Fishing for snook on the flats requires skill and knowledge. The shallow water of Sarasota’s flats offers snook anglers the perfect backdrop for one of the most gratifying fishing experiences available. Snook are a premiere inshore gamefish and Sarasota provides the ideal conditions for a thriving snook fishery. If you’re interested in snook fishing on the shallow flats, then you’ve come to the right place.
Snook have an impressive combination of speed, power, and agility. A trophy snook will use all three when fighting against anglers on the flats. The pinnacle of flats fishing for snook is reserved for anglers using artificial lures on light tackle. The inshore waters around Sarasota, FL are furnished with miles of flats that serve as an underwater playground for Snook.
Unlocking Sarasota’s Shallow Water Snook
Snook are at home on the flats of Sarasota. They use the shallow water of the flats to their advantage. Snook are highly efficient predators that will not waste energy on unnecessary movements. When snook roam the flats, it is with purpose. They are versatile hunters and they ambush prey masterfully. There may not be another inshore gamefish that utilizes tidal currents more effectively than a snook.
Targeting snook on the flats with artificial baits on light tackle requires a thoughtful approach. Important factors to consider are: locating snook, lure selection, lure presentation, seasonal variations in snook movements, and snook preferences. Other keys outlined in this post are snook fishing patterns and using the right equipment for targeting snook in different scenarios.
Locating Snook on the Shallow Flats
Finding the areas of the flats that snook prefer to be in is imperative. The shallow water flats around Sarasota are expansive. It’s important to narrow down the areas that snook are most likely to be found. Carpet bombing a shallow flat with prospect casts is an extremely inefficient way to find snook. Instead, focus on the areas of the flat that the snook will most likely be located.
The Beginning or the End
The beginning or the end of a flat will be marked with a transition from deeper water to shallow water. That transition will often provide the ideal conditions for snook. This is especially the case if the transition zone is influenced by tidal current. Transition zones with deeper pockets or unique changes in bottom features are more likely to hold snook.
Snook love to hunt for food in areas with current. When adequate current is present, snook will be looking into the current and searching for their next meal. Often times, snook will settle down in an area that lends itself to ambushing prey.
A small depression, a sandy spot surrounded by grass, or an edge is all that it takes to make an area of the flats appealing to snook. Learn to recognize what snook look like in these settings and you will be ahead of the game. Better yet, learn to identify features on the flat that snook enjoy and you will be ahead of the curve.
Bars and Troughs
Sand bars and the troughs around them are magnets for inshore gamefish. Snook use sand bars for a variety of reasons. They travel along bars when moving from one spot to another. They use cuts through sand bars to ambush prey. During cooler months, they use the sand to warm up on mornings after a cold front rolls through. Snook can also be found in troughs between the sand bar and the shore line. Not every trough holds snook and some troughs only hold snook certain times of the year, but troughs are always worth investigating.
For instance, there is a trough in the Sarasota area that holds piles of snook in the spring. Hundreds of snook stack into this trough and we often have the entire trough to ourselves. But as the water continues to warm and summer arrives, snook no longer feel comfortable there. Snook begin leaving the trough and the trough becomes a barren, snookless wasteland. Timing, as it often is in fishing, is everything.
Pothole is a term used to describe a sandy area in an otherwise grassy flat. Potholes vary greatly in size and depth. Some are expansive, deep, and are spread out. Other potholes are small and can easily be skipped over by the untrained eye.
Given the choice to pick between the large and small potholes, I would focus on the smaller potholes. Those seem to hold the more aggressive fish. Snook in small potholes coil up and wait to unleash their energy on the next pinfish that unknowingly swims into their path.
Certainly, do not ignore the large potholes. When fishing larger potholes, the angler should note that the snook will likely be relating to one particular area or side of that pothole. Occasionally, you will find large numbers of snook piled up in a large pothole. Winter and early spring seem to be the best times for this.
