Fly Fishing for Clams and other Space Coast Fishing Adventures

March 20-24, 2006

Catherine informed me of a week long yoga workshop she would be attending in late March and advised that I "go fishing" that week.  You have to love a woman that tells you to take off and go fishing when she gets busy.   I contemplated my options and decided it was too cold for Central Oregon, probably not worth local steelheading, and too expensive to take off on a real trip so I called up my friend Jeff in Melbourne, Florida to see if he happened to be in between contract jobs and would like to go fishing.  Luckily he was in an out of work condition and so I bought my airfare, he set up a guide for a few days and the trip became a reality. 

I left Seattle on a clear 30 degree morning with my bags packed for warm weather.  The forecast was looking good, highs in the high 70's to low 80's each day and I had high hopes.  I arrived in Orlando to find a cold front moving in that night with expected high winds the next day to be followed by another front and more high winds on Wednesday and then a real cold front on Thursday and Friday making temperatures closer to Seattle than early spring Florida.  Just my luck, a week of cold fronts after three weeks of nearly perfect weather, where is the global warming when you want it? 

Sebastian River

On our first fishing day we slept in until 6:30 a.m., then headed out to the Sebastian River in hopes of getting out of the 15-20 knot west winds that were already strong in the early morning.   We got Jeff's skiff, the "Go" ready to roll and headed down to the river.  At the marina launch site we were informed that they no longer sold day passes to launch because they were too busy, you needed to buy a monthly pass.  That by the 3 guys drinking coffee and telling stories at one table and one guy at the counter chewing the fat with the guy behind the counter, not exactly a busy spot in our eyes.  We headed up river a bit to a local park that had a ramp and set out in search of some tarpon to cast at.   I thought Jeff was going to freeze just running the boat.

The wind had other plans though, it was blowing hard making it difficult to spot fish and difficult to even hold the boat in position.   We saw a tarpon roll once and cast heavily to the area with no success at all.  We then saw some jacks by the launch ripping the water to a froth and decided to chase the fish we could see instead of casting at the mangroves in hopes a fish was around.  Once we got into position I managed to get a decent jack to take a 1/0 chartreuse Clousers on my 7-weight rod which made for a pretty decent fight from the fish.  The school moved on and we headed out in search of it again.  On the way Jeff tossed a popper at the mangroves and got a snook interested but not enough to really slam the fly and get hooked.  We found the school again a bit later and after they refused the Clouser I tied on a 1/0 Sar-Mul-Mac, made a few casts and was into a pretty nice fish which came to the boat a few minutes later. 

We headed up river further and found some tarpon that were just not interested in eating at all, they would roll once or twice and go deep.  Another boat casting at them gave up, we hit them more and then also gave up.  We went up-river further until we stopped seeing even mullet and then headed back down in search of the jacks again.   The wind finally got completely crazy and the boat was pretty much impossible to control.  Granted, it was my first day of trying to pole a boat but even Jeff was ready to give up so we headed back to the lauch. 

We did hit some beaches on the way home but saw nothing except some churned up beach water.   Driving up the barrier islands we were about 5 miles from the house when we ran into a wind driven wildfire burning and the road closed.  We ended up having to back-track to the bridge 25 miles back to the south, cross over and come back up Hwy 1 on the mainland. 

Mosquito Lagoon

For the next two days we had a guide, Capt. Scott Nickels.  The plan was to hit the Mosquito Lagoon for redfish one day and then go offshore for cobia and tripletail the other.  The weather had other plans.   We awoke  to more high winds and cool temps on Wednesday morning and the lagoon was really our only option.  We met Capt. Scott and headed for the launch.  We immediately got cursed for the day right out of the launch.  Scott went to put a towel in the back hatch and suddenly a black cat jumped out of the hatch, into the lagoon and swam off to a small mangrove island right off the ramp.  The cat had evidently jumped in the boat when he was loading up in the morning and was a bit agitated from the ride to the launch.  There was no hope to catch the cat but I'm pretty sure that was our jinx for the day along with the wind.   The rest of the day was about cat jokes and all of the cat-fish we saw reminded Scott of the poor cat on the island.

We fished hard all day and actually saw quite a few fish but the wind made spotting them difficult until we were on top of them and spooked them.  The few fish we saw that were actually feeding and not spooked were almost always up-wind which was down-sun from us and the casting was nearly impossible in the 20-25 knot winds.  It was just one of those days.  I was shivering all day from the cold, I obviously had not brought enough clothes on the trip with me and was getting more wind-burned than sun-tanned on my face.  I started to think that the fish were having a hard time seeing our brownish flies in the tea-colored and often murky water so I switched to a new pattern, a Gold Crab that I had just read about and tied a few just in case.  My theory was that the flash of the fly would allow the fish to see it better.  Basically it is a Kwan tied with gold mylar tubing for the body and I tied it in chartreuse and in tan/orange. 

