Fly fishing Sarasota rivers

Fly fishing Sarasota rivers

“Oooh, I like the looks of that one!” I said as Ben opened up his fly box for me to inspect. I could tell by the look on his face that he did not share my enthusiasm. It was a white and olive Clouser pattern with a lot of gold flash. Gold is always a good choice when fly fishing Sarasota rivers in the tannin-stained water.

“Let’s just give it a half hour or so, and we can change it if it is not producing”.

Ben’s opinion of the fly changed shortly as he fooled a feisty little snook in just a few casts and over the next hour landed several more to 27”.  The Myakka River holds a lot of snook in the cooler months and it a fairly reliable fishery for anglers taking out a river fishing charter.

fly fishing Sarasota rivers

The Myakka River flows through Sarasota County 10 miles east of Sarasota and Venice, an hour south of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. It eventually flows south and along with the Peace River.  They create a renowned saltwater fishery; Charlotte Harbor. In the summer the water is high and fast from all of the rain, but in the cooler months it settles into a nice tidal river. As the water in the Harbor cools down, snook migrate up into the river to seek sanctuary in the warmer, deeper water. There is also a lot of food (bluegill, tilapia, mullet, fry, and crabs) for them to feed on.

Easy fly fishing, short casts

For the most part, this is fairly easy fly fishing. Short casts are the norm when fly fishing Sarasota rivers.  Managing the back cast is the primary challenge. An 8wt or 9wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line is a good choice for the river. The leader is simple; just attach a 6’ section of 30 lb fluorocarbon and then tie on a fly. Fly selection is also pretty basic with Clouser patters in darker colors with some gold or rootbeer, along with a “firetiger” fly work well. Tie the fly on a #1 hook using large weighted eyes to get the fly down a few feet. Broad patterns such as Puglisi flies will also fool the wily snook, but are a bit harder to cast and will hang up more often.

fly fishing Sarasota rivers

Floating down the river with the current and casting towards likely fish-holding structure along the shoreline is the most productive technique. Shallow draft boats such as jon boats, canoes, and kayaks perform best, the water can get very shallow in spots. Make a cast, allow a few seconds to sink, then retrieve the fly back in using one foot strips. When a take occurs, use the “strip set” method to hook the fish. Pull sharply with the stripping hand and then raise the rod tip. Jerking the tip up as you might in trout fishing will result in fewer hook-ups.

As in all fishing, vary the retrieve until a productive pattern emerges. Again, this is pretty straight-forward fishing and it is mostly a matter of covering the water until a hungry fish is located. Though snook is the primary target, largemouth bass, juvenile tarpon, gar, jack crevelle, tilapia, and other species are frequently landed as well.

Fly fishing the Myakka River

The Myakka is one of two rivers designated a “Wild and scenic river” in the state of Florida. This means limited access and development resulting in a relaxed and serene experience. The entire river is also a “No-wake” zone. Fly fishing for snook on the Myakka is a unique experience that is a half hour drive from the resort town of Sarasota, but a world away in terms of environment.  Access to the Myakka River is limited, this is partly why it remains so remote feeling.  Snook Haven in Venice, Fl offers the bast spot to launch boats to fish the river.  It is also a cool little park with a restaurant.  Visitors can enjoy lunch after a morning fishing trip.  It is also a good place to rent canoes or launch a kayak.  Visiting anglers should give fly fishing Sarasota rivers a try!

fly fishing Sarasota rivers

Fly fishing the Manatee River

The Manatee River runs forty five minutes north east of Sarasota.  It begins at Lake Manatee and the river flows west from the dam.  Much of the river is very shallow and suited only from kayaks ans canoes.  The stretch of the Manatee River from Rye Rd to Ft. Hamer is the most productive for fly fishing.  Anglers can access the river from a very nice ramp and park at Ft. Hamer.  Another more primitive ramp can be used at Ray’s Canoe Hideaway.  Ray’s offers canoe rentals along with bait for fishing.

The Manatee River offer anglers the chance to catch the most variety of species.  Snook, redfish, jack crevelle, juvenile tarpon, and ladyfish are saltwater species landed.  Freshwater species include largemouth bass, catfish, bream, gar, and sunshine bass.  The shorter length of the river, freshwater fish washing over the dam, and proximity to Tampa Bay all are factors for contributing to this unique fishery.

