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Indian River Lagoon Slam

Here on the space coast we have two very unique bodies of water. First Mosquito lagoon which starts south of New Smyrna Beach and runs almost to the launch pads of Kennedy Space center. Slightly to the south west you will find the Indian River lagoon system which runs from Scottsmoor, which is north of Titusville down to Stuart. Between both Lagoon systems they encompass hundreds of miles down the east coast of Florida.

Mosquito Lagoon is a mostly non-tidal, hyper salinity body of water with miles of shallow water lined with mangrove islands and shorelines. Indian River Lagoon also has similar flats low tidal movement yet does not have the number of small islands and backwaters Mosquito Lagoon has.

Traveling from one to the next is via Haulover Canal. A no wake zone makes travel time approx. 20 minutes but is the only way between the two Lagoons and provide passage as Florida’s Intracoastal water way.

Depending on type of year, trip length and species targeted, we might fish just one side or a mix of both. Jason and I decided to launch at the new Bairs Cove ramp located in Haulover Canal.

Our morning started early as we had located some larger tarpon in the River and wanted to see if we could cross the King off the list early. We had a few looks and a narrow miss before I called off the tarpon fishing.

Our first stop was an area we had seen large spawning trout. They are tough to get to commit to a lure so we arrived a little early before the sun was too bright. We slowly moved across the flat scanning for shadows or the slightest movement to tip off a big trout. We found a slight depression in the flat from an old prop scar which many flats fish use these bottom contours as highways.

About 20 yds down I spot a “log”. It is usually 70/30 on whether it is a log or a trout. Don’t get caught ignoring that 30 percent. Casts are free and Foss cashed in. Great cast, two quick movements and gills flare followed by the disappearance of the jig. This fish was one of the harder fighting and more aerobatic trout we have seen in a while.

Indian River Trout

With the warm water I decided to hope out so we could keep her in the net while I snapped a few photos. It is trout like these we need to be sure to look after.

As the trout swam off safely, I noticed a pair of smaller black drum ease by the boat. We had not seen them in this area in a few weeks but worth a shot. They can be picky eaters but are fun to catch and have quite a bit of torque.

It wasn’t long until Foss had his first shot, then second and the third. Something wasn’t right. I call for a color change and we swap out the jig. I thought it was all for naught, but finally after 30min. we had a school approaching at one o’clock. Cast was on the money and we were tight instantly.

Indian River Drum

Another half hour chasing the drum around to no avail was enough for me. Next on the target list was snook. Foss loves them, I love them, it is exciting fishing, like hand to hand combat.

Our first stop did not pan out as we had water that was a little too milky, so we pressed on.

Our second stop we were rewarded with two small snook right off the bat. Then the lull. It took a couple hundred more yards and then it happened. I call out spot. Foss hits it. In a slow motion explosion of water, scales, mangrove branches and gill rattling headshake, he is on.

Only two ways these situations can go. Good or Bad. Do it enough and you can smile at either outcome. Thankfully, we won this round. Foss did everything he could with the fish and I made sure the boat was nimble and in position for any move. Team work makes the dream work.

Indian River Snook

Although we were missing a redfish for a more traditional slam, the black drum came off the bench and played his role. Book it as a slam.

Mosquito Lagoon Cold Front

Cold Front Seatrout and Redfish

Well, here we are, in one of those famous April cold fronts. The wind had most of the week shut down but low and behold we have a cold, clear, crips day and we are ready to rock.  We launched at Beacon 42 around mid-morning to allow all the boat ramp antics to take place before we arrived.  We made our way into one of our normal haunts and immediately started seeing fish. The water was crystal clean and although the fish were quite spooky, Jason got a small redfish to eat quickly. 

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish

The traffic on the water was typical for a weekend day with beautiful weather.  This added pressure, coupled with the clear water never helps.  We were just going to have to slow down and use the clear skies to our advantage.  I decided to push out and adjust our approach, which proved to be the right move.  The angle of attack was not perfect, but we hid our shadows well and that was the difference. The first trout of the day was a beautiful fish. Not a giant but enough to wear the tag Gator.  

Mosquito Lagoon Gator Trout

As we proceeded across the flat we noticed that was was not alone.  Jason, called me off the platform to take a shot with the fly rod. He did not have to twist my arm. My bow session was a quick one. We spotted a large fish on the edge of a pothole. She was at 11 O’Clock, quartering away. That is my jam. Luckily, I kicked off the rust quickly and dropped the fly just beyond her reach. Two hops and she ate. Barely having to move a muscle…just the way they like it.  The colder water had her fired up quick when I came tight. She took me to the reel but not much further and I guided her into the net if fairly short order.  

Mosquito Lagoon Gator Trout on Fly

That is all I needed. Foss is back up. 

We were contemplating a move but decided otherwise as we had a clear path with not another boat in sight. The flat and shoreline ahead was an area I had not fished in a while but with the clean water it was worth a look. It did take us a couple hundred yards before we began seeing fish but they were grouped nicely and eager to eat. This stretch was packed with smaller trout and Jason would go four and five casts in a row with a bite. 

