Snook are a bit snooty.
Well, at least that’s the impression I got the first time I encountered one.
I was diving in the Florida’s aptly named Crystal River and had seen and photographed tarpon, manatees and mangrove snapper. They were all quite chill and approachable.
I found snook and they would look at you and bolt away.
That snootiness is actually part of their charm as these gorgeous fish have a reputation for being a challenge to catch along with fighting like a bulldog.
Last weekend I had the privilege of fishing with Capt. Brian Barrera and TF&G Going Coastal columnist Kelly Groce down in the South Padre Island area. Tarpon had begun showing up a little early so we tried our luck with them and although we did see a few smaller fish, sharks were thick.
Catching a big spinner, a blacktip and a bonnethead was fun, but we decided to move away from the jetties and move into the Brownsville Ship Channel area for snook.
The water was very off-colored due to run-off from a recent major storm system, so fishing conditions were tough.
“Murky water makes snook fishing tough but we’ll catch some,” Barrera said.
“Just remember, they’re a lot like a bass. Pick apart the structure like you would bass fishing and you will connect.”
Late in the evening we found an area with some interesting-looking surface feeding activity and after I made a long cast with the pink topwater, it happened.
A snook sucked down the plug and put on an impressive fight.
The next cast produced another snook a little smaller, but i was no less excited.
I’ve literally fished all over the world and caught obscure and challenging fish like payara, Wels catfish and white sturgeon but never a snook.
I was so grateful for Brian and Kelly taking me out to not only catch snook but teach me more about the snook fishery.
They shared the story of one day producing 151 caught-and-released snook and how several of his clients have caught genuine monster fish.
Texas can keep one snook between 24-28 inches but Barrera said he has never kept one.
“It’s best to put them back so more people can enjoy catching these amazing sportfish,” he said.
Texas has at least two snook species, the large common snook and the much smaller fat snook. Taxonomists are determining whether there is actually a third species of snook that has slight variations from the fat one. And, no that’s not a jab at these little guys!
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) officials, from the late 1800s to the early 1940s, commercial snook landings were quite large and even reached 230,000 lbs landed in Port Isabel in 1928.
Since the early 1940s, commercial landings dropped to token levels with no landings reported after 1961. In 1987, regulations were passed that limited the catch of snook to rod and reel only.
Recreational landings of snook remain relatively small at <0.1% of coastwide landings for all species according to TPWD.
However, an encouraging recent trend in TPWD gill net samples conducted in the Lower Laguna Madre has shown a small increase in catch rates for snook in the 1990s through 2004 when compared to the 1970s and 80s.
Part of the low landings issue is the isolation. While there are snook occasionally caught as far north as Sabine Lake, the vast majority are in the most remote area of the coast-from Port Mansfield southward. Booking a trip with a skilled snook specialist like Brian Barrera greatly increases your odds of catching these great fish which are in many ways one of the top “trophy fish” of the Texas Coast.
The Texas state record snook was caught by Louis Rawalt in 1937 and weighed 57.50 pounds! Although listed as caught in the Gulf of Mexico, it is rumored to have been caught technically in Gulf waters but from the South Padre Island area.
South Texas has a vibrant snook fishery that is still a bit mysterious.
After all, these are fish that live in saltwater but can also live in freshwater and that change from male to female, usually in the 30-24 inch range according to TPWD.
“The combined strategy of size and bag limits is to reduce fishing mortality for male snook allowing more of them to achieve a larger size and change sex thereby increasing reproduction,” said TPWD’s Lower Laguna Madre Ecosystem Leader Randy Blankinship.
Catching a Texas snook was definitely one of my angling highlights. Now as my friend Kelly Groce said, “You need to come back and get a size upgrade.”
That will definitely happen.
Something about pursuing Texas snook has gotten under my skin and that’s a good thing.
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