Monday, August 4, 2014

Snook seem to be back on the beaches in good numbers

A sizable school of snook swims in the surf along Casey Key.

Scott Dempsey shows off a fine beach snook.
I just finished tying a dozen D.T. Variations.

I put eyes on them and epoxied the heads.

Big deal?

It is for me.

Can only mean one thing: Snook are back on the beaches in appreciable numbers.

I have been sight-fishing the surf for snook for the past 30 years. It's an activity that I enjoy very much. For most of those 30 years, I could count on snook in the surf virtually every trip.

Hasn't been that way the past three years. Seems as if the snook population has been down in the surf along the Gulf Coast.
D.T. Variations are the only flies you'll need in the surf.

Lately, however, I've been finding decent numbers of snook along Casey Key, an area I've been fishing for three decades. I'm not willing to say that beach snook fishing is back to the way it was, but I'm certainly encouraged.

I took writer Mike Hodge of Tampa out a couple of weeks ago. We first visited a secluded beach along Manasota Key. I knew the moment I saw the waves breaking on the beach that we had little shot at success. But since we were there, we walked about half mile. We didn't see a snook, so we opted to head north to Casey Key.

"I would have given up," said Hodge, formerly a sports writer for the Ocala Star-Banner. "I would have figured it would have been too rough there, too."

Not so.

When we arrived at Nokomis Public  Beach, we were greeted by a serene surf and clear water.

Amazing what can happen when you move 15 miles north!

Now, we didn't set the world on fire, but we saw maybe 80-100 snook. We caught and released eight -- most of which ranged from 21 to 24 inches.

However, Hodge hooked a snook that could have pushed 20 pounds or slightly more. We'll call it 15 pounds to be safe.

The big snook was lying on the bottom about a mile north of the public beach. Hodge cast the D.T. Variation fly slight in front of the snook and let it sink. As the fly was sinking, the big snook rose up from the bottom and inhaled the fly.

Hodge admittedly got a case of buck, er snook fever.

He set the hook, but forgot to let go of the fly line in his left hand. And when the big snook decided to take off, the leader parted.

Hodge was (understandably) disappointed, elated and excited.

It was a fly-rod snook of a lifetime.

Snook should be in the surf for at least another month. You'll see more snook than anglers.

I have conducted dozens of seminars on beach snook fishing over the years, but I really don't ever encounter many anglers. I think that most give up after a couple of frustrating outings.

The snook aren't all that easy to see -- unless you know what you're looking for. If you're looking for a whole snook with eyes, fins, scales and a tail, you'll probably fail most of the time.

What you're look for is movement or something different.

You also have to know where to look. Your focus should be from the dry sand out to about five feet.

One of the things that I emphasize is not to wade. If you wade, you can bet most of the fish will be behind you.

I have conducted at least four beach snook seminars for the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers over the years. I often wonder if anyone ever listens?

About four years ago, two anglers hired me for a beach snook outing. When we arrived at the beach, there were more than a dozen members of the club strung out along the beach. Most of them were wading. And most were flailing the water in a area where you could see there were no fish.

We walked past that group to an area where I knew there were fish.

My anglers didn't set the world on fire. But they managed to catch and release seven snook and a few mackerel.

A couple of years later, I had a fellow out kayak fishing. He told me he had joined the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers.

"I haven't been to any meetings, but I have gone on a couple of outings," he said.

"What outings?," I asked.

"The last one was beach snook fishing at Manasota Key," he said.

I asked what he caught?

"Nothing," he said. "None of us caught a thing."

I asked why he was wading and why they were casting in fishless water?

"Because that's what they told me to do," he said.

Go figure.

Certainly, the freeze of 2010 had to have had an effect on snook. Scientists estimate that up to 10 percent of the snook along the Gulf Coast were killed.

That theory is plausible, of course. But I had my best day ever after the freeze in August of 2010. On one trip, I caught and released 15 snook to 22 pounds and three oversized redfish. I also jumped three giant tarpon. I had no chance at landing the tarpon on my 6-weight fly rod!

Maybe the freeze did have a negative impact. I think it's more of a downward trend in the cycle. You see that often in fish populations.

We also had more than our share of west wind, offshore storms and red algae in the surf.

I'm hoping that the recent resurgence in snook along the beaches is a sign that things are improving.
For beach snook fly fishing, I recommend 6- to 8-weight fly rods, floating or sinktip lines, 20-pound fluorocarbon leader and D.T. Variation flies. I've found no reason to use any other fly than the D.T.

I usually walk along the beach barefooted. Some prefer to wear flats boots. If you opt for flats boots, neoprene slip on boots at the way to go. You'll find booted with zippers are pretty worthless. Sand and shell wreak havoc on the zippers is short order.

I also don't recommend a stripping basket. There are those who will tell you that stripping baskets are essential because sand and shell will ruin a fly line pretty quickly. I haven't found this to be true.

I just strip about 20 feet of line and trail it behind me as I walk. I hold the fly in my left hand, and have just a couple of feet of fly line out the tip of the rod.

Here's an important tip: Cast perpendicularly. Do not cast diagonally or parallel.

When you spot a snook or school of snook, determine which way they're moving. If they're swimming toward you, all you have to do is wait until they get into range. If they're swimming away from you, you'll have to get ahead of them.

When you're ready, make your cast straight out (perpendicular) from the beach and time your retriend so that the fly and the fish meet.

When that happens, the snook will either spook, move slowly out of way or start to follow.

If the latter is true, you'll need to "trigger" a strike. You can usually do this by increasing the speed of your retrieve.

If you miss a snook, don't hesitate to cast at it again.

I haven't tied D.T. Variations in  a couple of years. I tied a dozen this morning.

Get the picture?


The most important weapon in your arsenal is your polarized sunglasses. Without them, your chances of seeing snook are minimal.

Carry a camera.  Photo ops along the beaches are plentiful. And it's nice to get a shot of you and trophy fly-rod snook.

You'll encounter big snook from time to time. These big girls are pretty smart and rarely fall for a fly. But when they do, you'd better be ready. I've seen many anglers choke on big fish. I've also seen many terrible casts when a big snook comes along. You need to be as focused after 100 casts as you are on your first cast. Those big snook know when you're going through the motions.

Don't forget water. You'll be glad you brought along a bottle of water after you've walked a couple of miles
Best times to sight-fish snook in the surf are from 8 a.m. to about 1 p.m. There's not enough light to see snook prior to 8 a.m. The sea breeze usually kicks in after 1 p.m., causing the surf to churn up a bit.

Snook begin to hit the beaches as early as March. They'll remain in the surf until the first significant cold fronts of fall.

My best day ever was 41 snook caught and released.

I do get skunked from time to time, but I average about five snook per trip during a normal season.

Focus on the "feeding zone" (that area from the dry sand out to five feet), but take a look further out and along the beach from time to time. It not only gives your eyes a break, but also allows you to see other fish: jack crevalle, tarpon, tripletail, etc.