Free Fishing Article- How To Catch Redfish in Mosquito Lagoon

How To Catch Redfish in Mosquito Lagoon

—The Mosquito Lagoon is currently experiencing a brown algae bloom, making sight fishing more difficult. If/when it clears I will post it here.—

A SPECIAL REPORT by Captain John Kumiski ©2013

How to Catch Redfish at Mosquito Lagoon/Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge/Canaveral National Seashore

Crystal clear water covers much of Florida’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (MINWR), surrounding the Kennedy Space Center, one hour’s drive east of Orlando. These waters, the Mosquito Lagoon and the north end of the Indian River Lagoon, shelter large numbers of redfish, fish that regularly top 20 pounds in weight. You want to catch these fish, but don’t know quite where to start. This Special Report tells you how to do it!

EQUIPMENT

You must have the right equipment and a plan for using it. Following is a list of necessities:
- wide brimmed hat
- good polarized sunglasses with brown or dark amber lenses.
- for wading, flats booties (chest waders during the winter)
- sunscreen
- effective insect repellant

You can choose either fly or spin tackle. A spin fisherman can have his lure on its way to spotted fish within a second of seeing them, without the need to false cast. He can react faster. But a relatively heavy spinning lure hits the water with a heavy splash compared to a fly, and that splashdown can spook an entire school of wary fish. Flies may take a couple seconds longer to get there, but the presentation is much quieter and so oftentimes it’s more effective.

Depending on wind conditions, fly fishermen could use any rod between a six- and nine-weight. A quality reel with at least 150 yards of backing is a must. The fish average a fairly large size (5-10 pounds) and once hooked they will scream line off in a hurry. Use a weight-forward floating line. Long leaders are preferred, between 9 and 12 feet depending on wind conditions, tapered down to a 12 or 15 pound tippet.

Carry weighted and unweighted flies in sizes 4 and 2. Make sure some are light in color and others are dark. You could get by with only four patterns in most redfishing situations- a grizzly seaducer, a popper or gurgler for blindcasting while wading, Clouser minnows in chartreuse and white and brown and white, and some small crab patterns for tailing fish.

Spin fishermen need a six to seven foot light action rod, a good quality reel (Shimano Stradic 3000 or equivalent) packed with ten pound test, and a similarly small lure selection. Weedless spoons such as the Johnson minnow (1/8-1/2 oz), a surface plug like Storm’s Chug Bug, the shallow running DOA BaitBuster, and the DOA Shrimp are all excellent choices. You also need some soft plastic baits like the DOA CAL jerk baits which can be rigged to run weedless, in both light and dark colors, to complete the kit.

Plug casters will use comparable equipment.

Tying a Bimini twist in the end of the line and then attaching a short piece of 15-20 pound fluorocarbon as a shock leader is a good idea.

Be sure to bring enough lures. You’d hate to run out of the “hot” lure if you lost a couple due to breakoffs!

TECHNIQUES

Summertime fishing anywhere in Florida is usually an early morning proposition. The sun heats up the water and by afternoon most shallow flats are too hot for the fish. Afternoon thunderstorms can make the flats a dangerous place to be. So plan to fish as soon as it is light enough to see.

During the spring and fall the fish will feed on the flats any time of day, as long as anglers in boats aren’t running the flats making a fuss. It gets windy this time of year and if the water gets muddy the game is up. But if the weather is good the fishing can be tremendous. Fall is off season and you may have the entire flat to yourself.

During the winter the weather is critical. If the sun is out and the wind is negligible, fishing can absolutely boggle the mind. Redfish come into shallow water to sun themselves, sometimes in large schools. Wading anglers can pick off fish after fish. If there is sunshine the late afternoon is the best time of day to fish since the water will be warmest then. If you fish the lee shoreline you will find fish tailing in the afternoon well into the evening until it’s too dark to see. They can be caught easily by fly fishermen using crab patterns or by conventional tackle anglers using soft plastic baits.

In both the Indian River and the southern Mosquito Lagoon there are no tides. Wind direction therefore is the dominant factor in determining the movement of fish. Although there is no hard and fast rule the fish usually move into the wind. So by “going with the flow” while fishing, casts to fish will generally be head-on shots- the most effective kind. If you can have the sun at your back, seeing those fish will be much easier.

If you must fish during the day in the summer, start as early as possible and work out deeper on the flat. Cooler water here will allow the fish a degree of comfort they would not have otherwise. The situation is reversed during the winter. The sun warms up the shallows enough to allow the fish to use it. They come in to feed during the later part of the day unless weather conditions are absolutely perfect.

You must decide whether to wade or to use a boat. The wader has the advantage of stealth on his side. He can get much closer to the fish. There is the aesthetic of being in the fish’s element. It’s cooler in the summer. But waders are restricted to shallower areas and cannot cover nearly as much water as a boating angler. Kayaks off advantages of both methods.

