Fly gear is especially effective because the fish key in on small baits, and the fly offers a subtle presentation. It's also great sport, as I soon discovered.
Grassett instructs his anglers to cast beyond the rim of light and let the fly sweep through the illuminated cone, taking up slack as it does. The same technique works well with smaller soft-plastic jigs, like the D.O.A. C.A.L. series shad tails or 4-inch jerkbaits rigged weedless or with a 1/8-ounce jig head.
"The key when selecting lures is to match the bait and size," Grassett explained. "Most dock fish are targeting smaller baits, but in the spring, when the natural shrimp get bigger, 1/4-ounce plastic shrimp are very effective.
"When the bite is really on, I may get as many as 10 fish off a dock before I move," he said. "Other nights I might only catch a couple before they shut down and I try another spot. It just depends on how aggressive they are. If you get a good fish, the first thing it'll do is run back under the dock. Moving tides are best, especially on a new moon, because the shadow lines are more distinct. Dock fishing is good all year long, but the winter months are prime. Those fish will continue to feed until the water temperatures dip below 60 degrees." Water temperatures dictate daytime snook tactics too.
Rules of the Road
The next morning, Grassett and I launched in Sarasota Bay only to be greeted by an early cold front and easterly winds. With the cooling water, the fish had moved off the beaches and scattered into the bay. By the middle of March, many of those fish return to the beach troughs, Grassett said. As we cast jigs along the shore and over flats, the soft-spoken guide explained his daytime strategy.
"Ideal flats depths are 18 inches to three feet," he told me. "I look for snook along the edges of bars or in potholes on the flats. With really big tides, I'll also work along mangrove shorelines. You don't catch as many as at night, but those you catch are quality fish. A big snook for the Sarasota area is a 30-incher-plus."
Grassett typically uses soft-plastic lures during the day, although topwater plugs like MirrOlure Top Dogs and Heddon Zara Spooks are also good choices. On clear days Grassett ties on brighter jigs or jerkbaits, such as silver and glow patterns, while in overcast conditions he goes with darker colors. Contrasting colors, like in D.O.A. Carbonated lures, also trigger plenty of strikes.
"I like to slowly swim the shad tails with the occasional subtle twitch," he said. "With the jerkbaits, I tell my anglers to give it a very distinct twitch with the rod tip, let it fall and repeat. With either, I'm using the lightest jig head I can get away with, usually 1/16-ounce. That helps it from getting hung up on the bottom. And I'll often add a chug head and keep the rod tip up when it first lands so it spits water. That's real enticing."
The last two winters in Florida have been hard on cold-sensitive snook. Those that survived the frigid conditions are that much tougher and challenging now. But that's OK with Grassett. After all, you don't get to the top of the rankings by being a wuss.