As the warmer fishing months are here on the west coast of Florida, most inshore fishing revolves around finding schools of fish. Trout will be layed up in deeper green pockets off the beaches and just inside passes where strong currents run across fertile grass flats. Redfish have been bunched up together along the mangroves on high tide and along dropoffs and potholes on lower tides. Snook fishing turns highly addictive during these summer months, as this is when the biggest fish of the year are caught. Many different factors come into play when hunting a trophy snook. Types of bait, strength and depth of tide and the proper tackle are required to give anglers a chance at a twenty plus pounder.
When planning a fishing trip, it helps to look at what factors will give you the best chance at catching the desired species. Tide plays a major role in this equation. On our central gulf coastline, the tidal range is around two to four feet, with greatest variance found around the new and full moons each month. Summertime brings in higher water and allows fish to push up into mangrove shorelines to feed in the shade. When this greater volume of water leaves an estuary, bait and crustaceans will be flushed out through passes where snook and redfish will lay up in the current to feed. When the tides are slower, say only moving a couple of feet on a cycle, work points and sandbars that will create a funneling effect of water and push water more rapidly.
With large numbers of snook congregated on the beaches now, many anglers are having great results when the window of opportunity opens. This window usually coincides with the strongest part of the tide or a major lunar phase that turns these linesiders on for short periods of time. Looking like a dark grass patch on the sand, these small schools of snook are competitive feeders and will crash chummers thrown their way. A belly-hooked bait thrown in with these chummers will swim erratically in a strong tide and won’t go overlooked by nearby game fish. By tossing baits along an edge and allowing it to flow down naturally will attract snook better than baits pinned to the bottom with a weight.
On the incoming tide, the water has been gin clear along St. Joseph Sound and made fishing along the beaches tough when the sun is higher in the sky. Downsizing tackle will draw more strikes, although increase chances of losing that big one. When fish become finicky and won’t strike a frisky sardine, step down in leader size and hook size to draw more strikes. By loosening the drag on the reel, less friction will not cause break offs. Most beach fishing won’t have any obstacles to worry about cutting anglers off on.
When snook start to have a case of lockjaw right now, secondary baits work great. Butterfish, pinfish and grunts are prime candidates for lethargic fish. These three baitfish have a tendency to sit down in the current where lunkers hang. The bigger the better when it comes to trying to catch a twenty plus pounder. When rigging these baits, it is best to barely hook them in the mouth so that when a fish eats the offering, it is an instant hookup. Some fisherman like to run the hook through the shoulders, but then it takes a hard, aggressive hookset and often miss the shot.
Schools of redfish are holding up in the backsides of Honeymoon and Anclote island where there is not much traffic to disturb them. Larger fish are the norm in these bronze packs as the fish are averaging from 24 to 32 inches. A trolling motor or push pole is the easiest method to get near these skittish fish. On incoming tides, tailing reds are pushing up in skinny water and chasing bait in the sandy potholes. The most stealth approach is to get out of the boat and wade to them. The rich turtle grass flats of Anclote Key are firm enough as you won’t sink too much approaching the redfish. Copper spoons with brown bucktail trailers are working great in this low water condition. It resembles the many crabs and chubs running around these flats. Once the water gets high, these fish are pushed up against the mangroves. Work the opening in the bushes, as these are prime ambush spots. Submerged oyster bars against the trees is another great area to look at on flood tides.