On The Fly Saltwater
Article and featured photo by Polly Dean
Even as a native to South Florida, I was not familiar with Nokomis Beach on the Gulf coast. Some may recollect the name Nokomis, Hiawatha’s grandmother in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha. Though this stretch of Florida harkens memories of what “Old Florida” may have been like in her early years, its claim to fame may be only that it is Sarasota County’s oldest public beach. Nokomis Beach is located on the southern tip of Casey Key.
Nokomis Beach is surprisingly free of the crowds found along the shore to both the north and south. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Described as “one of Sarasota’s hidden gems” by Visit Sarasota, Casey Key is a long narrow island encompassing an isolated and exclusive enclave that skirts the mainland of Florida’s Sarasota County. It is just north of the more populated and popular Venice Beach and a short distance to the south from Siesta and Longboat Keys. The single 2-lane road that runs along much of the length of Casey Key offers a view of the numerous impressive mansions that straddle the narrow island with the Gulf of Mexico being their front yard and Blackburn Bay in their rear. A number of these massive and ornate homes are as large and as imposing as cathedrals or castles.
As any beach location favored by fishermen, Nokomis Beach is somewhat under the radar, unspoiled and not populated with hotels and high-rise buildings. This southern portion of Casey Key is mostly inhabited by modest homes, some rentals and a smattering of small mom-and-pop motels You are unlikely to find crowds of sunbathers here. In fact, it is fairly easy to find quiet, isolated stretches of beach where snook are content to cruise close to shore without fear of human interference.
The snook often are found in just inches of water, just off the sand. Photo by Polly Dean.
Arriving in late afternoon, we took a walk on the beach, while scouting for troughs and drop-offs where snook were most apt to be found. We looked for any change in the terrain under the water’s surface where snook might be to look for bait and other food. We found a very shallow trough of only four to six inches at the most, in the extreme shallows of the water’s edge, with location depending on the stage of the tide. After several minutes of walking and observing, we learned that this shallow trough proved to be enough of a depression for snook to favor as a travel lane. During our first walk on this beach and as evening approached, we saw three snook over the course of an hour or so, but left encouraged for our fishing the next day.
From having previously chased snook in the surf on the east coast of the peninsula, we knew that one’s best vantage point for seeing cruising snook was up on the beach, peering into the trough right along the edge of the sand. When spotted, the fish were indeed often in very shallow water. I even sighted a snook on more than one occasion up in the inches-deep foam that would spread across the sand at the tail-end of an incoming wave. I am not sure that these would have taken a fly, but seeing them in this extreme shallow water was surprising. Standing even in a few inches of water would have likely caused us to spook them.
A purple-and-black Pugliese pattern was one of the flies that worked on the cruising beach snook. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
As we threw flies of all colors and types in their direction, the snook did seem a bit finicky. We gained some follows with the fish rejecting the fly after a few moments. Our first success was with a purple and black Puglisi-style fly. But this same fly didn’t seem to garner any interest on the following day. We met another angler on the beach using a small white fly. Clouser Minnows drew some follows, and we stayed with the lightweight versions with bead-chain eyes so not to spook the fish. Some of the snook were sighted as they swam straight toward the beach and us. These are the most difficult to cast to without spooking. We and the few other fishermen, (spin fishermen included) we crossed paths with, were keeping a low profile with the casting arm kept to the side Normally the best scenario is to get ahead of a snook swimming parallel to the shore while dropping the lure or fly in front of it. This situation allowed more casts, but not necessarily more hook-ups.
Getting ahead of the cruising snook offers the best chance for a hook up. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
When the surf is a little on the rough side, I found that an intermediate sinking line proved invaluable for allowing the fly to quickly sink to the fish with less affect from the action of the waves. When the breakers are just seconds apart, thus offering the slightest of views of a cruising snook, a quick cast with an intermediate line can make the difference in hooking up or not.
Photo by Polly Dean.
When one’s favorite activities involve a beach and fishing, then there is nothing more enjoyable or rewarding than sight-casting to these denizens of the saltwater and bringing a snook to hand with your toes in the sand.