Essential Flies to Catch Snook Anywhere
Arm yourself with these Fab Five patterns to score linesiders wherever they roam.
By Mike Conner

A handful of effective flies is all it takes to consistently land trophy snook like this beauty.

Snook have been a top fly-fishing target of mine for over 50 years. My first was a feisty 5-pounder in a roadside ditch, caught on a fiberglass Fenwick rod that was heavy and as soft as a noodle. I was 15 then, and I have since fished for this challenging species in myriad neighborhoods, ranging from beaches to inlets and passes, and from the tiniest brackish streams in the Everglades’ mangrove-laden backcountry to suburban freshwater ponds and residential canals. Ol' linesider lives where the food is, and I’m happy to report that it loves feathers and fur.

Snook patrol many beaches and can be sight-fished with flies that mimic the prevalent forage.

Expanding Diet

Juvenile snook in brackish environs (mixture of fresh and salt water) seek refuge around mangroves and manmade structure, where they feed on tiny crabs and mysid shrimp. After they reach about three inches long, their diet changes to include shrimp and small fish, such as Gambusia minnows. But their forage choices don't end there. Adult snook in the surf and backcountry love mullet of all sizes, as well as various other baitfish. They even relish newly-hatched sea turtles. And if you've ever fished brackish or freshwater bodies, you know frogs are also on the menu.

The author caught this hefty linesider on a small minnow imitation, proving that elephants do eat peanuts.

I've even seen small snook practically beach themselves to take a swipe at scurrying sand fleas in the receding surf wash. At such times, I've slayed them by casting a # 4 Gotcha, a bonefish pattern that has proven an impressionistic enough imitation of a sand flea.

So you might think you need to carry a smorgasbord of a box, packed with three dozen specific fly patterns, on your snook forays. But that’s not the case, you can actually narrow things down to a pocketful of flies. In fact, you can hang your chances of success on five patterns, to be exact.

The Clouser Minnow remains an important weapon in every snook angler’s arsenal.

Clouser Minnow

Not shockingly, this venerable fly is a snook staple and can be tweaked size- and coloration-wise to imitate the prevalent forage. For Florida's early-summer minnow (juvenile bay anchovies) runs in the surf, I tie on a sparsely-tied, # 4 or # 6 gray- or beige-over-white little number, and change to a chartreuse-over-white if I'm not getting bit.

Few flies are as versatile as the Clouser Minnow, which works on backcountry snook as well as their counterparts in residential canals or the beach.

While it’s well known that this pattern was originally designed for smallmouth bass, it most certainly has earned a place in the box of just about every salty fly fisher. And whether you fish for snook in the surf, backcountry creeks, grass flats with sandy potholes, or dock lights, the Clouser can pass for the local forage. As if that weren’t enough, it lets you cover the entire water column by simply varying the size of the eyes (from bead-chain to lead dumbbells).

If the surf is up when fishing for beach snook, dial up a Half 'n' Half, a bulkier variation of the Clouser.

Half ‘n’ Half

If the surf is somewhat roiled up when pursuing beach snook, I beef up by switching to a Half ‘n’ Half, which is a Clouser Minnow/Lefty’s Deceiver hybrid that integrates saddle hackles for added bulk. The larger silhouette gives the fish a larger target to zero in on when waves have kicked up sand and the water isn’t clear.

In tight quarters or when fish refuse to give chase, a Sea-Ducer will often trigger a take despite the reduced strike zone.


A relic? Snook don't think so! Originally called the Homer Rhode Streamer (later renamed by Chico Fernandez), this all-hackle pattern was used by Homer Rhode, Jr., its creator, to fish commercially for snook in the 1940s along the famed Tamiami Trail canals in southwest Florida.

He tied the palmered-hackle collar (head) very dense to increase the buoyancy, which makes this a great small-strike-zone fly that hovers tantalizingly in the water column. You can tie the tail hackles facing each other or splayed outward (Keys-tarpon-fly style) for a breathing action that resembles a crustacean or frog swimming.

