Fly fishing Sarasota rivers
Sarasota offers visitors a unique angling opportunity; fly fishing Sarasota rivers. While the saltwater fishing gets the attention, Sarasota has some great river fly fishing.
The Manatee River and Myakka River lie 30 minutes from Sarasota beaches. Fly fishing Sarasota rivers gives anglers the chance to catch trophy snook on fly. This occurs in a very interesting and relaxing setting. Other species such as bass, redfish, jacks, gar and more are also available. This happens in the cooler months, usually from mid October to early April.
“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.
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.
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 crevalle, 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 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 and 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.
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 on 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.
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.
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236