Florida's magical spillway fishing for MONSTER Snook.
August 31st, 2019.
Every spring and moving into summer, snook move outside Florida's inlets in preparing for their annual spawn. Little do most visiting anglers know that this is precisely the time of year when Florida receives surplus amounts of rain, typically on a clockwork afternoon pattern. Local and seasoned snook anglers mark their calendars every year as they are acutely aware of the opportunity to truly connect with a Behemoth River Monster.
Rain = Snook
A good downpour will ignite a hot spillway bite. After a heavy rainfall, any lock or spillway that protect inland areas from saltwater intrusion into South Florida canals opens up to prevent flooding. When that locks opens, it's as thought a dinner bell is ringing for both snook and snook fishermen. The action can be absolutely MENTAL, across not only in Palm Beach County, but more than half of the state. Gulf coast anglers also have some excellent opportunities with a chance to target some true breeder size fish. In fact to date, the state record has come from Fort Myers and the Caloosahatchee River with a gigantic fish pushing just over 44 lbs. The stretch of river is approximately 67 miles long and drains out into the north end of the Everglades and Gulf of Mexico.
By design, a spillway opens from the bottom. As water rushes through the opening, many forms of freshwater life are swept into the brackish waters of coastal canals.
Shad, bream, shiners, oscars, speckled perch, largemouth bass, channel catfish and crawfish all become food for predatory snook that reside in the area.
As freshwater bait passes through the spillway, it's subjected to enormous turbulence. The rough water proceeds to disorient and injure the bait, making it an easy meal for snook. Turbulent water also stirs up large amounts of sediment, creating a patina to the water color and making it difficult for baitfish to see and avoid snook.
Snook, on the other hand, use the dirty water as an advantage. They possess an excellent directional locating system that enables them to find prey even in pitch darkness. The prominently indicated black lateral stripe on each side is a sensory organ that enables them to detect even the most trivial vibrations in the water. Snook are one of the few species in the world that don't have to see their prey, they can feel it with their ultra sensitive lateral line.
Primarily a nocturnal feeder, snook are ambush predators and will stage up on any eddy point created by a piece of structure. In this case, the spillway is a massive structure where fish will typical sit right at the gate opening when the pumps are off. When activated, everything shifts back accordingly to the strength of the water flow. If one gate is opened, there will most likely be a few fish 10-20 ft down current of the gate mouth. Several gates flowing will push fish down current and may be staged up several hundred feet down current. Look for key points where the water flow breaks as this where snook will most likely be conserving their energy to strike an easy meal cruising by.
- 4000-5000 size spinning reel like Daiwa's BG or Saltiga Bay series which hold at least 300yrds of 20-40lb braided line. These reels hold plenty of line and have a metal body which resist torquing when the frame is put to the screws a double digit snook in heavy current and have excellent drag systems A.K.A fishing breaking systems.
- 7-8ft Spinning rod like Star Rods Seagis Series. Choose a10-20 lb, stout model which features Fuji K-series guides built for handling the rigors of drag screaming snook runs using high tech braided lines.
Matching up a good quality reel with the right action rod makes all the difference when attempting to control a smart, yet stubborn snook in raging waters. These fish pounce on moving prey very quickly when the water is at the FULL flow rate and having a fast action tip with medium-heavy action is combination built tough enough for any spillway snook.
- Baitcaster or Low profile conventional reel such as Daiwa's Lexa 400 or Okuma's Komodo 463, which hold several hundred yards of 30-40 lb braided line. These reels feature high quality materials such as stainless steel for their main and pinion gears along with sealed bearings to withstand the abuse of fishing in tight quarters.
- 7-8ft 15-30 or 20-50lb conventional swimbait or custom jig rod such as Aubut Rods 7"10 swimbait special is perfect for throwing flare hawks or large swimbaits for breeder snook waiting to eat. The fast action tip is exceptional for detecting the slightest bump on a windy evening or limber enough to pitch a live shiner up current without flinging him off the hook.
Flare Hawk Jigs in Chartreuse / Red weighing 1-3oz.Weight of jig selected will be dictated by the flow of the water. Higher water flow, heavier jig and vice versa. Pitch the jig up current towards the gate opens and let fall. PAY VERY CLOSE ATTENTION as your jig is sinking / fall as this is when snook often will pounce on it! Also, FULL disclosure: expect to lose a LOT of jigs as many of these spillways are really nothing more than a man made rockpit. The fish are there because of the rocks and flowing water, so stick it out and bring several jig weights and colors to determine what size and color flare hawk the snook are keyed in on.
- Swimbaits such as Spooltek's Fatty, Marea's Motion Minnow, and Storm's Wildeye shad are all great producers of getting the infamous snook "thump" when fish with a steady retrieve when there's good tidal flow. Stick to at least a 5" or larger size bait profile. The larger the bait, the larger the fish that's going to eat it- PERIOD. Don't be afraid to throw 9" swimbait like the Stretch from Spooltek or the MegaMotion Minnow from Marea as they each have a place in the Snook trophy bait lineup. Cast up current and let fall. Retrieve at a steady rate taking into consideration the speed of the water flow. Stronger tide, slower retrieval speed and vice versa.
- Large lipped plugs such as Rapala's X-Rap14 or Rebel's Windcheater series in natural color patterns like Black/Silver or Brown/Cream . Typically the darker the color of the bait, the better it works when fishing spillways as the hue will stand out against clear skies quicker, giving the snook lurking below a more visible target. There's also the other snook guru philosophy that suggest red head/white body is deadly luring in linesiders. Cast up current and retrieve at a steady pace, just enough to keep the lure to a steady wobble.
The most common mistake I see when fishing a spillway and other anglers are also fishing is the manner in which they position themselves in relation to the water flow. It's kinda humorous when young teenagers crowd each other, wanting to stay right on top of the spillway when the water flow is at max capacity. I can promise you that even the largest of snook will not be comfortable riding that current in "hopes" to having a shot a getting a meal pushing through the gates. More than likely a breeder fish will be sitting way down current, near a break in the water flow waiting patiently for a healthy offering to pass on by then pounce will minimal effort and lightning speed.
Snook typically stage themselves into the current which allows them to anticipate anything headed their way and use the tidal flow to draw the bait into their strike zone. This reason alone is something that seasoned snook anglers appreciate and obsess over when trying to figure out a new spot. All it takes is patience, observation, and a little bit of due diligence to gain spillway snook success!