands of snook in Florida, but the species seems to be on the rebound in areas that were close to the ocean.
In general, snook can be thought of as best pursued at night when they feed most actively. Therefore, nighttime bridges with lights and shadow lines below create additional hiding places for these crafty predators. In addition, nighttime lights over marine waters can be thought of as not only baitfish attractors, but, therefore, luminous baitfish displays as well. In most cases, the lighting configuration on bridges creates a regular series of lit waters below that snook either habituate on or stop at on their pursuit of bait through the area.
Some snook hold along lightless bridges, but my experience has shown that the lights concentrate snook along the bridge most reliably. I also make a practice of checking on the status of the lights on the bridges I intend to fish a full 24 hours ahead of time. There's a great deal of disappointment showing up to bridge fish for snook one starry night and finding the lights are out.
Standing on bridges to fish for snook from above is far more advantageous than fishing "back" to the bridge from a boat. There are three reasons for this. First, lures can be retrieved along the shadow line from above for long periods of the presentation in a way a boat cannot achieve. Second, snook will sense the presence of a boat much more quickly than a discrete silhouette carefully looking down. Third, it is more advantageous to hook a snook from the bridge above and get its head up and follow the fish around pilings than from the almost static position of a boat. Even a boat powered by an electric trolling motor cannot follow a hooked snook along the bridge the way a pedestrian can. The only exception is if the snook runs under the bridge to the other side, which is something stout tackle and hard fighting technique from the angler can prevent.
|Enterprising experts like Captain Dave bring large live bait cars close to the bridge. Photo: Captain Dave Pomerleau|
Bridges, Tides and the Water Column
If I had to choose the most optimal conditions for bridge fishing for snook, I'd prefer a strong outgoing tide in the presence of enough wind to scuff the surface of the water. Here's why I like these conditions.
Although snook hit on bridges during both phases of the tide and all other variables being equal, the outgoing tide pushes bait from upper regions of water towards larger bays, inlets and the ocean. Snook have learned to position themselves under the bridges as shrimp and crabs are pushed into the open waters. This is also dependent on the geographic location of the bridge. That being said, anglers should fish both tidal phases on bridges, but with some observation as to whether the outgoing or incoming tide is better. When it comes to bridges, my experience in South Florida has shown me that the outgoing tide has a slight edge.
Moon phase is intimately tied to strength of the current as well as the heights of each tide. Not surprisingly, snook will be more active when the stronger spring tide currents of the new or full moon pushes bait through bridges with even more "lunar force." Finfish and crustacean baits have far less ability to resist the current and steer away from the bridge shadows during the spring tides. After years of exposure to faster water, the snook that aggregate under urban bridges associate the swifter water with the production of more "helpless food." Neophyte bridge snookers are generally better rewarded on the spring tides. Spring tides also create higher high tides and lower low tides, so bridge anglers can also work the shallow edges of bridges on the high tides and begin to move towards the bridge center on the lowest part of the low tide. Again, that being said, some bridges produce fairly well on the slower neap tides. In addition, some wind behind a weak tide can help to increase its velocity, move more bait, and make the snook more active. Remember the maxim: all bridges produce and behave differently.
Some wind is desirable along the bridges, though not essential. I like a bit of wind since the ensuing surface scuff makes the presentation of lures more successful to snook that are a bit less spooky. Windy water muffles the splashes of lures or fly lines and leaders. Windy water also breaks up the refraction of light as well as gives snook less of a chance to "over-examine" an artificial presentation. As discussed previously, any strong windy gusts tend to create more helpless baitfish and hence easier ambush meals for "happier" snook. Not surprisingly, anglers fishing live baits like mullet or ladyfish for big snook may not be as dependent on the forgiveness and advantages of windy weather as fly and lure anglers.
|The ends and fenders of bridges often create good feeding stations for whopper snook. Photo: Captain Dave Pomerleau|
The snook's relationship to the water column is one of the most crucial yet overlooked factors when fishing the bridges. Most anglers simply think that the visible snook along the shadow lines of the uptide side of the bridge are the only snook along that structure. This kind of thinking is fatally flawed, as the truth is that snook can be positioned everywhere along a bridge, meaning from the top of the water column all the way to resting on the bottom, as well as from the uptide side of the bridge and the downtide side of the bridge.
Once again, these considerations are slightly more important for lure and fly fishermen, since the level of their retrieve in the water column is determined by where the snook are holding. Live bait anglers more often "work" their baits all over the bridge and the bait's vibration and scent succeed in bringing the snook toward the offering from wherever in the water column they were holding. The ultimate advice for artificial lure anglers is to work the entire water column from top to bottom until the strikes tip off where the groups of snook or each individual snook are/is holding. Do not forget to work the bottom of the bridge pilings and fenders thoroughly — you are trying to target the snook that you cannot see as well as the snook that cannot see you. Although it's true that more snook rise to the surface of bridge structures during the night, many remain stationed along the bottom as well.
Tackle, Lures and Live Bait
While it is true that a good writer would need at least one hundred pages to cover these three factors, some basic observations will meet the minimal requirements.
Bridge fishing for snook at night means using tackle that is realistic and appropriate for combat fishing. For lure anglers, I recommend using strong graphite spinning or casting rods that sport 30-pound braided line topped off with a 50-pound fluorocarbon leader. The diameter of the leader should be adjusted to how calm the water is and how cautious the snook are. The reels should feature strong smooth drags, an infinite anti-reverse, and a high-speed retrieve ratio that takes up line quickly during the battle. Follow the maxim: the bigger the snook, the heavier the tackle.
Popular artificial lures include three types: bucktails with a plastic worm or hackle enhancer, diving crankbaits and soft plastic swimbaits. Soft plastics include the D.O.A. line of products or paddletails that have their own built-in action.
Live bait outfits should reflect the fact that this is the method that catches the monsters. Live bait tackle is generally conventional tackle with big levelwind reels with 50-pound test, stout "pool cue" rods with lots of guides, finished off with 80-pound fluorocarbon leaders and super sharp J-hooks (size determined by the bait being used). The most popular live baits are mullet, pinfish, jumbo live shrimp, grunts, small ladyfish and even small mangrove snapper. It's even been theorized that huge snook will grab almost any live bait they feel able to engulf!