Fly Fishing Lagoons

By Jon Cave

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“The Lagoons” is what people call the greater Indian River Lagoon (IRL) system on Florida’s east central coast and includes the interconnected estuaries of Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River, and Indian River. While fly-fishing is excellent throughout much of the IRL, it takes on world-class proportions in the waters within and adjacent to the conjoined federal lands of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Canaveral National Seashore, and Kennedy Space Center. The area is known for its clear water and offers a rare opportunity to sight-fish for a variety of saltwater gamefish. In particular, the substantial populations of redfish and spotted seatrout have made these waters famous since Dr. James Henshall (of Book of the Black Bass fame) first recorded his fly-fishing exploits there beginning in the 1870’s.

Tidal and Non-Tidal Zones The lagoons are a highly unique ecosystem and a reasonable understanding of its powerful dynamics is essential for any individual who expects to be consistently successful in these estuaries. Although two of these bodies of water are referred to as “rivers,” all three are actually true lagoons – isolated bodies of brackish water separated by land from the open sea. As a result of that segregation, the lagoons, unlike most other saltwater estuaries, are relatively unaffected by tidal fluctuations except in the immediate vicinity of inlets such as Ponce de Leon Inlet at the northern extreme of Mosquito Lagoon. Water movement outside of these relatively small tidal zones is largely the result of wind-driven currents; and, sustained winds from the same direction can raise the water level on the windward side of a lagoon to form a sort of “wind tide” or seiche. Exposed areas can become highly productive as wind-driven currents raise the water level sufficiently enough for fish to swim and vice-versa. Oppositely, the water level drops on the leeward shoreline, and fish tend to move to deeper flats, drop-offs, holes, and depressions when that happens.