Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tarpon, snook and shark topped the list for June

This hefty blacktip shark ate a 1 1/2-pound live jack crevalle in southern Tampa Bay.
One word describes June around Sarasota: hot.

The fishing wasn't pretty close to hot, too.

We caught a variety of fish during the month, although we concentrated on tarpon and snook.

Jack Littleton's first fly-rod tarpon.
Fly angler Jack Littleton of western New York jumped three tarpon and landed one while fishing at night around lighted docks in Bowles Creek. It was Littleton's first tarpon. He also hooked a snook, but broke it off. There were plenty of fish around the lights, but the bite was off.

The next day, we moved to Manasota Key where our goal was to sight-fish snook (and other species) in the surf. Conditions were good and snook were somewhat plentiful.

Littleton hooked a monster snook early on, but lost it after about a minute. The fish was lying in a foot of water and took a Gibby's DT Variation. After the hookup, the big snook (we estimated it at 20-25 pounds) took off on a long, fast run.

"I've never felt a fish that fast and powerful," said Littleton. "I'm not sure what happened?"

Getting out early is a good way to beat the heat.
Rest assured, it was nothing that Littleton, an accomplished fly fisher, did.

Later in the day, Littleton hooked another snook and landed it. Although it was significantly smaller, it was the first snook of his impressive fly-fishing career.

Beach fly fishing has been fair. I made a number of trips during the month to Manasota Key and Casey Key.  My totals ranged from zero fish to 11. I saw an average of 100 snook per trip. Most of the snook were in the 20-24-inch range.

This action should only get better, with the peak month being August.

Jack Littleton hooked up to a monster snook.
Sight-fishing snook in the surf is one of my favorite ways to fish. If you let your mind wander, you can envision yourself on a remote Bahamian island.

In addition to snook, we encounter spotted seatrout, redfish, houndfish, mangrove snapper, flounder , Spanish mackerel and even tarpon on these trips.

If you're interested in fly fishing the beaches, here's what you'll need:

1. Cap or hat

2. Sunscreen

3. Polarized sunglasses

4. Proper footwear

I wear dive boots that I purchased at a local SCUBA shop. I like them because they slip on and off , have thick soles and are comfortable. I do not like flats/wading boots that have zippers. The zippers are usually rendered useless by sand and shell.

Sandals and tennis shoes are not good choices for beach snook fishing. The attract sand and shells.

Why should you fish with me? Couldn't you simply head out to the beach and fish by yourself?

Sure, you can. However, I know where the fish are at all times.

In addition, you'll probably have a tough time seeing the fish. I see them pretty darn good.

Bay fishing has been fair. We've been fishing mainly in southern Tampa Bay around Joe Island.

Tate Anderson of Sarasota and his girlfriend, Michelle, joined my for a Tampa Bay outing and we did fair. We totaled 40 spotted seatrout to 17 inches on MirrOlure MirrOdines.

I fished solo in the same area a couple of weeks later and did a little better. I caught and released six snook and a half dozen spotted seatrout on Zara Super Spook Jrs.  I also released a 5-foot blacktip shark  that I caught on a conventional rod and reel loaded with 30-pound braid, 60-pound wire leader and 9/0 circle hook. I used a 1 1/2-pound jack crevalle for bait.

Tampa Bay is among  the world's top shark fisheries. Common species are blacktip, bull, bonnethead, lemon, tiger and hammerhead.

We also fish around Fort DeSoto when we're targeting shark.

JULY FORECAST:  Beach snook fishing should improve as baitfish moves into the surf. We should not only see more snook, but larger snook. Night fly fishing should continue strong for snook, tarpon and spotted seatrout. In Tampa Bay, shark fishing will  be hot. In addition, snook, redfish, spotted seatrout, flounder and jack crevalle should please. In Sarasota Bay, I look for decent action on spotted seatrout, redfish, ladyfish and jack crevalle.

Yes, it's hot in Florida during the summer. However, we get out early or fish before daylight, so it's really not too bad at all.

