Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Beach snook season starting out on a high note

Beach snook fishing has been good.
In three days of walking along the surf, I've caught and released 15 snook. Most have been small. The largest fish was 26 inches. I've also caught some nice spotted seatrout, blue runners, ladyfish and skipjack.
I fished about 30 minutes south of Sarasota the first two days. I fished along Casey Key the third day.
I saw more snook the first two days. I estimate that I saw 300-400 snook each of the first two days. I saw maybe 90 snook along Casey Key.
I've been fly fishing the surf for snook for the last 25 years. It's certainly one of my favorite pursuits. It's great sight-fishing and load of fun.
I estimate that I've caught nearly 5,000 snook over the years. My best day in terms of numbers was 41 snook. Last season, I averaged 19 snook per trip. I'll have to have a couple of great days to get my average up this season.
My best day ever took place last August when I caught and released 15 snook to 20 pounds. That included six snook of more than 28 inches. The largest was nearly 40 inches. I also caught and released three redfish to 32 inches and jumped three 100-pound tarpon.
Of course, I didn't come close to landing the tarpon. They simply were too much for my 6-weight TFO TiCRX fly rod. Still, it was fun.
I wasn't sure how this season would be. We had a very harsh winter and experienced a large snook kill because of cold water. Fisheries scientists estimate that 10 percent of the snook along Florida's west coast were killed.
It's too early to tell what affect the kill will have on the beach snook season. I can tell you there are good numbers of fish out there, and the population should increase daily.
My best months are still to come. I like June, July and August best.
If you want to try this yourself, you'll need a 6- to 8-weight fly rod, floating or intermediate line and a leader with a 20- to 25-pound shock tippet.
As far as flies go, I use nothing but my Gibby's D.T. Variation, a fly that has accounted for several thousand snook over the years. It was the fly of choice on that once-in-a-lifetime day last summer.
Other required equipment includes a cap or hat, sunscreen, quality pair of polarized sunglasses and water.
I like to arrive at the beach around 7:30 a.m. I usually fish until 1 p.m. Best sight-fishing is from 9:30 to noon.
When the summer wind is gentle and from the east, it's time for me to grab my fly rod and head for the beach.

Tiger shark sends swimmers running for dry sand

Fishing success is relative.
I'm certain success is not based on number of fish caught. I am certain it's based on the enjoyment you get from a particular outing.
That happened to me today. This was my third day in a row fly fishing for snook along the beach. It also was my worst day in terms of number of fish caught. I totaled three small snook and a ladyfish. Not great by any stretch of the imagination.
However, I had a great day.
I saw an abundance of wildlife: ibis, snowy egrets, blue herons, osprey, pelicans, terns, skimmers, cormorants, frigate birds and others.
I also saw a magnificent spotted eagle ray gliding along in the shallows of the beautiful Gulf of Mexico.
When I first stepped onto the beach at Casey Key, I saw an angler in a skiff battling a large tarpon. I also saw three schools of tarpon.
The hilite of the day was when a large tiger shark swam into the surf and made its way down the beach toward the public swimming area. I was fighting a snook at the time and I thought the shark was homing in on my fish.
By the time I got to the swimming area, the water was vacant -- except for the shark. A lifeguard was slapping his surfboard on the water in an attempt to persuade the shark to leave.
One problem: The shark obviously was sick or injured. It was lying on its back in two feet of water.
A small fish swam around the shark.
"It just gave birth," some on in the crowd said.
Wishful thinking. It was a cobia, a species that's known to hang out around sharks. I have no idea why they do that, but they do.
The scene was pretty funny. Everyone was suddenly a shark expert.
"Yeah, it's a 10-foot mako," someone said.
I overheard a fellow saying, "That shark was hooked by a fisherman just up the beach. It apparently swallowed the hook and died."
There was a shark tournament over the weekend. Although the tourney was catch-and-release, the shark could have swallowed the hook and been injured in the process.
It could have been any number of things.
"You need to get it out of the water," one man told the lifeguard. "That's shark's dead. Get rid of it so we can swim."
I was amazed by the hot tempers. People don't like to be inconvenienced at all.
Suddenly, the "dead" shark righted itself and began to thrash its large tail. It slowly swam away from the beach toward deeper water.
Last time I saw the shark, it was at least 100 yards offshore.
The red flag was still flying at the lifeguard station.
Got to make sure the shark is gone.
I fish the beach quite often during the summer and see plenty of sharks. And they're not all little sharks. I've seen bull sharks, hammerheads, lemons and now tigers. I've seen them within a few feet of the beach.
One thing I've discovered is most beach-goers are oblivious to what's happening in the water. Most pay no attention.
I don't swim in the gulf. I've seen too many sharks over the years. I know the odds of a shark attack are great, but I'm not taking that chance.