Tuesday, June 7, 2016

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.

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