Picture of a snook caught while fly fishing dock lighs

A dock light snook caught in Sarasota by Chris

If you’re interested in fly fishing for snook in Sarasota, FL then fishing dock lights is a great choice. Fly fishing anglers who choose to target snook on dock lights put the odds in their favor to catch good numbers of snook and the possibility of hooking into large snook on the fly. Fly fishing dock lights in Sarasota can be good all year round and it’s one of the most productive ways to target snook with a fly rod.

Dock lights in Sarasota offer the impossible- sight fishing for snook at night. It seems ridiculous to suggest that the best sight fishing opportunities for snook are at night, but they are. Dock lights provide food and structure to snook. Snook stack up around dock lights at night and wait for unsuspecting baitfish or shrimp to ambush. Snook utilize their large mouths and flare their gills to create a vacuum that draws in prey.

Snook are one of the best inshore species to target in Sarasota, FL with a fly rod. They are one of our premier sports fish. In battle, snook offer a combination of torque and speed that is unmatched by most other gamefish. In battle, snook take to the air, go on strong line ripping runs, and they understand how to use underwater obstacles to get free. Fly fishing for snook on dock lights is about as exciting and intense as it gets.

snook in the dock lights

Snook can Stack up in Dock Lights

Why Snook Love Dock Lights

Dock lights are simply lights that illuminate the water around docks, bridges, and boat lifts. Dock lights can either be submerged under water or shine from overhead into the water. Snook love both types of dock lights and fly anglers can have good success on both types of dock lights. The waters surrounding Sarasota have an incredible amount of dock lights.

Underwater dock lights are often a neon green color and have the same water proof properties that lights used on decorative pond fountains have.  Overhead lights can be anything from a light bulb on a post to giant size amber colored street light. As long as it illuminates the water directly underneath it, there will be snook there. This is good news for fly anglers targeting snook.

At night, light becomes structure in the expanse of dark water. It draws snook in like the glow of a campfire draws in mischievous adolescent boys. It’s primal behavior. Add a good tidal current to the dock light equation and snook are ready to eat.  Snook really pile up on dock lights with a consistent food source and tidal current. Some lights will hold hundreds of snook. Most anglers find tossing a fly into an area holding hundreds of snook very agreeable.

If the bait is high in the water column, then the snook will be blowing up on the surface. The sound of snook eating bait on the surface is somewhere between a pop and a crack.  Around dock lights with a strong current, snook will stage up in high numbers and face into the current. They are looking into the tide and waiting for the current to bring them food.

When snook see an easy meal flutter through a dock light, they dart out to eat it and return to their place facing back into the current. It’s very similar to how freshwater fish feed in streams. Larger snook will slyly hide under docks or in shadows and show themselves only when they move out to feed. These are exciting sights for an angler holding a fly rod on the bow of my skiff.

Seasonal Snook Food & Seasonal Snook Flies

Snook eat a variety of food around dock lights. Fly anglers fishing in Sarasota should be armed with a fly box full of options. Snook, like so many other saltwater fish, love shrimp. Shrimp are available to snook in every season. The key is knowing what size shrimp are around or what size shrimp the snook will be focusing on. If snook are locked in on very small shrimp, then they will ignore fly patterns that imitate a larger shrimp. But they will readily eat a shrimp fly that is delivered appropriately and in the correct size range.

During the winter, when there is a shortage of white bait in Sarasota, snook focus their attention on glass minnows and small fry. These are tiny morsels of food for snook, but they overcome this obstacle by consuming large volumes of these miniscule fish. Fly fishing anglers have the advantage over other anglers using live bait or artificial lures. Fly anglers have the ability to deliver small flies (as small as size 8) that resembles glass minnows to these fish. Anglers using spinning gear do not have the ability to use baits this small without the clumsy addition of a bobber or weight.

Flies that can be good for the dock lights in a picture

A Small Section of my Dock Light Fly Box

Fly fishing for snook on dock lights in the summer can be much different from the winter approach. The summer brings hot days and warm water. Warm water will make snook lethargic and they feed much less during the day. Once the sun goes down and the water begins to cool, snook become active and are eager to find food. Summer dock lights are often inundated by white bait. Pilchards, scaled sardines, threadfins and other baits collect around dock lights and snook become extremely active.

Fly anglers targeting summer snook on dock lights should be armed with a variety of baitfish patterns. EP minnow patterns are a good place to start. EP flies in white and chartreuse can be great producers. Flies made from feathers have their place in the fly box as well. Feathered flies land softly and that can be critical around wary snook. Sparsely tied feather flies in the 3-4” range with very little or no flash are solid options.

Generally speaking, fly fishing anglers will be able to utilize much larger fly patterns in warm water conditions. However, there will be times when a fly angler should be mindful of going to smaller fly patterns. A strong outgoing tide in the summer can flush thousands of tiny shrimp near the surface. This is a time when fly anglers should focus on downsizing as most snook around dock lights will be keyed into these small crustaceans.

A large dock light snook held by an angler

JT Pulled a Big Snook off of the Dock Lights

How to Hook & Fight a Snook on a Fly Rod

One of the largest challenges for fly fishing anglers fishing saltwater or dock lights for the first time is the strip set. Traditional fly fishing hook sets call for the rod to be raised and then the use of the entire rod to fight the fish. This is known as the ‘trout set’ and it does not work well for snook on dock lights. The challenge is overriding the brain’s circuitry that causes the angler to instinctively raise their rod tip.