Mangrove Islands can hold snook in high numbers and that’s why they are heavily targeted by live bait anglers. The challenge for anglers throwing artificial baits is finding a mangrove island that is not heavily pressured with live bait.
Not all mangrove islands are productive. There are a few features that make some islands fish better than others. The combination of depth and a sandy bottom near one of the shorelines usually enhances the likelihood that snook will be present. Mangrove islands near channels or current should receive attention as well.
When fishing mangrove islands, the tide and water movement should be noted. Snook will be looking to ambush prey that is being carried to them by the tide or wind. Points or corners should be thoroughly investigated. The mangrove root systems draping in the water provide great structure and a variety of food sources for snook.
Creek mouths are like veins that deliver new life to the shallow water flats. Creeks that find their end near or over grassy flats tend to have more life. These are generally the last areas drained on outgoing tides. Snook stage in areas where current breaks are available and wait for their next meal to float by.
Most creek mouths have similar features worth noting. The edges of primary and secondary cuts that mark the path of flowing water can be ideal locations for snook to lay in. Creek mouths frequently are dotted with oyster bars. The combination of oyster bars and flowing water produces feeding lanes. If there are snook in the area, they shouldn’t be far away.
The five distinct shallow water features listed above are great places to find snook on the flats. There are plenty of other productive areas on the flats to consider when targeting snook. Working through these areas efficiently is critical to success. Don’t get married to a spot! A creek mouth may have snook piled up one day and be nearly lifeless the next. If it’s not happening in one spot, move quickly to the next one.
Situational Lure & Equipment Selection
The process of choosing a lure to target shallow water snook should be thoughtful. Every angler is different and no two anglers fish the same way. Confidence goes a long way on the flats, so when selecting a bait for a situation, put some emphasis on using a bait that you have confidence in. Flats lures are designed to serve different purposes. Search baits are generally excellent for locating fish, but not ideal for sight fishing. Lures that are designed for slower more gentle presentations will not cover water efficiently.
Pairing the right rod & reel with each lure type and lure presentation style will make you a better snook angler. Some snook lures and presentations require a stiffer rod and larger reel. Other snook baits will call for the use of a lighter rod paired with a smaller reel. Long casts call for a longer rod, while a shorter stick is helpful delivering baits in more technical situations (pitching docks, etc.).
Covering water on the flats is a technique that should be employed situationally to yield the best results. This is a good method to employ in areas that you suspect are holding snook, but you have no visual confirmation that fish are there. This could be because the water clarity is poor, the angle of the sun, or lack of depth. Whatever the reason, the best approach here is to quickly check for signs of life with an effective lure.
There are a variety of baits that can be worked quickly to locate snook in shallow water. Probably the most popular bait in this situation is a soft plastic paddle tail on a jig head. These are time tested baits that consistently find fish. In shallow water, pairing the paddle tail with the right weight jig head is essential. An 1/8th ounce jig head will work well in most shallow water situations.
The Aquadream ADL Series Spoon
Another excellent bait for dissecting shallow water for snook quickly is the Aquadream ADL series spoon. The ADL series spoon is unlike any other spoon. Most spoons are clunky and prone to saltwater corrosion, but not the Aquadream ADL series spoon. This spoon is clean, aesthetically pleasing, weedless, and very resistant to saltwater corrosion.
The only part of the spoon that will corrode over time is the hook. But Aquadream designed the ADL series spoon with replaceable hook components. This allows you to replace hooks as they become dull or corroded. An important detail that cannot be forgotten is that all spoons should be thrown with a ball bearing swivel attached to the split ring. The swivel will prevent or at least delay the crippling effects of line twist.
There are multiple retrieve techniques that can be used with this spoon. A retrieval method that works extremely well for snook in shallow water conditions is ‘burning’ the spoon back to the boat. Simply retrieve the spoon at a high rate of speed back to you. How fast is too fast? You are only reeling too fast if the spoon fouls and pops out of the water. Essentially you are spinning this spoon all the way back to boat.
