Big Snook Pigging Out on Pigfish
What are the best live baits to catch snook in the early summer?
Although you cannot keep your one ‘snookie per day’ for another 10 weeks (Sept. 1), many anglers still love to catch-and-release the big fighting snooks. The question is: What are the best live baits to catch snook in the early summer?
According to one of the best snook hunters to ever stalk the waters of Tampa Bay and beyond, Captain David Rieumont says, “In early summer, the snook are pigging out on pigfish.”
Captain Rieumont said that they are hungry for pigfish, and only pigfish. It’s kinda’ like when I need Sonny’s BBQ and nothing else will do -- not Chinese, not Mexican, not Italian.
“Fish aren’t very different from people regarding diet,” said Captain Rieumont. “They like a change of pace once in awhile too, and like us, they get on binges. Understanding what they are eating -- and when it’s possible -- why they are eating it, is key to getting them to take your live bait.”
Catching Pigfish to Catch Big Snook
Most of us who fish saltwater in Florida enjoy pursuing snook. To catch them, we use lures or live bait, and the list of what works is fairly stable and traditional during each season. In the summer, good lures for snook are the XL Mirrolure Mirrodine in green, white and silver. Second would be a Zara Spook Jr. in Bone, or Bone with silver and white.
Traditional live baits that snook like to eat are scaled sardines (whitebait), pinfish and pigfish, in addition to a few others. These live baitfish are usually caught using a castnet or a sabiki rig.
Pigfish are not as easy to catch as some other baitfish but are well worth the trouble. A pinfish trap (yes, pin-fish, not pig-fish trap) is also a great way to catch them. To catch pigfish, find a nice flat with about four feet of water, healthy turtle grass and spotted potholes (sand depressions around the grass). This area could be close to a spoil island or bridge, and is a great place to drop a trap or two.
To catch pigfish, it helps to chum and a then use a Sabiki rig or a small #10 gold hook with a split-shot and a very tiny piece of frozen squid or Berkley gulp. If you begin to catch them on more than one of four attempts, that means there is group around, so throw a castnet in the chum slick. Sometimes you can get a dozen in a toss. For a good simple chum mix for pigfish, use Purina Tropical Fish Food with some menhaden oil mixed in.
The pigfish is in the grunt family and is often generically called a grunt. The snorting noise or “grunt” made by pigfish -- especially when a hook is stuck in them -- helps attract predators such as snook to the baitfish.
CAPTAIN’S TIP: One of the eating habits of the pigfish is to dine voraciously on “snook fry,” which are baby snook. Snook are not stupid animals and they are well aware who their enemies are. Pigfish are on the top of the snook’s hit list. When snook are ignoring other species of baitfish that they normally eat and are just hitting on pigfish, they are not just changing the menu they are also eliminating the enemy, which is likely ubiquitous at that time of the season, hence the snook’s preference for pigfish over other baitfish.
A June Day of Catching Big Snook with Pigfish
On a recent June fishing trip in Tampa Bay with his niece and nephew, Captain Rieumont had a baitwell full of scaled sardines and another baitwell full of pigfish from his traps. The sardines had one strike in a four hour period while the pigfish went four-for-four. It was the only bait that worked that day.
Captain Rieumont said that earlier in the season, when the scaled sardines showed up, the snook were all over them. Two months later, the snook bite got tough using scaled sardines. Switching over to pigfish was key because the big snook would only take the pigfish. Captain Rieumont said he even used some other species of grunts with moderate success, but not like the pigfish.
That same day, another guide who is renowned for catching monster snook -- Captain John Griffith -- had two of his clients using scaled sardines. Anchored up next to Captain Rieumont’s boat, Captain Griffith switched to pigfish and in a matter of minutes pulled in a 35-inch snook. A few minutes later Captain Griffith had a 40-inch bruiser screaming drag.
To keep pigfish alive (and most baitfish), you need a very good live well with a constant turnover of fresh sea water particularly in summer when the water warms up and the dissolved oxygen content is low. Captain Rieumont said that later that day, Captain Griffith’s baitwell conked out and within a few minutes his bait died. Captain Griffith had to change his pump out and then he borrowed some pigfish from Captain Rieumont.
“It was pretty funny in the end,” said Rieumont. “We lent Captain Griffith’s boat some of our pigfish and they ended up out-fishing us!”
After the Catch
Remember to use good techniques when releasing a snook you have caught. If you touch it with your hands, wet them first and lift the fish evenly, keeping it horizontal. Do not hang it by its gills or jaw for a photo. For in-depth tips on proper catch-and-release techniques, please visit the first article below.
If you go summer snooking and are successful using pigfish as bait, send us some photos and post your tale on our Forum!