Fly fishing the Braden River

The Braden river is quite short and is a tributary of the Manatee River.  It is purely saltwater and offers anglers the opportunity to catch snook, redfish, and other species.  However, the highlight of the Braden River is the consistent fly fishing for large jack crevelle.  Jacks put up a tremendous battle on fly tackle!  They use their broad sides to pull very hard.  Often times, jacks can be seen  working on the surface.  Snook fishing can be very good, and redfish are caught with regularity.

The Braden River is more developed than the Manatee and Myakka.  It has a lot of houses and road noise can be heard.  The Braden River is also shorter, which can tend to concentrate fish in the deeper areas.  It is also the most convenient, being a short drive from Sarasota beaches.  There is a ramp with parking and facilities on SR 64 where it crosses the river.

fly fishing Sarasota rivers

Shallow water

It sounds like a contradiction, but often times the largest fish are found in the shallowest of water. While the deeper grass flats hold schools of fish and is a better option for action and numbers. Fly anglers seeking a trophy will do well focusing on shallow grass flats, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines. Redfish and jack crevelle school up in shallow water, the largest trout are loners and will set up in potholes in shallow flats, and snook will feed ob bait in the skinny water as well.

This type of fishing has exploded in popularity in recent years. Flats and bay boats abound and kayak fishing is very popular. The result is that these fish receive a LOT of pressure, especially in the popular Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor areas. Fish in these shallow areas are spooky and require different tactics in order to be successful.

Tackle requirements are similar to other inshore fishing applications, a 7wt or 8wt outfit is fine. Floating lines are used as the water fished is seldom more that 3 feet deep.  Longer leaders with a 20lb bite tippet will increase the chances of fooling fish. But, the biggest change in tactics is the need for patience and stealth.

Fish in water this shallow are extremely spooky and the slightest noise or shadow can send them running for cover. The most popular fly patterns are Clouser Minnow, Lefty Deceiver, and Crystal MInnow patterns in white or bait fish colors.

Fly tactics

The approach when attacking a flat or shoreline is similar to that of the deep flats in that the wind and tide are factors that need to be taken into account. Whenever possible, choosing an area where the wind and tide will move the boat in the same direction. Obviously, a shallow draft boat will be required to access these areas. The classic situation is a flats skiff with the angler positioned on the bow and the guide or other angler poling the boat from the stern or poling platform.

Many anglers prefer the low, incoming tide when working the shallows. Fish will stage on the edges where the flat drops off, waiting for the water to come up. Fish will then get up on the flat, scatter out, and search for food. Along the same lines, fish will gang up in “potholes”. These are depressions in the flats that can range in size from a foot to to over 20 feet and larger. In both instances, the low water concentrates the fish, making them easier to locate. The more water that there is on a flat the more places the fish can be.

Tide strength and heights are crucial elements when fly fishing in the shallows. Anglers need to study the tide charts, it is much more complex than just the times of the high and low tides. The tide height and speed at which it is moving are very important to know so that anglers can understand fish movements. Wind is also a factor; a northeast wind will empty a flat of water while a south wind will flood it.

Drifting and sight casting

Anglers can choose to either blind cast likely looking areas or sight cast to specific fish or small bunches of fish. As the boat eases down the shoreline or across the flat, the fly is cast towards the shoreline or potholes and grass edges.  The fly is allowed to sink a moment, and retrieved back in. Unlike the deep grass flats, the fish will normally be found in small areas and bunched up. It will take time, effort, and patience to eliminate unproductive water.

Blind casting will normally produce more fish, but sight casting is very exciting! This is exactly what it sounds like, an angler either readies on the bow while boat fishing or stealthily wades a flat, visually searching for fish. Once sighted, the fly is cast out, taking into account the position of the fish and direction it is moving, and hopefully a take ensues.

It can be a bit overwhelming at first, but there are some things that anglers should key on to help locate fish. Edges are always worth investigating, whether it is a weed bad, oyster bar, or drop off. Current edges can also be used as ambush points by predators. Mangrove shorelines are very enticing, but there are miles and miles of them and fish will only be in short sections.