There is no other approach available that allows anglers to break down a flat as quickly and efficiently as burning a spoon back to the boat. A spoon, spinning wildly as it burns through the water column, throws out flashes of light and vibrations. This awakens the inner predator in a snook and triggers an involuntary reaction. Snook must murder the spoon.
The Shallow Water Snook Spoon Rig
To make it easier to burn in a spoon, snook anglers are wise to own a designated spoon rod combo. A 4000 series reel like the Shimano Stradic paired with a 7’ St. Croix Premier Medium Heavy/ Fast action rod is a great pairing. The rod allows for long casts and has the backbone for excellent hooks set.
There is a huge energy transfer when a snook grabs a spoon rocketing through the water column. A rod that is powerful enough to turn a large snook sideways during the initial connection will punch the hook easily through the mouth of the snook.
This rod should double as an angler’s topwater rod. In low light conditions, a spoon will not be as effective as a topwater plug like the super spook. The backbone on this rod makes it really easy to walk the dog with a topwater plug. The first two hours of light are generally the best for topwater presentations for snook.
A 7’ Medium/ Fast action rod is an acceptable second option for throwing spoons on the shallow flats for snook. The 7’ Medium/ Fast premier is a great all-around rod for targeting snook on the flats. They are very accurate and extremely versatile. The durability of St. Croix’s premier series is impressive. Getting 10-15 years of service from these rods is not out of the question.
Using a 4000 series reel on your spoon rod combo maintains the ideal retrieval speed without fatiguing the angler. One turn with a Shimano Stradic 4000 series reel recovers 40 inches of line compared to only 34.6 inches from one turn of a Stradic 3000 series. This allows the angler to reel at a more comfortable speed when burning spoons.
There will be days when snook are unable to square up the spoon. But the spoon can still show you where the fish are and help you develop a pattern. When snook miss the spoon, they may still bump it, push water, or boil on it. They’re saying, they want to eat, but not something moving that fast. That’s when it’s time to consider what other presentation style may be suitable for the situation.
Snook Sight Fishing Strategies
Sight fishing for snook is a different game and if you’re playing a different game, then you need a different game plan. Sight fishing is much more like hunting than fishing. It requires a high level of patience to sight fish. Anglers that thrive at the sight fishing game do not waste casts. They must become proficient at seeing the snook before the snook sees them. There are certainly easier ways to target these fish, but nothing compares to catching snook on the shallow flats.
Sight fishing anglers are accurate casters and understand when and where to deliver the bait. And they know how to communicate with the fish through a lure. But most importantly, they understand that rejection is just part of the game and they move past failure quickly.
Effective sight fishing requires that certain conditions out of the angler’s control are met. Water clarity is imperative. If you can’t see the fish, then you certainly cannot sight fish for them. The presence of some wind helps to obscure the angler from the fish. Too much wind negatively impacts casting accuracy and the angler’s ability to see fish. The sun needs to be out to illuminate the flats and reveal the locations of snook and other bottom features.
Finally, reading the mood of the snook will dictate how and where you present your lure to the fish. Fish that are oblivious and generally happy can be willing eaters that will turn to eat baits that are tossed behind them. Other snook will be a little jumpy from relentless angling pressure. When given the option, find comfortable snook, not jumpy snook.
Presentations for Sight Fished Snook
Placing casts in the correct location and properly presenting the lure to a snook is the last piece of the sight fishing puzzle. First, pick the fish that you will be working. For stationary fish, pick which end is the business end. Cross the snook by delivering your lure past the fish and make sure the lure path will intersect the snook’s line of sight. This means you don’t want your bait pinching tight to the snook’s face as you retrieve it. It means you want the lure far enough in front of the snook not to spook it, but close enough to be seen and considered food by the snook as it crosses by the fish.
If the snook is moving, anticipate its course and then lead the fish. How far should you lead the fish? That will vary from one situation to the next, but the fish will let you know. Slide your bait into position and let the snook discover your lure. Depending on what type of lure you are using, a slight bump or wiggle should get their attention. Then turn your attention to the snook and watch their reaction. Read the snook and impart the action necessary to seal the deal. Less is often more in these situations.
