Fly Fishing the Banana River No Motor Zone

Secrets of Fly Fishing the Banana River No Motor Zone

-The no motor zone is currently experiencing a bloom of microscopic brown algae, ruining the sight fishing. If/when it clears I will post it here.-

fly fishing the banana riverA SPECIAL REPORT by Captain John Kumiski ©2013

You’ve heard the rumors- giant redfish. Abundant seatrout. Rolling tarpon. Snook on the flats. Enormous tailing black drum. All of these and more can be found in the Banana River Manatee Sanctuary. But how do you get in there? And how, and maybe more importantly where, do you fish?

This Special Report details all you need to know to fish the manatee refuge successfully. Follow the recommendations contained here, and you will enjoy some of the finest angling Florida has to offer.

Equipment

No motors of any kind are allowed in the refuge. They may not be in your possesion. This means you can either paddle, pole, or row in. The lack of motors is what makes this place so special.

It’s one place, in a rapidly growing state, where you can be close to an urban area and still feel like you’re away from it all. The fact that boats with motors are not allowed make fishing there a relaxing, almost tranquil, and for me nearly religious experience.

Most anglers who fish the waters of the Refuge do so by canoe or kayak. When I use a canoe (either an Dagger Reflection or an Old Town Camper) I treat it as though it were a flats skiff, poling it with a two piece, ferruled fiberglass pushpole made by Moonlighter Marine Products while both I and the angler stand and search for targets to cast to. Sightfishing this way is tremendously exciting, and searching for fish in the crystal clear water with fly tackle combines the finest elements of hunting and fishing.

Canoeists also need paddles of course, and an anchor. The Coast Guard requires PFDs for all hands. The usual fishing needs are required, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, dry box, pliers and hook file, maybe a cooler with snacks and drinks.

Kayaks are also excellent craft to use here. You can’t stand up in most, but you can cover more area, since they paddle so much more easily. I use Both the Drifter and Prowler 13 models made by Ocean Kayak and think they are outstanding for this use.

Tackle

I only use fly tackle when I fish here. As stated above, I consider fishing here an almost religious experience, and “…in our family there was no clear distinction between fly fishing and religion”. Bringing spinning tackle is close to sacrilege on these holy waters.

A seven- or eight-weight rod with a floating weight forward line and plenty of backing is all you’ll need. Bring an extra rod in its tube as a backup. If you break a rod when you’re in fish and you don’t have a spare you’ll hate yourself.

Leaders should be at least ten feet long, tapering down to a 12 or 15 pound tip. A bite tippet will be needed during the summer.

If you’re not a fly fisher most of what follows can be applied to other forms of tackle.

Fly Selection

For fly selection, you need to have Clouser minnows, #4, 2, and 1, in chartreuse/white, dark brown, and black. The lead eyes on these flies should vary between 1/100th and 1/36th ounce.

I like Seaducers in the summer, #2 or 1, yellow and grizzly. These work very well for the tarpon found here then, and reds, trout, jacks, and snook all take them, too. Some need to be tied with weedguards. The grass in the summer can get quite thick.

Some kind of surface fly is needed for blind casting, or bugging for seatrout. Whether it’s a hair bug, or foam, or cork, or balsa, is irrelevant. Use smaller sizes (#4) in the winter, and larger ones (1/0) in the summer. Color doesn’t seem to matter. Bring some weedless ones for days with lots of floating grass.

An absolute necessity for redfish working the shallows and also for tailing black drum is a crab imitation. The Merkin Crab works extremely well when fish are feeding on crabs. Redfish seldom refuse a properly presented crab imitation.

Lastly some kind of reverse tie comes in handy, especially at dusk when fish patrol the shorelines. I tie mine like a Clouser minnow without lead eyes, or I use a #2 Rattlin’ Minnow. Bendbacks would serve the purpose.

Of course you should bring your own personal favorites. The fish aren’t all that fussy most of the time.

When

The fishery changes throughout the year. Winter is prime time for tailing fish, both redfish and black drum. The water level drops during the drier winter months, making the deeper flats where the really big fish feed wadable. On days with good weather you’ll also find some really big trout up on the flats sunning themselves.

During the winter the best days are generally ones with settled weather, several days after the last front passed through. Light winds make for better fishing, especially if they’re from the west, north, or northwest. A northeast wind is also acceptable.

