Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Best action in May was snook in the surf and in fresh water

Tim Harrison of San Antonio, Texas holds his first fly-rod snook. It was one of two he caught.

Time was better spent fly fishing the surf for snook during May.  If conditions were right, that's where you would find me on a day off.

Large oscar taken on fly.
Sarasota Bay has been very, very slow. I'm not sure why, but I do know that it was slower than what it should have been in May.

I'm guessing it could be a result of last fall's red tide. I don't think there's any red tide remaining in the bay, but I do think it has residual effects. I believe it killed a ton of baitfish. And you won't find many fish where there's an absence of bait.

Also, the water is not the color it should be. It's off-color and not the least bit clear. Could also be tied into the red tide.

John Weimer of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers in Sarasota joined me for a trek to a small lake east of Naples in Collier County. The lake is 105 miles south of Sarasota, and the drive isn't too bad early in the morning.
John Weimer battles a big Mayan cichlid.

We launched our NuCanoes at dawn and paddled to the lake. I hadn't fished the lake since December, so I wasn't sure what to expect. We started out casting No. 10 popping bugs on 3- and 4-weight fly rods. Things started out slowly, but picked up once we figured out what was going on.

Large Mayan cichlid were bedding along any rocky shoreline we could find. The trick was to cast to the shallow, rocky edges, pop the bug once and let it sit. If you had the patience, sooner or later a big Mayan would rise up to investigate, sometimes taking a minute or more to inhale the bug.

These were large Mayans, larger than you'll find anywhere.

I did a little research once I got home and discovered the largest Mayans taken by state fisheries biologists in nets were about 12 inches. These fish were running 14 to 16 inches.

A large Mayan cichlid caught on a popping bug.

And you didn't think you could land them on fly rod.

They're one of strongest freshwater fish species in Florida.

It was the new moon. Last year, I caught big Mayans on that lake on the new and full moons.

In addition to Mayans, John and I caught bluegill, stumpknocker, largemouth bass and one huge oscar.

We totaled 25 Mayan cichlid.

Regular client Todd Dawson fished a half day and we did fair. We caught 20 spotted seatrout to 20 inches, five bluefish and several ladyfish on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs, MirrOlure MirrOdines and D.O.A. Deadly Combinations (D.O.A. Shrimp under a popping cork).

Anne Ewert shows off a hefty redfish.
I fished a small lake in the Sleeping Turtles Preserve off River Road east of Venice one day. Vinny Caruso of Bradenton joined me a few days later to fly fish the lake. Over two outings, we caught 35 largemouth bass to 3 pounds, 35 bluegill, five shellcracker and three tilapia to 4 pounds on popping bugs and No. 10 nymphs under strike indicators.

One trip to Lake Manatee resulted in 25 bluegill and eight bass to 4 pounds on popping bugs and nymphs.

John Weimer of Sarasota caught his first beach snook with me in the surf off Casey Key. We saw 100 snook and a trio of big spotted seatrout.

A solo trip to Casey Key resulted in four snook to 26 inches and a ladyfish on my D.T. Variation.

John Weimer and I fished Alligator Alley at mid-month and did well. This was Weimer's first trip to The Everglades. We caught 70 oscar, 30 Mayan cichlid, eight bass, 15 bluegill and a pair of warmouth perch. All fish were caught on my Myakka Minnow.

Anne Ewert, who is going to grad school at the University of New Hampshire, and her friend, Alex Williams, caught a couple of redfish to 30 inches, two flounder, a jack crevalle and 15 spotted seatrout to 18 inches on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs and MirrOlure MirrOdines around Buttonwood Harbor.

Tim Harrison of San Antonio and I experienced a very slow day in southern Tampa Bay. We caught a few spotted seatrout on topwater plugs early, then moved into the backcountry to sight-fish. Tim had a few good shots at redfish, but didn't connect. We moved out onto the sand bars off Joe Island and immediately encountered large jack crevalle, bonnethead shark, blacktip shark and bull shark. We ended the day over deep grass and caught a dozen trout to 16 inches on MIrrOlure MirrOdines.

Two days later, Tim Harrison and I started out before daylight and fly fished around lighted docks on Longboat Key. Tim caught a pair of decent snook on fly before the action subsided. They were is first snook on fly.  We later added another snook, 10 trout, flounder, mangrove snapper and a Spanish mackerel on MirrOlure Lil Johns on light jigs and MirrOlure MirrOdines. Tim's 3-pound trout on a MirrOdine was the day's best.

