Snook 101 // How to Fly Fish for Snook
Snook have been described as "wandering drunks" with a careless attitude in comparison to other species they share the flats with. They usually hit hard, act hungry, and jump, pull, and fight like crazy. You'll find them on open coastlines in murky water, or tucked into tangled mangroves in shore.
My first experience with Snook was a disaster. It was in 2000 and the internet was barely even a thing. I was graciously invited on a gear fishing adventure for Tarpon to Costa Rica with some family friends that had an odd number in their party. Pricing was based on double occupancy so I got the nod and was lucky to get to fill an empty seat. I was a rookie trout guide at the time and took my fly gear along rather than fishing with conventional tackle.
The weather was horrible for Tarpon. A big storm kept us isolated to fishing the rivers for a variety of jungle species, including Snook. My guide Chilo didn't speak a lick of English, and I didn't know more than a word of Spanish so we were a heck of a pair. He found some really nice Snook for us but was unable to help me get my leader setup correctly. I hooked several nice Snook and they cut off my 15# Maxima with their sharp mouth edges every time! He was unable to build me a Shock Tippet system as he didn't know much about fly fishing, and I was helpless. Looking back my expectations of the guide's ability to offer assistance was greatly overestimated. Before you go on any big trip, get prepared. I think this experienced has help shaped me into the angler I am today and although I lost an embarrassing number of Snook it was a positive experience long term.
Snook Habitat and Distribution
The "Common Snook" is the most common and the one you'll typically encounter fishing coastline countries on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Americas. They range all the way from Brazil to the North Carolina "ish" and prefer water above 55 degrees. There is a great article with more technical biologic information from Orvis News. The world record common Snook came from the Atlantic side of Costa Rica at 53 lbs. 10 oz.
Most Snook you will catch will be in the 4-10 pound range, and if you get a 15+ lb. fish you've really got a nice trophy there! Snook are a great quarry and you'll encounter them almost anywhere you fish inshore on the Atlantic coast. Snook are true in shore fish that like river estuaries, a taste of freshwater, and in land habitats.
What Do Snook Eat?
Snook are foragers and will eat baitfish, shrimp, and probably small crabs if available although we don't fish crabs for Snook. Their habitat near the shoreline means they see a big variety of prey. A "Mangrove Critter" is a slang term for a fly that imitates nothing in particular, but favored by Snook. There is currently a Snook fly called a Truffle Shuffle that is really buggy that we like. Most anglers will throw small baitfish patterns, but you can throw large slow sinking shrimp patterns as well with great success.
Flies for Snook
The most important part of your fly selection is the sink rate. I have fished for Snook in Costa Rica (twice), Belize, Mexico, Cuba, and Florida. While the specific colors might change, a slow sinking "hover" fly has been a constant. Avoid weighted eyes, and look for flies with a brush material to help it sink slowly. A weed guard is also a bonus and they actually work pretty well as long as you don't try to yank your fly out of the mangroves. Just feather it out.
Sizes can be anywhere from #1 - 3/0, that isn't very critical just know that a 3/0 hook is heavy and will sink much faster than the lighter wire hooks.
Strategy for Fly Fishing Snook
Snook will often be in schools, doubles are not uncommon. Notice the milky color of the water in this photo.
Snook fishing will be 90% from the boat, although you will find some unique opportunities to wade. This is not due to depth of water, but more likely because the substrate where Snook live can often be soft. Especially near the mangroves. If you do ever get the chance to walk an open coast line, the stalking along a beach is a blast! Snook will hunt in the milky water caused by small crashing waves.
Casting for Snook
You will get caught in the trees, just don't make it habit. Good etiquette is to give up the deck to your partner if the guide has to physically retrieve your fly.
This is the short game. Think chips, puts, and the occasional 9 iron. You'll need to be close enough to read the direction and body language of the fish, plus Snook often live in milky or brackish water. This means you will need to be close in order to see them. Practice throwing short accurate casts and learn to keep it low to the water. Even learning to skip cast.
Leaders and Knots for Snook Fishing
If I had to choose one leader, it would be a 40# Shock Tippet at around 7 feet. Straight leader. Most often I'll use Fluorocarbon, but in off colored water traditional nylon is fine too. Knot wise, Snook are a piece of cake. I take 7' of 40# Shock Tippet and put a Perfection Loop in the end, loop to loop it onto my line, and then tie a Homer Rhodes Loop Knot to the fly. Easy cheesy.
I like any saltwater rod with a medium fast flex in the 8-9 weight range. I've used a 7 weight, I've used a 10. I've even used a rod built for Bass. The main thing is you need to be able to make a very short, like sub 30', accurate casts that land soft. My favorite rod would be something around 7'10" or sub 8' if available, but currently there isn't much out there. Redington makes a 7'10" 8 weight that is pretty solid, but its fairly one dimensional as a mangrove stick. 8 weights work fine, but know that most are pretty fragile so be careful when you get hung up in the sticks. You will get hung up in the sticks.
Don't get too caught up on the rod model, just make sure you have a line that loads good at close range like a Grand Slam or a Flats Pro. I believe the more you spend, the more satisfied you'll be long term so don't skimp.
Parting Advice on Snook
You won't find many or any trips that are focused exclusively on Snook, instead they are a fine side catch when fishing for other species like Tarpon, Bonefish, or Permit. You should be equally prepared as many of my saltwater trips have been salvaged by a random Snook. Be ready, get good at changing leader systems from Permit or Bonefish to Snook, in the event you don't have enough rods to cover all bases. Learn to tie your own knots so that you can change flies and be ready at all times. Good luck!