Artificials for Sight Fishing Snook
In sight fishing situations, the last thing an angler should be worrying about is whether or not they have weeds on their hook. That is why a weedless artificial bait is the ideal offering for a sight fished snook. Another consideration should be using a bait that enters the water quietly. Even a moderate splash can be enough to spook a sensitive snook, so choosing a lightly weighted sleek profile is important.
The soft plastic fluke style jerk baits perform well in sight fishing situations. There are a variety of brands and hooks to choose from. Zoom’s super fluke and super fluke jr are super fishy baits. The mirrolure lil john has a different profile than traditional soft plastic jerk baits, but it really works well. The lil john is an extremely buoyant soft plastic compared to other brands. The slower sink rate makes it easy to manipulate the bait in a subtle way. Its buoyancy also keeps the bait in the strike zone longer to trigger the bite.
The Sight Fishing Setup for Snook
Rigging a mirrolure lil john on a 4/0 1/8th ounce Owner twistlock hook can be deadly on snook. Effective colors on snook are the Gold/Red Glitter, Burbon, and Rootbeer. In clear water with sensitive fish using an extra-long fluorocarbon leader is helpful. 25lb test Yo-Zuri or Seaguar blue label are both solid choices. Anglers will get more bites with 20lb, but they will land far fewer fish as snook regularly wear through 20lb easily.
To deliver accurate casts to snook while sight fishing, the angler should be armed with a light, accurate, and balanced rod combo. The 7’ St. Croix Avid medium fast action rod makes a fine sight casting rod in the right hands. A 2500-3000 series reel, lined with 10lb powerpro in green, is the perfect match for this rod. The Stradic 3000 series is a light weight reel that pairs nicely with the St. Croix Avid rods. The REGULAR Stradic and the CI4 will get the job done. If you plan to work these reels regularly and hard, then order extra roller bearings for these reels and replace them every year or when it is necessary.
Snook Fishing Patterns & Situational Lure Selection
There are times on the shallow flats when you’ll begin to develop a pattern. Snook may be relating to only one side of mangrove islands. Other times snook are on an edge and pulverizing baits that swim over their heads. On cold mornings in the winter, snook may be sunk down over dark bottom canals around docks. These are situations in which an angler can pattern the fish and then capitalize with the correct lure and presentation for the situation.
On the shallow flats, patterns arise constantly. Patterns can last days, or patterns can last only a few hours. Some patterns repeat themselves every few weeks and are linked to the tide. Seasonal patterns for snook are closely tied to the weather and temperature.
Snook Fishing Log
Anglers that excel at noticing and deciphering snook patterns usually share a common habit – they’re taking notes. Yes, it helps to be on the water frequently, but keeping a fishing log will take you to the next level. Keep the log as simple and straightforward as possible. Keep a record of important elements like date, tide, and water temperature. Note where you found the fish, the lures used and the presentation style that was most successful. When fishing new areas, make maps or diagrams. This shortens the learning curve for a new area tremendously.
Recording information digitally works well for some, while others prefer the physical interaction of pen to paper. Build the habit of keeping a snook fishing log using a method that works best for you. Use a template that is repeatable. Most anglers will tell you that they have learned the most from their toughest days. And yet the last thing an angler wants to do after a tough day on the water is permanently record that day in history.
Document as much relevant information from your shallow water snook trips as possible, but don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or enter a meager amount of information. Something is always better than nothing. And remember to be patient. Keeping a fishing log is building a database. There are buried trends and patterns that may not show themselves until you have a few seasons of logging under your belt. Do the work and pay attention. You will be rewarded.
After an angler has unlocked a pattern, the next step is to fine tune their approach with the right lure and presentation for the situation. Following is a list of artificial lures and some patterns suitable for their use.
