Biologists recognize over a dozen species of Snook: six in the Atlantic Ocean and six in the Pacific. The most common is indigenous to warm, tropical coastal waters of the western Atlantic Ocean, around the southern Florida coast from Clearwater, north of Tampa, to Jacksonville. Again, further south, Snook congregate from the southern Yucatan Peninsula to Costa Rica, Belize, and Venezuela. Though sizes are smaller around Florida, great numbers make them popular for charters in brackish waters and the backcountry areas of Ten Thousand Islands, Naples, Marco Island, and southward in and along the Everglades. Giants reaching 30 pounds have been taken in the area of Chokoloskee. Up to 20 pounds throughout Ft. Lauderdale and south Miami’s Overseas Highway are not uncommon. In Puerto Rico and Jamaica Snook reach upwards of 20 pounds, while 20-30 pounds is a good day around the Yucatan.
Distinctive black lateral line running the length of the Snook’s long, silvery, thick body makes this fish easily identifiable. It has a high, divided dorsal fin, sloping forehead, and protruding lower jaw. The pelvic fin is yellow, and shades of light gold highlight the Snook’s back and tail. If all this weren’t enough, one can be certain of a Snook on the line by the way it fights: like no other fish! Average size is five to eight pounds, though Snook obviously tend to grow much bigger. The world record for Snook is a staggering 53 pounds, 10 ounces, caught near Parismina Ranch, Costa Rica.
Snook can thrive in either freshwater or brackish canals, creeks, and backwater sloughs, feeding on other fish and large crustaceans. They prefer covered habitats, such as mangrove-lined banks and around objects like bridges, docks, pilings, sand and oyster bars. They may also seek shelter in deep holes and along drop-offs and island edges. Reports of larger fish constantly refer to wrecks and reefs off both Floridian coasts. Summer is primary Snook spawning season, schooling along shore and in passes. Preferable water temperature is below 60 degrees F.
These quick, darting fish chase bait vigorously, slicing the water with their forked tails and loudly snapping at baitfish with wide deadly mouths. Dropping bait into a cloud of over 1000 swarming Snook is something to behold, and it’s no wonder anglers will jump at the chance of this fishing fix. Relatively limited range keeps Snook from being a more popular game fish, but those in the know are happy to keep this fish on the ‘down-low’.
The Almaco Jack is generally dusky-hued with sides decorated by faint olive or amber colored stripes. Its football-shaped body is less elongated and more flattened than most other species of Jack. Dark brown or dark blue-green coloration is indicative of Almaco’s upper bodies and lower fins. Pelvic fins are white, while the belly is lightly shaded, sometimes almost lavender or tending towards brassy. This fish is distinguished by a black, diagonal band which begins at the upper lip and crosses the eye towards the top of the head. Its high dorsal fin lowers to a small gap then continues tapering in small spikes that reach the tail. Its forked tail fins are elongated to resemble two sickles. Most commonly taken at weights between 15-30 pounds, it is able to get much larger, reaching upwards of 90 pounds. The world record for Almaco Jack is 78 pounds.
Rarely seen near shore or reefs, Albaco Jacks prefer to cruise alone or in small groups beyond the surf. Their ideal habitat is open water ranging from 15 to 400 feet in depth, often stalking offshore oil and gas platforms, wrecks and reefs. This fast-swimming predator feeds day and night on invertebrates such as squid, baitfish, and other smaller fish. It is purported to spawn offshore at various times throughout the spring, summer, and fall, depending on water temperature and latitude. Juveniles are most often found living among sargassum beds or other floating objects.
This fish is respected for having great stamina. It is a strong, stubborn runner that will continually resist, pull, and dive deep, providing great battles that can last a long time. Almaco Jacks have an interesting habit of removing skin-based parasites by rubbing against passing sharks, and have even been known to mistake the identity of scuba divers, doing the same to them. Once landed and brought to shore this fish tastes especially good when grilled or broiled.