Free U.S. Shipping: Orders Over $35

Your Guide to Wade Fishing for Snook

You don’t need to fish from a boat to catch snook. You can wade fish the flats and take the “dog” for a walk, too.

Can you walk the dog? No, not the four-legged kind. I mean a cigar-shaped topwater lure that launches like an arrow and walks and talks to gamefish on the way back. The walk is twitch left, twitch right, twitch left, twitch right. The talk is clickity-clickity-click. It’s a dinner bell for predators. Florida’s saltwater snook come a runnin’.

This is far from “deep sea” fishing. It’s casting light tackle in mostly knee-deep water. You can use your boat to motor to the a, then hop out and wade. But you don’t even need a boat. Drive your car to a waterfront park. Hike to the shoreline. Put on wading boots. Wade in. Walk the dog. Map and satellite imaging on your devices are terrific for finding places to park-and wade.

Snook are tropical. In Florida they thrive from the middle of the state south to the keys. My good friend Steve and I have been wade fishing the Tampa Bay grass flats for many years and have caught lots of snook, redfish, seatrout and more. Okay, he catches more fish and bigger fish than I do. I’m still trying to figure out why.

On the flats all gamefish are fun to catch. However, I rank snook at the top. They can get pretty big. Steve has caught several 20-plus pounders on artificials. The Florida record, caught near Fort Myers, weighed 44 pounds, 3 ounces. The IGFA world record, caught in Costa Rica’s Parismina River, was 53 pounds.

Big snook like to strike topwaters, and that’s a win-win, a kick of adrenalin when she blows up on it and more as she leaps to try shaking the hook. You’ll get another dose when the fish runs for the mangrove’s roots. Tighten the drag and say a silent prayer that your knots and line are strong enough.

Fish These Spots

Snook fishing by mangrove shoreSnook fishing by mangrove shore
All photos by Bill AuCoin.

Wade fishing is not sight fishing, like when you’re fishing with a guide up on a poling platform or looking down from the forward casting deck. When you’re wade fishing, you’re mostly blind casting. But it’s not really blind casting either because you’ll be casting to fishy-looking spots. In Tampa Bay, for example, you’ll cast…

  • Where mullet are jumping or where you see baitfish dimpling the surface. Diving pelicans and terns also point the way.
  • Where water meets the mangrove shoreline.
  • Where water level goes from shallow to not so shallow. You might notice a change in the vegetation.
  • Where snook can ambush bait, perhaps a point of land or obstruction.
  • Where a field of seagrass is splotched with sandy potholes.
  • Where the tide runs faster on the down-tide side of an oyster bar or mangrove island carving a slightly deeper spot.
  • Where there’s a channel opening in the mangroves. Snook like to hang out there on a falling tide or move up the channel on a rising tide. You can fish some of those channels if mangrove limbs don’t block your way.

Gulf and Atlantic beaches have their good wading areas, too. Snook cruise the shallow water where waves break. Baitfish get disoriented in that swirling water. Diving terns show you where to fish. Fish where rivers, inlets, and backcountry bays meet the big water on a falling tide.

For Safety’s Sake

Snook releaseSnook release

Always wade fish with one or more anglers. Steve and I often wade off in different directions and lose sight of each other, so I have a whistle to blast if there’s a problem. I also carry my cell phone to call for help, if necessary. So far, so good.

In mid- to south Florida, you can wear neoprene wading boots most of the year, but when the water temperature drops to 65 or so chest-high waders are advisable. One winter day I wet-waded when the water was cold. It was chilly at first, but my skin adjusted to it. Three hours or so later I was still feeling good, but Steve told me I was slurring my words. Uh oh.

Most of the time on the flats you’ll be walking over a firm bottom, but every now and then you’ll step on a mucky bottom. Keep moving so that you don’t sink deeper. If you do get stuck, you’ll need to wiggle your boots out of the muck. Stay balanced.