You don’t want any kind of a south wind at any time of the year, since you’ll have to fight the wind at the end of the day when you’re tired from fishing.

During the winter the best fishing is later in the day, usually after 4:00 PM (assuming a good weather day). The sun has warmed the water on the flats, which stimulates the appetites of our quarry.

Although there are no tides in the refuge, the best fishing days are usually (and this is a huge generalization) around the new moon. The fish seem spookiest and least cooperative around the time of the full moon. Other factors come into play though, which can affect this generalization.

As the days lengthen and the water warms, the black drum become harder and harder to find. The day comes when you’ll start seeing more alligators than drum. It’s time to shed the waders and shift into the summer mode.

Due to the large numbers of ‘gators (I often jest that they should have called it the Alligator Refuge) wading during the summer is not recommended. We fish entirely from the canoe then.

In May the tarpon and snook start showing up again. Of course the reds and trout are still there, since they are both year-round residents. Schools of jack crevalle can sometimes be seen crashing pods of mullet. The entire lagoon is seething with life!

Since other parts of Florida have angling “slams”, I’ve made up two for the refuge. The “Summer Slam” is a snook, a tarpon, a redfish, a seatrout, and a crevalle. No, it’s not easy, but all these fish are there in the summer and it is a possibility.

The “Winter Slam” is a trout, a redfish, and a black drum. You may as well have a goal before you go!

In order to get a summer slam, you’d better be prepared to put in a full solar day. Fishing can be quite good early in the day. Afternoon often brings thunderstorms. We typically wait these out at the side of the river, taking shelter in the brushy growth along the banks.

After the storm passes we often have excellent fishing. It seems like the thunder and the cooling effect of the rain on the water in the river stimulate the fish to feed. We often fish until we can’t see any more because of darkness.

Techniques

The most important thing to keep in mind when fishing here is that there are no tides. Since the lagoon has no tidal flow, the fish cannot sit in the current and wait for food to come to them. And since big fish eat a lot, they have to keep moving. So what you know about where they were on any given day means almost nothing on a subsequent visit, even if it’s the following day. Every day is a new hunt.

I usually paddle up into the refuge until I find some fish, often by running them over. Then I get up and start poling, looking for fish. If you launch the canoe outside the refuge, look for fish while you paddle up there.

In the winter, in the morning, the fish will tend to lay up, sunning themselves. As the water warms during the day the fish will begin tailing, and get easier to see. You may also see (if you get really lucky) a large moving wave in the water caused by a school of fish.

When heading into the refuge in the winter you should wear chest high waders. Your shoes need plastic soles. You can work a batch of tailing fish much more effectively if you wade. The movement of the canoe puts out waves which the fish can sense, at which point they stop tailing.

In the summer the same basic strategy is used. The fish will be active in the morning, though. Look for redfish tailing or waking, or tarpon rolling. Look for the schools of redfish pushing wakes.

You can wade in the summer, too. However, there are so many alligators that I don’t like to wade then. Never keep a fish on a stringer and wade at this time of year!

Along the west side of the lagoon tarpon often congregate in loose schools and may range along a half mile of shoreline. These fish will eat a fly, but not for long. What I mean is that your first cast to a bunch of rolling fish is the one most likely to be taken. The probability of a strike diminishes on subsequent casts.

If you stick a fish your fishing in that immediate area falls to zero. You simply move 100 feet away and start fishing again. Repeat this process as needed.

This area is known for its giant (20-40 pound) redfish. Generally, the big fish school up and hang on the deeper parts of the flats, or on the edges of the flats. If you want to find them, that’s where you must look.

There are never any guarantees that you will find them. You go out and look for them, and take your chances. Use a fairly large fly for these big fish.

Smaller redfish, to about 12 pounds or so, will work in very skinny water, sometimes with their backs out of the water along the shoreline. These fish can supply some very exciting fishing on lighter weight rods. Especially in the fall and winter, they’ll look for small crabs along the shorelines. Crab flies are killers then.

Small minnows will often be pursued, too. Sometimes redfish will work in concert with snowy egrets and they bounce the hapless minnows between them. Always check out around feeding herons or egrets. Redfish often hunt in the immediate vicinity. The small brown Clouser minnow is best used in this situation.