Anglers in boats will scare more fish, but they can see a lot better and usually will have shots at many more. You can search a lot of water in a boat, looking for a large school of fish if you prefer, instead of working on the occasional single or pair.

Whether you are wading or fishing from a boat, slowly move with either the sun (first choice) or the wind at your back looking for anything which might be a redfish. If there are no fish visible, blind casting will often produce a few. Just cast all around, keying on breaks between the sand and grass on the bottom, or cast to schools of bait if present.

If you can see fish, either cruising, tailing, or pushing wakes make your casts fall a few feet in front of the fish, letting the lure sink to the bottom if necessary. The lure should never move toward the fish! As soon as you think they’re close enough to see it, move it slightly while watching the fish.

If they see it, usually there will be no doubts about it. They do one of three things- flee in abject terror, come check it out and refuse it, or come check it out and eat it.

If they flee, the lure was fouled with grass, or moved at them, or was too close to them before it moved. If they refuse it, check the lure. If it is not fouled with grass or algae, change to a different color or different type. If they eat it, set the hook.

If you see fish pushing up a wake, cast several feet ahead of it and move the lure SLOWLY. Sometimes when the fish are pushing a wake, they are swimming fast, with an obvious agenda, and aren’t interested in eating. If they don’t strike don’t let this bother you.

Tailing fish are eating, though. With spin tackle a lure like the DOA Standard Shrimp that doesn’t make a huge splash when it hits the water is a good choice. Fly tackle actually works better for tailing fish since the fly hits the water so delicately.

With spin tackle put the lure a foot or two ahead of the fish. You want the splash to be heard but not threatening. Hopefully the fish will come to investigate, see the shrimp (just barely TWITCH it) and eat it.

Flies can be put closer to the fish. A Clouser minnow or a small Merkin crab fly made from wool are good choices. These flies hit the water with a soft, seductive “splat”, sink rapidly into the feeding zone, and perfectly imitate a favorite redfish food. Crab flies don’t even need to be moved. If the fish sees it and wasn’t spooked by the presentation they’ll usually eat it immediately.

Fly fishermen now must clear the line. If it fouls on anything the leader will instantly break, you’ll have a super adrenaline rush, and will be out the fly. Once the fish is on the reel, and for spin or plug fishermen also, extend the rod into the air. Let the fish run. If you try to stop it he’ll break off. With any type of tackle, make sure the drag is not set too tightly.

After that first run is over he will take a couple more shorter ones. Reds will also rub their snout in the bottom trying to dislodge the hook. Once you’ve beaten him, will you be keeping or releasing him? Redfish have rather strict laws protecting them. They must be released if they are less than 18″ (uncommon in these waters) or larger than 27″.

If you’ll be releasing it, handle the fish gently. Leave him in the water if possible. If not, hold the fish parallel to the water’s surface and belly up. They have small teeth which can cut you if you “lip” it like you would a largemouth bass, unless you wear a glove. Spines on dorsal and ventral fins can stick you, too. So handle with care! Remove the lure (barbless hooks are recommended), revive him until he can swim away, and release him to grow and thrill another fisherman. And congratulations to you!

All of the above supposes that you have good visibility. But if you’re fishing early/late in the day, or if it is overcast, or if you are not used to looking for fish, seeing these fish in the water can be very difficult. They can still be caught.

All other things being equal, the fish will be on their favorite flats feeding when weather conditions allow it. If you’re there too you might just get a couple.

When you use this blind casting technique for redfish lure choice is important. You want a lure with which you can cover a lot of water reasonably quickly. With spinning or plug tackle a popper or a weedless spoon is the lure of choice. The noise the plug makes attracts the fish to it.The flash of a spoon does the same thing. With fly tackle the deerhair (or other) popper works well for the same reason.

Search the water you can see into for fish. If you see any, cast to them! There’s no sense in turning down any good opportunuties.

Keep your lure in the water into which you cannot see. Generally this will be in the deeper water, but fish are in there. Keep casting into this water and retrieving your lure. Fish every cast as if you expect to hook a fish. Sooner or later you will!

Make long casts. You’ll cover more water this way, giving more fish the chance to see your offering. Also, oftentimes the fish will follow your lure or fly for quite a distance before finally making up their mind. Long retrieves give them the opportunity to do this.

Of course once you hook up, play the fish as explained above.

WHERE to GO- Boaters

In the Indian River south of the Haulover Canal the flats off Black Point and Dummit Creek (east side of river) consistently produce fish. The creek itself often holds fish. North of the canal the fish can be found anywhere along either side of the river all the way up to the end of the lagoon, north of Scottsmoor. Lush grass beds and clear water are indications that fish may be there. Bait, usually in the form of finger mullet, is another good sign. Stingrays may or not be helpful, as these redfish almost never follow rays like they do in south Florida. See my book “How and Where to Catch Redfish in the Indian River Lagoon System” for more information.