Searching out spots

The key is to find something different such as cuts, oyster bars, and especially holes and deeper water, fish will definitely hold there. Also, anglers will want to see signs of life; there is nothing worse than a “dead” flat. Areas that show glass minnows and other baitfish, mullet schools, birds, are promising.  The best of all flats with fish tailing, waking, or working bait are prime spots.

Anglers that are serious about mastering this technique will need to put in their time. Choosing a small area and learning it well is a good investment and will serve the angler well. It is amazing how different these types of spots are with just a little change in tide height. Learning the tides, bottom, and local fish migrations in one small area will help them catch fish in other locations.

Wading can be an extremely effective strategy when targeting fish in shallow water, especially once a productive area is located. Some experienced guides will pole an area and not even fish, just look for signs and fish. Once a likely area is identified, they get out of the boat and walk. With the pressure that fish get these days, being able to eliminate boat noises. This will allow fly casters to get much closer to their quarry and have more time to react.

Kayaks have become popular are are great tools to use to fish shallow flats. They give anglers access to waters that power boats can’t launch. Kayaks float very shallow and are virtually silent. Anglers can fish from the kayak or use it to get to productive areas where they can get out and wade. They are low-maintenance and effective platforms from which to fish.

Sarasota Trolling Techniques

Sarasota Trolling Techniques

Trolling on Sarasota Fishing Charters

There are many productive methods of catching fish.  Sarasota trolling is a technique that every angler should add to his or her arsenal.  Sarasota trolling techniques will help put more fish in the boat.

Trolling is a technique that has proven to be extremely effective in saltwater fishing for a very long time.  Most anglers envision a large sportfishing boat out on the open ocean, trolling for tuna and marlin.  But trolling can also be deadly using fairly light tackle on inland waters, too.  I am a fishing guide and troll on fishing charters in Sarasota Bay, the Myakka River, and Lake Manatee.  During the cooler months, rivers, creeks, and residential canals offer anglers the chance to catch snook, jack crevelle, tarpon, and other species.  Flats and passes can be productive all year long.  Trolling produces in the Inshore Gulf of Mexico in the spring and fall.  Crappie, bream, and bass will hit trolled lures in freshwater lakes and rivers.  Trolling is a great technique to both locate and catch quality fish. 

Trolling in creeks and rivers

Rivers, creeks, and residential canals abound all throughout the state of Florida and provide good fishing at one time or another.  As the flats cool off, fish will migrate into these areas as they offer protection from the elements.  The best rivers and canals will provide fish the sanctuary of deep water as well as abundant structure.  The entire coastline of Florida offers these opportunities for anglers.

Snook took a big hit in the winter of 2010 as a prolonged cold snap dropped the water temperature into the upper forties.  I believe that if it wasn’t for the deep holes in the rivers where snook spend their winters, the damage would have been MUCH worse.  Numbers of smaller snook are on the increase while larger fish are regularly landed.  These are great signs and while snook were opened to a limited harvest, I still release all of them, even if a slot fish is landed in season.  Snook are magnificent gamefish, it would break my heart to kill one.  There are plenty of other good-eating fish to target, let those big girls go!

Sarasota trolling techniques

Anglers have been catching snook by trolling for many years.  Back in the 50s the Spoonplug was the hot bait, and it still produces to this day.  I enjoy trolling shallow diving plugs and Rapalas are my personal favorite.  Rapala X-Rap Slashbaits in sizes #8 and #10 in, depending on the depth of the water and the size of the available forage, and Jointed BX Minnows work very well trolled as well as cast.  Firetiger, Gold Shiner, and gold are proven colors.  These lures have a great built-in action and strong, sharp hooks.  Most fish caught trolling will be hooked in the mouth, resulting in most being released unharmed.  Another advantage with these plugs is that they float, therefore when the boat is stopped they rise to the surface instead of sinking and getting hung up on the bottom.

Tackle and rigging for trolling is pretty straightforward.  I use the same rods and rigging for trolling as I do when casting the same baits.  A 7’ spinning or baitcasting rod and reel with 40 lb braid and 30” of 40 lb fluorocarbon leader is all that is required.  Then it is simply a matter of letting back a hundred feet of line and driving up the river or canal at idle speed or a touch above.  Florida rivers tend to undulate; the depth will change quite often.  Many times the fish will lie on these breaks or edges, waiting to ambush bait; fish-holding structure is not always visible.  It is surprising how many big fish will bust a plug right out in the middle, giving the angler a good chance to land it.

