We have an abundant snook fishery here in the Sanibel Captiva area because the habitat contains numerous inlets, river mouths, oyster reefs and mangrove shorelines which provide a wealth of food for the fish.
We fly fish snook 12 months of the year. They are a subtropical fish less tolerant of cooler waters. In the winter time if the water temperature drops below 70 degrees, it’s tough getting them to eat even though they are visible and a cast is right on. When the water temperature goes above 70 degrees, they will strike a well-presented fly. And, the strikes can be quite eye-opening: watch their mouth open, grab the fly, stop and swing their head left and right or turnoff where there’s an instant feel of the strike (tug on the line). How exciting to easily spot the fish, make the cast and see the strike in our clear water (unlike other areas where the water is turbid). Snook are extremely fast over the short stretch and are acrobatic jumpers. Just a fabulous saltwater gamester!
During the winter with the warmer water temperatures, some of my favorite places to fly fish snook are the inside back bays with sandy shorelines. The snook move out of the shady mangroves into the sun to warm themselves. They are easy to see as they lie motionless over the light colored sand. At times, they can be tough to get a cast to because they can see the fly line, fly caster, boat, etc. During the colder months the snook average between 22″ and 28″. The larger snook are hiding in deeper/warmer water at this time.
My favorite time to take anglers in pursuit of snook is towards the second half of March through April. By that time, the water temperatures have warmed up considerably. We fly fish to larger snook (over 30″) and it’s not uncommon to catch 38″ to 40″ snook with opportunities for casts to snook that are longer than 3-1/2 feet.
In the summer there is a moratorium on snook – they can’t be harvested. Catch and release fly fishing is the norm. During this time the fish are moving towards the barrier islands and into larger inlets to spawn. Sizable numbers of fish travel the sloughs up and down the gulf front beaches very close to the shore line. The crystal clear beach front water makes for some of the most exciting sight-casting to snook that can be imagined. We fly fish the snook with a floating line using smaller white flies which “match the hatch” of the white bait the snook are feeding on. To cast to them we have two options: poling a boat just offshore and casting to them or anchoring the boat and walking the beach.
Either venue chosen to fish for the snook along the beaches gives the fly rodder an advantage: there are no obstructions for the snook to wrap around and cut the leader. The full fight of the fish is able to be enjoyed. Beach front fly fishing presents an ideal place (opportunity) to pursue potential world records using light tippets (2, 4 or 6#).
In the fall right up to December depending on the water temperature, good fly fishing for snook continues in all the normal places, even along the beaches. Once the water temperature starts to drop, the snook will start moving from the beaches into the estuaries anticipating the oncoming winter.
This past November I was staked out looking for redfish to start crossing a particular flat on a low incoming tide. Normally redfish will move out of the deeper channel that edges the flat and start “tailing up” as they cross the flat. Three days in a row I got into a snook migration. There were singles, doubles, groups of 6 – fish everywhere! They were from two feet to over three feet long. This is sight casting at its best! We had numerous follows until I figured what fly pattern to use. I settled on the Enrico Puglisi gray pinfish fly on a 2/0 hook. The snook ate that fly pretty well. We ended up landing five fish, losing some as well as missing others. The neat thing was our largest fish was 39 inches long which was a snook around that 20# class. This thrilled my fly fisherman to no end because of the incredible fights out in the open water over the flat.
It’s a situation I’ve been involved in a number of times over the years so it wasn’t what I would call unusual. It’s a matter of putting my years of experience together with being at the right place at the right time.