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The thought of fishing from the beach for snook conjures up images of crystal-blue water, gentle breezes, bright sunshine and plenty of fish meandering up and down the shoreline. While days like this appear picturesque and ideal, fishing only during these perfect-condition windows leaves anglers with an abundance of missed opportunities.
For those who, like me, live close to the beach, it’s easy to become spoiled. But it never ceases to amaze me when I hear that a Midwestern tourist landed a trophy snook from the beach on a day I deemed unfishable. The point is, during the summer in Florida, snook can be found along the beaches on any given day, but you’ve got to know how to adapt to what Mother Nature throws at you.
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From April through late October, snook move from the backcountry to the beaches with one thing on their minds: making little snook. They change habits, personality and appearance. A typical adult snook will spawn two or three times per week during the summer. As with other species, the largest fish are females. The odd thing about snook is that most fish are born male and, at about 24 inches in length, change sex and become female.
While snook can be very spooky and at times noncooperative, a thoughtful presentation can coerce an eat. The first order of business is spotting the fish. Early in the summer, when the fish show up on the beach from the backcountry, they are dark, which makes them easy to see. However, as the summer progresses, the fish change to a silvery color, which makes them extremely difficult to spot. When the sun is high and extra bright, forgo looking for an actual fish and focus on looking for shadows on the sandy bottom. Visitors are always shocked to find snook inches from dry sand. Norm Zeigler, author of Snook on a Fly, says that, when sight-fishing, if you are wet above the ankles, you are wading too deep. Keep the fly in hand, and keep your false casts to a minimum to prevent spooking the fish. When possible, fish into the sun to keep your presence subdued.
Once you spot a target, resist the temptation to immediately fire off a cast. Instead, take your time. Snook spend their time on the beach cruising up and down and rarely dart around or swim erratically. Determine the direction that your fish is traveling, and don’t take your eyes off of it.
Baitfish never swim to the mouth of a predator, so make your presentation so your fly swims away from your target when stripped. This inevitably will require moving well ahead of the fish, making a cast and waiting until the fish gets close to the fly before you strip it.
When there is mild wave activity, you may see the fish only between waves, which necessitates a little guesswork. What you lose in visibility, you gain in ease of presentation, though. In this situation, fish seem to be a little more at ease and lose their spooky attitude. In addition, the slight wave action gives your fly a little extra motion.
When you do catch sight of a beach snook, you’ll typically see one or two together, often moving slowly and steadily, or occasionally not at all. At times, schools of up to 50 fish magically appear, and when they do, always target the lead fish, just as you would with a string of tarpon.