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Capt Bill Miller
                              Articles and Photos by Capt.Bill Miller

Fall Snook Fishing

In January of 2010 the state of Florida experienced a freeze that decimated the snook population along the West coast of florida. In the Tampa Bay area thousands, may be hundreds of thosands of snook were killed.

On January 15 of 2010 the FWC extended the the closed season for snook statewide indefinitely. The move was a precautionaty one to protect the snook during their spring and summer spawning season. The closing also gave the FWC biologists time to try and find out how bad the snook population was hurt.

After a 2 ½ closure the Fwc decided to keep the snook harvesy closed and would revisit the order in September of 2013.

The FWC commisionres, in making their closure recommendation, went against a FWC staff recommendation ti open the fishery. FWC staffers said a stock assessment showed the fishery had recovered enough that current bag and slot limits would allow the stock to rebuild and protect the young snook as well as the large breeders.

Commisioners with much input from guides and aother snook fishermen said they wanted to manage the snook fishery with extra caution and kept it closed.

Snook is a very popular game fish and one of the most regulated. In 1953 an 18 inch minimum length was established. In 1957 it became illegal to buy or sell snook, a bag limit of 4 snook per person per day and 8 snook in possession limits were set.

In 1981 the bag limit was reduced to 2 snook per day, two snook in possession. No snook less than26 inches to the fork could be taken in June or July.

1982 Snook was closed during June and July.

1985 snook was closed permenateky in January, February, June and July. The minimum size was increased to 24 inches total length and only one snook over 34 inches may be kept.

In 1994 the winter season was closed from December 15 through January 31.

!999 the slot limit was set at 26 minimum and 34 inches maximum.

2002 the possession limit limit was reduced to 1 snook and May was closed to snook posessionon the wesctCoast of Florida. The Eact Coast was not changed.

So as you can see snook is highly regulated and manged and more is to come as we study this popular and hightly sought after gamefish.

So where do you catch snook in the fall. Start out by thinking spring. In the spring snook are on the move from the rivers, creeks and deep channels to the flats. In the fall it is just the reverse, snook are on the move from the flats to the creeks, rivers and deep channels.

In the spring snook feed heavily coming off the winter and in the fall they feed heavily fattening up for winter.

How do they know it is getting close to the time to move? It is generally though that the length of the days and a slightly falling water temperature is the key to the fall and spring migration move.

So where do you find snook in the fall in Tampa Bay? Start on the flats where they have always been during the summer and work backwards to the creeks and rivers. Residential docks and canals are usually between the flats and the creeks and rivers and many snook stop there on the way up and never go any further so always look there.

The go to live bait for snook is scaled sardines with shrimp, pinfish and  threadfin herring following close behind.

Top artificials would be scented soft plastic jigs, DOA artificial shrimp, hard pastic baits like the MirrOlure, Sebille, Rapala, and Bomber.

Spinning tackle by far the most popular among anglers primarily for it’s ease of use. 7 ½”  length rods will handel live and artificial baits equally well amd braided line in the 15-20 class on a 3-4000 class reel is tackle enough to handle most fall snooking situation.

Leader material should be 30-40 pound fluorocarbon. If you are feeling lucky or feel the need to go stealth then drop down to 20 pound fluro. Snook have sharp gill plates and many times are found around structure like pilings and rocks so it is a fine line between stealth and a little more leader beef to prevent cut offs.

Hook size should match the bait. Smaller hook for smaller baits and vice versa. The idea is to make the bait look as natural as possible. Circle hooks are popular and seem to make hook ups easy but many snook are still caught by anglers using J-hooks. The important hook consideration is size to match bait.


                         Articles and Photos by Capt.Bill Miller

Winter Extreme Low Water Fishing 

During the winter months extreme low tides occur during the morning hours three days before and after the new and full moons.

Northwest winds associated with cold fronts blow the water out, and does not water come in resulting in extreme low tides. Tides so low that much of the bottom that is never out of the water is exposed.

Combining these extreme tides with cold weather dropping the water temperature pushes trout, redfish, snook, sheepshead and other flats type fish into deep holes, sloughs and creeks near the flats seeking protection. In some cases fish are trapped and cannot get out, so if you know where these areas are, and can get to them, it is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Using a shallow draft boat, or an airboat, are the best ways to get to these honey holes during the extreme tides. With and air boat you can glide over the exposed bottom to get to the edges of the holes. With a shallow draft boat you can get close then it is over the side and start wading.

Wading is usually the best way to find the fish because they might not be where you parked your boat or airboat and wading along casting to the deep water will locate the fish’s position in the deep water.

In addition to the water being cold, the air is usually cold. Dressing warmer than you think, in layers, will keep you from getting uncomfortable when the water temp combined with the air temp starts cooling you down.

I prefer stocking foot waders with neoprene booties over boot foot waders. The neopreme booties will pull out of the mud much easier than the boot foots waders. The boot gets caught in the mud and when you try to pull your foot out the boot stays in the mud and your foot pulls out of the boot up into the leg of your wader and you can lose your balance and fall down or just be stuck in the mud unable to get out.

