Author Topic: Mosquito Lagoon and Saint John River, Florida Fishing Report (a 3 Part Story)  (Read 1109 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Todd Oishi

  • Administrator
  • 5 Star Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5969
  • Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada
    • View Profile
    • North American Loch-Style Fly Fishing Championship
Earlier last month, my wife and I had the opportunity to take a 9 day vacation and visit my sister and brother-in-law, and their family in Florida. It was a great way to escape the relentless West Coast rains (almost 30 straight days of it) and cold weather that we had been experiencing. This would also be another chance for me to fly fish on Mosquito Lagoon and the Saint Johns River!

Day One - the Saint Johns River:

The first day of the fly fishing portion of my trip was spent with my brother-in-law, Robert Deines, on the Saint Johns River near the town of DeBary. 



This is one of very few rivers on the continent of North America that flows in a northerly direction for its entire course.



This river is home to numerous species of fish, birds, poisonous snakes, amphibians, turtles, alligators, manatee, and mammals.



I could easily spend the entire day just bird and alligator watching, taking photos, and scanning the water for fish. The following are the obligatory photos of the local alligators that live in this region of Florida...



Almost didn't see this very large male who was basking in the sun, or just simply trying to blend in...



Crikey! It's a 12 footer!!!



We worked our way along the shoreline casting into pockets, weed beds, and snags, when all of the sudden, we "spooked" a very large gator that made a thunderous crashing sound as it ran along the shoreline beside our boat and launched itself, like a missile, clear into the water!



Robert, posing with a nice catfish that he hooked on a minnow jig, and graciously passed me the rod to let me feel the strength and enjoy fight of this fish. It was a real "tag team" effort...



We located some promising-looking water and structure for targeting the crappie, bass, bluegill, and alligator gar. I hooked several gar, but couldn't get my flies to penetrate and stick in their extremely tough mouths. They hit hard, but always fell off on the way into the boat...



My first fish to the boat was a small Blue Gill that hit my fly as I pulled it over and through a mat oflily pads. I was just happy to finally land a fish! We were finally in the zone, and for the next 2 hours we boated 22 Crappie and released quite a few that were on the smallish side...



Beautiful fish that fight quite admirably and are a whole lot of fun on light rods and lines...



Since Robert and my sister, June, enjoy eating Crappie, we took a "mess of fish" back home with us for their freezer. I must admit that I was totally impressed by Robert's filleting skills, as well as the speed and ease at which he performed this task! The vultures at the fish-cleaning station seemed appreciative of the scraps as well...



Beyond possessing a large population of alligators, there are also plenty of Manatee in the Saint John River, which are generally quite shy and difficult to find at times. Here's a photo of a pair of Manatee that were swimming about and leisurely dining on the lettuce-like plants(their preferred food) along the shoreline
(photo courtesy of my daughter, Megan)





« Last Edit: May 05, 2017, 09:07:06 PM by Todd Oishi »
For me, the quality of a trout is not measured in inches or pounds, but rather by the journey and circumstances that allowed our paths to cross...

Todd Oishi

  • Administrator
  • 5 Star Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5969
  • Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada
    • View Profile
    • North American Loch-Style Fly Fishing Championship
Day Two - Mosquito Lagoon:

The opportunity to spend a day fishing on a flats boat on Mosquito Lagoon was the highlight of the fishing portion of my trip, and an event that I was very much looking forward to! We left Robert's house shortly after 4:30am and made the 40 minute drive to meet his cousin, Shane Norris, at the boat launch at River Breeze. We arrived, launched the boat, and set off in total darkness, as we began on our quest to locate and hopefully catch some of the Seatrout and Redfish that Mosquito Lagoon is so famous for.
(the foggy camera lense and shaky photo are both due to my excitement and anticipation of the day's events...)



As we slowly motored our way through the main channel, we passed by some fishermen that were "shrimping" in their boats and from the docks with bright spotlights and long dip nets (unfortunately it was too dark for photos). The spotlights revealed a small pod of dolphins that were also enjoying the buffet of shrimp.



We finally arrived at the Lagoon just as the darkness of night gave way to a fiery display of colours and sounds, as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashed and rolled on the narrow strip of beach along its outer shoreline...



Our first stop was on a stretch of the flats that Robert and Shane referred to as "Mad Guide". Now, before you go wasting your time trying to locate this spot on a map, I should mention that Robert, Shane, and Joel (Robert's deceased brother) have selected their own unique names for all of their favourite fishing spots. I found the stories of how these places came to earn their names, just as fascinating as the actual fishing itself.



For those of you that have never fished for redfish, I should mention that it involves a great deal of searching, stalking, and cruising to cover water and locate fish that are actively feeding or cruising on the flats. This is a type of angling where a fast boat is worth its weight in gold, or more appropriately, worth its weight in salt..


