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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

Bonefish with Foss and Johan

Before all this COVID-19 fun began, Foss and I were due to make a Miami run and the weather was lining up to be a solid day.  My good friend Johan, had a few open days and said “leave your boat at the house and just ride down and I will push”.  Did not have to twist my arm to get a little bow time.  Foss and I loaded up at 1am and we were southbound and down. 

It was a typical day for this early in the year, winds from the northeast  and plenty of sun. Thankfully there was a warming trend from a light cold snap so the fish were back to being happy. The excitement is palpable as we begin to see the guitar shaped Hard Rock hotel. Not far behind are the high rise building of downtown Miami. A quick phone call to Johan, “Hey boys, y’all are early!” he said. “Naa we are just ready”, I replied.  

We load up our stuff, catch a few of the boat ramp antics as we idle out before Johan puts her on plane. There is nothing like feeling those emerald waters beneath your feet as the warm South Florida sun hits your face. Love our Florida winters.  The run across was easy.  Just a slight roll and a tiny bit of chop. We were planning on hunting tailing fish early in the day and then move as the tide changed. 

Foss and I have spent countless hours on a skiff, panga, bass boat.  You name it, we have fished it. So although Johan was a little hesitant, he was impressed we could simultaneously fish on the bow. I took the high post on the casting platform as Foss hanged ten on the nose. 

My first shot at a large tailing fish was a no go. First cast was good but a little off the mark as I didn’t trust the wind.  A quick pickup and put back was right in the zone, “I don’t think he saw it”, Johan barked. I felt the same. The fish just never reacted, just kept on his way as he moved out of range. 

The next fish came in at our two o’clock.  Rather than spinning the boat, Foss took his shot with the spinning rod.  Good cast, two hops and the fish blows out. oh well. We stalked a few more fish over the course of the next hour or so and as we approached the edge we saw a small group of fish patrolling an old prop scar.  I passed the backhand shot to Foss and with a great cast he was hooked up.  Two strong runs and the fish was boatside, unhooked and on his way safely. 

Good time to move.  We made a short and an adjustment to the plan with the shifting winds. I was on point and had a nice shot at incoming fish. The fly lands, a fish shoots out of the group, pins the fly.  I come tight but only for a split second and he is gone. My follow up shot, went ignored. Shit.  No time to sulk.

A small pair are approaching just as the last group. It was an exactly replay of the last shot but once I was tight, he was mine. Certainly not the size we were looking for but just a little singing of the reel before a quick boat-side release and I was all good. 

Early Bonefish

After sticking a few fish we decided to go look at some new water we had been eyeing. It was a little bit of a run but no one seemed to care. We exchanged a little time on the poling platform just looking and getting a feel for the area. It is always nice to see how the water moves across the flat, the sun angle, bottom topography.  It all matters and something you have to see in person. 

We did start seeing some larger singles and once we got Foss in range it didn’t take long.  This was a little better fish and had the attitude of his big brother. Jason was pulling away at this point but no one is really keeping score.  

The last stop of the day gave me two shots at really big fish.  Admittedly, I botched the first one. Just misjudged it. We were nose to nose and as we were both closing in on one another.  The cast long and leadered him right down his back and the fly just past his tail. I wasn’t happy.  That was the big fish I wanted and blew it.

Thankfully I did get another chance but this one wasn’t to be either. It all lined up right, cast, angle, fly swung in and he just wasn’t having it.   As the sun was getting a little low we decided to make our way off and see if we could get one more shot.  As I mentioned earlier, Foss had been on, and this final shot was no different. Same shot, 2 o’clock moving to twelve…good cast. Great eat!  

As he was fighting the fish I call out a shark, he was a little ways out but knew something was up.  Thankfully, we were able to keep the boat in between the two and as Johan hustled to close the gap between us and the Bonefish, Foss added a little extra pressure that would either bring him in or break him off safely.  This is one of the reasons we carry a net. We got just close enough to net him before he decided to make another break for it which could’ve done him in.

We supported him in the net as we pushed off the flat to the point we could lower the motor and idle away. Once we moved to an area that was all clear Foss hopped out and got a quick photo before releasing him.  

Bonefish to end the day

Just another great day with even better friends. A long ride home but reminiscing about the day on the water guides us home safely. 

Still Waiting on Dorian and Catching Redfish

I rarely, rarely fish on holiday weekends due to crowds and lack of courtesy and all things that end up on the qualified captain… but this year was different. It was Labor day weekend but the State of Florida and The Bahamas had an incredibly powerful Hurricane Dorian bearing down on both of us. Typically the holiday weekends have my wife and I headed to see friends for golf and hanging by the pool but due to the impending storm those plans were cancelled. In hindsight, we would have had plenty of time to enjoy our weekend while Dorian crawled our way but since we decided to stay put and the weather looked good another trip was due for the lagoon. Two days before, I had Guffy and Dave on the skiff for an excellent day and although we were cutting it close with weather, Foss and I decided to give it a go… and glad we did.

We arrived at the ramp to be met with only one other boat, how refreshing. All Refuge ramps were closed due to storm prep so we had to launch at Riverbreeze although we were planning on running south. A launch at daylight was met with moderately brisk east winds but those were expected. We headed south and as always, very thankful I have the 12 degree Chittum as we were met with whitecaps in open water but those were eaten for breakfast.

Our first stop yielded three small fish in about six casts as we pushed for tighter cover. That area is known for smaller schooling fish but we had our hearts set on tailing fish or bank crawlers so we pushed tighter as the approaching storm brought extra water into Mosquito Lagoon.

Dirty water Redfish

Water clarity was off but some activity ahead kept our spirts high. I swapped Foss’s paddle tail color to a dark body and the chartreuse tail hoping to get their attention. The first group of fish pushing away from us were in a hurry so I got out from behind them and picked a better angle to cut them off. We pushed ahead, got Foss into range and his first cast into the group, has the Stradic singing. This fish had a much bigger ego than his size but I always appreciate the effort and a quick photo and release and I decided to move on as two boats were poling into the bay we were in.

Mosquito Lagoon Redfish Release

Now seeing the increased water level I had a spot in mind, although a little longer run than we had planned, we both think it would be worth it. I don’t have to tell y’all, it was.

Big Mosquito Lagoon Redfish

After the long run we had the place to ourselves and the fish were happy to see us. Finding some skinnier water and backing Redfish, Foss put it where it needed to be and was hookup to an absolute stud. I would rather see one big fish eat in skinny water than catch ten blind casting! Thankfully 99% of my clients feel the same way!

Two smaller fish to hand and it was time to head in and meet the wives for lunch. Another stellar half day on Mosquito Lagoon!