I'm sure I could have seen a bonefish or permit or two had I let my imagination roam for just a bit, but I quickly returned to reality when I saw a pair of snook swimming parallel to the beach, not more than two feet from the dry white sand. It was time for the daydreaming to end and for me to try to hook into one of the 25-inch beauties.
Since they were swimming in a northerly direction and I was south of them, it was my task to overtake the pair, then set up and make a cast.
Experience told me that it wouldn't do any good to run or even break into a jog. That would only serve to alarm the snook, a species, like many others, that is sensitive to its surroundings.
So, I just moved about 20 feet from the water and increased my walking pace just enough to get ahead of the cruising pair. Once I got about 25 feet ahead, I stopped and made sure I could see the fish, then prepared to cast a D.T. Special on my 6-weight fly rod. As the fish neared, I made a couple of false casts, then shot the fly 20 feet straight out into the Gulf. I let the small white fly sink, then began to strip, hoping to time it so that the fly intersected the snook.
The action was good that morning. I'd caught and released seven snook and hoped to soon release the eighth. The fish were feeding on small glass minnows, and I was confident.
When the lead snook saw the fly, it turned to follow. At that point, I quickened the pace of the retrieve drastically, apparently triggering the snook into striking.
When the snook realized it had some feathers and steel in its mouth, it took off on a short run, then started to bulldog it out in a trough that runs parallel to the beach. It was a game of give and take for a few minutes, but then I began to gain the upper hand. Soon, I had the fish within reach and was able to lift it from the water. I admired the 25-incher for a moment, then removed the fly and gently returned the fish to the gently lapping waves.
That fish was perhaps the 1,000th I'd taken in the past five years along that beautiful stretch of beach that separates Sarasota and Venice along Florida's west coast. But it was just as exciting as the first one I took many years ago. When you're walking a gorgeous stretch of barren beach and sightfishing snook, it just doesn't get any better for a dedicated saltwater fly-fisherman.
I've learned over the years that snook fishing in the surf along Florida's west coast is among the best found anywhere. Oh, you won't tangle with many monsters, but you'll encounter plenty of fish. There are days when you just can't do anything wrong, but then again there are days when these savvy fish can make you look like a fool.
Beach snook season usually begins in mid-April when the water temperature reaches 75 degrees. When that happens, the fish emerge from the bays through passes and scatter along the beaches. They'll remain there until fall cold fronts drop the water temperature to less than 75. That's when they scurry for the passes and eventually, their winter homes. Of course, there are times when winter is warm enough that you can find snook along the beaches as early as March and as late as December.
Fly rods can range from 3 weight to 9 weight. Most anglers in this area prefer to fish either 7- or 8-weight. While floating or intermediate lines work well, I've found a sinktip line to be the ticket to success. It gets the fly down quickly.
When using a floating line, I usually employ a 9-foot tapered leader. I'll add a short length of 20-pound fluorocarbon as a shock tippet. When using an intermediate or sinktip line, I'll shorten the overall leader to about 5 feet, plus a short length of fluorocarbon.
It's not fun to have to make leaders while the action's hot, so I prepare my leaders at home. I coil them up and place them in Ziploc bags. I'll note the line's strength and the date I constructed them. Then, I'll place them in a flats fanny pack in which I carry all of my essentials. I take along extra leader and shock materials, a couple of fly boxes, needlenose pliers, tape measure, sunscreen, lip balm and bottle of water. Other essentials include polarized sunglasses and long-billed cap.
I can't emphasize the importance of quality polarized sunglasses enough. I have presented my beach snook fly show around the state at various organizations and always have stressed the importance of sunglasses. Inevitably, though, several people will come up to me afterwards, wanting to know if $10.95 specials will do the trick?
Most any fly that imitates a baitfish will work, but I've found the best are a couple of locals patterns (D.T. Specials and Gibby's Glass Minnows) and the ever-popular Lefty's Deceiver are about all you'll need. They can be tied on No. 8 to No. 1 hooks, depending upon the size of the rod you're using and the size of the bait upon which the snook are feeding.
Spinning enthusiasts should opt for a 6- to 6-1/2 foot light to medium-light rod and 6- to 10-pound test monofilament, with a short length of 20-pound test fluorocarbon as shock leader.
and jerk worms
will take snook in the surf. Live bait can be netted in the surf, but toting a bucket around isn't my cup of tea. I often have to walk a mile or so to find the fish. Beach snook fishing is popular from Anna Maria Island south to Marco Island, but I've found Casey Key near Venice and Siesta Key near Sarasota are among the best areas.
Anglers may keep two snook per day. Minimum size limit is 26 inches and maximum is 34. The season is closed June through August and December 15 through January 31. However, catch-and-release fishing is popular during the closed season.
You don't need a boat to sightfish these great fish in the surf. It's a cheap and fun way to enjoy some of the finest fishing around.
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