There are so many fishing options close to me in Bradenton Florida that I don’t know where to start. Within an hours drive there are five fresh water rivers large enough to explore with a Kayak. There is the Manatee, the Little Manatee, the Braden River, the Myakka River and Phillippi Creek. There are several smaller rivers that I have only heard about that are on my list to visit. These contain bass, blue gills, crappies, catfish, carp, gar, and other fresh water species. In the brackish water of these streams close to the ocean there can be snook, redfish, tarpon, and sea-trout. There are numerous other smaller freshwater rivers and a host of freshwater lakes and hundreds of ponds. Within a two hours drive the options are almost uncountable. No wonder Florida is called the “fisherman’s paradise”.
Within an hours drive along the Gulf Coast includes Tampa Bay to the north and down to Charlotte Harbor in the south. This includes the Gulf Coast beaches, Sarasota Bay, Little Sarasota Bay, and the intercostal waterway. Instead of rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout and brookies like I fished for in Colorado, there is snook, redfish, sea trout, sharks, and tarpon plus 190 other species of fish in the Tampa Bay area alone. Instead of midges, mayflies, caddis flies, and stoneflies that trout feed on, there is shrimp, crabs, bait fish called “white bait”, and squid, plus many lesser foods that ocean fish eat. In the ocean, everything that can be eaten, will be eaten, all the way up to sharks at the top of the food chain.
For the following reasons I have chosen the beaches as my first area of salt water exploration. #1. The beaches are close to home, only 5 miles to Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach, Anna Maria Island, Longboat key, and on and on for a thousand miles North and South.. #2. In the summer there are snook on the beach where they spawn, and snook are my number one favorite salt water fish to catch. I might also catch sea-trout, mackerel, sea bass, pompeno, jacks, and even get a shot at a tarpon while fishing for snook. #3. Snook eat primarily bait fish and fishing for snook with a fly rod is very similar to freshwater streamer fishing, which I love to do and am very familiar with. #4. Much of the time you can sight fish for snook in very shallow water close to shore. I love sight fishing and have a lot of experience sight fishing for trout in Colorado. #5. When summer is over the snook will move back to the mangroves and up into the brackish, freshwater streams to spend the winter. Now is the time to target them and I feel like I have looked forward to this opportunity for a long time. #6. Snook fishing is pretty simple. You just need a good pair of polarised sunglasses, 6-9 weight fly rod, a saltwater fly line and leader, 25 lb fluorocarbon tippet and some flies. Fly patterns are simple too, with only a few different baitfish patterns necessary to cover the bases for snook.
The first day I went to the beach was midday and I just walked for a couple of miles observing. I didn’t even take my rod. The ocean was calm with little wind. I didn’t see much as far as fish, just a lot of swimmers and sunbathers. At first the beach looked flat and without variance, but as I walked I began to see sand bars, drop offs, troughs, and other structure.
The next time I went out exploring the beach everythng had changed. I carried my rod but didn’t even string it up. There were 3 foot waves and 15 mile an hour winds coming from the south-west. There had just been a tropical storm out in the Gulf. I noticed currents flowing north along the beach and then south. There were also backwashes and undertows where the water went out perpendicular to the beach shore line. There were even surfers out riding the bigger waves. The waves had churned up a sandy, milky, green color to the water and visibility into the water was impossible out for 20-30 feet . Not the best conditions for seeing snook and sight fishing. I saw no fish.
On my first early morning fishing trip I arrived at sunup and rigged up my 10 ft, 7 weight Sage Method fly rod, set up with a Rio Intermediate salt water line, with 4 feet of 25 lb fluorocarbon tippet on the end. I tied on two streamers. I later learned fishing two flies for saltwater fish was a big mistake. Two snook on at the same time probably means one will break off with the fly in its mouth. My first fly was a pattern I tie called the “Holy Mackrel”. It is an Ultra Hair Clouser style pattern that has caught a wide variety of salt water fish for me in the past. It looks similar to a small bait fish called “white bait”, a local term for small baitfish that are the staple in the diet of many salt water game fish, especially snook on the beach. My second fly was an all white buck-tail Clouser pattern. The water was clear, and the waves had subsided. As I walked along the beach there was some structure, a cement piling that went out into the water. The water at the farthest point out was the deepest and you could not see the bottom there. The water was a greenish color and looked “fishy”. I made several casts out past the outcropping and stripped the flies back in. After several casts I thought I saw a fish trailing behind the fly. It was long and thin like a giant needlefish. I made several more cast and finally hooked up. This fish jumped, did a complete flip in the air, got me to my backing and certainly put a smile on my face. I managed to get the fish in and wow did it have a set of teeth. I pulled out my salt water pliers and removed my fly from its narrow teeth lined jaw. It was released back into the water. I thought maybe it was a barracuda or a giant needlefish. Later I found out it was a Houndfish, or also called a Crocodile Needlefish. I could see a dozen of them laying in the water, stationary, facing out into the ocean. I would cast out and they would follow the fly in. Then they would speed up and attack the fly. After catching several they got wise and disinterested. I was a little disappointed not to find a snook that morning, but had a blast catching a fish I had never caught or heard about. You never know what you might catch in the salt. I know some snook are out there. I hope I can see them. I have been told they are hard to see. One thing for sure, I am going to find out! Hopefully next time out on the beach.