JUNE FORECAST: I look for beach snook fishing to improve daily when conditions are right. We could also encounter spotted seatrout, ladyfish, jack crevalle, redfish and tarpon in the surf. Night fishing for snook and small tarpon should be decent around lighted docks along Longboat Key and the east side of Sarasota Bay. Spotted seatrout action should be fair over deep grass on the east and west sides of Sarasota Bay.

Florida's weather can be hot in the summer, but we usually get out on the water prior to the heat.

I am speaking about Beach Snook Fishing at the June 22 meeting of the Mangrove Coast Fly Fishers. The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m., but I'll be there tying my D.T. Variation (beach snook fly) at 6 p.m. The club also will raffle off D.T. Variations that I donated. The meeting will be held at the Sarasota Garden Club, 1131 Boulevard of the Arts.

I specialize in guided beach snook trips this time of year. It's all sight-fishing and something I enjoy immensely.

If you'd like to get in on the action, please give me a call.

Steve Gibson
Southern Drawl Kayak Fishing


Beach snook seasons looks like it will be a good one

Author Steve Gibson holds a fine snook he sight-fishing in the surf. (Photo by John Weimer)

It's early in the season for beach snook, but I'm going on record that it's going to be a good one.  I've already seen quite a few large snook in the surf and I've done pretty well on them.

If you've fished for a while, then you know what I mean. I seem to have an innate ability to predict the action at a particular spot or during a specific season. Beach snook action has been off somewhat for the last few years. I think that's going to change.

Another nice beach snook on fly.
Beach snook fly fishing might be my favorite activity in local waters. It beats the hell out of blind-casting for undersized spotted seatrout, ladyfish or whatever else might be lurking in the depths. Truth be known, I'd probably rather do to the dentist than blind cast with a fly rod for trout.

That's just me.

I don't think it gets much better than sight-fishing for snook in the clear waters of Florida's west coast. These elusive gamefish usually start showing up in the surf as early as March and will remain there thru September. Peak months July and August.

I like to get to my favorite beach around 7:30 a.m. Realize the sun's not up high enough for you to see much. However, I want to be at my favorite spot or in an area I know there are fish when the visibility is prime.

As the sun rises in the east, your window of visibility gets wider and wider. At 7;30 in the morning, you're luck to see 15 feet up the beach. At 10 a.m., you can see snook 150 up the beach. It's that different.

I try to pick a day when the wind is light from the east. That almost assures that I'll be looking for snook in  a calm and clear surf. It's much easier to see them when conditions are good.
Former Venice resident Scott Dempsey fights a snook on fly.

Now, that doesn't mean they're easy to see. If you're new to the game, seeing snook in the surf can be perplexing and quite frustrating.

Most neophytes look for whole snook complete with tails, scales, fins and eyes. If you look for a complete fish, you'll likely be disappointed and swear there are no snook in the surf.

It's difficult to explain, but I look for a different color. A shape. Movement. There can be a lot going on in the surf, but once you figure things out you won't mistake a snook. In addition to snook, you'll also see mullet, baitfish, whiting, sheepshead, black drum and other species.

Once I spot a snook, I have to determine which way it's swimming or in which direction its facing. If you find a snook cruising north or south just off the dry sand, you've found a fish in what I call the "feeding zone." Fish in that zone (it stretches from the lip of the surf out to four or five feet) are looking for food -- sand fleas, crabs, baitfish. If you've find them there, you've got a decent chance to hook one.

A school of snook in the surf.
You'll also find snook lying on the bottom in the deeper water of the first trough. I suggest casting at those fish, but more often than not they'll ignore your offering. They've already fed and not actively feeding.

Those fish you find lying on the bottom 15-20 feet out usually will be facing to the west. And that offers a casting problem. How do you present the fly without "lining" the fish. Try a curve cast, a cast when execute properly will place the fly in front of the fish without lining them.  The curve casting requires the rod to be horizontal the the water (sidearm). Whip the rod tip at the end of the forward stroke. That whipping will cause the tip to curve the line and fly. Check out this video on the curve cast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TKtmlVMgWPU

When you find a snook cruising in the feeding zone, your first task is to determine in which direction it's swimming. If you're walking north and the fish is swimming south, all you have to do is stop and let the fish come to you. If you're walking north and the fish is swimming north, you'll have to overtake the fish to present the fly properly.

