Vol 5 No. 44 - July 20, 2005

Night snook: beat the red tide doldrums
By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Conditions could hardly be worse for area anglers with the onset of the summer doldrums and the persistent red tide. While anglers and guides are finding a few willing redfish, trout and snook in areas clear of the red tide, others are finding cooler, more productive options. Capt. Rick Grassett has been experiencing some unusually good action during the early morning hours under lighted docks from Sarasota to Venice. Grassett begins his day well before the sun crests the horizon. Years of prospecting have produced insights that allow him to beat the heat and the red tide, leading customers to catch a dozen or more snook on fly and spinning tackle.

Grassett has found that docks with a water depth in excess of six feet are best. Tidal flow is another indication of action. He prefers the light to be on the up tide side of the structure. This allows his clients more latitude when making a presentation, preventing hang ups and allowing the flies to swing to the fish naturally. The direction of the tide is so important that he targets some docks on the incoming tide and others on the outgoing tide.

Dave Kinnamon, from Milwaukee, Wis., caught and released this nice snook on a fly while fishing a lighted dock in Sarasota Bay on a pre-dawn trip with Capt. Rick Grassett.

The presence of hard bottom near a bridge or dock is another indicator of good snook habitat. The presence of bait is directly related to structures like ledges, oyster bars and seawalls. These areas attract the bait that lures the fish. The type of light on the dock can also influence the action. Lights that sit low to the water seem to have a more distinctive shadow line, an area where feeding fish concentrate. Grassett also finds the new underwater lights are good fish attractors. In both cases the fish seem to hang on the dark edges of the shadow lines.

Since most of the snook caught around structure are in the 18- to 27-inch range, Grassett uses a seven- or eight-weight outfit with either a floating or intermediate line for his early morning trips. His leaders are tied tapered with fluorocarbon line and measure about 10 feet long. A 30-pound bite tippet is tied to the flies with a non-slip mono loop knot. His spinning tackle is light action in the six- to eight-pound range.

Flies for snook under the lights are picked by "matching the hatch," which in most cases means small shrimp or baitfish patterns. He has developed a small white fly that he calls the Grass Minnow. When he fishes the flats early, he prefers baitfish patterns like the Lefty’s Deceiver, Clousers and Puglisi baitfish patterns. These flies simulate pilchards, which make up a large portion of the summer forage. Small jigs as well as live baits are also an option, but the red tide will often kill bait in areas where the fish are active. Smaller is better here, often requiring light spinners to cast the smaller more effective artificial lures like the DOA Tiny TerrorEyz.

Red tide concentrates fish in certain spots so you might have to explore for the best areas. Often, lights devoid of fish can be only a short distance from others that have large concentrations of snook. That’s how fickle the red tide can be. Early mornings before daylight have been better than the late evenings. Early, pre-dawn treks allow Grassett to take advantage of the coolest time of the day, and he can usually avoid those pesky late evening thunder storms. Grassett has been spending more time closer to Sarasota during the latest outbreak because it allows him the option of fishing the flats after dawn. He has been finding good action under lights on the mainland and Siesta Key.

Fishing the "doldrums" has always been challenging, but the red tide is requiring some sacrifices from local anglers. Getting less sleep is one of those sacrifices that have been yielding hot action in the face of what some see as insurmountable odds.

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