I have my clients on a Sarasota fishing charter hold the rod when trolling, for several reasons.  First off and most important, it is more enjoyable as they get to feel the strike.  Also, the lures I use don’t dive very deep, so having the client keep the rod near the surface maximizes the depth that the plug will run.  These plugs “vibrate” and if a piece of debris is picked up the angler can usually feel it and then clear the bait.  And finally, it can be a bit tricky removing a rod from the holder when the boat is moving and the rod is bent double!

Trolling inshore

Trolling with light tackle also produces very well inshore.  I do a lot of drifting on my Sarasota fishing charters, both in the passes and over deep expanses of grass.  There are usually other anglers fishing, so courtesy dictates a slow idle back around to make another drift.  Since we will just be easing along, why not drag a bait behind?  My go-to lure is a #8 X-Rap in olive or glass ghost (white), it has been very productive as it matches the bait we have in our area.  Once the treble hooks get beat up, I remove them and add a single 1/0 hook on the rear.  The hook-up ratio remains good and it makes releasing fish MUCH easier.  In fact, some plugs now come with a strong single hook for just this reason.

Again, just let out about half the spool and move at idle speed or just above.  Many times clients catch more fish doing this than they do when drifting and casting.  Spanish mackerel in particular find it difficult to resist a fast moving plug, but bluefish, ladyfish, jacks, trout, and other species will also fall prey to this method.  One technique that often pays off is the twitch the rod tip sharply while trolling along.  This will often times elicit a violent strike!  Fish find the little pause where the plug drops back to be irresistible at times.

Trolling is also a good technique to employ when fish are scattered about over a large area.  The best approach is to move into the tide or wind and when a fish is hooked the boat is stopped.  Anglers can then cast jigs, plugs, or spoons as the boat drifts back over the school.  As action drops off, resume trolling again until another bunch of fish is found.  One benefit to this is that the same lures that are great trolling baits are also equally effective cast out and retrieved back in; there is no need to have separate trolling and casting outfits.

Trolling will produce at the same spots inshore as other methods.  Grass flats in four feet to ten feet of water will hold speckled trout, mackerel, bluefish, ladyfish, and other species.  Edges of drop offs are good spots to try as well.  Both Big Sarasota Pass and New Pass are terrific spots to troll for Spanish mackerel and bluefish.  These open sandy areas are large and trolling is a great way to locate fish.

Trolling the inshore Gulf of Mexico

Sarasota trolling techniques

Sarasota trolling has been a staple of anglers fishing the inshore Gulf of Mexico for many years.  Pelagic species such as king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, false albacore, and cobia migrate along the west coast of Florida.  These game fish follow behind the huge schools of bait fish.  This is their primary forage.   A fast moving plug or spoon mimics the prey.  This is a very easy technique than any angler can employ to catch a big fish!

Plugs are a great choice when Sarasota trolling.  The larger the lip on the plug, the deeper it will dive.  Fairly stout tackle will be required when trolling a large plug.  Conventional tackle in the 30 pound class is perfect.  Heavy spinning tackle will work as well.  A plug that dives down fifteen feet or so is perfect to target a large king mackerel.  I prefer to use a 5′ piece of 80 pound flourocarbon leader instead of wire.  Wire will prevent cut-offs but will limit strikes.

Game fish will hold over hard bottom, ledges, and artificial reefs.  Sarasota County has an extensive artificial reef program.  Several are close to shore for anglers with a small boat.  Ledges and good bottom can only be located by spending time out on the water.  Once located, these spots will produce year after year.  Bait schools milling on the surface can be an indication of structure below.

Small plugs can also be extremely effective in the Gulf of Mexico.  Often times the bait is very small.  A #8 Rapala X-Rap is a prefect match for the smaller forage.  White is a very productive color.  Surface activity will alert anglers to the presence of game fish.  Mackerel and false albacore can be seen terrorizing helpless baitfish on the surface.  The best approach is to skirt the edge of the feeding fish.  Do not drive the boat right through the action.  They will go down and may not resurface.

