Anglers who spend the spring and summer in southwest Florida can enjoy some of the best fishing of the year if they get up early. During the warm and rainy season, folks down here can get “cabin fever” while confined in their air-conditioned home. There only one time when escape into cool air is possible and that’s early in the day. We have never been “O-Dark Thirty” anglers that naturally get up before dawn and head out. But, once we’re on the water with the sun coming up and the fish biting, we feel right at home. Our gulf beaches make an outstanding spot to visit as the sun rises.
Our favorite beach this time of year is Stump Pass Beach State Park in Englewood. Due to the limited parking available, early is the only time to go. There are a few parking spots along the “Ski Alley” side of the lot that lead directly to a break in the mangroves and a perfect launch. If we get there too late to luck into one of these spaces, a dolly helps with our heavy kayaks. Be aware that there are no spaces for trailers in this small lot.
Early also works with the tides right about now. Our favorite plan involves drifting down to the pass with the falling tide and fishing for snook. We can then float back to the launch on a rising tide. It isn’t always possible, but when it works it’s a lot of fun. The fishing in the pass and along the beach is worth getting up for.
If you choose to leave your kayak in the garage, it is fun to walk down to the pass from the parking area. The beach walk is only 1.1 miles to the pass but, the return trip can seem much longer. This is catch and release for snook these days but even when the season is open, any plan for getting a chilled fish back to the car requires some serious planning.
Early mornings usually start with an offshore breeze that knocks the waves down and helps with some long casts if necessary. Even the bugs ease up as the sun rises and they head back into the brush to escape the heat. Another factor that really helps is to have the sun over your shoulder which lets you see into the water better with polarized sunglasses. We usually find the water on the beach clearer than the warmer, algae colored bay water which makes sight fishing here exciting. You might not see snook, but their shadows give them away.
Most folks use spinning gear with either live shrimp or soft plastics for beach snook. We really enjoy the battle even a small snook provides on light [10 lb.] braid. Light line lets the fish deliver some long powerful runs without hanging up in nearby mangroves or dock pilings. Other anglers use fly rods with consistent success. An 8-wt. rod with a floating line will work most mornings. Remember, snook near the beach are feeding in the trough just a short distance from the dry sand. Be aware of your shadow this time of day as it will spook these snook. We usually cast either small shrimp flies or white clousers in the wash right along the shore. Determine which way the shore current is flowing so you can walk and fish “upstream” to approach these snook from their tail end. It always surprises us just how close we can get to these snook when we approach from downstream.
Should you choose to use live shrimp, leave the bait bucket in the car, and use a damp towel instead. Here’s how: soak a small towel in bait bucket water and wring it out. Then, put the shrimp on the towel and roll it up with the shrimp inside. You have to move quickly to keep the shrimp on the towel. Next, wrap the towel in an ice pack and put the whole package in a large zip closure bag. We use the plastic ice mats to keep our beach bags dry. The shrimp will be cold and slow when you get them out but will quickly become frisky as they warm up. This method is a lot lighter and easier to deal with than a bait bucket and air pump.
As the sun gets higher and the bite slows, we head back to the parking lot either by kayak or afoot to enjoy a late breakfast. Most days, we’re back home by 10 AM and ready for another day of work from home on our upcoming articles. We hope you get a chance to try this for a cool change of pace as the weather warms up.