Night Fly Fishing Guide

Tampa Bay is unique in the sense that we are surrounded in with an urban atmosphere with Tampa being a big business district along with St. Petersburg. A lot of people transit to and from work/home and over time our cities have built big bridges in demand for the population increase in our area. These bridges have lights on them along with all the people who live on the water and put lights out on the end of their dock. These lights do a lot of things depending on their location but the main attraction to them is bait and we all know what follows the bait!

Night fishing revolves entirely around the moon and what it’s doing. The species we are targeting (tarpon and snook) feed primarily at night and rely on the light that is around to see their prey. In an urban setting, there is an abundance of artificial light (dock lights and street lights) that our quarry uses to ambush their prey and we use to see them! If there is a Full Moon, the abundance of natural light can sometimes impede our ability to see them or allow them to move off into areas where they have a better ambush point to feed effectively. In a rural setting, this would be reversed like down in the everglades or the keys. The full moon can do supernatural things to an environment not tainted by big buildings and lights but that’s not what we’re here to talk about! Solunar periods play a huge role in activity whether you’re out during the day or night. Major periods last for two hours and occur when the moon is directly above and below the earth and minors last for an hour and happen when the moon is just about above/below the horizon. These periods are times in which we can expect to see more activity and when timed with a strong tide, they can make it seem like all the stars have aligned!

sunset in tampa

We are so fortunate to have so many snook in our area and available year round for us to fish for at night. It’s a fish we see on most of our dock lights in the canal systems created for people to navigate their boats to and from their houses. Snook will fluctuate in and out of the canals depending on the time of year and what the water temperature is doing. During the winter months, we can expect them to be in the back, where there isn’t a ton of tidal exchange and the water can warm up during the day. In our summer months, look for dock lights that receive a lot of water flow which will in return, bring a lot of food to them. Their metabolism is directly affected by the temperature and we can even use this as guide when it comes to fly selection too. The angler at which we present our fly can make a big difference as well. The tide brings food and oxygen to these fish so they will always be positioned with their noses straight into the current. Casting up tide and retrieving with the direction the water is moving will produce more fish than the opposite.

man grabbing fish at night
night fly fishing
night fly fishing on boat
man with fish at night
Fly rod anglers fishing at night for snook prefer to use 8 and 9 weight rods only because we need a little power to pull the fish away from structure. Only about 10-15% of fish actually make it to the reel when fishing at night with everything being hand to hand combat. Full floating fly lines do everything we need in this scenario with only a hand full of situations an intermediate could be beneficial. Leader set ups should be kept simple only because we can expect to be retying after every fish and due to the structure. Starting off with a pice of 40 pound for the butt section tapering down to 20 pound for the bite section with a total length of 10-12 feet. It is so important to retie your fly if there is an abrasion on the leader, down by the fly, after catching a fish. Not only is it weak but it has more to do with the refraction of light which the fish see and results to negative reactions on the fly. Some guys will go as heavy as 40 pound for a bite section but this heavier guage leader is stiff and thick. Sure, you’re going to land every fish you hook but the thinner 20 pound will be less visible because it’s thinner and will allow the fly the move better resulting in more bites equating to more fish.
Selecting a pattern for snook at night isn’t all too complicated and it’s really based off a couple things but the most blantant queue is what’s visible on the light itself. Summer time fishing, we will always see lots of bait and it could be super small and unidentifyable or sardines. Norm Zeigler’s schminnow is a great pattern and easy enough to add your own variation but the idea is small, white, and weightless. Weedguards are also a necessity on all dock light flies. They allow the angler to put the fly anywhere without worry of catching the dock and it’s vital to get as close to structure as possible. When targeting snook in the winter, small weightless shrimp flies are hard to beat but when selecting a fly, look for a backward swimming shrimp rather than a forward facing shrimp. It’s easier to fool a fish with a shrimp fly that snaps backwards “naturally” rather than one you have to swim slow to make it look real.

We are so fortunate to be surrounded by a seemingly unlimited amount of canal systems and lights to fish for snook. Not only is it a blast catching fish but the ambience alone is worth a trip. Come out and enough a night under the stars!

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