In the Mosquito Lagoon, the large flat across from (east side) and to the north of the Haulover Canal is an excellent place to start. The west side of the lagoon south of the canal and south of the Biolab Boat Ramp is another consistent producer.

At the south end of the lagoon, fish may be anywhere around Pelican Island. The large flat out in front of Pelican Island is known as the Middle Flat. At its northern end, a school of reds can often be found. This school contains hundreds of individuals.

The Pole/Troll area at Tiger Shoal is another place always worth a look. There may be nothing there, but sometimes literally thousands of fish will be on this flat. You may not use an internal combustion engine anywhere inside the pole/troll area except in the one marked channel. See the map posted at all MINWR boat ramps.

Remember that due to the lack of tidal flow in this system there is no way to predict the location of fish anywhere with any accuracy. They must be hunted down, since they tend to travel constantly. If there are no fish where you start looking, try somewhere else.

WHERE to GO- Waders

Waders don’t have the same freedom of movement, but they can still try several different areas in one day. If you are approaching the refuge from Titusville, continue east on SR 402 until you reach the traffic light at the intersection of SR 3. Turn left and head north for about three miles. You are looking for a small sign on the right hand side of the road which says “Biolab Road “. Take a right here. At the fork in the road go right. You will find yourself on a dike road on the west side of the Mosquito Lagoon.

During the winter and spring you can actually see fish tailing at the water’s edge sometimes. The bottom of the lagoon here is a little soft but all of it is wadable. There is a two mile stretch of this road which is separated from the lagoon by a ditch. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU TRY TO CROSS ANY DITCH!!

One other hazard to mention. Right along the shoreline in a few place there are muck pockets. If you step into one you will sink. This is a little scary and quite messy but I’ve never had any trouble extricating myself from one. If you test to see if the bottom will support your weight and it doesn’t, back up and try again 20 feet away or so.

Waders need primarily to keep blindcasting, as seeing fish when you are so close to the water is tough. In the cooler parts of the year the fish will get in VERY skinny water when the wind is down and cruise or tail- an obvious advantage to you. If there are no fish present, or if there’s a screaming east wind, try a different spot. Again, my book is the best resource for this.

Boat Ramps

Boat ramps which allow access to the Mosquito Lagoon are at the following locations:
From A1A south of New Smyrna-
-Just north of Turtle Mound there is a good ramp.
-At from Parking Lot 5 there is an unimproved dirt ramp. Only those with small boats and four-wheel drive vehicles should even attempt this one.
In Oak Hill there’s a fine ramp at River Breeze Park.

From Playalinda Beach-
-There is a good dirt ramp between Parking Lots 7 and 8 at Playalinda Beach at Eddy Creek.
From the west side of the Lagoon-
-There’s a ramp on Biolab Road. Small boats only!
-There is a ramp on the Haulover Canal. This one gets crowded on weekends. Keep in mind the entire canal is a slow speed manatee zone. This ramp allows access to both the Indian River and the Mosquito Lagoon.
-There’s a dirt ramp with cement blocks at the old Beacon 42 Fish Camp, about a mile or two north of the Haulover Canal.

-There’s the WSEG unimproved ramp along the west side of the lagoon off of S.R. 3. This is for jonboats, gheenoes, and paddle craft only.

The best Indian River access for boaters is the ramp at Parrish Park, on the east side of the Indian River on SR 406. There’s a paved ramp, good for small boats only, in Scottsmoor at the end of Huntington Road, off of US 1 several miles north of Titusville.

MEALS AND ACCOMODATIONS

Along US 1 in Titusville are many places to eat and sleep. The best known restaurant in town is the Dixie Crossroads on SR 406, west of US 1. This seafood restaurant specializes in rock shrimp, and almost always has a line of people waiting to get in. The best motels in Titusville are on SR 50 by its intersection with I-4, including the Best Western (ask for te angler’s rate, and the Fairfield Inn.

RESOURCES

There are several mom and pop bait and tackle stores in Titusville. Those who prefer big discount stores will find a WalMart at the intersection of I-95 and SR 50.

Sadly, the Fly Fisherman, long a fixture in lagoon fly fishing circles, went out of business last year.

For those looking for a guide, the author of this Special Report guides on the Indian and Banana Rivers and the Mosquito Lagoon. Captain John Kumiski’s phone number is (407) 977-5207. If he’s booked he can recommend other good guides.

CONCLUSION

So you could go to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and flounder around on your own for a month and never see any redfish. Or you can take the recommendations supplied in this Special Report and catch those reds on your own. Let me know how you do (reach me spottedtail@spottedtail.com and 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, spottedtail@spottedtail.com.

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