The absence of hard strip set on dock lights often leads to the snook coming unpinned in the middle of the fight or not getting hooked at all. I’ve only found one method for overcoming the learned behavior of the trout set. During every retrieve, the fly angler must glue their elbow and forearm to their hip and point the rod tip at the fly they’re retrieving and keep the rod tip as low to the water as possible. The only way to hook the snook then is by grabbing the line with the stripping hand and pulling it quickly straight back until you feel the snook.

Once the snook is hooked, the line must stay as tight as possible and the urge to raise the rod tip during the fight must be overcome. Raising the rod tip during the fight is known as ‘high sticking’. High sticking a sizeable snook while dock light fishing is a great way to completely lose control of the fight.  It’s also a fantastic way to break the fly rod. It’s important for the fly angler to remember where the power on the rod is.

The power in most fly rods is in the butt section; the first four feet of the rod. That’s where the angler needs to put the weight of the snook during the fight. Fly anglers that fail to do this will be completely manhandled by a snook of a lifetime.

Keeping the tip of the fly rod pointed towards the fish for most of the fight gives the fly angler the best opportunity to land a trophy snook. When a big snook runs toward a piling, the fish must be stopped. This is done with the rod pointed at the fish and grabbing the fly line. This is the only way to turn these big fish. Most of the time the fluorocarbon leader holds and the fish is turned.

From the moment a fly angler hooks a big snook on a dock light, the clock starts ticking. How long will the leader last before it’s sawed in half by the snook?  Snook have a terrible reputation of wearing through fluorocarbon or monofilament leaders. There is no sense in worrying about it while you’re fighting that big snook. The key is checking the leader throughout the evening and replacing or retying as necessary. The goal is to have the leader in excellent condition before each fish.

Two friends holding up a large snook

Two Old Friends Enjoying a Night on the Dock Lights

The Typical Dock Light Experience          

No dock light trip in Sarasota, FL is the same, so there is no typical experience. Every night is different and usually the fishing changes throughout each night. Fly fishing is still fishing and snook can be notoriously temperamental at times. But there are usually peak times every evening when snook become aggressive. The key on slower nights is to be at the right dock light during the peak time.

Some dock lights are notorious for holding big snook. There is no definitive pattern that a fly angler can use to determine which dock lights hold the biggest snook. The only way to find out is to get out and do your homework. There are a number of dock lights spread throughout Sarasota that hold large snook. On the best nights, I can position my skiff on anchor next to one of these big snook dock lights and fly anglers deliver cast after cast at these large fish. On the best nights, we spend hours delivering flies to snook on one dock light. When we have the right fly and deliver it at the right angle and the snook are in the right mood, it’s spectacular fishing.

An angler holds a snook caught on a fly rod on the dock lights

Charlie’s First Snook on the Fly was a Dandy

Other nights we may need to work harder for our snook. We may spend only fifteen minutes on one light before heading off to the next dock light. The tide may be weak, or the snook might not be happy, so we keep moving until we find the dock light with happiest snook.

List of Best Dock Lights in Sarasota

Sarasota, Florida has some of the best dock light fishing available in Florida. Multiple areas in Sarasota  provide excellent dock light fishing. Following is a list of my favorite areas to run fly fishing charters for snook on dock lights:

1) Siesta Key has some of the best dock light snook fishing available for fly anglers. The backbone of the Siesta Key dock light fishery is known as the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is a long expansive canal system located on the northern end of the island. It has numerous canals branching off of it. Dock lights and snook are plentiful here and fly fishing anglers could spend an entire night in this system without fishing every light.

2) Lido Key is perfectly located to provide access to excellent dock light fishing to the north, south, and east. There are two boat launches on or near Lido Key. The Ken Thompson Boat Ramp is on the island and Centennial Park directly across from Lido Key in downtown Sarasota has another very nice boat ramp where fly anglers can launch their skiffs.  Bird Key which is a small key between Lido and Sarasota has an abundance of dock lights and snook for fly fishing anglers to choose from.

3) Longboat Key is just north of Lido Key and will give fly anglers an overwhelming number of snook and dock lights to choose from. Longboat Key is a long barrier island that has extensive canal systems running through nearly the entire east side of the island. The biggest challenge for fly anglers here will be eliminating the nonproductive lights and finding dock lights with large snook that are willing eaters.

4) Casey Key, Osprey, Laurel, Nokomis, &Venice make up the boundaries of the most historic dock light snook fishing locations in all of Florida. Snook Alley is a place like no other. Fly anglers targeting their first snook will appreciate the hydrology of this place and enjoy  the benefit of consistently great tidal flow. The water in Snook Alley is always moving somewhere. Since snook prefer moving water to feed, Snook Alley always has feeding snook somewhere. This place is the mecca of dock light fishing for snook with a fly rod. Catching your first snook on a fly rod here is special.

5) Sarasota’s Bay side has a host of bays, canals, and creeks peppered with dock lights holding snook. The Intracoastal Waterway provides consistent current in the bays. Sarasota Bay, Roberts Bay, and Little Sarasota Bay all hold some very large snook on dock lights. Fly anglers appreciate the bonus species like redfish, tarpon, and seatrout.

If you are interested in taking a dock light fly fishing trip for snook, you can contact me via email brian@quietwatersfishing.com  or by phone 941-400-6218. Quiet Waters also has plenty of daytime options focusing on the flats, or specific species like redfish, snook, seatrout, and tarpon.  Quiet Waters also tailors trips for anglers who prefer traditional light tackle with artificial baits and lures. A combination of fly and light tackle spinfishing is always available.

See You on the Water Soon,

Captain Brian Boehm
Quiet Waters Fishing
941-400-6218
Guide at CB’s Saltwater Outfitters
Sarasota, FL