In that situation, I simply move 20 feet away from the water and increase my walking pace enough to overtake the fish. I don't run. i believe snook can "feel" you running and become suspicious.
It's important to present the fly in front of the fish. After all, that's the business end of fish. I've never seen a snook eat with its tail.

Now, the next piece of advice will be questioned by some. But that's OK. It has worked great for me over the years. When casting to a snook in the feeding zone, I make a cast that's perpendicular (straight out) to the beach. I don't make diagonal casts or parallel casts.

I cast straight out and then try to retrieve that fly so that it and snook meet at the same place at the same time.

At that point, one of two things will happen: 1. The snook will ignore (or spook) your offering; 2. The snook will turn and follow.

If the latter happens, then it's up to you to provoke a strike. I do this by speeding up my retrieve or even  wiggling the fly with the rod tip. Realize your fly like is only a foot or two from the dry sand at this point.

And that brings us to fly selection. You should use any fly in which you have confidence. For me, that's my Gibby's D.T. Variation, a fly I've been using for 30 years and one that has resulted in more than 5,000 snook.

Why would I want to use any other pattern?

A little history on the D.T.:

Matt Hoover, a guide in Naples, sent me an original D.T. Special. In an accompanying note, Hooverl wrote: "This is the only fly you'll ever need for beach snook.

He was right.

I've tweaked the pattern over the years to fit my needs. The original D.T. Special featured four splayed white neck feathers on the tail, a palmered white neck collar and the hook shank covered with white thread.

I still use four neck hackles, but I tie them to the rear of the hook facing each other. I also add two strands of pearly flash. I build up the head and tie in a small amount of red thread just in front. I then add eyes and epoxy head and eyes. I leave most of the hook shank bare. Check this out on the D.T. Variation: http://gibbysfishingblog.blogspot.com/2012/06/good-fly-is-easy-to-tie-and-catches.html

I did not come up with the D.T. Special design.

I use fly rods from 5- to 8-weight. It largely depends on where I'm fishing and the size of the fish. Most often, I use my TFO BVK 5 weight with accompanying BVK Reel.

Line choices include a full floating line or a clear, intermediate sinktip. Leave your full sinking lines at home.

To keep things simple, just use a straight piece of 20-fluorocarbon as leader. If you go lighter, make sure you have 12 to 18 inches of 20-pound fluoro for a shock leader (bite tippet).

You'll want to travel light. I carry everything I need in a fanny pack: flies, leader material, leaders, nippers, pliers and water.

Other essential items include cap or hat, sunglasses, cell phone and camera.

I wear neoprene SCUBA boots. I do not advise sandals, Crocs or similar footwear. I also don't recommend flats/wading boots with zippers. Sooner or later, the zippers on your boots with clog up and with sand and shell. And you'll likely break the pull trying to unzip your boots.

I get my zipperless boots at a dive shop in Sarasota.

You might have to take quite a hike to find the fish. You can always camp out in a spot and allow the fish to come to you, but that usually doesn't work very well.

Where to fish? You can find snook in the surf from Anna Maria Island to Naples. That's a lot of real estate. Once you start exploring the surf, you'll find some spots are much better than others.

I try to avoid areas where the beach has been renourished. You'll find that the companies doing this procedure "rebuild" depleted beaches with sand from other areas. And the new sand usually isn't compatible with the original sand. You won't find sand fleas at the edge of the beach in new sand.

And you'll find that even the slightest wave action will "cream" the surf up, ruining your visibility.

My best day fly fishing for snook in the surf? I caught and released 41 snook one morning in 2009. On another outing, Jack Hartman of Sarasota and I combined to catch 51 snook.

My best day in terms of quality fish took place in August 2010 when I caught 15 snook. Eight of those 15 were 28 inches or larger. My largest fish went 40 inches and 20 pounds. On that morning, I also caught and released three oversized redfish and jumped three 100-pound tarpon.

Interestingly enough, I went back the very next morning and caught only two small snook. I didn't see any large snook, redfish or tarpon.

Go figure!

As you've probably figured out, I'm not going to take you by the hand and lead you to the best spots to fly fish for snook in the surf. I've spent too much time finding these prime spots and no one showed me anything.

Start are your favorite beach and branch out from there.

Your success or lack thereof depends on you. If you want to catch a snook you probably will. If you really don't have a great desire, you might want to try blind-casting for seatrout in Sarasota Bay.