Ah, summertime in Florida. The word conjures up images of smoking grills, white beaches, sunny skies and tan bodies. But to a skinny water angler, the word “summer” means one thing: redfish and (especially) snook, and lots of them. Roughly from May through mid-October, snook gather in Florida’s inlets and passes to breed and feed, and it’s the time of year in which anglers have the best chance of experiencing a banner catch-and-release day. Some passes are literally choked with fish, and if you catch them on the right tide, they’ll hammer just about anything you throw their way. But there are some rules to follow if you wish to make the most of your summertime opportunities. The one variable that you cannot ignore at this time of year is heat, so temperature is the central thought behind the following recommendations:
Go early, go late.
This one seems obvious, but I’m often surprised at the number of boats I see leaving the dock in the late morning, or the number of anglers hanging over pier railings in the heat of the day. Fish – like humans – get sluggish in the midday heat, and they seek cool, deep spots when the sun is baking everything in sight. If you have no choice in the time of day you fish, make the most of hotter and brighter hours by fishing deep, moving water in passes or inland cuts. If you can fish early or late, start in shallow water – such as flats or shorelines – and then gradually move toward the passes. A topwater is a great lure for dawn or dusk, especially in skinny water. After the sun is up well above the horizon, I like to downsize and switch to a subsurface lure. The reason? Fish tend to react to lures in low light conditions rather than examine them, but they get pickier the higher the sun – and the visibility – rise. Another reason why it’s better to fish early and late? Your own comfort. The summer heat can be downright oppressive.
Where’s the best place to fish when it’s hot? As mentioned, deep water passes that open onto the Gulf or Atlantic will usually hold the majority of fish. Shallow water flats will also produce, especially early and late in the day. Pay special attention to gradual drops in depth on flats – such as channels or potholes – as snook and refish prefer to hang in slightly deeper water. When fishing shallows, I use sub-surface lures on high tides (jigs, swimming plugs, etc) and surface lures on lower water. A number of summertime fish can always be found on shorelines, so be sure to try lures and bait around suspicious looking spots, especially those featuring moving water or interesting structure, such as oyster beds or dead trees. And shorebound anglers are sure to find good numbers of fish, especially snook, on public piers and under bridges of all sorts.
Let it rain.
A lot of fishermen overlook this fact, as well. Florida is famous for its afternoon rains, brought by towering thunderheads that sweep off the Everglades practically every afternoon. The lightning, wind and heavy rain that accompany these storms often scare anglers into hiding, and they call it a day. That’s a mistake. Once the storms pass, the water on the flats and in the passes cools noticeably. This drop in water temperature usually results in increased feeding activity, as fish that have endured the oppressive heat are suddenly revitalized. If you can time your trips after a storm – and match them with a good tide and a setting sun – you’ve really upped your odds. Fish after the sun sets If you don’t get a chance to fish during the day, take a night trip. More big snook are caught at night than at any other time. Why? Because they are more bold once the sun goes down, and they are energized by the cooler water. Dock lights almost always hold fish, but most dock fish will be of small to average size. If you’d like to target big snook, fish deepwater passes after dark, especially on an outgoing tide. Add a full moon to that mix, and you’re in business. Be patient, try a number of lures, and take note of where you hook your fish. Where you find one there will be more.
Many a summer trip is ruined by a lack of preparedness. If you’re intent on catching fish in the summer, there are certain items that you must bring on every trip. They include: sunglasses (preferably polarized), bugspray (many great fish haunts are loaded with mosquitoes and no-see-ums), sun screen (though fishing early and late can minimize the damage), liquids (even in the early and late hours, your body can dehydrate quickly) and a brimmed hat (to shield the sun and help you peer across bright water). Dress in airy, light-colored clothing and stay hydrated by drinking at regular intervals.
Keep the future in mind.
Snook can be caught in impressive numbers during the summer months, putting anglers into an excited state in which they can overlook the need to protect and revive the fish they catch. Summertime snook are in the process of re-generating the species, so extra care should be taken in handling them. Use barbless hooks in the summer, as it facilitates the release of fish. Take extra treble hooks off your plugs, leaving either a single treble hook or a single hook in its place. Once you fight a fish to shore or to a boat, try to unhook it while it’s still in the water, if possible. Do not let fish flounder or fall on a hard surface. The hot water also makes it tougher for fish to get adequate oxygen after a hard fight, so hold their tails and midsection underwater until they swim off on their own power – which can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Very big fish tend to take longer to revive, but they are also the top breeders. Click a photo to record the moment, but concentrate on getting the fish back in the water and underway as soon as possible. And watch for dolphin around your boat – they love nothing more than to feast on tired redfish, seatrout and snook that anglers unknowingly feed them.
Hot weather hazards.
The tropical climate which leads to great snook fishing also leads to some potential dangers. Each year dozens of snook anglers suffer after overlooking the following:
The summer months bring doormat-sized stingrays in along the beaches and onto the flats to breed. If you wade fish, be sure to wear protective footwear, look where you’re stepping and shuffle your feet. If a ray does barb you, near immediate relief can be had by immersing the wound (normally your foot or ankle) into very hot water. Never try to extract a stingray barb — go to a hospital for assistance. Doctors in Florida know how to deal with such wounds quickly — they see them more often than most folks would imagine.
2) Mosquitoes and no-see-ums
These little critters can ruin a trip in a hurry. Some of my favorite spots are literally thick with them in the hot months, and me and my buddies endure them as long as we’re catching fish. But we do take precautions, wearing long sleeve cotton shirts and even cotton pants when mosquitoes are out in force. Remember, mosquitoes can carry diseases, and too many bites can actually lead to a bad reaction in some people. Minimize the number of bites by dressing smart and using plenty of spray.
The hotter the weather in Florida, the more violent the storms. And with strong storms comes strong lightning, something no wise angler ever toys with. Many anglers who’ve been stuck by lightning were trying to “cheat” the weather, gambling that they could outrun approaching clouds. Lightning often arcs from the edges of a storm into a sunny area, so don’t let sunny weather fool you into believing you’re safe. If you see dark clouds and hear thunder, get under shelter immediately.
Florida’s climate also lends itself to squalls, storms with high winds, lightning and even hail that appear quickly and with little warning. If you fish from shore, they are less of a worry. But if you fish from a boat, make sure you know your safety tips, then keep an eye on the skies and be sure that your safety equipment is up to date. And remember: though much of the water in Florida is relatively shallow, it’s surprising how big swells can kick up in a small bay or narrow pass.
5) Strong tides and undertows
Many visitors new to Florida’s beaches – especially on the west coast – are deceived by the placid look of the waves and beachfronts. It’s true that most of the beaches in the southern half of Florida don’t feature wild surf and rough water. However, a number of Florida’s beaches do have serious undertows, so be sure to heed posted warnings. And if you’re fishing near or in a pass, take the strength of a moving tide very seriously. Your best bet is to avoid entering the water in passes for any reason. If you do find yourself being swept along, however, do not try to fight the current. Swim roughly with it at an angle toward the closest piece of dry land. If you’re in a boat, be aware that storms or strong tides can create some serious chop and tricky navigating. Sebastian Inlet on the east coast is notorious for the powerful force of its tidal currents.
Most of these potential problems can be avoided through careful planning and common sense. Develop a healthy respect for each, and odds are they’ll never be an issue.