While the title carried a play on words, it was barely a suggestion of the fun and finesse that accompanied the hunt for redfish and other gamesters I had with Captain Willy Le of Native Fly Charters. For those unfamiliar with this spectacular body of water, you'll be pleased to know that the Mosquito Lagoon, as well as the Indian River and Banana River, comprise the inland estuaries of the Space Coast — a mere hour east from bustling Orlando, Fla.
|For best results with flounder, work your lure bouncing off the bottom.|
Unlike so many near-ocean coastal shallows, the Mosquito Lagoon is relatively enclosed and features minimal tidal variation expressed as water height. While the water levels can be affected by cyclones, rainfall and prolonged winds, the lagoon remains a consistently shallow place in a huge expanse.
Therefore, fishing this habitat demands a shallow draft vessel that finds its optimal expression in a technical poling skiff. Of course, there's some spots accessible to paddlers of SUP boards, canoes, and kayaks, but these non-motorized vessels simply cannot cover lots of (or big) water the way a motorized boat can. Sudden severe winds and weather have a way of making playthings of paddled vessels; so their safe usage is extremely limited in the 'Goon.
Yet vessels of all kinds are essential to the captains and anglers who ply these waters; so much so that they could even be considered essential fishing equipment. This mindset is embodied in Willy, who treats the pushpole as a natural extension of his arm with no less naturalness than he does a spin or fly rod. These are effective connections to his charter service description of sight fishing with lures and flies. This is profoundly important to newbies or return clients who learn that poling a skiff, seeing fish and casting artificials with finesse and accuracy are all spokes radiating from a wheel whose hub says "flats fishing expert."
Captain Willy is a great role model in choosing the best equipment which certainly helps to get the best results. He spared no expense in getting his Shimano rods and reels nor did he skimp on his Maverick HPX-T (tunnel hull). Willy said, "All this great tackle would be severely compromised if we couldn't get in the skinniest water right next to tailing redfish and crawling trout."
The 'Goon is a place that is generally unfriendly to wading — a boat is the answer. And not just one that floats shallow-one that runs shallow as well. Willy's skiff not only sports the aforementioned transom tunnel, but also has a raised transom so that the engine sits higher. With these two features Willy can start his boat in very shallow water to get a great "hole shot" and pop up on plane in seconds.
Anglers who run boats like this have a great responsibility to avoid disturbing or damaging any sea grass on the flats bottom. Willy tells his clients and lectures on his web site to stick to the deepest water when running to keep the bottom pristine. Moreover, Willy cautions and instructs newcomers or careless flats boats to study the local "pole and troll" zone prior to piloting so they will not run their boats within the designated area and break the law. Actually, this is all the more reason to make your initial forays into the vast estuary with guides like Willy. It will make your angling and piloting learning curve far less steep.
The finishing touch amongst Captain Willy's essential equipment is his DSLR camera which goes on every trip. In addition to guiding, Willy is a skilled professional photographer who provides his charter clients with top-notch images of their catches as well as highlights of the trip. Though this offering is increasing amongst Florida guides, the production of regular professional images is rare. And this ought to be guidance for readers and clients to emulate this practice: consider buying and bringing a good point and shoot or DSLR camera on all your fishing trips. Make it a part of your essential equipment as well. Skiff, tackle and camera form a solid tripod on which to stand a solid angling day.
Meeting & Fishing
Willy and I met through a social media site. Both of us had some fall dates open and we both committed to a Saturday to fish together. The weather gods smiled on us that day by gracing us with fairly clear skies. But the challenge that unfortunately lingered were remnants of tons of storm water, which had muddied and discolored the entire southern Mosquito Lagoon.
|Always "lead" your fish with your lure presentation and success is more likely.|
We spent the first couple of hours slightly north of this region looking for "pushing schools" of giant redfish. Though this method was not dependent on water clarity, we only saw the water hump up a few times. It was far too little activity. Willy is a dedicated waterman and always has his fingers on the liquid pulse of the Space Coast. He felt our efforts would be better rewarded much further to the north, which was blessed with cleaner waters and mullet schools in recent days. We made a long run to the pole and troll zone. As Willy eased off the throttle and cut the engine, I could see the dimensions of this refuge by getting a visual range of the channel markers. It was good to know that a big swath of shallows and shell bars was now set aside from traveling boats blowing through feeding schools of redfish, trout, and black drum.
Willy handed me a slightly heavier spinning rod in anticipation of encountering bigger redfish on this huge open water flat. As he poled in, we were delighted to see not only much clearer water but also large pods of jumping and hopefully nervous mullet. As I gazed at my new outfit, I noticed that the feet of each rod guide was significantly extended away from the rod blank. It was a great feature, clearly designed to minimize line slap to create further casts. The offering on this rod was a white and pearl-colored minnow shaped plastic bait rigged weedless.
After five minutes of poling, we both saw a huge redfish "crawling" through the shallow water with its dorsal fin, back and partial tail fin out of the water. The length of spread between head and tail was indeed sizeable. When we got in range, I feathered a cast in front of the fish and it exploded on my lure. I struck back hard and the fish ran for 50 yards through a huge raft of surface grass. Willy quickly poled over halfway to the fish and came down in the cockpit to pick off the grass. It was an anxiety-filled battle of about 15 minutes, but we finally had the fish alongside. It was a trophy redfish of about 20 pounds. We took some photos and released it.
When we got back into battle position, we noticed a big cloud bank was blotting out the sun. Since this flat was fairly deep and surrounded by even deeper water in a middle bay setting, we could now only see tailing and crawling fish — not cruisers. In the next hour, we came upon pod after pod of big redfish that we could only see 25 feet (or less) from the boat; and then, they would already be spooked. After an hour of this frustration, Willy suggested that we run to the eastern shoreline which featured shallows that would force the feeding redfish or even patrolling gator trout to break the surface and reveal themselves.
While we saw nothing at first, Willy poled me over to some culverts and told me to cast into the circle of spillage current. After three good casts, I had a solid strike and reeled in a nice flounder. We photographed the fish, released it and poled on. After 10 minutes we noticed that the cloud cover was starting to tower into a potentially threatening thunderstorm, this amid increasing wind. We made the wise decision to run back to the boat ramp rather than risk exposure.
Though our time on the lagoon was short, I had my story and we both promised each other we'd fish together soon.