Florida offers visiting fly fishing anglers a wide range of fishing opportunities. They can target bonefish and permit in the Florida Keys, tailing redfish, or giant tarpon throughout the state. However, there is one fly fishing adventure that goes virtually untapped; fly fishing Florida rivers for Snook!
The Target Fish:
Snook are the premier inshore game fish in Florida. They are a subtropical species and cannot tolerate water that is cooler than sixty degrees for very long. For that reason, Snook migrate up into area rivers, creeks, and residential canals to escape the exposed, open inshore waters.
Snook are found in Florida roughly from Orlando south on both coasts. Snook are a “euryhaline” species, which means they can live in both pure fresh and salt waters. They are one of the few fish that migrate into fresh water for reasons other than spawning. The southwest coast of Florida, in particular, has quite a few rivers that provide excellent opportunities to target Snook on fly.
Best Rivers For Snook:
The best rivers for Snook fishing will be brackish, which means a mixture of salt and freshwater. Florida does not get much rain in the winter. That results in salty water intruding quite a way inland in these rivers. This water is dark and tannin-stained, with water temperatures as much as ten degrees warmer in the rivers than in the open backwater areas.
Tackle requirement for river Snook fishing is pretty basic. A 9wt fly fishing outfit is best as anglers may be casting large flies. Also, Snook up to twenty pounds are not uncommon. Stout tackle is required to keep them out of the structure. An intermediate sink tip fly line works well, but a full sinking fly line will be fine, too. An 8′ tapered leader with a 30lb to 40lb bite tippet finishes off the rig.
Fly selection is fairly simple as well. Weighted streamer patterns such as the venerable Clouser Deep Minnow are proven Snook flies. Other patterns such as the Crystal Minnow work well, too. These flies ride with the hook up, reducing snags.
Unweighted patterns such as the Lefty Deceiver and Puglisi patterns are good choices in more open water and offer a wider profile. White is always a good color for Snook. Darker colors and gold also work well in the tea-colored water.
When & Where To Look For Them:
One great aspect of river fishing Snook fishing in winter is that fish are much more concentrated than they are in the warmer months. There simply is less water to search for them. The top spots in rivers are outside bends. These areas are deeper and the structure tends to accumulate. These become natural fish-holding spots, especially when the water is low. However, any fallen tree or rocky shoreline is worth a cast or two.
Another indication of a good spot is limestone on the bank. That usually means that there will be some nice ledges underneath the surface as well. These ledges will almost always hold Snook and other species.
Another benefit of fly fishing in rivers is that they are protected from the wind. Winter days in Florida can be nice, but it also blows as the fronts move through. Often the best time to fish is right before the front. It is usually fairly breezy on those days.
The technique is pretty basic. Anglers drift with the current while casting towards likely shoreline cover. It is very important to drift with the current. Otherwise, a big “bow” will form in the line. This results in a presentation that is not natural. As with all fish, anglers should experiment with the fly pattern and the retrieve until a productive pattern emerges.
When a fish takes, a “strip set” is used to hook the fish. The rod tip is kept low and the line pulled taut with the stripping hand. Once hooked, the rod tip can be used to keep the Snook out of the cover. Snook are well-known for their ability to find some type of cover to break the leader on.
Other Species Opportunities:
While Snook are the primary target, other species will hit a well-presented fly, depending on the geographical location. Largemouth bass will be landed in brackish water right alongside Snook. Jack Crevalles put up a tremendous fight and are found in the saltier portions of the rivers. Juvenile tarpon, redfish, gar, catfish, bream, and ladyfish are just some of the species that might be encountered on a river fly fishing trip in Florida.
Fly anglers seeking a unique experience along with some breathtaking scenery might consider giving river Snook fishing in Florida a try!
Written by Capt. Jim Klopfer
Capt. Jim Klopfer was born in Washington D.C. and grew up fly fishing the waters of Chesapeake Bay. He moved to Sarasota, Florida in 1986 and began guiding full time in 1991. Capt. Jim is a versatile guide, as there are many different species that clients can target throughout the year, especially enjoying assisting novice anglers as they enjoy the sport of fly fishing. Follow learn more about Capt. Jim here.
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