Saturday, August 1, 2015

Night fishing produced snook, tarpon, seatrout and beat the July heat

If July wasn't the hottest month I've experienced in Florida, it certainly had to be among the warmest.

Snook hang out around dock lights and often are easy fly-rod targets.
With that in mind, we switched gears a little and got out on many occasions a couple of hours before sunrise in order to avoid the heat and get in on some fine fly fishing.

We've got launches on both sides of Sarasota Bay near lighted docks. That's where snook, tarpon, spotted seatrout, lookdown and occasionally redfish like to hang out.

Dock lights attract small baitfish and shrimp. Those critters attract predator fish.

For this type of fishing, I've found the best action usually takes place on the stronger outgoing tides. If that's not possible, then I'm satisfied as long as the tide is moving decently.

I take a couple of 7- or 8-weight fly rods, loaded with full floating lines and 9- to 10-foot fluorocarbon leaders (20-pound test). My fly of choice is my Gibby's Snook Shrimp, a pattern that has proven to be very effective for night action.

One of the neat things about fishing from a kayak is that you can get pretty close to the fish. That, in effect, eliminates the need for long casts.

When I get to a dock that I want to fish, I'll figure out which way I'm going to drift and position the kayak. I prefer my kayak to drift with the bow pointing toward the target.

I recently obtained my first NuCanoe Pursuit, a kayak that perfectly suited for night fly fishing. The cockpit is open and uncluttered. In addition, the Pursuit drifts true and isn't affected by wind as much as other brands of kayaks.

As I'm getting ready to fish, I'll pull 10-12 strips of line off the reel, placing them in the cockpit in front of my feet. That's plenty of line if you position your kayak no more than 20-25 feet from your target.

When I'm drifting, I place the paddle across my lap. That makes it easy to make a bow adjustment if needed. I can simply dip the left or right blade in the water to fine tune my bow.

With only 20 feet or line out and being so close to my target, false casting is virtually eliminated. All I have to do is pick my line up on the back cast and lay it down on the forward. I see too many anglers false casting four, five and six times.

The speed of retrieve varies. I've found the best technique is to simply let the fish tell you. Begin with  medium speed and adjust accordingly.

Another key is to watch your fly. Sometimes, snook, tarpon and other species will follow it almost to the kayak. I've had fish take the fly within five feet of the boat. I've seen anglers lift their fly from the water to make another cast while a fish was frantically trying to eat it!

Most lights -- whether above or below the water -- light up the area in a circle. While you'll see many fish in the light, it's not wise to cast right in the middle. I begin by working the edges and into the shadow line. You can work your way toward the middle as you go. If you chance a cast to the middle early on, you risk spooking a majority of the fish.

It's good if you have multiple docks. When you hook a fish or the action slows, you can move to another. You can always return to a hot dock. Things usually will return to normal in about 10 minutes.

The biggest problem I've found is keeping a determined snook from taking you under a dock or around pilings. When I hook a fish, the first thing I do is try to prevent it from running under the dock or around a piling. And, if I'm able, I will hold the rod with one hand and paddle backwards away from the structure. I'm way ahead of the game if I can get the fish out into open water.

I've perfected a method of one-handed paddling. It takes some getting used to, but is very helpful in these situations. I'll usually hold the rod in my right hand and paddle with my left. The method consists of putting the paddle shaft through a triangle created by placing my right elbow on my right knee.  It takes practice, but it works beautifully.

We've done pretty well on tarpon this summer. These are smaller fish, averaging about 10-12 pounds. They put on quite an aerial show. Luckily, tarpon prefer to do their battle away from the docks.
Snook are another matter. Their first move usually is to get back under the dock or around pilings.

You've got to prevent them from doing so if you don't want to lose your fly or leader. Put the pressure on them! What do you have to lose?

I've been successful in landing snook to slightly more than 30 inches. I've seen snook which I'd estimate at 35 inches or longer.

A fly-fishing Super Slam (snook, tarpon, seatrout, redfish) is possible. It's pretty rare, but can be done. It's fairly common to get the snook, tarpon and seatrout around the docks. On occasion we'll get reds in the dock lights, too. I've had a couple of clients fall one species short this year.

Most often, however, you'll have to get one or more species after the sun comes up. I'll usually paddle to nearby flats.

I got a Super Slam on a recent trip, but my redfish and trout came on spinning tackle.

I spent a few days in July fishing local fresh water. I fished Lake Manatee one day and did fair. I caught and released several bluegill and one hefty channel catfish on my Myakka Minnow.

I also fished Webb Lake south of Punta Gorda and caught a number of bedding bluegill on Myakka Minnows.

Pro fly-fisher Joe Mahler of Fort Myers joined my for a day on the Manatee River. Our goal was to target channel catfish on fly. It was slow, but we each landed channel cats.

Matt Sheffer of Muskegon, Mich., and his son, Noel, joined me for a morning off Stephens Point in Sarasota Bay. They were in town for the annual AAU National Baseball Tournament. The action was fair and we caught spotted seatrout, ladyfish, mangrove snapper, flounder and a snook on D.O.A. CAL Jigs with paddle tails, MirrOlure MirrOdines and D.O.A. Deadly Combinations.

I spent three days in Orlando at ICAST, the sportfishing industry's annual trade show. I worked the NuCanoe booth. NuCanoe was showing its newest kayak -- the Pursuit. It's a great fishing kayak and especially a great platform for fly fishing. Check it out at

I expect August to be a carbon copy of July. One difference, however, is we'll find schools of redfish on the flats. They school up in late summer in preparation for their  spawning run into the Gulf of Mexico. If you can find a school, you're almost guaranteed a hookup! Trout action will be fair over the deeper grass, along with ladyfish, jack crevalle and mangrove snapper. The best action be snook and tarpon around lighted docks at night. Of course, beach snook fishing is expected to be good was the weather settles and we get easterly wind.

If you want to book a trip or have any questions, please call me at 941-284-3406 or email me at

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


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