Hot Bite: Southeastern Florida’s Tackle-Testing Winter Snook

by Mark Melotik

HuntStand Pro Contributor MORE FROM Mark

It’s time to warm up your winter. Right now through March is the time to tie into trophy-sized snook along southeastern Florida’s inlets and coastal bridges.


It’s not hard to get into a winter rut when a cold Northeast wind cuts the air and throws a mean chop on the water. And especially in Florida, where most anglers fall into the category of “fair weather” sportsmen. I know because typically, I’m one of them. When your normal fishing attire is flip-flops, sunglasses and a pair of board shorts, it can be hard to get motivated when air temps begin dipping into the upper 40s.

Fortunately, for those anglers who’ve got the desire and drive, great fishing opportunities exist right now through March, around Southeast Florida’s inlets and coastal bridges. I recently joined Captain Chris Britton of Grey Ghost Charters, fishing his home waters of Ft. Pierce, in hopes of targeting oversized snook that take up winter residence along the Intercoastal Bridges.

I arrived at the boat ramp as the sun was getting ready to set behind us. The air temps were already in the mid 50s, and a check of my smartphone and ScoutLook Fishing app confirmed a more-severe drop was expected as the cold North wind blew in at a steady 15 knots. While some of our Northern visitors may be comfortable wearing shorts and a long-sleeved T-shirt in such temps, each of us donned several thermal layers and foul weather gear on top of that. There’s nothing worse than being cold while waiting for a bite to get hot.

NewSigns600Heavy structure, like these barnacle-covered fender pilings, are a favorite winter snook haunt day or night.
Our travel time was short, running a few hundred yards on idle, then dropping in the Minn Kota iPilot trolling motor and using its GPS guided anchor feature to hold our position, down-current of the wooden fender system that borders the navigable channel. We were about 90 minutes from low slack tide and the outgoing current was still moving along nicely.

There are few fishing techniques as effective as “swinging” jigs and plugs when fishing moving water. This technique allows an angler to naturally present a lure by swimming it across the current, allowing it to sweep along with the tide, exactly like the natural forage. The most-challenging aspect of this technique is learning how to gauge where to cast the lure up-current, and how heavy the lure should be in relation to the current velocity.  Over the course of a tide, these variables will change dramatically, requiring constant tweaks and adjustments to maintain an effective presentation and hook more fish.

Here is my thought process while developing the perfect “swing.” I’ll first reference my Raymarine Depth Finder to determine the target depth around the structure. I’ll then take a mental assessment of how fast the tide is flowing. You may find the need to make a practice cast or two while getting a good read on the velocity at the bottom, as it can be slower or faster than the surface current speed.

Generally, in depths from six to 10 feet deep, a 1-ounce to 1.5-ounce jighead is ideal. When fishing 12 feet and deeper, I’ll stick to 2-ounce heads. Your next step is to begin reading the current speed and determine how far up-current you’ll need to cast ahead of your target structure. The goal is the have the jig reach bottom and begin “sweeping” three to four feet ahead of the target structure. Key structures that will reliably hold snook include concrete pilings, wooden fender embankments, and light lines illuminated from above. At times, you will find that your up-current cast may be a full 15 to 30 feet ahead of the target.

SnookJigs600SE Barbarian Jigs (left) and Skirted Barbarian Jigs (right) offer the perfect profile, weight and professional-grade hook for taming big east coast winter snook.
Once you’ve hit bottom with your jig, retrieve the slack to keep up with the jig as it swims toward you. Use short “pops” of the rod tip to bounce the jig four to six inches off the bottom. Most strikes will occur just after the pop, while the jig is sinking. At the strike quickly pick up your line slack and set the hook. When fishing near heavy cover, quickly gaining any extra line dramatically increases the odds of pulling the fish away from structure. One great way to put some “extra muscle” to a hooked fish is to carefully walk backward on the boat deck, while keeping the rod tip just above the surface. This allows you to quickly pick up five to eight feet of line, while controlling the fish and preventing it from breaking you off in the structure.

To make the most of this hot winter snook bite I’ve had the best luck using jigging soft baits from Hogy Lure Company. My favorites are the 1- to 2-ounce Skirted Barbarian Jigs and the newly released SE Barbarian Jigs. Both offer excellent strength and performance based on the VMC Barbarian Jig Head platform, along with the long, seven- to nine-inch dancing soft bait trailer behind them. My favorite night time color is the black/purple or Blurple pattern. During the day, it’s often a toss-up between using silver and bone white patterns.

A wide variety of tackle will get the job done on winter snook, but make sure it is suitably stout. These are big, strong fish. My current favorite setup includes an 8-foot, heavy-action Sewell Custom Swim Bait Spinning Rod, paired with a Shimano TwinPower SW8000PG reel spooled with 50-pound Power Pro braid. To ensure more hook-ups I like to use a 5-foot, 80-pound mono leader.



HuntStand is the #1 hunting and land management app in the country. It combines advanced mapping tools with powerful map layers to allow users to create and share the best hunting maps possible.