If you're interested in getting in on some of this action, please give me a call (941-284-3406) or email me (steve@kayakfishingsarasota.com).

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Now is the time to sight-fishing snook in the surf

A sizable school of snook swims in the surf along Casey Key south of Sarasota.
I have conducted seminars on fly fishing for snook for the past 30 years.

In almost every session, a majority of folks that I talk to have yet to catch their first snook on fly.
I live in Sarasota, Fla., on the Gulf Coast. The area offers some great sight-fishing for snook from May through August. We walk the local beaches and fly fish snook in the calm, clear surf.

The author shows off a fine beach snook.
Sight-fishing, for those who aren't familiar with the activity, is spotting the fish before making a cast.  It's considered the ultimate activity for many fly anglers.

We slowly walk along local beaches and look into the surf. When we spot a snook, we'll present it a fly. There are times when we'll see 300-400 snook in a morning.

This activity isn't beyond the skill level of most anglers. If you have the desire to sight-fish a snook, you can do it. All you need is a quality pair of polarized sunglasses, hat or cap and the ability to cast a fly.

It's that simple.

And if you can follow a few simple directions, you're on your way.

Prime months are June, July and August. If I had to pick my peak times, it would be mid-July to mid-August. That seems to be the time when the most snook are in the surf.
Scott Dempsey of Savannah, Ga., succeeded.

Snook take to the surf as early as March. It all depends on the water temperature. When it hits 75 degrees, snook will move from the bays through the passes and spread out along the beaches. You can find them along Florida's west coast from Anna Maria Island to Marco Island.

While you might find them at any beach, realize there are some better than others. That's where I come it. I have spent a lot of time walking the beaches, so I know which are holding fish and which aren't.

I don't like to waste my time.

What I look for is good weather conditions. I like a bright, sunshiny day with a gently easterly breeze. 
This usually results in a fairly calm surf with clear water. And that's what you need when you're trying to sight-fish.

A "healthy" snook forages in the feeding zone.
When you're looking for snook, don't make the mistake of trying to look for a whole fish with eyes, mouth, fins and tail. If you do, you probably won't see very much. What you're looking for is movement, a shape, a shadow or even just a fin.

It's much like sitting in a tree stand, looking for deer. If you look for a whole deer complete with antlers, head, nose, mouth, body, four legs and a tail, you'll likely fail. When you're deer hunting, you might see just an ear twitch. Or the subtle movement of a tail.

Once you spot your first snook, it becomes pretty easy.

Where do you look? Well, the surf is an arbitrary thing that can be pretty large. I divide it into two pieces: the feeding zone and the trough.

Gibby's DT Variation is the fly of choice.
The feeding zone is that area from the dry sand out to four feet. Snook will cruise parallel to the beach in this zone looking for food.

You'll often find them in the trough (that deep area just off the beach) lying on the bottom and facing west. These fish usually aren't hungry and tough to fool.

I usually arrive at the beach about 8 a.m. Doesn't do much good to get there any earlier because the sun won't be high enough in the sky to light up the water. Your "window of visibility" will be very small early and it will open wider as the sun rises. By 10 a.m., you'll be able to spot a snook 150 feet away.

When you spot a snook, first determine in which direction the fish is swimming. If it's coming toward you, all you have to do is stand still and wait for it to come into range. If it's swimming away from you, you'll have to get in front of the fish in order to make a cast.

What's the proper cast? For me, it's a perpendicular cast (straight out from the beach). I like to time my retrieve so that the fly and fish meet at the same spot at the same time. When this happens, two things can happen. The fish will begin to track your fly or it will ignore it.

If the fish begins to follow, it's up to you to trigger a strike. This can be tricky because you only have a few feet of water to work with. I'll usually speed the fly up just a little. If the snook wants your offering, you can't retrieve it too fast.

Diagonal or parallel casts work at times, but there's a good chance you'll spook the fish if you're off-target or cast too far.

