“So, I just moved here from Ohio and I’ve never fished in salt water.” This phrase, or some variation of it, is heard over and over in local tackle shops. If you are one of the people who has uttered this sentence recently, I have good news and bad news.
The bad news is that you have a great deal to learn, both about the fish themselves and how we catch them here. The good news is that if you’ve spent any of your freshwater career targeting largemouth bass, carp or catfish, you already have a pretty good idea of how to go after two of our most prized species: Snook and redfish.
Snook and bass are both ambush predators. They like structure: Points, dropoffs, docks, overhangs. Our mangrove shorelines are like cattails or lily pads, providing a place for both prey and predator to hide in the vegetation.
Bass in flowing rivers normally hang out on the downcurrent side of structure, conserving energy by not fighting water flow and hidden from prey. Snook do the exact same thing, except they respond to tides instead of river flow. Unlike most rivers, tides change direction, and the snook will utilize different areas on incoming and outgoing tides.
Like bass, snook prefer to hunt live prey rather than scavenge dead things. A large part of their diet is smaller fish. “Freshwater” lures that imitate baitfish usually translate well to snook fishing. The biggest difference is usually the hooks, which are often bronze on freshwater baits and black chrome on saltwater lures. Swap those out, and you’re probably good to go.
A redfish is kind of like a bass and a carp had a good Friday night together, and then the resulting offspring was raised by a family of catfish. They’ll eagerly hit topwater baits and other artificial lures, like a bass. But they have the downturned mouths of a bottom feeder, and they’ll also often swim in small groups or schools like carp. They rely heavily on scent when they’re looking for food, and will eat dead, smelly things sitting on the sand like a catfish will (not chicken livers, but chunks of cut fish or frozen shrimp).
Redfish often stick close to mangrove shorelines, where they can be found alongside snook, but they also frequent open waters more than snook do. Subtle structure, like creek mouths, troughs and small depressions will draw redfish, especially if there’s seagrass in the area. They eat more small crustaceans, worms and mollusks than snook do, so they have less need to hide from their prey.
What about your other tackle? Don’t get too caught up in the “saltwater tackle” myth. While there is a place for broomstick rods and reels that weigh as much as a small dog, the rods and reels used for bass and carp are usually OK for snook and redfish. Most of us use medium or medium-heavy rods from 6 to 7.5 feet long, paired with spinning reels in a 2500 to 4000 size, and lined with 10- to 20-pound braid or 10- to 15-pound monofilament.
Now, if you’re trying to catch really big fish around pilings or bridges, you’ll want something a bit beefier. But for our average fish, which weigh 2 to 8 pounds, bass gear is sufficient. And some reels built for freshwater use don’t resist salt corrosion very well, so dousing them with Get Some corrosion block and rinsing them with fresh water after every use should be part of your fishing trip routine.
Of course, snook are not bass, and redfish are not carp. There are many, many differences between them, and you’ll soon discover them as you start fishing for them. But there are enough similarities that you should immediately get a sense of familiarity in targeting them, and that will help you reel in a few fish and start building some confidence as you start down the road to become a Southwest Florida saltwater angler.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor, and a co-host of Radio WaterLine every Saturday from 7 to 9 a.m. on KIX 92.9 FM. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.