With toes in the sand and rod in hand, it doesn’t get much better than walking the Southeast Florida beaches eyeing the shallows for snook.
On The Fly Saltwater
By Polly Dean
About two-thirds down the Atlantic coast of Florida, the islands of North Hutchinson and Hutchinson straddle the city of Fort Pierce. As one heads south on A1A on these narrow strips of land, this “Florida Scenic Highway” hugs the Indian River Lagoon to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. The beaches of these islands are popular with fly anglers who target the linesides from summer into early fall.
During those hotter months the baitfish move shallow and snook move in as well. They are feeding on glass minnows, particularly on juvenile bay anchovies that often are referred to locally as red minnows. That bait also attracts tarpon near to the shore.
This is a favorite time for anglers who hit the sand with a fly rod to sight cast to snook cruising within easy reach of the beach. This style of fishing is optimal when the fish are visible and eager to eat, but success is just as sweet when one knows how to read the signs and hook into a hungry snook without actually eyeing it first.
1. Where to Go
On Hutchinson Island, numerous turn-offs provide anglers an assortment of public accesses in which to park close to the beach. Lightly populated areas or those where a short walk will provide a section free of sunbathers or other anglers are fairly easy to find and the best option for anglers. Snook are looking for food, and the less likely they are to be interrupted the better.
2. Check the Terrain
Any change in the terrain of the ocean bottom may hold baitfish, and snook are likely to follow. Look for drop-offs in the sand. Troughs that run parallel to the beach just a few feet from shore often serve as a cruising lane for snook.
Walk the beach as the tide changes. Troughs out of sight or reach during high tide may be more visible, with snook easier to spot as the water recedes.
3. Change Your Perspective
Resist the temptation to look only toward deep water. Snook will literally swim the shoreline just a foot or two from the water’s edge. Often, they will seem to appear out of nowhere. By the same token, don’t feel that you have to stand out in the water to see them. The beach is usually the best vantage point. Since these beaches have more of an incline than many in Florida, stepping back several feet from the water provides a broader area of sight to spot fish at a greater distance.
4. Look for Diving Birds
Birds such as gulls, pelicans and terns actively feeding is a sure indicator that there are baitfish. This is a situation where blind casting into the bait is a good idea, since there is a very good chance that a snook is in their midst.
5. When to Find Snook
Snook are less wary and more inclined to feed during low light conditions. Just after sun-up is a prime time, but here on the east coast the sun is low on the horizon and in your face. The best bet is to look for the fish in the afternoon with the sun to your back.
6. Feeding Mode
Though out of our control, it is helpful to know when the fish are in their feeding mode. It’s generally more favorable when they are found in schools or pairs, rather than a single, since those fish often compete for any forage available. If you see snook that are stopping and looking into the receding waves and backwash, and looking toward the beach, that is a good sign that they are on the prowl for something to eat.
Fly casters along this shore feel that dropping a fly in front of the snook is more effective than throwing spinning lures.
Kadri Benton of White’s Tackle in Fort Pierce suggested a white Polar Fibre fly pattern resembling a glass minnow as a good option. Clouser Minnows in a tan over white is another local favorite.
On occasion smaller snook – we’re talking about 20-plus-inchers as opposed to 10-plus-pounders – concentrate on the bottom, similar to bonefish. Tossing a small bonefish fly, like a Gotchas may work for those fish.
You need a couple of feet of 25- to 30-pound shock tippet connected to those flies. If the water is very clear, 20-pound may be better. If you are seeing fish and not getting bites try the lighter tippet..
8. Line Management
An 8- or 9-weight outfit is ideal for this fishing. Lighter gear won’t work as well in the ever-present wind or if a bigger snook or tarpon takes your fly.
You also need an intermediate sinking line to handle the wave action common on the east coast. A sinking line can make the difference in getting your fly in front of the fish quickly with the first cast.
Wave action can play havoc on a floating line and getting your fly in front of the snook.
Most snook will be close to shore. Be ready with fly in hand and just enough line stripped off the reel to make a quick short cast. If not using a stripping basket, keep excess line on the “downstream” side of your body to avoid fly line wrapped around your body parts as you pick up to cast.
You can even include some snook fishing from the sand in your next family vacation to the beach.