Introduction to Fly Fishing the Indian River Lagoon
I started fly fishing at about the age of 13 with my grandfather’s fly rod, mostly for bluegills and bass in the few freshwater ponds I found growing up near Satellite Beach, Florida, and continued for a while after moving to Titusville, mostly at Fox Lake. My rod was a 5 wt. freshwater rod, not really designed for the seatrout and redfish of summer fly fishing Missoula the Indian River Lagoon system, though I did manage a few seatrout here and there using small streamers designed for freshwater rainbow and other species of trout normally associated with cold-water northern and mountain streams.
I have now purchased a fly fishing outfit designed for saltwater fishing and fly fishing is rapidly becoming my favorite way of fishing, especially when wading our extensive grass flats associated with the Indian River Lagoon system, and at the same time I’m starting to believe that you will catch more fish than with conventional tackle, as flies will more readily imitate many of the smaller invertebrates, and baitfish species present within the lagoon system. In fact no other artificial in my opinion imitates our summer populations of Glass Minnows, or Bay Anchovies, quite like a light colored streamer. While flies typically do not have the action that many plugs, spoons, and other lures have, the feathers or other materials used in their construction usually provide an undulating movement governed by a combination of your stripping action during the retrieve and minute water movements that give the fly a lifelike look that can often drive gamefish wild. Plus they are usually smaller in size that other artificials, which can not only draw strikes from more wary fish, but a greater variety of species can be caught as well. With the same # 6 “Crazy Charley” pattern I have caught fish ranging to 2 lb. Seatrout to Pinfish. Not that I really get excited about catching the pinfish, but if I manage to catch a legal size Mangrove Snapper while fishing for Redfish or Seatrout, I’m not going to complain.
First of all, with saltwater fly fishing you will be casting larger, more wind resistant flies than you would with a freshwater trout rod. Therefore you will be using a larger more powerful fly rod throwing a heavier line. In fly fishing, unlike spinning, it’s the weight of the line that carries to lure during the cast, not the lure carrying the line. With that said, let’s explore what you will need to get started fly fishing the Indian River Lagoon.
Fly Rod, 7 to 9 wt., 9 ft. Mine is a Redington Crosswater, 9 ft. 8 wt. four piece.
Fly Reel with a reliable drag. I use a Phlueger Trion that holds about 100 yards of backing and an 8 wt. fly line.
Fly Line, 7 to 9 wt. weight forward taper or saltwater taper. For best year around results get two lines, one formulated for warm weather and one for cold. The warm water or “summer” lines will get too stiff during the winter, while the lines designed for cold weather or “winter” lines will get to limp for effective casting in the summer. I bought mine at the fly shop in Titusville and Gary used wrapping thread to put loops in both ends of my fly lines, and then sealed the wrappings with rod varnish to keep them from unraveling. This allows me to change lines as the weather changes, while the front loops allow ease in putting on new premade leaders.
Backing, about 100 yards or more. A fly line is typically 90 ft. in length, not enough to fight a large fish that make a long run like a large redfish on the flats could do.
Leaders; you can make your own tapered leaders with increasingly lighter sections of line, but having factory made tapered leaders is just too convenient! A tapered leader, one that starts out thick at the fly line and tapers to a smaller diameter is virtually a must to get the fly to lay down right after the cast. Mine taper to a twelve lb. tippet.
Flies; I like the “Clouser Minnows” and the “Crazy Charley’s”. These are tied so that when in the water the hook rides with the hook up. This prevents you from snagging gobs of seagrass or mangrove roots while fishing the shallow shoreline flats. Other shrimp and minnow patterns will work as well. I use these tied on about a # 6 hook.
You will need something to cut your line in order to change flies, etc. fingernail clippers are excellent for this and can be attached to your tackle bag with a lanyard, always keeping it accessible. You will also need a way to remove a hook from a fish (hopefully). Longnose pliers can be used, or many flyfishers use medical forceps which can be clamped to a shirt pocket, or the strap of a tackle bag for easy access, especially if wading or fishing from a kayak. I also carry a boga grip which allows me to grab a fish by the bottom jaw, remove the hook, and release the fish without ever actually touching the fish with my hands and removing it’s protective slime coating. I clip this to the strap of my fishing tackle bag or a belt loop while wading. That way, it’s always there when I need it.
Last you will need a tackle bag to carry your equipment. While there are many specialized fly fishing tackle bags and vests, some costing hundreds of dollars, the Plano bag I got at a local department store works just fine and cost me under $20.00. These will usually come with one of their molded plastic tackle boxes with the moveable dividers, but will hold several. You can buy as many as you need for a few bucks each, or, if your wife is into crafts and uses Plano boxes to store beads and other small craft items, you can dump them in a drawer and steal the boxes. Just be prepared to fish as much as possible, camp for weeks on end, and eat what you catch because it will not be safe to sleep at home, and you will likely no longer have access to your bank account.
Dean R. Pettit is the author of Space Coast Outdoors, an online resource for self guided outdoor adventures along Florida’s Space Coast, and includes locations and other information about Fishing, Birdwatching, Kayaking, Hiking, Biking, Backcountry Camping, Surfing, Windsurfing, Snorkeling, Golf, and more.