Spoons also produce a lot of fish.  Clark Spoons and other manufacturers make special spoons designed for trolling.  Spoons can be used when trolling in a couple of different ways.  Due to boat speeds, some type of device is needed to get the spoon down in the water column.  The easiest method is to tie a trolling sinker to the end of the line.  These are torpedo shaped and come in a variety of weights.  A ten foot long leader is tied to the sinker and then a trolling spoon is tied to the tag end.  This is really quite simple and deadly on Spanish mackerel.

Planers are another device used to get spoons down deeper.  They are effective but are a bit more complicated.  The planer is tied onto the running line.  A twenty foot leader is attached to the planer, followed by the spoon on the tag end.  Planers come in several sizes, but #1 and #2 planers are the ones used in shallow Gulf of Mexico water.  A #1 planer will dive five to seven feet.  A #2 planer will dive down around fifteen feet.

The planer must be “set”.  This is done by slowly lowering the planer into the water after the spoon is let out.  With the ring up, water pressure will pull the planer down.  The planer is then let out behind the boat to the desired length.  The rod is then placed in a holder.  When a fish hits, the planer will “trip”, allowing the angler to fight the fish without the drag of the planer.  Plugs can be used with planers, but they must have a small lip.  Large lips will trip the planer.

Trolling in freshwater

Speckled perch (crappie, to our northern friends) are a favorite of Florida anglers and trolling for them has become a very popular.  The basics are the same, but the technique is a bit different.  As in other applications, trolling allows an angler to cover a lot of water in a short amount of time.  Jigs are most often used, but Beetlespins are also effective.  The Blakemore Roadrunner is a very productive bait that combines both a spinner and a jig in one lure.  Some anglers use spider rigs and other elaborate set-ups to get as many lines in the water as possible.  I prefer to keep it simple; once again having my client hold the road and enjoy feeling the strike.

Sarasota trolling techniques

On deeper lakes with distinct contour changes, the best approach is to very slowly troll back and forth over edges where the bottom changes depth, crappie will often hold in these locations.  Changing speeds on the turns will cause the lures to rise and fall, triggering strikes.  On shallower lakes, just drive around, skirting the edges of weedlines or over submerged vegetation until the fish are located.  On the flat, shallow Florida lakes, even the slightest depth change can make a huge difference.  Locating a trough or hole in a featureless lake will result in a reliable fishing spot.

So, the next time you are idling along on your favorite lake, river, or inland bay, try dragging a lure out behind the boat.  You never know what might eat it!

Sarasota snook surprise

Sarasota Snook Surprise

Sarasota snook fishing

I have been running a bunch of family fishing charters this summer.  Most of these trips include children and novice anglers.  This limits the kind of fishing that I can do.  It is difficult to snook fish with four anglers.  However, the other day my client received a Sarasota snook surprise!  We were chumming with bait fish for speckled trout in six feet of water in the open bay.  Mitch got a bite and the fish dumped the spool!  I fired up the engine, pulled the anchor, and chased it down.  I thought it was a shark, but turned out to be a big Sarasota snook!  They are rarely caught in open water like that.  Snook are schooled up pretty thick in the passes and out on the beach.

Sarasota snook surprise

Weekly Sarasota Fishing Report

Fishing was steady once again on the deep grass flats in Sarasota Bay.  It seemed like every flats with submerged grass in five feet to eight feet of water held speckled trout and other species.  Along with the trout, Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jack crevelle, gag grouper, mangrove snapper, sharks, ladyfish, catfish, and other species kept the rods bent for happy clients.  The best approach was to cast jigs for the first hour or two, then when the fishing slowed, switch to live bait.  Pilchards and threadfin herring are on the grass edges near the passes.  However, a lot of the bait is small.  Small bait clogs up the cast net and is harder to cast.  But, the fish don’t care, they are feeding on the available forage.  The snook surprise was just the icing on the cake.

Finding clean water is also important.  We have started getting our afternoon rains.  That cools the water off, which is great!  However, it does add some “color”.  Some areas of the bay have clearer water and these are the spots to target.  The best best on a Sarasota fishing charter is to get out early.

