The common snook is the most abundant and wide-ranging of the snook and is highly sought after because of its strength and acrobatics when hooked. It is a member of the Centropomidae family, which also includes such prized species as the Nile perch, although it is superior to the former as a sportfish, even though it doesn't reach the same monstrous proportions. It is also related to the barramundi, with which it shares some appearance and behavioral traits.
The common snook was once a favored commercial species in Florida; it is now strictly a gamefish there but may be taken commercially in other parts of its range.
Other Nameslinesider, robalo, sergeant fish, snook; Portuguese: robalo; Spanish: robalo, robalito.
IdentificationA silvery fish with a yellow-green or olive tint, the common snook has a body that is streamlined and slender, with a distinct black lateral line running from the top of its gills to the end of its forked tail. It has a sloping forehead; a long, concave snout; and a large mouth with brushlike teeth and a protruding lower jaw.
The fins are occasionally bright yellow, although the pelvic fin is usually pale, unlike the orange-yellow, black-tipped pelvic fin of the tarpon snook. The common snook has a high, divided dorsal fin, as well as small scales that run from about 70 to 77 along the lateral line to the base of the tail.
It has relatively short anal spines that do not reach the base of the tail when pressed against the body; there are usually 6 soft rays in the anal fin. There are also 15 to 16 rays in the pectoral fins and 7 to 9 gill rakers on the first arch.
Size/AgeThe common snook grows much larger than other Atlantic-range snook, averaging 1.5 to 2.5 feet or 5 to 8 pounds, although it can reach 4 feet and 50 pounds. Females are almost always larger than males, although growth rates are variable. The all-tackle world record is a 53-pound, 10-ounce fish, taken off eastern Costa Rica in 1978. Common snook can live for more than 20 years.
Life history/BehaviorCommon snook congregate at mouths of passes and rivers during the spawning season, returning to the same spawning sites each summer. Spawning grounds include significant passes and inlets of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, such as Sebastian, Ft. Pierce, St. Lucie, Jupiter, and Lake Worth inlets on the east coast and Hurricane, Clearwater, and John’s passes on the west coast.
Common snook also spawn inside Tampa Bay around passes to the secondary embankments of Miquel Bay, Terra Ceia Bay, and Riviera Bay. The season extends from April through November, but activity peaks between May and July; more intense spawning occurs during new or full moon phases.
A female may spawn more than 1.5 million eggs every day in the early part of the season, with larvae drifting for 15 to 20 days after hatching. Young fish remain in the quiet, secluded upper reaches of estuaries until they reach sexual maturity, which males attain after 2 to 3 years and females after 3 to 4 years.
Common snook are protandric hermaphrodites - they can change their sex from male to female; this change usually happens between the ages of 2 and 7 and between the lengths of 17 to 30 inches. Within a group of common snook, sex reversal is brought about by a change in the size of individuals; that is, if a group that loses its largest fish has lost females, some males may undergo sex reversal to fill the absence, a process that takes from 60 to 90 days.
Food and feeding habitsCarnivorous predators that ambush their prey as currents sweep food into their vicinity, snook feed on both freshwater and saltwater fish, shrimp, crabs, and larger crustaceans.
DistributionIn the western Atlantic, common snook are found primarily in southern Florida, as well as off the southeastern coast of the Gulf of Mexico. They are also occasionally encountered off North Carolina and Texas. The largest snook in Florida, exceeding 30 pounds, are caught chiefly in east coast bays and inlets from Vero Beach south to Miami, but their most abundant populations are on the west coast from Boca Grande south throughout the Everglades region, including Florida Bay.
The range of the Pacific black snook is in the eastern Pacific, primarily from Baja California, Mexico, to Colombia. The range of the Pacific white snook is similar, extending from Baja California to Peru.
HabitatSnook inhabit warm, shallow coastal waters and are able to tolerate freshwater and saltwater. They are most common along continental shores, preferring fast-moving tides and relying on the shelter of estuaries, lagoons, mangrove areas, and brackish streams, as well as freshwater canals and rivers, usually at depths of less than 65 feet.
Occasionally, they occur in small groups over grassy flats and shallow patch reefs and may be found at the mouths of tributaries and along the ocean side of shores near tributaries. Snook cannot tolerate water temperatures below 60°F; in the winter, they stay in protected, stable temperature areas such as those under bridges and in ship channels, turning basins, warmwater outflows near power plants, and the upper reaches of estuaries.