Sometimes a three- or four-foot shark will appear, and that’s off-putting. The shark will race away when it sees you, but if it gets too close for your comfort slap the water with your rod tip a few times and it’ll blast out of there.

Watch for sting rays hiding on sandy bottoms. I’ve never been stung but a friend of mine did get stung. He said it really, really hurt. I’ve since learned you can take the sting away by pouring lots of water on the sting site.

Be very careful unhooking your snook. Leave it in the water and gently rotate the hook tines out with pliers. If you must lift a snook, lift it from its belly, which immobilizes it. If unhooking is taking some time, put the snook back in the water as necessary so it can get more oxygen back into its system. Before you release it, revive it by holding it by the tail and moving it slowly back and forth in the water.


Gear Up

Super Spook Jr. CollectionSuper Spook Jr. Collection

Snook seem to have evolved to prey on vulnerable surface fish. Their lower jaw is longer than the top jaw, and I think that helps them snare wounded mullet and surface plugs, including walkers.

But which one? My vote is the Super Spook Jr. It’s a ½-ounce lure, just right for light spinning tackle. Its long, narrow shape helps you cast it a long way, and that’s a big plus when you’re fishing for spooky gamefish. And the best colors? Again, only the snook know for sure. My favorites are Silver Mullet, Wounded Shad, and Bone/Silver.

My go-to spinning rod is 6-feet, 6-inches long. That’s short enough for me to reach up to the tip top to clear line of grass. My reel is a size 3000. You don’t need a lot of line; just a good drag. I use 10-pound braid and I don’t fill it to the rim. I join the braid to a 25-lb fluorocarbon shock tippet about two feet long.

Know this: Almost every hook up with a snook frays your leader. Cut off the frayed part. If necessary, tie on a new leader. Use easy-to-tie knots because you’re in the water, not at your work bench, and your rod is pinched between your chest and upper arm. To join braid to fluoro I tie a three-wrap surgeon’s knot. I attach the fluoro to the lure with a Double Davy knot, which is essentially three, alternating, half-hitches pulled tight to the eye. It’s not a loop knot, but it is secure, and Junior still twitches left and right like he’s supposed to.

I wear long, quick-drying fishing pants. Shorts are fine, too. I love long-sleeved synthetic shirts with lots of pockets, especially pockets with zippers.

  • I put my ID/fishing license in a chest pocket with a zipper.
  • If I drove and parked the car, I put the car fob/key in a Ziplock and zip that up in a chest pocket.
  • I put the house key in a zippered pocket.
  • I put a spool of fluorocarbon line in one chest pocket and a small container of sunscreen and/or bug spray in the other.
  • I carry pliers (with sharp cutters) on a coiled lanyard.
  • I hang my little box of lures around my neck.
  • I put my cell phone in a waterproof case and hang it around my neck.
  • I hang a whistle on a cord around my neck.
  • I wear polarized sunglasses with bifocals so I can see close-up to tie knots. Mine have amber lenses which help me see through the surface and see what’s on the bottom, including, yes, sting rays.

Warm Water is Good

Snook on Super SpookSnook on Super Spook

You can catch snook all year in Tampa Bay, but chances go up nicely in April and May when water temperatures warm quickly. By mid-June, the water temperature is about 85 degrees. That’s snook feeding-frenzy temperature.

Steve and I had one of those hot fishing days recently, wade fishing near a public park in middle Tampa Bay. This was early in the morning in the middle of the week, and we had the whole flat to ourselves. The tide was strong. A breeze put waves on the surface so snook were not spooky. The sky was mostly cloudy. We were fishing a mangrove shoreline at low tide so the snook couldn’t hide in the roots.

We started getting hookups almost immediately after sliding into the water. In three hours, Steve caught 16 snook, and all but three were on the Super Spook Jr. I caught five snook and one redfish. They all bit the Super Spook Jr.

Go for a walk on the salt side. And be sure to take Junior with you.