The good news is on both trips we found numerous adult snook. In the less than optimistic mood of late, that was quite uplifting. You see, in early January of 2010, South Florida, including the Everglades, experienced a fluke cold front that dropped the air temperatures below freezing for a good portion of a week. It was the first cold front of the winter, and it hit during a period of extreme low tides. The effect on our near shore subtropical fish species was devastating. Snook, which are catadromous, usually vacate shallow inshore waters when they feel the temperatures begin to drop, some heading off shore to stable deep water on the reefs, while others head inshore or to “spas” where the aquifers or springs well up, again seeking stabilized water temperature. That cold front caught them off guard and many thousands died.
Immediate emergency closed seasons were put in place to protect the survivors and those regs were only recently relaxed. The closed season didn’t affect me since I do not keep them, but the scarcity of inshore sized snook sure did. Since then, each year the size of the fish has improved, and the numbers of smaller fish seems to be increasing also. It is probably not a coincidence that the size of most fish I’m seeing now falls into the range the biologists categorize as around seven years old.
The anglers that were with me on both trips could not be considered beginners. One is talented fly tier who teaches, and has demonstrated at numerous IFFF shows. The other is a diehard trout angler and a past president of local fly fishing clubs. Watching them both was entertaining, and highlighted the odd assortment of talents it takes to catch a snook on fly in a rather challenging environment that is pretty much inaccessible except via canoe.
Snook may be the most popular game fish in southern Florida. Part of that popularity is due to being fine table fare, another part due to their fight, and another part is due to the fact that they can taken by numerous techniques. Conventional anglers catch the most on live bait, but they will also be taken on lures, jigs and even dead bait. They can be caught on fly by blind casting much like pike, and they can be a literal blast when casting poppers to shoreline structure. But the most challenging way by far is by sight fishing with a fly.
When the water temperature cools, those snook that are too small to travel to and survive on the reefs, say 3 feet or less in length, must head into the back. There are many urban man made locations where they will gang up, including deep canals, boat basins, and near power plants. The ones that live in the wilderness areas however do not have those options, so they must head for the springs, which are rare, or go way back into the ‘glades creeks and hide under the mangrove tree roots. On mild sunny winter days, those root dwellers will saunter out into the shallow bays to sunbathe and warm their chilled cold blooded bodies.
Most fly anglers are familiar with sight fishing for another challenging shallow saltwater game fish, the bonefish. Snook sight fishing is somewhat similar but there are significant differences. Sunning snook are generally not very mobile and seldom tail, so therefor are not as easy to locate. And contrary to the obviously feeding bonefish, these snook are at the bottom of their activity cycle and commonly are beyond picky. In fact, if they have recently dined, their low metabolism will require them to digest for days, and in such a low energy mode they don’t need to feed often. But, the real challenge is the difference of locational conditions. Unlike the open flats where bonefish are commonly encountered, these backcountry snook favor small bays where back cast room can be very limited, and quite often casting is not even possible.
This just might be the saltwater equivalent to small stream trout fishing, except the fish are on steroids. Often, after locating them, you must reposition to gain casting room, and you are floating on the same calm clear water that this very sensitive creature is occupying. That prominent black lateral line is a biological vibration detector. No… wading is not possible… too muddy – maybe a better word would be soupy. You must present a fly very carefully so as not to startle them. And then you must convince them to eat. The rod I have settled upon recently is a 5wt. If you do hook one, it is not uncommon to see your backing. They do not have the sustained long runs of the bonefish, but they commonly jump or thrash, and they fight dirty. Smaller ones will head back for the safety of the roots and enjoy playing a bit of cat’s cradle with your flyline. And just to make it interesting, they have rough mouths that will wear through a OX tippet like butter, so a thicker “bite tippet” must be added for abrasion resistance.
The talent toolbox required to routinely avoid being skunked was quite apparent over the last two weeks. Some look at this challenge as a fool’s errand. I simply love it.
The nattily attired old gent in the accompanying photo is proud of his first sight cast snook which he achieved two weeks ago. Please note that us normal southern boys don’t usually dress like a professor when we go into the sticks but he is different. He’s the fly tier. I wish I had a photo of the fly he caught that snook on, as it too was quite spiffy. Imaging that show stopping, beautifully dressed fly pattern that garners the oohs and ahhs when on the display vise at a fly fishing show. I’m sure the snook never saw anything like it, and I can only guess it thought “damn, wtf is that… better kill it before it multiplies”!