First thing I do when I get to the beach is to pull about 20 feet of fly line off the reel. I will then  hold the fly  and rod in my right hand, with the fly between my thumb and index finger. I allow about 10 feet of line out the rod tip, with the rest trailing behind me as I walk. Remember, short casts are the rule.

Some opt for a stripping basket, but I've found they only get in the way. The sand will not hurt your fly line. Just wash it off in warm soapy water when you get home.

Snook are structure-oriented, so don't overlook fallen trees, grass or rocks. Those are likely snook hangouts. Shadows can be, too! Shadows often are created by houses and trees along the beach.
If you spot baitfish in the surf, there likely will be snook around. I've often seen snook crashing the bait. A quick cast to the feeding fish often will result in a hookup.

Most of the snook are small males. The average snook is 20-22 inches. However, I've seen them up to 30 pounds or more. My largest snook on fly is a 20-pounder that measured 40 inches.

I've had clients catch a number of slot (28 to 32 inches) snook. I've also had them hook some monster. Just last summer, I guided outdoor writer Mike Hodge. He caught and release five average snook, but lost a monster that I don't think he really believed would hit. In fact, he didn't think that dark spot on the bottom was even a snook!

After I convinced him it was not only a snook, but a big one, I advised him to cast a couple of feet in front of the fish. As the fly was sinking, the big snook seemingly levitated off the bottom, eyed the fly and inhaled it.

Hodge did a good job of strip-striking, but forgot to let go of the fly line as the fish surge off.
Pop! The leader broke.

"I'm not sure what I did that," the bewildered Hodge said.

I took Jack Littleton on his first beach-snook outing and he hooked a monster early on. The big snook (I estimated her at 25 pounds) was tight to the beach. Littleton made a perfect cast and the fish hit almost immediately. He did a good job of strip-striking and clearing the line. He was "on the reel" is just a second or two. The fish made a lengthy run, then changed direction. The line went slack.

The hook simply pulled.

"I couldn't believe the speed and strength of that snook," Littleton said.

He did nothing wrong. He made a good cast, set the hook correctly, cleared the line and kept pressure on the fish.

Snook generally aren't easy. I've been skunked, but not often. My best day took place in 2009 when I caught and released 41 snook in a morning. I'd say an average day is five snook.

Snook aren't the only species you'll find in the surf. I've hooked or landed tarpon, redfish, spotted seatrout, flounder, mangrove snapper, ladyfish, jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, pompano and cobia.

You never know just what you'll encounter.

When I fish, I carry one fly rod (usually a 7- or 8-weight), with a sinktip line and 6-foot , 20-pound fluorocarbon lure.

My fly of choice is my Gibby's DT Variation. I've caught more than 1,000 snook on this fly over the years.

I also wear a fanny pack tackle bag in which I carry extra flies, leader material, pliers, nippers and a bottle of water.

Don't forget your sunscreen!

You can go barefooted, but I opt for neoprene boots that I purchased at a dive shop. They protect your feet and also are great when the sand is hot. Sandals are abysmal. They are great for collecting sand and shell. Ditto for tennis shoes.

A camera is also essential. You'll want it when you land that snook of a lifetime.

A few years ago, I guided a couple of fellows on a beach-snook trip. When we arrived, there were already 14 members of a local fly-fishing club spread out along the beach, beating the water. About half were wading -- which you don't do. If you're wading, a majority of fish will be behind you!

I ran into one of the guys from the fly club a few months later. He said the 14 of them didn't hook or land a fish. My two clients didn't set the world on fire, but they did combine for seven snook and three Spanish mackerel!

I also asked why they were wading?

He said, "That's what they told me to do."

I've given beach snook presentations to that club on at least three occasions. I've stressed not to wade!

If you want to sight-fish a snook in the surf, give me a call (941-284-3406) or email me (steve@kayakfishingsarsasota.com).

I think you'll like it!

When the sun sets, grab your fly rod for tarpon and snook in the dark

A happy Jack Littleton of New York shows off his first fly-rod tarpon. 

