Snook are one of the most prized game fish of the IRL.
The Indian River Lagoon system runs along nearly one-third of the eastern coast of Florida. It encompasses the trifecta of inshore saltwater fishing areas: the Mosquito Lagoon, the Banana River and the Indian River. These are shallow saltwater estuaries, not rivers in the traditional sense of the word, though two of the three are named as such. They are more akin to saltwater lakes than rivers, with large areas having little or no water flow other than that generated by the wind.
Unlike most lakes, however, these lagoons are not landlocked. There is access to the ocean via four natural inlets and one manmade entrance point. To the north is Ponce Inlet, bordered by Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach. Next is Port Canaveral where boats can enter the Banana River Lagoon via a lock. About 40 miles to the south is Sebastian Inlet; south of that is Ft. Pierce Inlet and finally, St. Lucie inlet, the southernmost inlet of the group.
Fishing in the Indian River Lagoon system offers anglers a variety of species to target and can be enjoyed by all sorts of anglers. You’ll see fly- and light-tackle anglers in technical poling skiffs stalking fish on the shallow flats; kayak and canoe anglers enjoying freedom from boats in their own no-motor zone; anglers without boats wading near shore; and people fishing from bridges, piers, inlets, docks, and seawalls.
Monster bull red drum are at their most exciting when stalked and hooked in shallow water.
The two most popular fish in the northern end of the lagoons are the spotted seatrout and red drum. The trout are plentiful and easy to catch providing steady action for even inexperienced anglers. They can be caught on both live and artificial baits with ease all year round. The redfish, or red drum, can reach weights exceeding 40 pounds. The Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River Lagoon and the northern part of the Indian River are famous for the schools of bull redfish that reside in these waters year round. The typical redfish run three to eight pounds and can often be found in schools of several hundred fish in less than two feet of water. That’s an ideal opportunity for anglers who enjoy sight-fishing, since they can cast to fish they can see.
From Sebastian Inlet south, seatrout are still plentiful and often large, but here, the snook is king. These hard-fighting fish lurk in inlets, around mangrove shorelines, on the flats and under docks throughout the region. During the summer spawn, thousands of them will congregate in inlets and near bridges.
In addition to the big three (reds, trout, snook), a diverse range of species inhabits the lagoon system. Migratory species such as tarpon, ladyfish, bluefish, jack crevalle, and pompano appear each year. The closer to the inlets one gets, the more the variety increases. Flounder, snapper, tripletail, black drum, croaker, grouper, sharks, and sheephead are just some of the species caught on a regular basis.
The fishing is excellent year round, but the lagoon system offers much more. The wildlife-viewing opportunities alone make a trip worthwhile. Visitors can see raptors such as bald eagles, ospreys and hawks; wading birds like herons, ibis, and spoonbills; and diving birds like pelicans, terns, and gulls.
Alligators also make their home along the marshy shorelines and can often be seen lounging on the same flats with redfish and trout. Manatees have made a remarkable comeback over the past decade and can be seen daily along with dolphins, sea turtles, stingrays, otters, and a seemingly endless list of animal and sea life.
A trophy-sized flounder will make any angler smile.
Fishing in the lagoon system requires a saltwater fishing license for those from 16 to 64 years of age. Many of the fish are subject to daily size and bag limits with which anglers not fishing with a guide should familiarize themselves with before their trip. For boaters, much of the lagoons system is an unmarked maze of sandbars, oyster beds, and grass flats. The Intracoastal Waterway is often the only marked and dredged channel in sight. Navigating in these waters should be done with care when in unfamiliar areas.
Capt. Chris Myers operates Central Florida Sight Fishing Charters. Visit his web site at floridafishinglessons.com or call him at 321-229-2848.
For more information on fishing Florida, go to Visit Florida.