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I had this problem with visual light sensors circuit. What I did was built a wheatstone bridge circuit with sensors on two opposite sides of the bridge and two resistors for the other two legs. Since it is a balanced bridge, the output is zero when light hit both sensors. When one sensor received light from my transmitter, the bridge became unbalanced and I detected it. This thing worked great! Completely insensitive to ambient light but detected the modulated light wave easily.
normally you use a transimpedance-amplifier with a high-pass-filter. the high-pass-characteristic can be integrated as a feedback path which feeds back a dc to low-frequency current. in this way you can get a rather high dynamic range / and snr for the whole system.
The IR plastic material that only passes IR is a good start. The sunlight will cause a constant current to flow which has two effects. One is to put a DC bias on your circuit. The other is to make broad band noise. The cure for both of these problems is to use a pulsing signal for the desired one and at a high frequency. Use a bandpass amplifier in the receive path.