Where-to and Access

Pick which side of the river to fish by wind direction. When fishing from a paddle craft it’s the single most important factor.

West Side

On the west side, access is at KARS Park, at the end of Hall Road off of SR 3. When you launch you’re already in the Refuge. There’s a $5 charge per boat.

Fish may be seen all along the flats here. As you paddle up the west side there are a series of landmarks. The first you will come to is a very small stream. A small flat surrounds the mouth of this stream, and often fish work here. If you get out of the canoe here and stand on the bar looking east you will see a small PVC pipe in the water, out about 50-60 yards. That pipe marks the inner edge of a flat extending out about a half mile.

In between where you stand and the inner edge of that flat lies a trough which runs north up past the next landmark, the radar station. The flat often holds fish, including the schools of big reds. The trough can load up with baby tarpon during the summer.

On lower water levels you can go out and find the outer edge of the flat. The flat itself has a grass bottom and is kind of soft for wading. The outer edge is a sand bar which is very easy to wade.

Black drum often work out here in the winter, and a school of reds could come by any time. During the summer big jack crevalle run along the outer edge of this bar, which runs north for almost five miles.

Back along the shoreline, the next landmark is a small point with a little cove behind it. Immediately to the north is the “bent-over tower.” A small bar extends out from right in front of this tower, and a tiny stream enters the Banana River just to the north of it. This entire area can be excellent.

Off the point, in the little cove, on the flat between the tower and the point, on either side of the bar, and at the mouth of the creek should all be checked carefully. This is an excellent place to fish for reds at sunset.

North of here about a mile further another bar sticks out from the shoreline, clearly marked with PVC pipes. To the north of this bar, out in the lagoon, you’ll see an old bombing target.

Against the shoreline here you’ll see Buck Creek, a large shallow creek. Do not enter the creek. It’s a restricted area and you can be arrested for trespassing.

When the water is too low the fish will often be in the little basin between the creek and the bombing target. This basin is excellent for redfish, tarpon, and black drum.

At this point we are four miles north of KARS Park. Let’s leave the remaining mile to the NASA Causeway a mystery to be explored by you, and turn our attention the east bank.

The East Side

On the east side access to the Refuge is by State Road 401 north of SR 528. Pull off to the left just south of the Canaveral Air Force Station gate. It’s possible to launch a canoe here and paddle into the refuge. Be prepared for some gooey black mud. The legality of using this launch site is something of a gray area.

Once you launch your canoe, head east along the power lines until you reach the shoreline. The shore is relatively featureless, but there’s a nice grass bottom along here.

This shoreline tends to be an all or nothing situation. If you see fish right away, you’ll find them for several miles. If you don’t see any right away, you probably won’t until you pass a lovely copse of Australian pines with a little stream just to the north.

North of this a point sticks out into the lagoon. There’s a creek on the south side of this point. Again if the water is up, fish move in here. However, you may not. This area is buoyed off and is restricted, no entry.

Once you pass the point, if you head southeast, out into the lagoon, you will find a large flat on top of which you may find the giant reds working. Winter brings black drum onto this flat.

Continuing north around the restricted area, there are several points and coves. Any of these can have fish, and sometimes in high concentrations. You can only find them by looking.

Shortly before you get to the line of spoil islands which extend out into the river you will come to another creek. This creek is deep and almost always holds fish, IF you are the first people there that day. Fish species vary by season. Large gators live here too. Expect to see them.

The line of spoil islands sometimes loads up with fish. At other times they are almost devoid of life. Again, you must look out here and see what it’s like on the day you’re there.

At this point you are nearly six miles from where you launched the canoe. If you want to explore further, you are again on your own.

Conclusion

This Special Report contains everything you need to know for successfully fly fishing the Banana River no motor zone- what to bring, when to go, where to look and what to look for, and how to get in.

Keep in mind that although this may be the best fishery in the state, it’s still fishing. If you don’t catch some fish, try again. And if you don’t catch any the second time, consider chartering with me! Good luck!

Copyright © John A. Kumiski 2013. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute this work in any manner or medium without written permission from the author, John A. Kumiski, 284 Clearview Road, Chuluota, FL 32766 (407) 977-5207.




If you found this article useful and would like to donate to Spotted Tail, please click here…