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September 04, 2013

Charlotte Harbor Snook on the Rebound

Florida Gulf Coast season reopens following 2010 freezes.

Florida’s Charlotte Harbor region in the southwest corner of the state features lush sea grasses, pearly white beaches and usually calm sea conditions. At the mouth of the harbor, Boca Grande Pass holds legendary schools of tarpon, but throughout the inshore estuary and along the beaches, snook readily compete for attention.

To sample a taste of Charlotte Harbor’s snook action, I asked two local guides — Capt. Philip O’Bannon and Capt. Dave Pecci — to talk about their experiences and recommendations. In fact, this month marks the first time in three years that fishery managers have allowed retention of snook since a severe cold snap in 2010.

Why should an angler come to Charlotte Harbor to target snook?

O’Bannon: The Charlotte Harbor estuary system is one of the last remaining healthy systems in the country. Some of our backwater areas have been diminished due to development, but all in all we still are one of the best places to catch snook. I have been guiding for snook for over 40 years, and they are still one of my favorite species to target.

Pecci: Currently the big attraction is the size of the snook in Charlotte Harbor. The fishery has been catch and release for three years, and the fish are huge.

The reason for the closure was a severe January cold snap in 2010 that killed an estimated 40,000-plus snook in this area. The fishery (on Florida’s west coast) opened back up Sept. 1 with a slot limit of 28 to 33 inches and a possession limit of one fish. A snook stamp is required along with a saltwater fishing license. Also there are miles of fishable water in Charlotte Harbor, allowing uncrowded fishing.

What is/are the peak season(s) for snook fishing (both for retention and for release)?

O’Bannon: Snook can be caught year round. In cold-weather months, snook move to warmer water, such as closed access canals and isolated bays. My favorite times to fish are fall and spring, although the summer months can be very good. With the interest we have in our snook fishery, I am a strong proponent of catch and release — so that more anglers can share in the thrill of snook fishing.

Pecci: Fishing is very good throughout the year with the exception of the colder months: late December through February. Spring fishing along the beaches is excellent. Snook move to the beaches and gather before spawning around the full moon in May and stay on the beaches two to three weeks.

Unlike tarpon, snook feed aggressively during pre-spawn staging, allowing for some incredible action on flies and artificial lures. Fishing the troughs from either shore or a boat is a blast, and there are no mangroves for the snook to run back into once hooked.

How big do the snook get there and how many might you expect to catch during the peak season?

O’Bannon: Snook of all sizes are fun to catch. I've caught them up to 50 inches, weighing an estimated 40-plus pounds. In the estuary, a snook over 30 inches and 10 pounds is considered a trophy.

The numbers of snook you might catch varies throughout the season. On an average day chartering, we catch anywhere from about three up to several dozen.

Pecci: Forty-plus inches. Several snook can be caught per trip in sizes from 12 to 40 inches on bait. Fewer fish are caught on flies and artificial lures, but the aggressive strikes and strong fight attract many non-bait fishing enthusiasts.