Snook is one of the most sought after fish in Florida, prized for its fighting spirit and delicious light flavor. Even though snook cannot be harvested commercially in Florida, independent anglers flock to the state’s waters in an attempt to catch one and cook it up themselves. However, snook season only happens twice a year, so if you want to catch one, you have to know when it’s legal to do so.
When Is Snook Season in Florida?
Recreational Harvest Season for Snook
Florida is one of two states (Texas is the other) that has banned the commercial harvest of snook to protect their numbers, which were dwindling quickly before the bans went in place in 1957 (Florida) and 1999 (Texas). Recreationally, fishermen are able to harvest snook during two specific times in Florida. You can fish for snook in March, April, and again in September, October, and November. This includes the Gulf of Mexico and Everglades State Park.
Cold weather is dangerous to snook, which is why the season is closed from December through February. They are already vulnerable during this time, so fishing them would only add to the decrease in their numbers. Moreover, snook are protected during their spawning season, which occurs from May through September, though the peak spawning time is between June and August. This time is critical for ensuring the continued survival of the species.
Even during the seasons when snook is available for recreational harvesting, there are limits to the number you can keep, as well as a minimum and maximum size. You may only keep one fish per day, and that fish must be at least 28 inches long and no longer than 33 inches long. The fish should be measured from the most forward part of its head to the farthest tip of its tail while the fish is on its side.
Additionally, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission asks that fishermen still use moderation when determining whether to keep a snook that is caught in season. This is because even though their numbers had risen following the protective actions taken in 1957, an unusual cold snap in 2010 negatively affected the snook population, and it is still trying to recover. When catching and releasing snook, carefully remove them from your hook to give them a better chance at survival.
Snook Permit Is Required
You must have a valid snook permit to keep a snook, even during the recreational harvest season. In addition, you also need a saltwater fishing license as well, unless you are exempt from these requirements. Exemptions include those or children under the age of 16, Florida residents aged 65 years and older, Florida residents who are on public assistance, Florida residents who use cane poles or other non-mechanical retrieval devices and fish from shore, and others.
An annual snook permit is $10.00 per year or $50.00 for five years for both residents and non-residents of Florida. Again, you must also have a saltwater license, which is $17.00 per year or $79.00 for five years for Florida residents. For non-residents, the cost of a saltwater license is $17.00 for three days, $30.00 for seven days, or $47.00 for a year. Apply online, over the phone, at local sporting goods stores, or at your County Tax Collector’s office.
Provide Snook Carcasses to the FWCC
Although not required, local researchers request that fishermen who keep a snook during the season save their filleted carcass and donate to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The biological information obtained from these carcasses, including age, size, sex, and maturity, will help researchers determine how much stock is available in the area. Carcasses can be dropped off at participating bait and tackle shops. This process, of course, does not prevent you from keeping the meat.
Male vs Female Snook
All snook are born male, with a small percentage of fish reversing sex to female when they reach about 22 inches in size. This means that there are many more male snook than female, which can be a problem for reproduction. The stipulation that any snook that is kept during open season has to be at least 28 inches and no larger than 33 inches is designed to give fishermen a nice catch while still protecting the breeders.
Older female snook, which are also usually larger than 33 inches, are the most fertile fish, so the size limit prevents these valuable fish from harvesting. Additionally, male snook attain sexual maturity earlier than females, so they are able to spawn several times before a female is able to spawn just once. The limits placed on harvested snook help keep the population healthy and as plentiful as possible, while still giving anglers the thrill of reeling in a large fish.
Finding and Catching Snook
Snook are skittish fish and don’t much care for open water, so for this reason, you want to fish areas that provide a lot of opportunities for shelter. Snook like the waters around mangroves, oyster beds, bridges, and grass flats, as they feel more protected in these areas. However, knowing they like these hiding places means that as soon as you hook one, it will head toward its safe spots, bringing your hook and line with it.
To catch a snook, move up-current from its hiding place and cast your hook and bait. Allow the water to naturally carry the bait to the fish, which will hopefully mistake it for prey. The best fishing time for snook is at night, especially if you want to land a big one. Baits like artificial crabs, shrimp, mullet, menhaden, and sardines tend to work best for Florida snook, but bottom jigs or swimmer bait have been successful as well.
Anglers from all over the country come to Florida to catch snook. If they aren’t in season, you’ll have to catch and release, but at least you’ll get a great photograph. However, if you want to keep your catch and try its excellent flavor, you need to plan your trip to coincide with the season when snook can be legally caught and kept.