The neopreme bootie is snugged around your ankle and it will pull out of the mud when you lift up your foot.

A good wading belt with back support and connections for pliers, towel, a rod holder, bait bucket and stringer is very useful. Snugging the belt tight around your waist will also keep water from filling up your waders if you were to fall over or lose your balance?

I prefer carrying the least amount of tackle possible. I will put in my pocket or wader pouch a small spool of leader material, a few hooks if using them, something to cut my leader material with and 3 or 4 lures max. 

That will usually get you by unless you plan on walking a long way from the boat. If a long walk about is in your plans take a little bit more tackle.

Lures I take with me include a couple of soft plastic jigs already rigged with tails and a few extra tails. Dark colored tails like root beer, motor oil are my first choices with a few lighter colors added in.

Bouncing the soft plastic along the bottom is a very effective way of drawing strikes in the cold low water situations.

I will carry a suspending twitch bait in a bait fish color like silver, green and silver or black and silver.. Top waters are fun, but when it is cold and the fish are hunkering in the holes they don’t come up for top waters very often.

Whatever lure you are using moving it slowly is the best action. 

Live shrimp is also very effective bait in these conditions. I like to hook the shrimp on a ¼ or 1/8 ounce jig head, in the head from bottom to top avoiding the dark spot which is the brain..Slowly moving the shrimp along the bottom with an occasional twitch is a good way to get strikes.

Suspending a shrimp under a cork is also an effective technique.

How do you find out where the holes are? Looking on a chart or aerial photos available online might give you a start. The best way I know of  is to go out on a real low water day and look around. You can see the deeper areas clearly under those conditions.

If you aren’t a flats wader try the creeks that feed into the bays and flats. 

An added bonus to your day will be the wildlife. You might see white pelicans or dolphin working the holes or a raccoon along the shoreline looking for food. I have seen hogs on occasion.
                  Articles and Photos by Capt.Bill Miller

Kingfish Egmont Ship Channel

If someone held a gun to my head and told me catch a kingfish or die, I would go to the Egmont ship channel.

The channel or “Ditch” as some call it is a natural fish attracting spot. Why? The Strong current that comes in and out of Tampa Bay, the cut of the channel edges creates tide rips and hiding places for bait fish and the chains of the marker buoys also is bait attractors.

As long as I have been king fishing in the area, (my entire life?), I can remember going to the channel to catch kingfish. You really do not even have to ask where the kings are. Just go to the channel they will be somewhere nearby.

Where do you fish? Popular king areas start with markers 9-10 and work all the way out to “The Whistler” which is the last buoy going west. Certainly you can catch fish anywhere in the channel from the Skyway to the Whistler but those last few seem to be the most consistent.

Where do you catch your bait and what bait is best? You can catch your bait around the buoy chains or around bait schools in the channel using Sabiki rigs. Drop the sabikis down by the markers or cast into the dimpling bait schools on top, and whatever bait comes up like cigar minnows, Spanish sardines, threadfin herring, scaled sardines, blue runners or others is the bait to use.

How do you rig your baits? Using a stinger rig, I nose hook the bait on the front hook. The front hook is a 2/0 short shank, live bait hook, the back hook is # 4 treble.

Connect the eye of the stinger treble to the eye of the front hook by using 40 lb. coffee colored stainless single strand wire and a Haywire Twist. Make the spread between hooks about 3 inches.

Bigger baits might need a bigger spread between hooks. My rule of the thumb is the treble should be about 2/3 rds. of the way down the back of the bait. The treble should dangle free.

Using a small black swivel, in the 35 pound class, on top of your leader attack 24 inches of 40 pound wire to the eye of the hook and you are ready. If it seems too complicated to build your own stinger rigs, they can be bought pre made at most tackle shops in the area.

20 pound mono is a good all-around choice for line. A conventional reel or spinning reel that can hold at least 250 yards of line with a matching rod will get the job done.

Braided line can be used but the no stretch factor off braid will sometimes yank the hook out of a king’s mouth on the fast slashing strike of a kingfish.

A medium to light tip on the rod will help the hook up/catch ratio for the same reason.

Once you get to the area put out 3 or 4 baits at varying distances behind the boat and troll as slow as your boat will go. The idea is to make the swimming baits look as natural as possible. Watch your GPS and get about 1-2 miles per hour.

Wind and tide will factor in to trolling speed. You might have to bump up your rpm’s going into the wind and tide to get the 1-2 mph. Going down wind and tide a controlled power drift using your motor in and out of gear could get the ideal trolling speed.

Look for schools of bait on top with your eyes or bait on the bottom using your depth recorder. Slow troll around the bait schools. If kings are around they will usually hang on the outside of the bait schools looking to attack when ready.

I mentioned that the marker buoy and the chains attaching them to the bottom hold bait so troll around the markers. Use a figure 8 pattern going across the channel to each buoy. If you find a buoy that is holding bait and kings concentrate there.

If nothing is happening at the set of markers where you are fishing troll out to the next set. Lots of times you will find bait and kings in between the markers.

When the word is out the kings are in the ditch it can get crowded. Be courteous and give each boat plenty of room when trolling.