We were fishless as the day wore on and on the last flat I was up and we just were not even seeing fish any longer.  We called it a day but had about 15 feet of flat to get off before we could start the motor.  It was the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs and 2 strikes.  Just then I saw a fish down-wind, cast my chartreuse Gold Crab to it, twitched the fly twice and was finally into my first redfish on the fly.   The fish made a good run out, came back then decided to go circle the push-pole and run around the back of the boat a while.  I managed to keep from tangling up and soon had my first redfish at the boat.   Literally the last chance to cast at the end of the day ended the skunk.  

My first Redfish  Close-up of the Gold Crab

The next day the wind was down a bit but the clouds were up and it got colder.  We were on a flats boat with fleece on and still were getting cold.  Conditions were better with the wind down but on our first run down Tiger Shoals where we saw tons of fish the day before we were seeing nothing.  A tail would come up and then we'd never see the fish again.   About 2/3 of the way down the big flat I was up and we saw a school of fish working.  I made a cast, a fish turned, and on the 2nd strip the fish took.  Soon I had my second redfish to the boat and my hopes were up that things were turning around.  We tried to find the school again and ended up chasing them around in circles a bit but they never stopped to feed and soon disappeared completely.  

Much of the rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent on flats where we'd see maybe 1-2 fish on an entire flat and usually when we spooked them.  We pulled into one flat and spooked 3-4 fish on entry then didn't see a thing until the very end of the flat when I got off a few casts to a nice fish which totally ignored the fly. 

We finally gave up on redfish, they just were not out and about, probably put down by the 1st and 2nd cold front of the trip.  We instead went to look for the black drum that had been hanging out on the south end of the lagoon.  The water there was clouded over and the sun kept going under dark clouds making spotting anything difficult at best.   As we were poling along a fish materialized out of the milky water, we had found the drum.  I cast and had a follow but no take.  A few other casts got interest from the fish but not enough to eat and then we lost them.  We spent an hour trying to locate the fish, would get off 1-2 casts and then they would vanish in the clouds and murky water.  We did manage a few speckled trout while casting around in the direction we last saw the drum but after the initial hard strike it was obvious we hadn't hooked one  of the big drum. 

We left the lagoon, scanned the island for the lost cat and called it a day.  The weather report for the next day was even worse, high winds were back along with even colder temperatures.

St. John's River

Another cold, windy, and cloudy day in paradise

We decided to go inland in search of Florida "steelhead", American Shad which run the St. John's to spawn in the spring.   We figured we'd get out of the wind somewhat and at the last see a few alligators along the way.   We found the shad rather quickly but they were hard to catch.  The normal technique evidently is to fish a sinking line and two small flies that look like #8 tarpon flies with small lead eyes.   The first fish I got was a warmouth bass and the second fish a small crappie, the shad were eluding me.  I then started catching clams left and right, we figured the clams were open and the fly would bounce in them and they'd close up on it.  You thought you had a fish for a second because the line stopped and there was resistance as you tried to dislodge the clam from the bottom.  I was the clam king, I must have landed a dozen of them ranging from clams about the size of the flies to some nice ones that were as big as my palm. 

The world's smallest fly caught clam

Anyway, it was fun and Jeff actually got one shad to the boat on a floating line with a small Clousers and had another one on briefly.  I think I had a few on that I pulled the fly from trying to get them in since it was a bigger fish than the small panfish I'd been landing. 

We ran a bit more river looking for fish but never found another group of them.  We did, however, see some gators.  Note the cross in the background, I figured that this was a gator attack, Jeff thought it was probably an airboat accident, take your pick.

One of many gators, probably coming to get us

The extremely noisy airboats

We ended up back at the original spot.  I got a few more crappie and Jeff landed a mudfish, a new one to me.   The airboats were getting pretty frequent so we called it a day and a trip.  

The weather never gave us a break but we also never got skunked, it could have been worse.  I finally landed a redfish after getting skunked in Tampa Bay for them the previous year when I hit some really nasty cold front and fish that wouldn't even eat shrimp let alone flies.  I got to take a stab at fishing sea-run fish on the other side of the states and saw my first alligators after seeing so many crocodiles in Mexico.  Plus, it was fun to hang out with Jeff and family for a week.    I left Florida on another cold morning, almost as cold as the one I had left Seattle on earlier in the week.  I arrived at home around noon to sunny skies and temperatures about as warm as that last day on the St. John's.