By Capt. John Kumiski
Have you ever cast to 36 inches of fish in 12 inches of water?
Florida’s Indian River Lagoon system stretches for 156 miles along the Atlantic coast, but the section I call home lies all around the Kennedy Space Center- the Mosquito Lagoon to the north, the Indian River Lagoon to the west, and the Banana River Lagoon to the south. Largely surrounded by undeveloped Federal lands (the Space Center, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Canaveral National Seashore), the area supports a wide variety of wildlife and an abundant population of saltwater fish.
The lagoon offers a diverse array of fishes, but the principal species flycasters target include spotted seatrout and redfish year round, and snook, tarpon, and crevalle jacks during the summer months (May through October). Due to the landlocked nature of the lagoon here (we have no tides to speak of) the redfish are lifelong residents. Although our average redfish weigh between five to ten pounds, they frequently reach weights of 30 pounds or more. This is the only place in the world where you can find giant redfish like these on shallow flats, so we have the finest sightfishing for giant redfish on the planet. Imagine 36 inches of redfish in 12 inches of water!
The seatrout are more modest size-wise, with the average fish running somewhere between 14 and 20 inches in length. However, they frequently get to be over five pounds, and a few 30 inch fish are caught every spring.
The water clarity is usually outstanding, offering excellent sight fishing opportunities. While most anglers fish from flats skiffs, hand powered boats like canoes and kayaks are a viable method of approaching the problem, too. Inside the Wildlife Refuge, dirt roads run along the banks of the Indian River Lagoon and the Mosquito Lagoon, giving wading anglers good shots at fish during the cooler months. Sometimes you can see them tailing from your vehicle!
Most anglers use eight weight tackle, but if you cast well a six weight is usually plenty. Since you’re almost always fishing in knee deep water or less, floating lines perform best. My own leader preference for reds and trout is a 10 to 12 foot leader with a 12 or 15 pound fluorocarbon tippet. For snook and tarpon a heavier bite tippet is necessary.
Although they are fish and so can get moody, neither redfish nor seatrout are normally terribly fussy eaters. Both species usually feed opportunistically on a variety of baitfish, shrimp, and in the case of the redfish, crabs. Consequently, flies that imitate these preferred foods usually work well.
Flies should range in size from #4 to about 1/0, and should be carried in a variety of versions, from unweighted to weighted with 1/36 ounce lead eyes. Weedguards on some flies are an absolute necessity. Favorite patterns include Clouser minnows, Seaducers, bunny strip flies, Borski sliders, Merkins, bendbacks, Dupre spoonflies, and other popular saltwater patterns. I would be remiss if I failed to suggest carrying some poppers and sliders. Seatrout in particular are often suckers for a well placed surface fly, and the strikes are frequently spectacular!
When sighting conditions are poor an attractor pattern like a popper or a spoonfly is a good choice for blind casting. While this is my least favorite way to fish, if you can’t see it’s your only option. Make long casts and cover as much water as you can with your offering. If the fish are concentrated in an area this can work quite well.
The preferred method involves moving slowly (whether in a boat or on foot) looking for fish to which you can cast. While you may find a good number of seatrout in one area, they tend to not be schooled up, especially the larger ones. The redfish could be in any kind of numbers arrangement, from singles to schools with hundreds of fish.
Neither of these fish is particularly aggressive most of the time, so accurate casting is a must. Try to anticipate where the fish is going and put your fly there, allowing the fish to encounter it. If you hit the fish on the head, or draw the fly to it, it will usually spook. How you present the fly is usually very important.
Try to do your fishing during the week. The Mosquito Lagoon in particular is a popular fishing destination for local anglers and it gets busy on weekends.
Titusville is a popular place to stay for anglers fishing this area. The Fly Fisherman (321.267.0348) can supply any tackle needs you may have, as well as offer good advice.
The Indian River Lagoon offers an outstanding four season fishery. Any angler who enjoys the challenge of sight fishing for big redfish should give it a try.
Capt. John Kumiski (407.977.5207, http://www.spottedtail.com/) has been guiding fly fishers in this area for over 20 years. His latest book is titled Redfish on the Fly.