Ebb and Flow
Tidal movement makes up a major piece of the beach snook-fishing puzzle. Any kind of moving water makes snook happy, but an incoming tide is generally preferred. The middle of the tide cycle has the most water movement and the most available bait, which is what you want. For example, with a 6 a.m. low tide and a noon high tide, 9 a.m. should be prime time. I find there is a 30-minute window in the middle of the tide when the fish become particularly aggressive. The best sight-fishing happens when the middle of the tide cycle occurs during the brightest part of the day.
During slack tide periods, even though you may see fish, it can be difficult to draw a strike.
On the beach, baitfish are commonly easier to spot than the snook themselves. Find the bait schools, the tighter the better, and look around the edges. Often you will see a “bald spot” in the middle of the bait pod. Closer examination regularly reveals a snook lying in the midst of the bait, with the wary baitfish giving it plenty of room. The most exciting fishing comes when schooling snook round up bait into a very tight ball and attack at once. Obviously, busting fish stick out like a sore thumb, and placing your fly in the middle of the action will almost always result in a hookup.
In very short order, that glassy beach can swell and send all but the heartiest anglers packing. Trout fishermen adapt well in these conditions by putting their water-reading skills to work. For the most part, when the water is rough and cloudy, anglers should switch to a blind-casting strategy.
When choosing a stretch of beach for blind-casting, look for the same characteristics that you would with any other type of fishing. A straight, shallow beach doesn’t do much for me. However, when I find a stretch that has points, bars and drop-offs, I get real excited. How steeply the beach rises out of the water will give you a good indication of how things look underwater, and any change in bottom or current is worth a few casts. I never pass up what I call a beach boulder, a small channel in the sand formed by water running off the beach. When the returning water collides with the surf, a chocolate-colored ball of moving sand and tiny shells materializes. Approach the beach boulder just like a boulder in a stream. Make a curve cast around the backside of the boulder, and work your baitfish pattern as you would dead-drift a Nymph, letting the surf impart the action rather than stripping.
Troughs are another key feature. Usually there are two, one just off the beach and one farther out. A trough forms where the waves break and most often range from one to three feet in depth. Snook and other fish use troughs as combination superhighways and buffet lines. If you’re standing at the water’s edge and see a snook sitting in the trough uncomfortably close, slowly move away from the fish and make your cast from farther away.
When the beach is dotted with shell hunters and sunbathers, you can still see snook, but in general, a crowd makes the fish very uncomfortable and fly-casting difficult. This scenario eventually becomes unavoidable, but you can move to fish either the first trough from the outside or the second trough. Heavier surf breaking on the beach will push the fish out slightly. I like to wade to the breaker line and cast on the backside, keeping my fly in the swell by repeatedly mending my line over the wave, giving a to-and-fro motion to the fly.
One of my best days came in early May of last year, when I was fishing with my friend Max Galmez. The surf was very rough but still blue in color, and we had the beach to ourselves. At one point I looked over to see only Galmez’s arm and bent rod sticking above the foamy surf. In two hours’ time, we landed 17 snook from 24 to 30 inches, proving that persistence pays and snook aren’t always in close.
Choosing the Right Fly
Fly selection is not nearly as important as presentation — as long as the pattern meets a few criteria. I carry white or silver flies on the beach. A good glass minnow pattern, such as
Johnson’s Petticoat Streamer, Gibby’s DT Special or Norm’s Crystal Schminnow, is all you need.
For sight-fishing, the Schminnow is hard to beat. I like it because it suspends nicely in the water column and allows me to wait on my fish. Gibby’s DT Special works well for blind-casting in calmer waters and low-light conditions. I believe the bit of red on the collar gets a little more attention. I refer to the Petticoat Streamer as a Snook Nymph. Made mostly of marabou, this fly does its finest work when left stationary in the water column.
Many anglers have great success with weighted flies, such as Clouser Minnows, but when sight-fishing, I find that the splash of the fly usually sends the snook on its way. A good look at snook’s eye position and slight underbite reveals that they are designed to feed primarily from below their prey. Certainly they will eat shrimp and crabs off the bottom, but in general, snook look up for most of their meals.
The right fly will not work without the right action, but anglers commonly make a nice cast to a fish and strip way too fast. Instead, anglers should strip long and slow. Make your slowest strip, and then strip half that fast. Many times I have been talking to someone on the beach or getting a drink of water, and wham! What was I doing right? I was doing nothing at all. Another strip that works well is the “shrimp strip,” that being two or three quick micro-tugs followed by a long pause.