We were approaching a series of pot holes so a quick platform switch and I had a small trout on my first cast.  A basic shrimp fly was all it took.  The trout were eating it to the point it was unraveling.  That was my queue to climb back up top and give the bow back to Foss. As luck would have it, his next shot was to a belly crawling redfish. We joked that was the shot I wanted and he made it count.  

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish

We moved one last time as we finally were approaching another skiff. We gave way picked another stretch. The trout followed. It was almost comical the amount of small trout he was catching.  As the sun began to fade we decided to make the run back and be thankful for the day we had. “Wish they were all like this”, Foss said. 

Mosquito Lagoon Sunset

 

Double Digit Quest

Everyone likes to set goals for themselves, it drives us on the water, in our careers and personal lives. Some do it to get better or to push out of your comfort zone.  I really love to fish, like really really, but even more I love the how and why. I truly find my happiness on the poling platform rather than the casting…  

One day while on the water almost two years back Foss and I were talking about our future trips and goals. He mentioned he wanted to catch a 10lb Bonefish and a 10lb Seatrout.  Ambitious goals to say the least but we have been close a few time.  Recently, we were talking about the chance at the 10lb. trout after a number of excellent days on the water.  For those that frequently target large trout and chase records the pre-spawn is a window of opportunity as those fish are feeding and gaining weight to prepare to spawn. 

The last two years we have been researching, following those who routinely chase big fish as well as actively searching for where these fish congregate during these prime times.  We wanted to be sure when this opportunity presented itself, we would be ready. 

The 2019/2020 fall and winter were proving to be excellent for trout fishing.  With the numbers up we were optimistic for our shot at that double digit fish.  A couple months ago, we found an area that I previously neglected due to recent poor water quality.  As winter came the Mosquito Lagoon water levels dropped, the water cooled, it began clearing and with a mild winter we started seeing seagrass appear. That was the sign I was waiting for to revisit an area I had all but given up on. 

The first time in we saw good numbers of laid up fish that were not as spooky as other areas of the lagoon. Whether it was new found habitat or lack of pressure, it was promising.  The problem was the way these fish were setup. We were forced to approach this area in a way that was pressuring them and they got uncomfortable very quick.  We put our time into finding out when they would come and go so we had to beat them to the punch and make them come to us. 

Whether in the field or in the water I am much more of a spot and stalk rather than a sit and wait. It was killing me but felt it would work. 

I forget how many times we went in, passed on shots at fish and then moved on empty handed. We made it to a point, where we felt it wasn’t going to happen. Their pattern was changing and we were unable to get a shot at the right fish, so we expanded our search. 

We were exploring new areas as the next New Moon was approaching quickly and wanted to be ready for our next good shot.  The day it happened we were actually catching snook as the weather and wind began to change. It dawned on me the conditions were setting up for that spot to be right but was worried we were a little too early.  The New Moon was 3 days out but everything else felt right and we had to make the run.  

Mosquito Lagoon Snook

As we were approaching the area, I began to see a few fish in an area we had not seen initially them. That was the tip we needed. We took the long way around and as we were approaching a fish we felt might do it, I caught a glimpse of a “log” on the shoreline about 20’ feet out to Jason’s 11 O’Clock.  The fish was laid up in very skinny water and I told Foss he had to pitch it past the fish into the roots to have a shot.  One quick underhand pitch into the roots, a soft hop into the water and we see her gills flare and the lure disappears.  We both froze in disbelief for a split second (that felt like forever) before I called out, “She ate it”. 

Not only was it a great eat, it was on such a short string. To see it go down, that close, was something special. She tore off in a tornado of mud.  Went under the skiff twice and after a quick game of cat and mouse, she was safely in the net. (Another reason I carry a net) We handled her carefully.  Weighed her as she barely eclipsed the 10lb mark on the certified Boga, shot a photo and sent her on her way. 

Mosquito Lagoon Seatrout

No, it wasn’t a record fish but we put in the work and accomplished a goal we had set almost two years prior. 

The Season of Seatrout

For a number of months now the larger trout have been a blast. We have had tons of smaller trout in the area, more than I have seen in a while, eager to jump on a paddle tail or fly and it has been a welcome sight for a number of reasons. Ask anyone around and you will hear the same lack of redfish stories in the area. We do go in spurts but all in all, the redfishing has been down for January. We all know why but only some want to publicize the poor condition the lagoon is in.

I get it, most depend on it for their livelihood but I have been in the game of guiding, booking and hosting trips since 2007 and the number one rule is never lie to clients. It will bite you in the ass every time. I have seen it plenty of times from different outfitters and guides. They are incredibly shortsighted and feel they have to paint a glorious picture to get that client to book to then provide a poor experience. Guess what, they won’t be back. That was a one and done. I was always taught you want repeat clients. Do the right thing, work hard and you will have clients for many years to come.  You might even make lifelong friends in the process.