Night fishing is a time for bright results. If you've never landed a snook or tarpon or fly, you should consider a trip after dark.

I've been fly fishing at night around dock lights for quite a while. And a few years ago, I began offering guided trips after the sun sets.

It has paid handsome dividends for several clients.

Recently, repeat client Jack Littleton landed his first fly-rod tarpon while fishing with me at night. He hooked two, but broke the second fish off. Dr. Everette Howell of Longboat Key and Nashville, Tenn., jumped six tarpon and landed two on a recent outing.

Other clients have landed their first snook, a fish that seems to be a tough one for most fly anglers.
In addition to snook and tarpon, we sometimes encounter spotted seatrout, lookdown, jack crevalle, ladyfish and maybe even redfish.

You never know just what's in store when you head out after hours.

I've had people advise me that they don't like fly fishing at night because "it's too easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel."

Well, we do have times when the fish are plentiful, hungry and aggressive. But it's not always that way. In fact, conditions change almost nightly and go from great to slow in a hurry.

And, anyway, what's wrong with being out there when the fish are aggressive and hungry?

Like any saltwater endeavor, we're dependent on the tide and weather. If I had my druthers, I'd select a night when the tide is predicted to run out hard. That seems to be the optimum time for good action.
In addition, it helps to have minimal wind.

But I've seen slow action on great tides, great action on bad tides and average action in both situations.

If you go often enough, you'll encounter that great outing.

There are a number of keys to success:

1. Get out on the water. If you don't, you'll never enjoy this type of action;

2. Learn to cast with minimal false casting. Since we're fishing from kayaks, there' s no need to set up 50 or more feet from your target. You can get as close as 25 feet. And at that range, there's really no need to make five or six false casts in order to deliver your fly to the target. Simply pick the line up  and put it down;

3. Kayak control. You're the boss and your kayak goes where you want and points in the direction you dictate. Fish with the paddle across your lap and fine tune the kayak's direction by dipping one paddle blade or the other and adjusting. Remember, wind and tide do affect your kayak. So, adjust accordingly;

4. Line management is critical. Nothing is worse than hooking the fish of a lifetime, only to lose it because your fly line catches on something or  knots up. Since I own a fleet of NuCanoe Frontiers, line management is a cinch. Simply let it pile up on the floor of the kayak directing in front of you. And because of the Frontier's open, uncluttered design, there's nothing for it to catch on;

5. The most critical thing is to keep a big fish out of the pilings. Since we're fishing around lighted docks, pilings stand in the way of landing a fish or breaking it off. The former is preferred. You have to keep the fish out of the pilings. To do so, you have put apply maximum pressure to the fish while paddling your kayak away from the structure. Sound difficult? It's not. I can hold the fly rod in one hand, and paddle the kayak away from the dock with the other. If I'm holding the fly rod in my right hand, I place my right elbow on my right knee. I take the paddle in my left hand and can paddle backwards by creating a fulcrum against the ribs on the right side of my body. It's pretty simple with a little practice. Remember, with the paddle across your lap, it's already in the triangle you create when you place your right elbow on your right knee. If it sound difficult, don't worry. I'll explain how to do it.

Fly choices are pretty elementary. I use just a few that I've created for night fishing: Gibby's Snook Shrimp, Gibby's Salty Myakka Minnow, Gibby's Night Minnow. I sometimes will use a Gartside Gurgler (a surface fly made of foam) when the fish are aggressive or ignoring other offerings.

I prefer an 8-weight fly rod with a matching floating line. I use a 9-foot, 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.

I have several spots around Sarasota Bay that are good for night fly fishing.

My ultimate goal is to guide a client to a Saltwater Super Slam -- snook, tarpon, spotted seatrout and redfish on fly in the same outing. This rare feat can be done.

If you've never caught a snook or tarpon on the fly, night time is for you. Just give me a call (941-284-3406) or shoot me an email (steve@kayakfishingsarasota.com) and you're on your way.

With a little determination and luck, you can check a couple of species off your fly-fishing list!