(note that wearing your hat backwards is absolutely, positively, mandatory on a flats boat)

We tried all of the "usual spots" and were amazed by how clear the water was in some of the more sheltered bays and on the flats. Shane stood high atop his poling station and spotted fish for us. This style of fishing requires a lot of patience and accurate presentations, as the fish tend to be very spooky and flee at the sight of an overhead cast or the splash of a fly that's placed to close to their location...



I was amazed by the power and destructive forces of nature, as we saw miles of trees along the coastline that
were stripped bare of their foliage and some uprooted by powerful winds of Hurricane Matthew, which had pounded this part of Florida less than 6 months earlier. Thankfully the winds were kind to us on this day...



We spotted only half a dozen tailers (fish foraging for crabs and shrimp in the weeds, with their noses down and tails up) as well as the occasional fish cruising the flats. The water that we targeted was generally between 24 to 36 inches in depth, so the fish were fairly easy to spot, but unfortunately, we were just as easy for them to spot us...



Try as hard and long as we did, the redfish and seatrout simply didn't want to co-operate and chase our flies and lures!?! I honestly can't recall the last time when I've made such a great number of casts and had well-placed flies refused by cruising fish and ignored completely, but as they say, "that's why it's called fishing and not catching..."



We spotted quite a few fish throughout the day, but they showed absolutely zero interest in our offerings! We were told that this was most likely due to the recent cold snap that resulted in the Lagoon possessing lower-than-seasonal water temperatures. The clarity of the water decreased as the afternoon wore on and the winds picked up, which made it impossible to spot fish. Today provided me with a valuable lesson on spotting redfish; target practice with the fly rod; and humility...



As they say "All good things must come to an end!", and so it was for our day of fishing. Although the fishing was tough, it was a great time on the water, and provided some much needed target practice and strategies to experiment with on my next visit. I honestly feel that you learn more from a day of tough fishing than an easy one, and become a better angler as a result of those lessons...



« Last Edit: May 08, 2017, 05:39:25 PM by Todd Oishi »
For me, the quality of a trout is not measured in inches or pounds, but rather by the journey and circumstances that allowed our paths to cross...

Todd Oishi

  • Administrator
  • 5 Star Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5969
  • Maple Ridge, B.C., Canada
    • View Profile
    • North American Loch-Style Fly Fishing Championship
Day Three - Mosquito Lagoon

As luck would have it, Robert's neighbor, Steve Bojkovsky, generously offered to take us out on his flats boat on the day before I was to head back home to Canada. I was absolutely thrilled to have a second opportunity to cast my flies into the waters of Mosquito Lagoon, and another shot at its redfish and seatrout!

We arrived at the boat launch as the morning light began to illuminate the sky over the Atlantic. After what seemed like an eternity, we launched Steve's flats boat when it was finally our turn on the boat launch. The thick smell of the saltwater and sounds of sea birds nattering off in the distance, filled the early morning air and made me realize just how blessed I was to be in this place at this particular moment in time. The prospect of hooking and catching a fish would simply be a bonus in my mind, and wasn't necessarily my sole purpose or reason for being on the Lagoon today...



As we made our way towards the Lagoon, we were greeted by a legion of dolphins that were patrolling the main channel in search of any shrimp or seatrout that might happen to cross their paths. I snapped a few photos as they cruised past our boat, but the photos really don't do justice to the beauty that these magnificent animals possess and their graceful movements in the water...



As we motored into the Lagoon, I watched as the sun climbed from below the horizon and caused the morning sky to explode into a breathtaking display of radiant colours. I treasured the opportunity to witness a sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean, as only sunsets over the ocean are possible back home on the west coast of Canada.



We pulled up one of the heavily-wooded islands where we threw a few casts. While scanning the water for any signs of fish, I happened to notice something moving in the water very tight to the bank. As we moved into position, I could see that it was a family of raccoons that were wading and searching the sandy bottom with their hands for shellfish, crabs, and shrimp. It was a peaceful scene, but felt as if I was watching a train wreck, as alligators also live in these waters...



In the following photo, off in the faint distance and slightly to the right of the family of raccoons, you can see NASA's launch pads and massive hangers at the Cape Canaveral Space Center, which is situated on the southern shores of Mosquito Lagoon. These launch pads were used during the Space Shuttle Program and are still being used by the U.S. government, private companies, and military for launching rockets and satellites into the Earth's orbit. I was really hoping that a launch would take place while we were on the water, but unfortunately there weren't any scheduled for this week...
 


We had originally decided to fish the main body of the Lagoon, but as the wind began to pick up, we chose to tuck in behind a series of islands, where we would hopefully be able to escape from the wind and waves, and find some clearer waters. As luck would have it, we found a sheltered bay where fish were moving, so we dropped the power pole and started working the water.

I eventually managed to successfully hook and land one of the fish, which Steve identified as an Atlantic Croaker, which are closely related to redfish and black drum. These aggressive little fish were very willing to chase and latch onto our offerings...


