A Snook Isn’t Just a “Snook” in Florida

Who doesn’t love hooking up with a Snook? Whether you pull one from the mangroves, get them off the surf, or pull them off the flats – excitement is soon to follow. They are known by a few names around the world; Snook, Linesider, Sergeant Fish, Robalo, and so on. However, A Snook isn’t just a Snook. There are actually 5 species common to Florida inshore, backcountry, flats, and brackish waterways.

The most “Common” Snook is the Common Snook

Common Snook-Centropomus undecimalis

When you’re targeting big Snook on the east central coast and back waterways of Florida, you are targeting the Common Snook. This is the one we are all familiar with. The bad boy of the skinnies, the Common Snook is one of the most sought after inshore fish in the State.

Targeting these Snook can involve searching the beaches and inlets around Cocoa Beach, the IRL, and the Mosquito Lagoon. Probably one of the best times to get your hands on a large aggressive one is during the Fall mullet run. That’s when the big boys come out to smash on clouds of mullet that are making their way along Florida’s coastline.

Now, as a pure backwater angler, you may find yourself targeting small Common Snook in estuaries and areas of brackish water. And though a monster of a Snook can be found back here, you are usually going to find them on the smaller sized side of things. Juvenile Common Snook prefer these areas for protection during their young life, and even have a tendency to prefer waters with a much lower salinity level at this stage. When light tackle anglers hook up with these smaller guys, you might hear the word “dink” get thrown around. However, these backcountry “dink Snook” are far from “Common.” This is where you are actually in a mix of 4 small species of Snook (we will talk about the 5th later).

The Dink List

Ok, “Dink” is a relative term used by Florida anglers in reference to any small fish, I use it here because anglers will often say, “I caught some dink Snook” during a friendly fishing report to a fellow angler. However, in the realm of these smaller Snook, this is where you will actually find species variation.

The Common Snook: Centropomus undecimalis

Image Courtesy of FWC

As mentioned earlier, smaller Common Snook are found in backcountry estuary waters, in most likely brackish conditions. To identify a juvenile Common Snook you can look for a few cues:

  • A Sloping Forehead
  • Protruding Lower Jaw
  • The Lateral Line Fades Out at the Start of the Tail
  • The Anal Fin: There is an anal spike followed by 6 softer spines, the anal spike is longer than the following 6 softer spines.

Swordspine Snook: Centropomus ensiferus

Image Courtesy of FWC

The Swordspine Snook is also found in estuaries and inhabits the Mangroves for protection as juveniles. However, adults only grow to 12 inches, making it the smallest of the Snooks in Florida. There are a few cues to identify this species:

  • Concave Profile
  • The Lateral Line is Outlined in Black, Not Solid
  • It has the Largest Scales of all the Snooks
  • The Anal Fin: There is a very long anal spike, followed by a second hard anal spike, and then these are followed with 5 softer spines.

(Small Scaled) Fat Snook: Centropomus parallelus

Image Courtesy of FWC

The next in smaller Snook often caught by anglers is the Fat Snook. Though if an angler catches a monster Common Snook, they may relay the story as “I caught a Fat Snook,” but this is most likely actually inaccurate. The Fat Snook only gets to about 28 inches and 10lbs as an adult. The Common Snook gets to 44 inches and 48lbs in comparison. What to look for to identify the Fat Snook:

  • A Deeper Body Than Other Snook Species with a Square Shape
  • The Lateral Line Goes Into the Tail
  • The Upward Slope of the Mouth Reaches to About the Center of the Eye (If using an imaginary line from one to the other).
  • The Smallest Scales of all the Snooks
  • 6 Anal Fin Spines as that of the Common Snook

This is the second largest of the Snook species in Florida as an adult, but much like the rest, smaller juveniles are found in the backcountry – so it made the Dink List.

Tarpon Snook: Centropomus pectinatus

Image Courtesy of FWC

Though images of Tarpon tend to ring with huge Silver Scaled Beasts, the correlation here is more along the lines of physical features, not size. The Tarpon Snook generally does not get above 3lbs as an adult. For Tarpon anglers, these features are pretty much easy to spot, even on the Snook version. Here are some identifiers:

  • Tarpon Like Features: Thin bodied, long head, upturned jaw, and large eyes.
  • Largest Eyes of all the Snooks
  • The Lateral Line Follows Right the Edge of the End of the Tail
  • The Only Species with 7 Anal Fin Spines
  • The Anal, Pectoral, and Ventral Fins Have Dark Tips (But these fade with age)

The Odd Guy Out: Large Scaled Fat Snook: Centropomus mexicanus

Image Courtesy of Fishbase.org

Of all the Snooks, this species has the least available information. This species was just confirmed in 2006 and is only found between Sebastian and Jupiter, Florida. It has slightly larger scales than the Fat Snook described above. This is also the least common of the Snook species caught, so I didn’t lump it with the other 4 species in regards to misidentification in the backcountry. The only data about identification I found suggests it is the same as the Small Scaled Fat Snook, with slightly larger scales. I will have to assume this also means the sizes are relative, though not specifically stated on any of the resources.

If you have any information regarding the details of the species, or have any comments about this article – please leave a reply below.

The Laws for the 5 Species of Florida Snook

Some anglers might get excited for a moment thinking that these 5 species do not all fall under the same regulations as the Common Snook – but alas, that would be incorrect. FWC Regulations are the same for and cover all of the Snook Species under one grouping and all are covered under these Snook regulations.

Some Facts About the Common Snook

Did you know the females grow larger than the males, and live longer too? The female Common Snook can reach 48 inches and live for up to 21 years. While the male Common Snook grows to about 39 inches and lives for 15 years.

Female Common Snook usually grow into the slot size in about 4 years, whereas the males take 5-6 years.

For catch and release, the mortality rate of released Snook is only about 2% of all those caught. So, for catch and release anglers, and out of season catches – that release means a lot for the species.

The closed seasons for Snook are built for species protection during two important and delicate times for the species:

  1. During Cold Weather
  2. During the time of Spawning

Snook are ambush eaters. In this, many anglers will find that working pockets or natural funnels at a moving tide will usually hold a Snook during peak fishing times.

Snook are readily caught on both live and artificial baits. Though one vs the other may see better catch rates during different times of the year.

The World Record Snook was caught in Parismina Ranch, Costa Rica and weighed 53 lbs 10 oz.

While the Florida record Snook is 44 lb 3 oz, and caught in the Ft. Myers area.

Checkout this video: The Giant Snook of Santa Rosa Lagoon – Snook fishing the Yucatan:

 

Resources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_snook

http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/saltwater/snook/snook/

http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/saltwater/snook/fat-snook/

http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/profiles/saltwater/snook/tarpon-snook/

http://myfwc.com/research/saltwater/fish/snook/sketch-common-snook/

http://www.fishbase.org/photos/PicturesSummary.php?StartRow=0&ID=7531&what=species&TotRec=3

http://www.snookfoundation.org/news/release/276-species-of-snook.html

http://wrec.igfa.org/WRecordsList.aspx?lc=AllTackle&cn=Snook,%20common

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