Sarasota Summer Snook Fishing

Candice headed out on Sarasota Bay on a Sunday afternoon with her step-father to do a little tubing, a little fishing, and enjoy the afternoon on the water. The tide was running out hard and pass crabs were all over the surface. So, they netted a few up, dropped them to the bottom near some rocky structure in Big Pass, and before long she had her hands full with a large Sarasota snook! It was a tough battle in the swift tide, but Candice subdued the fish, hoisted it up for a quick photo, and released her unharmed to go make babies. She landed several others as well.

Sarasota snook surprise

An over-slot snook caught at 2:00 on a Sunday afternoon? Yep. There is no doubt among anglers along the west coast of Florida that snook have made a rousing comeback since the big cold-water fish kill in 2010. Some anglers credit several mild winters for the increase in snook numbers while others feel the strict management of the species is responsible for the great action. Whatever the reason, snook are pleasing fisherman throughout the region.

As a guide in Sarasota, I am out on the water around 250 days a year. Clients on Sarasota fishing charters caught more snook this spring than they had in years, and in places that would not normally be associated with snook, especially open grass flats. Many of the snook are “schoolies” in the 16” to 24” range, but there are plenty of big fish around as well.

Local snook migrations are pretty basic. They move into creeks, rivers, and residential canals in the winter to escape the extreme temperature fluctuations of the flats. As it warms up they migrate out into the inshore areas to feed up, then by early summer most fish are in the passes and out on the beaches in preparation of spawning. The pattern the reverses itself as the fish move back into the bays and eventually back into the creeks if it gets cold enough.

Passes all along Florida’s west coast are full of snook of all sizes right now. Outgoing tides early or late in the day and at night are prime times to tame a linesider. Live bait will usually produce the most fish. Large pilchards are a prime bait, but hand-picked shrimp, 3” pinsfish and grunts, and as Candice proved, even crabs will entice a hungry snook. Stout tackle is required when fishing in heavy current and around structure. Diving plugs and soft plastics bumped along the bottom will fool wily snook as well.

Beach Snook Fishing in Sarasota

Sight casting for snook on the beach is great fun and lighter tackle can be used. Snook will cruise the surf line within a few feet of shore in search of a meal. These fish will spook, so a delicate presentation is required. Small white bucktail jigs are very effective, as are shrimp imitations and small plugs. Fly anglers score with white minnow patters such as the D.T. Special and Clouser Minnow.

Sarasota snook surprise

Most fly anglers find the idea of spotting a 28” fish in foot deep gin-clear water, quietly stalking it, presenting a fly and watching the take to be the pinnacle of fishing. Does it really get any better than that? That opportunity does exist from Tampa Bay all the way south to Marco Island. Best of all, very little gear or travel is required and a boat is actually a hindrance!

Sight fishing for snook along area beaches is not a secret among local anglers, but it is not widespread knowledge throughout the country. But, that fact is that anyone with a little stamina to walk, a fly rod, the ability to cast 40 feet and a bit of patience can enjoy this experience. As in all fishing, there are nuances that will help fly caster be more successful.

Snook begin migrating out of the back bays and onto the beaches in April, especially in the southern region, and are usually thick by June. They are out there to spawn, but will certainly take a well presented fly. In fact, fly fishing is probably the most effective approach as these fly lands so softly and the fish are in quite shallow water.

The general weather pattern in the summer is for the wind to lay down around midnight, and blow lightly out of the ease or southeast in the morning. The beach should be calm with relatively little surf. Too much chop will stir the water up, making it very difficult to spot snook. By noon the sea breeze will kick up and it will continue to pick up throughout the afternoon.

Beach Sarasota snook fishing techniques

The technique is relatively simple. Get out on the beach around 7:30, no need to get there too early as it will be too dark to see any fish. Choose a section of beach that has few swimmers, though that usually isn’t an issue that early. The best fishing will be walking north, with the wind and sun at the anglers back. Armed with a 7wt to 9wt outfit, a long leader with a 25lb-30lb tippet and a #2 white D.T. Special, Crystal Minnow, or any small pattern, the angler heads out, walking 15 feet or so away from the water, with 40 feet or so of line coiled in his hand, ready to make a quick cast. This will give a good vantage point to spot fish. Most snook will be seen right in the surf line, withing a few feet of shore. There is very little structure on most beaches, therefore any rocks, pilings, or other structure can be very good spots. The same goes for beaches near passes, they can be fantastic places to fish.

