After returning from a fun shore fishing trip to Central America in 2019, I was left with that feeling you get when you know you have some unfinished business. The trip had been productive and after spending a large portion of the time fishing ledges, I had managed to get into some sizable jacks. But it was only in the last few sessions when pursuing snook, (known locally as robalo) that I really became captivated with this species and began planning the next possible opportunity to get back and do a trip targeting this clever and canny adversary.
Being an avid bass fisherman for the past 30 years, I was struck by the similarities between bass and snook. Both are ultimate ambush predators and can typically be found lurking behind rocks waiting for bait fish swept along by the dropping tide, or searching out their prey over shallow reefs under the cover of broken waves. During the course of my first trip, I was astounded at the kind of shallow ledgy ground these snook would hunt over and which made casting to them a real challenge.
After a nice flight and long bus ride, I arrived at the car hire only to find that, unfortunately, the SUV I had ordered didn’t have four wheel drive. This would make negotiating the dusty steep mud tracks much more tricky and limit what spots I could reach. There was no chance of changing the vehicle at this point as I had arrived at the start of carnival week and was apparently lucky to even have a car. I didn’t let this hiccup dampen the excitement, however, and set off to my accommodation dreaming about snook and planning my next day’s fishing.
I was happy to find that at least the accommodation had everything I needed and I quickly unpacked, preparing my tackle, rods and reels for the next day’s fishing. I had decided on bringing a few rods, ranging from a 12 footer paired with a 3500 reel for spinning the shorelines, up to a heavier 10ft popping rod for the rocky ledges, which I would be using with reels from 6500 size upwards.
I was up at 4am the next morning, aiming to arrive at the spot before first light. The conditions were looking good and as the day dawned, I noticed big pelicans crashing down into the water in search of breakfast. Great to see that bait fish were present! Everything was really looking promising for some action and as I cast lures out from the steep boulder beach, there was a real sense of anticipation. Being carnival week I wasn’t alone, other fishermen were also working the shorelines with lures or netting live bait.
Unfortunately, my first hookup of the trip wasn’t a nice snook but a big pelican that flew straight across my line as I cast out. Managing to free the bird and keep my fingers intact I noticed that the tide was dropping fast. I decided to do some rock hopping and get out to a nice rocky vantage point above some reefy ledges. It was the same spot I had hooked a snook during my last trip only to see it shake the hooks out during a jump.
After studying the shallow terrain, I decided to put on an Enticer Tweak and work it over the ledges to see if anything was in close. I was delighted when suddenly out of nowhere a big snook shot out from behind a rock and hammered into my lure! The fish immediately leapt out of the water, flaring its gills angrily and my joy was short lived as the leader abruptly broke. What went wrong? Had the leader touched on the shallow rocks? On close inspection, I could see that the 50lb fluoro leader had broken by the lure without any abrasions. Knowing what razor sharp gill rakers these snook possess, I couldn’t be certain what had popped the line. It certainly could have been the serrated plates, although the shallow ledges were also lethal and could easily sever your leader. Adrenaline pumping and hands a bit shaky, I rigged up a new leader and lure, this time putting on a high visibility yellow Tweak.
I continued to cover as much ground as possible, only to see the next hit come from just 30 meters away on the other side of a ledge as another sizeable snook took the lure. I felt that if I could control the fish during the first 20 seconds I would stand a good chance of landing it.
All was going well when suddenly the leader broke again, with close inspection showing the same clean cut and no abrasions. On the one hand, it was great to see that the snook were about but it was also extremely frustrating losing such a good fish… again!
I had already decided after the first fish that I would be changing over to a heavier leader. Whether it was rocks or the gill rakers, I knew a heavier trace would be imperative in landing a fish in these conditions. It was now 2-0 to the snook. Apart from a small hawkfish, that was it for the morning’s session and I headed back for lunch and to prepare for the second session of the day. It was a quiet afternoon but on my last cast I managed to pick up a tidy rock snapper (barred snapper). A nice catch but little consolation for the morning’s experience.
Heading back the next morning to a normally quiet, secluded location, I was disappointed to find quite a few fishermen out escaping from the craziness of the carnival. I certainly didn’t mind fishing alongside them, it was more the fact that some had laid long nets and longlines all along the right hand shallow reef I had planned to fish, making it a write off (at least at the higher states of tide). With the tide dropping, I tried a few casts but the only action came from a small hawkfish hunting around the shallow boulders. As the tide continued to drop I headed out to the spot I’d fished the day before where I had lost the two snook.
Armed with heavier leader, I was confident of having a better chance at landing a snook. I needed to be careful on the stepping stones as the brown water close in made it impossible to see where the rocks were, but I made it out to the mark without any dramas. Again, I chose to use the Sub Surface Tweak to hover enticingly over the shallow ledges and channels.
The swell had dropped a little and conditions were looking good. Within ten minutes of starting to cast around the rocks, boom! I was on again as another Snook hit the lure.
Controlling the fish around the rocks and praying for it to stay hooked each time it launched itself into the air shaking its head, I was relieved to say the least when I finally landed it up against a sloping rock. Climbing over the rocks to grab the fish, I watched in horror as the lure just popped out of its mouth. Pouncing on the fish just in time, I realised that if it had given just one little flap, it would have been back in the water and out of my clutches.
So with one nice snook landed, I could really start to relax into it and have some fun. The score was still 2.1 to the snook but I was off the mark.
The next morning with the right side reef still heavily netted, I was feeling snookered and headed back to the stepping stone rocks where I’d had some success previously. The window for this spot was very short. If the tide was too high it was inaccessible, too low and it wasn’t fishable and if the swell was too big, it seemed the snook were just not there. Making the most of my situation, I fished it hard at any opportunity.
The next hit came close in again, casting between two rocks with the mullet coloured Tweak. This was a big snook and it made a series of energy sapping leaps and dives until I gradually brought it under control. With the rod still bent over and the snook just feet away from land, the lure pinged out of its mouth and my heart instantly sank. Unfortunately, if you’re going to target snook this kind of mishap comes with the territory. A snook has a bony mouth surrounded by a thin layer of skin – ideal for flicking off lures. Of course, knowing this stuff doesn’t make losing a nice fish any easier and the snook had now gone 3-1 up on me.
After losing that fish I inspected the hooks, noticing that one of them had bent out somewhat, certainly enough to be the cause of the loss. I had deliberately armed my lures with sharp thinner hooks with the idea that they would penetrate more easily and potentially stick better. With the need to keep a decent amount of pressure on the fish it would be necessary to change the hooks as well as the leader. I opted for a stronger tail hook and a smaller (yet still strong) belly hook that later proved to be vital in landing more of these fish.
With some time still left and conditions looking good, I continued to fish hard hoping for another hit and I was fortunate enough to get another chance. As the tide was getting very low, another snook hit my lure and began going through the usual acrobatics while I held on, praying it would stick. This time it did and I was delighted to be holding my second snook of the trip and pulling back the score to 3-2.
In Part 2 – With the carnival drawing to an end I manage to pick up a nice four wheel drive allowing me to access some amazing spots!