Speaking of the hard times on the Lagoon, thankfully we have a number of dedicated individuals who are fighting very hard to bring Mosquito Lagoon and many other parts of Florida back from the hard times. Check out Tailer Trash fly fishing podcast and their Dingy Derby coming April 4, 2020. It is to benefit the New Smyrna Beach Marine Discovery Center and Mosquito Lagoon. Check out the event: The 2nd Annual Dingy Derby and RSVP for the Pre-Party Thingy before the Dingy the Night before. Participate or Donate, it is a great time and a great cause that raised over $5,000 last year.

Let’s not be all doom and gloom. Mother Nature and her estuaries are very resilient and have been fighting man for many years. For the rough times Mosquito Lagoon has seen, we still see fish, have excellent days and make memories with friends and clients. So, if you are in the area, do not hesitate to reach out for a trip with myself or if I am unable to take you, I have a few fellow guides I am happy to reccommend.  They are not only super fishy but good people who will shoot you straight and provide a wonderful trip.

We were talking about Seatrout at some point, right? We had a few trips around the end of the holiday and the beginning of the new year that were stellar. Those larger Seatrout will begin to spawn in the Spring March – May and just like Largemouth Bass and other species, the pre-spawn feed it a blast.

Indian River Seatrout

Jason and I ventured out to a few areas we have seen larger fish during times and moon phases that usually have the trout active. Although we had some cloudy days which can make stalking these weary fish tough, we had a few short windows and were able to capitalize.

Mosquito Lagoon Seatrout

Foss who is typically armed with the trusty DOA Shirmp, was putting on a clinic.  We were stalking some larger ones, but blind casting into groups of the smaller fish, was almost too easy. I had enough watching the show and Foss was kind enough to give me some bow time. I pulled out the long rod and had a fly I grabbed from Flymen Fishing Co. and was rewarded quickly. There is just something about a big trout on the fly rod, it is a blast and hard to pass up the opportunity when presented.

Seatrout on Fly

Knot on Call

A few times a year I have the pleasure of pushing around a local physician who typically brings his nephew or a fellow colleague. He is a great guy to be around and a hell of an angler, so I always look forward to his trips.

Our day was to being down in the Mosquito Lagoon and fish the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. We were in that time of year where the temps are cooling a little, the water is dropping(should be) and the water cleans up. Well, with all the named storms that did fly-bys on Florida this year, we had water stacked in from late summer all the way into late fall.

Thankfully, is not the norm but when a very active hurricane season and a number of near misses it has been the card we were dealt. It is frustrating for me as well as a number of guides that depend on sight-fishing, mostly with fly rods, to put clients on fish. We could cut and soak bait or blind cast all day but for me, that is just not my game. I like the stalk and the visual aspect of fishing, or I would just assume not go and reschedule.

This morning was calm and although the water was up, I was prepared with stretches of clean water where redfish had been patrolling regularly. A short run and a flip of the coin to see who was to take the bow first, we had a redfish buzz the tower almost immediately, a good sign. We had to fight the sun a little for a short stretch but it was a necessary evil due to the nature of the location. Two good shots and one pulled hook was all she wrote for the first location. Time to move.

We made a short run to be greeted by porpoises feeding heavily at our next spot, guess they found the same school I did. Move again.

The next area requires a long pole through our infamous Pole and Troll zone. Reason I call it infamous is because a number of people feel it has a bad reputation and refuse to obey the rules, or they are ignorant or they subscribe to the ignorance is bliss idiom. I digress and need to stow this soapbox.

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish

Anyway, we pole a long stretch to find clean water and immediately greeted by active fish. Two boats enter the same area but with head nods and slight waves we all pay equal respect and each boat lands nice fish from the area. It is a wonderful sight seeing everyone respect distance, the fish and all benefit. A quick photo and the redfish eases back to join the group. A few more shots to nervous redfish yield no takes so we push our way out.

So…Two Surgeons Step on the Bow

I continued my planned milk run but each location shows a boat(s) already posted up. I continue to check boxes and move on. It got to a point where the boats where on every shoreline and I was not about to force my way in to just find redfish that were pressured and run over all day. I defer to the Docs. “Yall want to make a long run that will have less boats and give solid shots?” They knew the answer and it always feels good to have clients that trust your judgement. The Tohatsu wound up and off we went. There was a heavy chop for most of the run but they did not notice. The 12 Degree Chittum Mangrove makes up for Mother Nature’s Attitude.

The long run pays off with a handful of solid trout in half a dozen casts. They are setup on the edges of the shadows.   All we need to do was present the feathers within striking distance and the trout were more than willing to play. This continued for more than a hundred yards.   Instead of trading the bow every fish it was every third fish, a good feeling for sure.

Indian River One Hander

The rest of the afternoon played itself out the same.  Trout were eager, a few black drum were shy and the snook were snobby. All and all, a blast with clients who have become good friends, the way it should be.

Indian River Trout

I am very lucky to still keep in touch with a number of clients and outfitters during my Trek Safaris days and hosted trips. That was the break that shot me down this path.  Thankfully I can still guide great people in beautiful locations.  That will never get old.