Snook will range from loners to quite large schools, but mostly commonly will be seen in groups of several fish. The angler needs to determine which way they are heading. If they are coming towards the angler, he needs only stop, wait for the fish, and present the fly ahead of them. Subtle strips work best. If the fish is heading away, most of the time they are moving slow enough that the angler can walk around and get ahead of them, then present the fly. As in all fly fishing, there will be refusals, but plenty of takes as well. Many of the fish are “schoolies” but there will be some trophy snook fish as well! Anglers may occasionally encounter redfish, jacks, msackerel, and other species as well.

While the equipment requirements are minimal, there are a few things required to be comfortable and achieve success. A had, good polarized sunglasses, sunscreen, and water are a few essentials. Comfortable shoes that are still comfortable when wet are important as well. A fanny pack is practical for toting water, sunscreen, leader material, and some flies. Some anglers fin a stripping basket to be an invaluable tool, keeping fly line out of the surf and not under foot. While the walk back may be into the sun and wind, keep a sharp eye out. It is amazing how fish will suddenly appear!

While sight casting to snook is the most glamorous opportunity, fly anglers do have options during other times of year, particularly in the spring and fall. A couple days of east wind will result in calm, clear water along the beach and this will bring in the bait and of course the gamefish. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jacks, ladyfish, and other species will come within range of a decent caster. Clouser Minnow and D.T. Special patterns are solid producers.

Sarasota snook surprise

Spin anglers are not to be left out when trying to catch snook off the area beaches.  Point of Rocks on Siesta Key and the mouths of both New Pass and Big Sarasota Pass on Lido Key are prime spots.  As in fly fishing, a subtle presentation is important.  Small white lures such as bucktail jigs, soft plastic baits, and plugs all work well.  Anglers who prefer live bait will do well on Sarasota snook using large shrimp, pilchards, and pinfish.  Keeping bait alive in the summer can be challenging.

Seasonal Snook Migrations

Most anglers are aware of the fact that many species of fish migrate along the Gulf Coast and are generally caught at certain times of the year. Spanish and king mackerel along with false albacore and cobia move through in the spring and again in the fall. Tarpon make their big push in the warmer months, starting in early May. Sheepshead are thick in late winter and spring. But, resident fish also make local migrations and none more distinctly that perhaps the most popular inshore gamefish in Florida; snook. So, let’s go through the annual snook migration pattern.

The cycle begins in the winter, when snook have migrated up into creeks, rivers, and residential canals to escape the harsh conditions on the shallow flats. The more severe the winter, the more pronounced this movement will be. The water in these areas will normally be significantly warmer than the open bays, due to deeper holes, protection from the wind, and darker “tannin” stained water. I prefer casting shallow diving plugs for snook in this situation, they allow anglers to cover a lot of water fairly quickly and elicit exciting strikes!

As the water warms up in the spring, snook will move out of the creeks, rivers, and canals and scatter out over the inshore bays. They will set up in their typical ambush spots that offer cover, current, and opportunities to feed. Mangrove shorelines with a depth change, grass flats with potholes, sloping oyster bars, docks, and bridges will all hold snook. At this stage snook can be taken using a variety of techniques; live shrimp and baitfish, plugs, soft plastics, and weedless spoons are all effective baits. Outgoing tides early and late in the day and at night are prime times.

Sarasota snook fishing

By early May, Sarasota snook will be staging heavily in the passes and at some point will move out onto the beaches to spawn. This is one of the easiest times of the year to catch snook, especially a trophy! Live pilchards are extremely effective, especially if a few freebies are tossed into the structure to get the fish excited. Live pinfish and large shrimp are also deadly. Artificial lures can be used successfully as well, though live bait really shines in this situation.

By mid summer the beaches should be thick with snook. Areas with some type of cover such as rocks or pilings will be hold good numbers of fish. This is a fantastic opportunity to sight cast for snook using light spinning or fly tackle. Small baits that can be presented more delicately will draw the most strikes, white bucktail jigs and flies are a great choice. Live bait works very well, too.

As it starts to cool, the pattern reverses itself as snook move back into the inshore waters and then eventually back into the rivers, creeks, and canals once it gets cold enough. Anglers who take the time to learn and understand local fish movements will enjoy success on a more consistent basis.  Anglers can check the ever-changing snook regulations on the FWC site.