Snook Plugs & Mangrove Points
The mirrodine XL is a versatile hard, lipless plug. It is designed to suspend below the surface of the water. It is a bait best retrieved by twitching or snapping the rod tip. To correctly retrieve this bait, the reel should only be engaged to pick up the slack line that is created by snapping the rod tip. The snapping of the rod tip is what will bring the lure back in, not the reel. Snook will eat the plug on the pause. That is why it’s necessary for the angler to concentrate on leaving a long enough pause between the twitches. Develop a cadence that works for you, but always remember the importance of the pause.
The XL has a place in a snook angler’s tackle box throughout the year, but it becomes a real workhorse in the fall and winter. During this time period, one snook pattern in particular begs for the use of the Mirrodine XL. For whatever reason, larger snook on points of mangrove shorelines (islands or mainland) have an aggressive reaction to this plug over any other offerings. Plenty of other lures are productive in these zones, but they do not consistently attract larger snook like the mirrodine XL. You should find similar results using this bait around oyster bar points. The color schemes that work well for this pattern are numbers 18 & 11.
Seasonal Color Trends with Paddle Tails
Another snook pattern to be aware of is the adjustments that should be made in the presentation and color of soft plastic paddle tails throughout the year. Making these adjustments should help anglers find a more consistent snook bite. These are adjustments that work well in waters around Sarasota, FL. Anglers keeping detailed logs should discover some of their own patterns unique to the waters they fish.
During the summer when baitfish are prevalent, the DOA 3” CAL shad paddle tail in the 419 Green Back color is a solid choice. For a darker colored presentation mimicking a silhouette, use the 351 Rootbeer/Char Tail color combination. In fall, as the presence of baitfish diminishes, the 321 Copper Crush color becomes a more attractive offering for snook and should be worked into the rotation on a more regular basis. As winter settles in, the 318 Chart/Silver Glitter can be lethal on snook. Anglers should still be mixing in the 321 Copper Crush and the 351 Rootbeer/Char Tail throughout winter. Spring should be a transition away from winter colors and towards the summer color patterns.
There are a tremendous number of jig head brands to pair with the DOA paddle tails. It’s wise to find a jig head that you like and stick with it. Jig heads that work well with a number of soft plastic baits are the Z-man redfish eye jigheads. The weights that work best for shallow water snook are the 1/8th and 3/16th ounce heads. The 3/16th ounce Z-man redfish eye jighead is probably the most versatile jig head for snook in the right angler’s hands.
DOA Shrimp for Cold Front Snook
Snook are not big fans of cold water. A harsh Florida cold snap pushes shallow water snook to the closest warm water or the most stable water temperatures in the area. These are often the nearest deep cut or channel with a dark bottom in the area. Snook will pile into these areas and anglers that find them and fish them correctly have a good chance to catch them in numbers.
A bait that is highly effective in this situation is the 4” DOA Shrimp. Letting the bait get to the bottom and imparting intermittent twitches with a slow fall back down to the bottom can be a devastating presentation to cold water snook. Colors that work well are 312 New Clear and 368 Clear Red Glitter. It doesn’t hurt to add scent to these baits on cold mornings. The Pro-Cure Super Gel Shrimp Scent is a great product.
The 1000 Piece Snook Fishing Puzzle
Snook anglers should view fishing on the shallow flats as a giant 1,000 piece puzzle. There is no article, book, or seminar that will solve the puzzle for you, but it may help to put a few pieces into place. Spending a lot of time on the water and keeping a detailed log will put even more pieces into place. Keep collecting puzzle pieces and continue to put the puzzle together.
Anglers who are opening up the 1000 piece snook puzzle for the first time should be willing to struggle. At the beginning of any journey, there are going to be a lot of missteps. But remember that an angler cannot attain mastery without first experiencing failure. Learning from failure will put a lot of puzzle pieces into place quickly. Don’t be afraid to fail and DO learn as much as possible from every failure. Enjoy every second of every snook trip you take and appreciate each part of the puzzle that you’re able to piece together. Good luck, have fun, and we’ll see you on the water!
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