I’ve heard it talked about a lot, how exciting it is, how exacting, how frustrating at times. But in the 3-4 years I’ve been fly fishing here in the winter I’ve never tried it. You need a boat of course, or in my case a friend with a boat, and the willingness to go out in the pitch black of night and run the risk of hitting rocks or oyster bars.
So last night all the pieces came together and I got my first taste of night fly fishing for Snook in the ICW (Intra Coastal Waterway) that runs from Bradenton south past Sarasota down to Venice. I have of course fished the ICW during the days many times, but going for Snook at night is a different beast altogether.
First, a bit of a ‘condition’ report for those who might be interested. This area was very hard hit by red tide this year. It started last January, has and killed or scattered millions of fish plus turtles, birds, manatees and dolphins. It finally let up a couple of weeks ago (thank God!), and the waters in the area seem to be returning slowly to normal. The one glaring exception is the Seatrout. We used to have many 30 fish days in Sarasota Bay, but so far this year in 2 outings we’ve not caught a single trout! Other species have co-operated on the fly (such as Bluefish, Jacks, Redfish, and Ladyfish), but the Seatrout have disappeared. No one seems to know if or when they might return to the area.
In the ICW there are numerous large boat docks plus some bridges that have ‘area’ lights on them. Locally people call them “Snook” lights, because what happens is that the lights attract shrimp and a baitfish called the Glass Minnow (Bay Anchovy) that the Snook feed on when the tide is flowing in or out. So the tactic is to find yourself a dock with a suitable light on suitable water and anchor up (before anyone else gets there) and cast in under the light and/or dock in hopes of fooling the Snook that might show up for a feast, in the pitch black of course!
So that’s what my friend Bill and I did, getting on the water about 5PM, me to fly fish while he was throwing lures and DOA Shrimp. We had some Jack Cravelle action first because we spotted a bunch of birds diving on minnows that the fish were pushing up, but we headed for our dock by about 6 so we could stake out our spot first and wait for dark.
It got dark about 6:30 or so, and the tide was flowing in pretty well. I started to cast in before the light came on to get a feel for the distance, because pretty soon I wasn’t going to be able to judge the distance too well. Darned if I didn’t hook a large Snook right away that nearly pulled me out of the boat! Bill yells at me…”don’t let him go under the dock, you’ll never get your line out!” Great, Bill, thanks! So, counter to all my instincts I don’t let him run but horse him big time with the 8 wt rod. Hardly budges, but just as I’m thinking I’ve saved him from the dock the hook pulls out. That’s how big he must have been, because he was on the line for a good couple of minutes and was well-hooked. I’m shaking like a leaf, and the light hasn’t even come on yet!
Then about 7 the light comes on, and Bill points out a couple of Snook that have arrived. Then we see a few more, and finally start to get some decent action, mostly 18-22” fish like this one in the pic.
I’m casting well under the dock by now, trusting to luck not to get hung up, but as you might expect I do catch the poles a couple of times and we have to go in to get me off. But by now, there are literally over a hundred Snook we can see under the light, and although we spook them momentarily they quickly come back to the light in search of food.
Casting in the dark is a weird feeling, as I know some of you have experienced. You can’t see the line in the air hardly at all, so your normal visual clues and reactions are gone. You have to estimate the line distance, and try to spot the flys’ landing zone. Drift is not too important here, but you sure need to get the fly where the fish are and avoid hooking yourself, your buddy and any nearby fixed objects!
One quite fun thing I discovered about the Snook is that you can ‘thumb’ them like a bass on the lower lip, because their teeth are surprisingly dainty. But when you lower them back down into the water to revive them, they suck on your thumb like a baby, firmly but gently! That was the weirdest feeling. Soon as they were ready to swim, they’d let go and be off.
This is a pic of the fly I’m mostly using, an all-white Clouser Minnow meant to imitate the Glass Minnows. It’s tied on a #6 Long Shank SS hook, Mustad 34011, and made from fly fur rather than the usual bucktail.
While we had lots of action, catching maybe 15 fish, I was a bit surprised to be casting over so many fish and not getting a hit on every cast. Goes to show that fish everywhere will not just willy-nilly hit a lure just because we think they should! Even Bill with his local knowledge and time tested lures did not get more hits than I did on the fly.
About 9 the tide slowed, and the action stopped altogether. The Snook just milled around, waiting I suppose for the tide to turn and start flowing again in about an hour. But for us, it was up anchor and head home, tired but happy.
Another new and exciting fly fishing experience for me this year. I’ll be back out to try it again as soon as the planets all line up. Not to be missed!