All white, red-and-white, red-and-yellow, and all-black are the favorite color schemes, but I also tie a "shrimpy" version with Cree hackles, and an impressionistic mullet with gray or brown hackles over white ones.

Its combination of sound, diving and swimming action makes the Dahlberg Diver irresistible to most snook.

Dahlberg Diver

Snook strike noisy bugs on the surface with blood in their eyes, so your essential fly selection ought to have a topwater pattern in the mix. Picking just one is not easy, and after considering the Gartside Gurgler, I still give the nod to the just-as-revolutionary Dahlberg Diver.

Hall of Fame angler Larry Dahlberg created this spun deer hair number for bass, pike and the like in his Midwest waters, but it eventually became a saltwater standard, after proving effective on snook, redfish and spotted seatrout. It is a great search fly that excels in mangrove country and over grass-flat potholes, and it is the first bug I tie on when snook are not visibly targeting forage.

The Dahlberg Diver is another freshwater pattern that quickly earned its stripes in the salt.

While the tail can be bucktail, marabou (my favorite), zonker strip or one of the many supple synthetic fibers available, the head is either fashioned out of deer or elk belly hair and always trimmed in a swept-back, sloping angle. It is precisely the head —sometimes also stiffened with head cement— that is key. It makes the fly dive just below the surface, creating a subtle pop in the process, with just a quick strip. Longer draws on the fly line make the Dahlberg swim underwater before it pops right back up, which is when snook often attack it. There are times, of course, when the fish pounce on the fly during the swim.

Snook lurking in grass-flat potholes or mangroves are prime candidates for a Dahlberg Diver.

A loop knot allows the Dahlberg Diver to swim more freely, and a monofilament weed guard —either a mono loop or a mustache (2-prong)— lets you fish it right around shoreline vegetation or under overhanging mangroves with little chance of hanging up.

Favorite colors include red-and-white, all black, and brown-and-orange. Preferred hook sizes are in the #2 to 2/0 range. However, the light-wire stinger-style hook on the original freshwater pattern won’t cut it for snook, so choose a saltwater hook that withstands battles with powerful fish, with a fairly wide gap for a better hookup ratio.

Snook frequently feast on small baitfish drawn by bright lights at night.

Midnight Minnow

Snook frequently fixate on small forage, most notably under dock lights at night, in the surf when juvenile bay anchovies make their runs, and in brackish and freshwater canals when mosquito (Gambusia) minnows dominate the scene.

The Glades Minnow, a variation on the Midnight Minnow, passes for a variety of small baitfish present in brackish waters.

There are many minnow patterns tied on # 4 and # 6 hooks that keep you in the game when larger imitations fail, but I created the all-white Midnight Minnow specifically for dock-light snooking, and the similar Glades Minnow (a darker, olive and tan fly) for fishing the Everglades’ tannic waters. In both scenarios, a big snook can claim the fly, so I use a Mustad 3407, a hook that won't straighten easily.

A Midnight Minnow is just the ticket to trick snook foraging around dock and bridge lights.

Keep things simple by tying the wing with white Craft Fur, add a few strands of fine fiber flash, and choose between fine sculpting wool or Puglisi fibers for the head, which you need to trim to the desired shape. You could also use Puglisi fibers for the entire fly, if you prefer.

Since I often fish this fly around docks, I tie in a 2-prong weed guard of 15-pound mono to fish tight against the structure with minimal snagging.

Mike Conner

Mike Conner has held a USCG 6-pack captain’s license for over 30 years, and used it to guide fly and light-tackle anglers in Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, and Indian River Lagoon. He is a royalty fly designer for Umpqua Feather Merchants, with 4 trademarked saltwater patterns, and the current Conservation Editor of Florida Sportsman magazine, where he was previously part of the editorial staff from 1998 through 2012. Mike was also the Executive Editor of Shallow Water Angler, the sibling publication, and served as host of both magazines’ TV shows. As well, his work has appeared in Fly Fishing in Saltwaters, Fly Fusion, Fly Fisherman, Fly Rod & Reel, and Saltwater Sportman’s digital edition. After calling Florida home since 1963, he recently relocated to Young Harris, Georgia, with his wife, Michelle.