Two Days of Fly Fishing for BIG Florida East Coast Beach Snook
If you've been a follower of Demystifly for any length of time, you've likely seen one of my many pictures taken while fishing the Florida beaches for snook.
Beach snook fishing is something I first discovered while vacationing in Southwest Florida with my family over 20 years ago, but now that I've lived here for awhile I get to do it all the time and have honed my skills big time. It can be fun, it can be frustrating, but it always keeps me coming back.
The lore of trophy snook from the beach is always in my mind. Here in Southwest Florida, our average beach fish aren't very big with about a 16–24 inch average. This makes for great fun on a 5 or 6 weight rod, but sometimes it's nice to break the cycle with a whopper. Unfortunately, I don't spot many large fish on the local beaches I fish, so for a true "big fish adventure" I try to head to the east coast at least once every summer for a few days when there's a west wind. That's precisely when you can sight cast to the big girls because of the calmer water conditions.
Last week the forecast showed exactly what I wanted to see: the right wind direction and a bonus of drier-than-usual air for several days. After some prep time, I hopped in my F-150 and was on my way eastbound.
I arrived in the afternoon which gave me just enough time to check in, unload, and fish for about an hour. As expected, the late-day wind had switched around to the east, so I knew the onshore wind would be causing some decent chop and wave action. This makes fly fishing a real hassle...which after a four hour drive I wasn't up for. I opted just to get my bearings with a conventional setup, so I grabbed my Shimano Expride ML+ with Curado DC and a selection of small swimbaits and headed out.
I got to the beach and was greeted with the expected lineup of a dozen bait anglers right there in front of the parking lot, but lots of open space to the north. Once away from the crowd a couple hundred feet, I started peppering the water with short casts looking for that slob snook cruising the nearshore troughs. I really don't care for blind-casting at beach snook but it was my only option!
To quickly summarize, I slowly made it about 300 yards down the beach before a newly-formed thunderstorm to the south grabbed my attention with a rumble of thunder. Despite the storm being about five miles away but edging closer, I wrapped it up and sped walked back to the truck. I've had a few close calls with lightning in my life and have developed somewhat of a lightning phobia, so needless to say I don't mess with that stuff at all.
Day two is when the real fun began. The beach I started on the evening prior was not THE beach I drive three hours across the state for, but is really more of a secondary spot. However, now I was headed for primetime water.
After arriving at about 9:30am, I began trudging through the sand and scanning the water. To be honest, I was not super impressed. Conditions were excellent, but I covered over a mile and saw just a few snook and not much bait. I eventually stopped when I made it to my typically hot zone and set up in that area for about an hour. Some truly big fish were spotted zipping by, but hurricanes had changed the area for the worse and my few shots on those snook weren't great. Seeing no real potential, I ditched that spot and worked my way back down the beach to see what could be found.
As I began retracing my footsteps from earlier, I could see in the distance things had drastically changed. There were birds. There were large splashes. There were big tarpon rolling. Woah!
Obviously, some time after I walked through this area thick black schools of bait had moved in. Of course this thing called the food chain exists, and on the east coast of Florida that food chain can be pretty epic to witness. As I got close I could see there were literally dozens of tarpon and sharks, hundreds of snook, and an untold number of pesky blue runners blitzing that bait over a pretty large swath. The sharks seemed especially brave, often coming up so shallow that half their bodies were out of the water — a few times this happened just a few feet from me!
When that much bait is around, getting a fish to eat a fly can be tough. There's simply so much going on and so much of the real thing around that even a well-placed fly won't get touched.
In conditions like this, what I prefer doing is fishing away from the main concentration of bait. This is precisely what I did here. By fishing the outer edges of the bait pods or even 50 or more feet off to either side, I found success by targeting fish that had little to no bait immediately in front of them. At any rate, I was able to bring five nice snook to hand; no giants, but good solid east coast fish that would be impressive back where I live. By around 2pm the 100+ degree heat index was starting to wear me down, so rather than passing out I walked away from that fish circus with a plan in mind for the following day.
I guess word had gotten out that next day. The sharks were mostly absent, but their void was filled by an increased number of tarpon and snook...and anglers chasing them.
The first bait pod I encountered had several tarpon working it and about 10 guys beating the area with flies, plugs, and jigs. I knew that was a lost cause and there'd be more action further down the beach away from everyone, so I took about a 15 minute walk to find some solitude and unpressured snook. Once away from the crowd, I instantly found an endless supply of snook, tarpon, and the occasional monster jack crevalle. It was crazy. At this point I was regretting not bringing a 12 weight along to try and nab one of the tarpon that were constantly swimming by, but a big snook is a viable substitute.
What happened over the next few hours is something I'll never forget...
While being largely alone for the entire time, I enjoyed casting to a nearly constant stream of snook that numbered at least in the hundreds, if not over a thousand. BIG snook. Everywhere. It was shot after shot, refusal after refusal, with the odd follow or eat mixed in. I typically throw the same pattern on the east cast as I do out west, but a little bigger in size. I did have success with that fly the day before and on one or two fish this day, but by switching to the same trusty two-inch fly I use for my local beach snook, I was able to get more of those beefy snook to either follow or commit.
I wound up hooking and bringing four XL snook to hand, all big enough to make my hands tremble for minutes afterwards. Each fish took me into my backing and was a helluva fight on a 7 weight rod! I had hoped for just one trophy fish this trip but was rewarded with multiple. Some days everything just lines up right.
Like the day before, I left when my YETI Ramblers began to run dry and the heat became too much to handle. I can't tell you how weird it feels to reel in and call it quits when there's a sea of world-class fish right in front of you. It's equally weird and comical seeing countless snook and tarpon while walking back to the truck and being totally unfazed by it. Although I left feeling completely satisfied, I'm now ready to go back and try to do it all over again!
Reel: 3-TAND TF70
Leader: 10-feet overall; tapers to 15-pound with 1-foot of 30lb fluorocarbon bite tippet