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Saltwater fly-fishing for snook is unique experience

The white fly, a small bait fish resembler, cut through a rather forceful wind, the result of a cast with abrupt stops. The fly touched the water beyond the dock pilings beyond a row of snook.

The nocturnal-feeding snook were on the hunt in the Sarasota Bay canal.

The small bait fish cruised lazily with current, through the dock pilings, until they reached the areas that were lit by a dangling dock light. Here, the snook could spot them, pop their bony mouths around them and await another meal.

A good retrieve of a fly will do the same as the natural bait fish. Onboard with Capt. Andy Cappar of Reel Native Back Country Charters, Joe Schamp and I generally let our flies drift with the current, then sped up our retrieve once the flies found the light.

Saltwater fly-fishing for snook is a different sport. It can be like dancing in shoes with sitcky bottoms, on an uneven dance floor, with corns on your feet. The rhythm must be paced for the line to unfold and fly at the right times, a result of abrupt stops of the arm at the 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock positions. With the line zinging back and forth in rhythm, we are in a heavy wind that cut our lines sideways, with 6-weight fly rods, at a distance of about 60 feet. But we completed the score.

With clear, intermediate sinking lines, white bait fish imitations from No. 2 to 1/0 hook sizes, and 10-foot leaders, we boated seven snook, three mangrove snapper and five trout on the fly in about three hours.

Clear, intermediate sinking lines can be optimal for night snook fly-fishing. The clearness keeps the snook from spooking. Whereas floating line will give the appearance that the bait is floating on the surface, intermediate line presents the line under the surface, where the snook were lurking this night.

“Even when they’re striking on the surface, they’re not looking for the meal to be there,” Cappar said.

Ideally, an angler will have one rod with floating line and another with intermediate. There are a lot of fly lines that are floating lines but, on the last 15 feet, switch to clear, intermediate sink. This allows an angler to track the portion of the line that floats, yet keeps the last 15 feet at a stealthy sink.

This night, it wasn’t until the last stop at a conventional dock that the snook began to bite. The night was punctuated by swirling rain that never reached Cappar’s 18-foot Sterling boat. We had hoped to catch the beginning or ending of an angry storm, and thus a moving barometer that tends to trigger a snook feed, but the weather stayed consistent.

The trick was noticing how the natural bait fish were behaving, and which ones the snook were hitting. Cappar noticed they were hitting the minnows that drifted in the current and bolted once in the light.

More importantly, fly-fishing in such wind requires a consistent movement of the fly rod.

“The line will do whatever the tip of the rod tells it to,” Cappar kept reminding me. “If the tip of the rod is not at a consistent pace of movement, the line’s gonna be all over the place trying to find that tip.”

It’s best to keep the wrist unmoved, and let the shoulder, or hips, move the rod. It’s not necessarily the speed of the cast that causes that line to cast in a tight line, as opposed to an unwanted loop, as much as it requires abrupt stops on the back- and fore-cast that allows for a sharp transfer of energy.

“That’s why it looks graceful if you’re good at it,” Cappar said, “and if it’s bad, it looks like you’re flailing at bugs.”

Nick Walter, Herald outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.