NE winds under 5 knots. It doesn’t seem like an important weather condition, but when visiting Sanibel Island it can make or break the surf Snook fishing. Sanibel is shaped like a boomerang but unlike most barrier islands, it goes from East to West, instead of from North to South. A few days with a NE wind and the surf will lay down & clear up so that you can spot the grey ghosts as they meander through the trough between the first two sandbars.
The MKFF crew was lucky on our latest adventure to Sanibel Island in June. We had a few days of light NE winds which gave us opportune conditions to fish the beaches for Snook. We also arrived during the summer Solstice king tides, which are some of the largest tides of the year. The heavy current created by these tides causes bait, shrimp & crabs to flush through the passes with the larger game fish lying in wait for an easy meal.
It is hot in Sanibel during the summer with average temps well into the 90’s with heat indexes pushing 105-110 degrees. For fish and fisherman alike, the conditions are nearly unbearable during the midday which means our days start early. Most of the successful fishing is done by 10 AM and then restarts around 5-6 PM depending on when evening thunderstorms move in.
During the early summer, hoards of glass minnows invade the beach and schools of these fish can be as large as a football field. These fish are too small to be caught with a cast net. Within these glass minnow schools are usually some larger Pilchards or Spanish Sardines (whitebait) which can be caught in the net to use as bait. We also used a seine net to weed out the smaller glass minnows and found some smaller whitebait that way as well. Snook and seatrout are the most common game fish on the beach at this time of year and arrive each summer to gorge on the massive bait schools. But you will also encounter Jack Crevalle, ladyfish & Spanish Mackeral with an appearance from an occasional Redfish on the beaches. The trick to this style of baitfishing is to differentiate the bait on your hook vs the rest of the school. Like all predator fish, Snook & Seatrout will go after weakened or injured fish first. My rule is to fish the edges of the bait schools as they pass, since the injured bait fish on your hook will be easier to for the game fish to see (and eat) on the outside of the bait school. We found out quickly that most of the snook we saw were slowly following & snacking on the bait schools as they swam down the beach. Not every school of bait had snook on them, but your best chance to catch was by fishing and following the schools of bait.
Fly Fishing has become increasingly popular on Sanibel’s beaches as well. The small size of the bait these large Snook are eating is perfect for a fly fisherman to imitate with a Clouser or Schminnow fly. The trick is to work the edges of the 1st and 2nd trough. The Snook are cruising right against the shoreline in as little as 1 foot of water. You have to be very stealthy as these Snook have good eyesight and are extremely weary in the clear shallow water. I have been instructed by the locals to not even get your feet wet. Another option is to stand on the 2nd sandbar and cast back towards shore. Once it gets a little hotter out & the beach becomes more crowded this is my preferred method of fishing these Snook.
The MKFF crew caught about 15 Snook off of the beach through 5 days of fishing. Amongst the 15, we caught 3 beauties, each about 15 lbs and 35-36 inches long. Snook on the gulf coast max out at about 40 inches and 20 lbs but do get bigger on the East Coast of Florida as well as down in Central America and the Caribbean. The Florida record is 47 lbs.
We also had some luck drifting Gulp Shrimp tipped jigs through the passes in the evening. The Snook are in full spawning mode during the king tides and full moon, both conditions which we had during our trip. They were stacked up in the passes and we caught 4 or 5 drifting lures until we could no longer take the sand flea bites.
Sand Fleas…. These little devils are the one big negative when it comes to fishing calm mornings and evenings during the summer time in Florida. They are everywhere, they bite and it hurts! Even with bug spray, they will still bite you in force. The only real way to defend yourselves against the fleas is to wear long sleeve shirts and long pants, or go into the ocean and fish from the water.
Overall it was a very successful trip and we are looking forward to next year’s Sanibel Adventure.
P.S. If you are ever down in Sanibel, make sure to go to Bailey’s General Store for biscuits and gravy and the Lazy Flamingo in Santiva for conch fritters & grouper sandwiches.
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