                                        Robert Deines with a chrome Atlantic Croaker

While targeting the shoreline, I managed to hook a Mangrove Snapper that spat out a small crab when I removed my fly from its mouth. In attempt to "match the hatch" (so to speak) I tied on a crab pattern, but had no takers.

We had a great time and hooked a fair number of these fish, but decided that it was time to move to more promising waters where we would hopefully be able to find some actively feeding reds or seatrout...


                                           A Mangrove Snapper                                         

As we moved along the shoreline, I spotted an unusual movement on the water's surface and a faint shadow in roughly 2 feet of water, about 6 feet from the bank. I placed a cast that landed midway between the surface disturbance and shoreline, and began stripping my fly. The shadow moved and the line tightened! I knew in an instant that it was a redfish, as my 8-weight Sage Motive fly rod bent deeply under the weight of the fish and the fly line shot through the guides.

The fish made several strong runs before I managed to bring it alongside the boat, where it eventually gave up and was ready for the net. I could see that it was a redfish, and a fairly decent one at that. I looked around for the net was, but it was still stowed away and had yet to be assembled. Unfortunately, by the time the net was ready, the fish had spat the hook and was off on its merry way.

Robert felt bad for not being ready with the net, but I wasn't the least bit upset, as it's the take, the initial run, and the fight as the fish comes into the boat that I enjoy most about fly fishing! Netting and unhooking the fish is only but a small part of the process and anticlimactic in comparison to the battle itself. But to be totally honest, I would have liked to have had a photo to immortalize that moment in time, but the lack of photographic evidence provides all the more reason to keep coming back!



While working the bank, I observed a small school of mullet being chased by something! I placed a cast just ahead of the school of fleeing fish and began stripping my Crafty Shrimp fly pattern through the water. The results were immediate, as my line tightened and something pulled the fly line right through my fingers as it took its first run. I could tell that it wasn't a redfish, as it felt lighter and fought more like a seatrout. I landed the fish and was very pleased to have my first seatrout in the boat!



The fishing seemed to pick up every time that we moved the boat and cast into new water. I managed 3 more seatrout, at which point Robert and Steve switched to shrimp patterns and found success as well.



The Crafty Shrimp had once again proved to be my most effective pattern for these fish...



Now before I go much further, I should mention that fishing on a flats boat is a real pleasure, but you have to be very conscious and aware of the potential snags on the deck that will absolutely destroy your chances of making that perfect cast when you finally get a shot at a rising fish or tailer, and realize midcast that your line is wrapped around something...



The best solution is to use a stripping tube to keep your fly line free of snags and untangled. It's also a very valuable tool for stopping the wind from blowing your fly line clear off the deck and into the water, which I can tell you firsthand, can be extremely frustrating...



I also highly recommend that you fish in bare feet, so you can instantly detect if you're standing on your fly line, so you're always ready and able to make a quick and accurate cast when you spot a fish or opportunity to make a cast. You can also use your feet to help manage your fly line in the event that you don't have a stripping bucket...



Now back to the fishing report...

For the next couple of hours we hooked and landed well over 2 dozen seatrout and just as many croakers. I also hooked another redfish that burned a groove into my thumb as I tried to put the brakes on it as it ran beneath the boat and spat my hook. In hindsight I realized that I didn't set the hook with enough force to bury it deeply into the redfish's extremely tough mouth. Lesson learned for next time... SET THE HOOK!!!


 
The fishing seemed to slow down, so I started playing around with other patterns, as I assumed that the fish were tired of seeing my Crafty Shrimp, besides, all 3 of us were basically throwing the same thing, so I wanted my offering to stand out and be different. So after reflecting on the limited options that my fly box had to offer, and remembering that an angler had made a remark that had something to do with the black eels, I switched to a black pattern that resembled an eel and had a glass rattle in attempt to improve my chances of attracting a predator fish.

I showed the fly to Robert and he thought that it was a "wise choice", as rattles can provide a very effective imitation of the sound that shrimp make while fleeing from a predator. Apparently the fish thought that it was a wise choice as well, as it took 4 seatrout on the next 4 casts, as well as my largest seatrout of the day...











Being a gracious host and captain, Steve always seemed to position the boat to give me the best casting position and opportunity to reach the fish. Steve's generous and kind nature was rewarded by the "fish gods" as he managed to hook and land a fair number of seatrout and show us how it's done...



I can honestly say that this week of fishing was one of my favourite adventures, as it provided me the opportunity to share some time on the water with good friends and family! The untamed beauty, spectacular scenery, and wide variety of fish and wildlife that can experienced around every corner in this region is something to be treasured and should never be taken for granted...


« Last Edit: May 08, 2017, 06:08:41 PM by Todd Oishi »
For me, the quality of a trout is not measured in inches or pounds, but rather by the journey and circumstances that allowed our paths to cross...