Snook have always been a fish of some romance in my mind.
Like Charley Waterman, I think their Spanish name, "robalo" sounds better then the oddity of "snook", which sounds like something that happens to someone on a felt-covered table, or an object of derision. Tell someone not fairly involved in the outdoor world that you'd like to fish for snook and you're liable to face the same expression as if you'd said you were off to hunt snipe. On the other hand, robalo sounds racy and a bit powerful, more fitting for a beach front cruiser and ambushing predator. Webster's traces the name "snook" to Dutch for a type of pike-fish. Fair enough.
Growing up and fishing a bit in South Texas, snook were rumors or memories, as they, along with tarpon, had pretty much disappeared. Fortunately, both have come back to some extent. Cold snaps like recent ones in Florida and Texas are hard on the populations, though. I'd read of snook in stories about Costa Rica and the Florida Keys and other warm waters. Heck, even Travis McGee fished for them. They lay under mangroves and docks and would cut you off in a minute. In the fall they'd run the beaches and passes. Mouth like a bass, strong, with razor-sharp gill plates. Those were the things you read about snook. My first couple trips to the tropics didn't lead to any snook, though. Bonefish and tarpon (sightings) along with seeing and throwing at permit were all plenty of excitement. The first snook I saw was a baby caught by a friend in the South Texas surf. Neat as a novelty, but not quite the explosive gamefish you read about, not until it added another foot of length or so.
I won't complain, though, because a few years ago, six now in fact, I caught my first and to date only robalo.
We headed down to Baja for a couple of days. It was our second trip and we stayed in San Jose del Cabo, which was busy sprouting condos where only a couple of years before nothing but beach existed. After some slow panga fishing, Dad and I took advantage of our mid-morning flight time to slip out to the beach at dawn on the last day, walking along and throwing plugs with spinning outfits. Fishing on the beach at that time is always exciting, the low light is flat and you can't see much, so it's easy to imagine lots going on out there even if bait isn't being chased to the surface.
I was using Dad's light travel rod and a reel with ten pound test to cast a chartreuse Top Dog out past where the waves were breaking. The beach was quite steep so we'd follow a retreating wave, cast, then back up before the next wave and start working our plugs. As my plug climbed the back of a breaker just yards off the beach it was suddenly sucked down by a mouth I could put both fists into. An interesting struggle with a couple of half-jumps later, I had her up on the sand and removed the plug. A quick picture, wade her out and revive her, and it was time to rinse of the gear, pack our wet clothes in plastic for the flight home, and leave on what for me will always remain a high note.
Hard to top:
Funny, growing up I don't think I ever daydreamed anything better.
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