Follow the Fish
Capt. Pete Rapps
The common snook (Centropomus undecimalis) are the most widely distributed species within the Centropomus genus, and have been reported as far north as New York (USA) and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Common snook are abundant along the Atlantic coast of Florida from Cape Canaveral south through the Keys and Dry Tortugas, and north to Cedar Key on the gulf coast. Common snook occur infrequently along the coast of Texas to Galveston and then more or less continuously south to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Here in the 10,000 Islands, Snook are greatly sought after by near coastal and back country sport fishermen. The attraction comes from their difficulty to locate and catch, and for their lightning fast strong runs and amazing jumps after hooking up with them.
Juvenile common Snook are generally restricted to the protection of rivers and estuary environments. These environments offer shallow water and overhanging mangrove lined shorelines. Juvenile common snook can survive in waters with lower oxygen levels than adults. Adult common Snook inhabit many environments including mangrove lined rivers, beaches, river mouths, near shore reefs, salt marshes, and sea grass meadows. Adult common snook appear to be less sensitive to cold water temperatures than larvae or small juveniles. The lower lethal limit of water temperature is 48.2°-57.2° F for juveniles, and 42.8°-53.6° F for adults.
Common snook have a slender body and a distinct lateral line. The dorsal fins are high and divided and the anal spines are relatively short. The common snook has a sloping forehead with a large mouth and a protruding lower jaw. Adult common snook can grow to over 47.24 inches total length, which is larger than any other species in this family. Common snook on the Atlantic coast of Florida commonly grow to larger sizes than commonsnook on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The largest observed sizes for females on the Atlantic and gulf coasts are 43.5 inches and 40.6 inches, respectively. The world record for a common snook caught on hook and line is a 53-pound 10-ounce in Parismina Ranch, Costa Rica.
It is thought that common snook can live to about twenty years of age. On the Atlantic coast, the oldest sampled common snook was an eighteen-year-old female, and the oldest male was fifteen. Here on the Gulf Coast, the oldest common snook sampled was a fifteen year old female, and the oldest male was twelve.
An interesting fact about the Common Snook is that they are protandric hermaphrodites, meaning that they change from male to female after maturation. This transition is identified by the presence of both male and female sex cells in the gonads and takes place when they grow to between 9.4-24 inches in fork length, which corresponds to 1-7 years of age. The majority of small common snook are male and most large snook are female. Males reach sexual maturity during their first year at 5.9-7.9 inches fork length. Research shows that female gonads mature directly from the mature male gonads shortly after spawning. The probability that a common snook of a particular size will be a female increases with length or age.
Rick Roberts of the Snook Foundation (www.SnookFoundation.org) states that the incredible rise in the number of fishing trips in FL (estimated 30,000,000 this year alone) ensures the accuracy needed in data has become extremely important. Without Fishermen, the rules and regulations are set by scientists and technicians who are not out there fishing every day. Rich says that we are left with little recourse other than to complain about the unfairness of this process. Rick recommends that all readerswill be helping the cause and themselves by logging their catch at www.angleraction.org I have used this web site to record data that will be beneficial to the future of our Snook populations.
Snook took a hard hit in January of 2010 when we had 10 consecutive nights of freezing temperatures. Many of our local shallow bays were exterminated of Snook as the water temperatures fell into the 40’s. Since then, Snook have been illegal to take, and the FWC continues to monitor their recovery.
Here is a history of Snook regulations in our local areas:
- 1947 – Snook haul seines made illegal in Lee County.
- 1947 – Snook haul seines made illegal in Lee County.
- 1951 – Snook haul seines made illegal in Collier County.
- 1953 – Minimum size set at 18 inches fork length.
- 1957 – Snook made illegal to buy or sell. Capture by hook and line only. Bag limit set at four snook per day, eight snook possession limit.
- 1981 – Bag limit reduced to two snook per day, two snook possession limit. No snook less than 26 inches fork length may be taken in June or July during 1982-1986.
- 1982 – June & July of 1982 closed to snook possession.
- 1983 – January and February 1983-1986, closed to snook possession. June and July 1983-1986 closed to snook possession.
- 1985 – January, February, June and July closed permanently to snook possession. August 1985-1986 closed to snook possession. Minimum size increased to 24 inches total length. Only one snook may be greater than 34 inches total length.
- 1987 – All species in the genus Centropomus covered by the regulations. August is closed permanently to snook possession. – All snook to be landed whole. Use of treble hooks prohibited with natural baits.
- 1994 – Closed winter season changed to December 15th through January 31st.
- 1999 – Slot limit is set at 26 inches minimum / 34 inches maximum total length.
- 2002 – Possession limit reduced to one snook and May closed to snook possession on West Coast of Florida only. East Coast of Florida not changed.
- 2006 – Minimum size increased to 27 inches total length. 34 inches maximum total length not changed. Total length defined as the straight line distance from the most forward point of the head with the mouth closed, to the farthest tip of the tail with the tail compressed or squeezed, while the fish is lying on its side.
- 2007 – Slot and bag limit, and open seasons, reduced per above.
- 2011 – Next stock assessment!
- Current Rules: Slot Limit (Atlantic): 28″ to 32″ Bag Limit: 1 per person – Stamp Required. Snook are currently closed in all Gulf waters – the Snook fishery is closed until at least September 1, 2012. Be sure to follow current regulations at www.myFWC.com
Local anglers reported some of the best Snook fishing the area has seen since the freeze and Snook Kill of January 2010. We look forward to their recovery as time goes by. Stop in you local bait and tackle shops to get the scoop on what and where the Snook are hitting, or hire a local guide to put you on some.
Thank you to Rick Roberts at the Snook Foundation, and to the Ichthyology Department at the Florida Museum of Natural History for supplying information in this article.
Capt. Rapps has been fishing the Chokoloskee area for just over 20 years. He offers expert guided, light tackle, near shore, and backwater fishing trips in the 10,000 Islands of the Everglades National Park. You can book a charter right online 24/7. See the online availability calendar, booking info, videos, recipes, seasonings, and first class web site at www.CaptainRapps.com and you can reach him at 239-571-1756.