I get nervous each time I fish with a new customer. More
than once I've dodged errant flies by folks that weren't
used to me being perched on my poling platform at the
stern. But usually, after a friendly but firm warning,
they begin to pay attention and wait for my instruction.
Threatening to toss them overboard and make them swim to
shore works, of course this is in a joking manner...if
they only knew.
Then I've had the ones that, after being asked all the
pertinent questions, such as; Do you know how to double-haul?
Have you fished from a flats skiff before? What weight
fly-rods do you cast? I found they have lied and couldn't
hit a barn door, let alone a tailing redfish. But these
things happen, and after a few onboard lessons, they
usually do okay. None of this applied to Jack Thomas
I met Jack at the boat ramp at Parrish Park in Titusville,
Florida very early that Wednesday morning. It was mid-September,
one of my favorite months to chase tailing redfish on the
shallow and pristine flats of the Indian River.
He was a tall man, at least six-foot three, but slim.
Very polite and came armed with three fly-rods of nice
quality. After a few minutes of small talk we boarded
my eighteen-foot, Hewes Redfisher that awaited us at
As we idled our way to the bridge, I told Jack of the
scouting trip two days prior to his arrival.
"There were so many fish I had to leave them. I didn't
want to give all of 'em a lip ache" This excited Jack,
and I was still pumped and a little sore from all the
action I had seen on Monday. I couldn't wait to get him
on these fish!
I nailed the throttle and the engine roared to six-thousand
RPMs and ripped through the surface of my home waters. The
ride was over almost before it started. It's only a couple
of miles from Parrish, and at fifty something miles per hour,
it didn't take but a minute or two. But the entire ride I
wondered if Jack could cast. His actions answered my question.
Poling in from two hundred yards out, I watched as he strung
two of his rods, a Thomas and Thomas nine-weight and something
else, I don't remember. I had given him a couple of my deadly,
golden bend-backs, and explained that two days ago that I had
four of them destroyed by reds and trout, all the while poling
and scanning the early-morning shoreline.
Something was amiss, however. It seemed too quiet. Birds that
usually are standing in the vast, shallow flats were not there,
and the schools of fingerling mullet swam lazily around in
large schools and seemed relaxed as if they hadn't a care
in the world.
"The mullet are happy." Jack turned and looked in my direction
with a somewhat confused and concerned look. He probably thought
I was nuts mentioning the mental well-being of the little fish.
"Is that good?" Jack began stripping the entire fly-line out
onto the casting deck of the skiff. I took notice of this.
Usually the stream guys only strip out enough line cover
the width of a river or creek; at least that's what I always
imagined, since I've only fished the Davidson River in North
Carolina once. I certainly understand it since I fished the
trees behind me a whole hell of lot more than the tree
"Nope. They're happy there's nothing after 'em. Two days ago
they were as jumpy as a cat in a room full of rockin' chairs."
Blind casting on the flats is almost as important as being
extremely accurate. If the fish are "laying down" in the
grass beds or the sand holes, the more water one can cover
blind casting, the better the chance to have a fish see the
fly in that particular length of water. That's where flinging
a line eighty or a hundred feet comes into play. And believe
me, I've had some folks on the boat that couldn't cast thirty
feet, and forget the accuracy part. But as I watched Jack work
the head of the fly-line out and seek his rhythm with
double-hauling, I began to watch him more than the lifeless
shoreline. The guy was as smooth silk, and never got close
to me with the fly. Then he gathered his fly in his left
finger tips and began watching the shore with me.
By this time, I was poling parallel with the eastern shore
as the golden-orange ball began to peek over the mangroves.
The exact same water I had waded into two days ago. But this
time there were no exploding trout or tailing reds, just
little, content mullet.
I never fish when I guide, with the exception of my clients'
wishes that I fish with them. I'm usually too busy shoving
a boat around looking for the tell-tale signs of reds, then
trying to get close enough to a spooky quarry to get them
a shot at the fish. But that morning, I wanted to bring out
the nine-weight to share in what I thought was his frustration.
The guy must have cast a million perfect casts on to dead water!
Later on we poled away and hit several of my other favorite
spots, and the outcome was the same. It was as if some alien
spacecraft had hovered over the flats the night before and
sucked up all the game fish and left only the vegetarian mullet.
Along about three, I noticed Jack began checking his watch
every five minutes, or so. I knew he had to be getting tired;
I certainly was. Never had I seen this water so empty of fish,
and I had decided I wouldn't even charge this guy for the day.
I never guarantee fish, but I was willing to make an exception.
We headed in.
The only thing he said at the ramp was, "Same place, same time?"
I went on to apologize, instead he interrupted me and told me
how much he enjoyed the trip and was very appreciative that I
worked my behind off looking for fish. I felt a little better,
but as I drove home, I wondered if I would ever see another red.
The next morning came way too early, and as I drove back to
Titusville, I kind of missed not having someone to talk to,
especially Jack. We had hunted so diligently yesterday I had
barely got to know the guy. I did know one thing; he could cast!
The day prior we had no sea breeze. On both coasts of Florida,
in the summer, mini cold fronts happen almost every day on both
coasts, each moving inland towards the middle of the state. This
weather phenomenon creates a collision that results in afternoon
thunderstorms that can be quite violent. As the eastern sea breeze
begins around one, or one-thirty in the afternoon, the wind
increases suddenly to the point of actually watching the calm
and slick water's surface become choppy and rough. I can almost
set my watch by it. Like any other cold front, the fish shut
down. This didn't happen the day before, but I had explained
this to Jack, and let him know that could be a determining
factor of how long we stayed on the water, but otherwise I
tried to get to the ramp around three in the afternoon. I
guess that's why he started keeping a time check around three.
I pulled into the park around five-thirty that morning and
noticed Jack's rental vehicle already there. I try to beat
my clients to the ramp so I have the skiff in the water and
warmed up before their arrival. He was bright-eyed and
bushy-tailed, unlike me, and handed me a cup of coffee
as we exchanged greetings. It was still dark and we shot
the breeze for a little while waiting for "blue in the east."
Deciding to head north, then west, to the Mosquito Lagoon,
I figured we'd get a jump-start and left in the dark. I know
the river like the back of my hand, so running in the darkness
doesn't bother me. However, I noticed Jack had a pretty good
grip on the "Oh Crap" bar that runs under the seat area of
the Hewes. I know it wasn't nice, but when I saw the crushing
grip he was using, I went to full-throttle-up on the skiff,
projecting us into the darkness like one of the space shuttles
that blast off over here. Only thing I got out of him was,
"I hope the hell you know where you're going!" I just kept
saying, "I know that oyster bar is around here somewhere!
Let me know if you see something that looks like really
sharp rocks, okay?" Jeeze, it was all in fun, and there
aren't any oyster bars anyway!
As the sky began to change from black to blue-black, and
the sparse clouds started showing their rosy-pink hues,
I slowed down to idle through Haulover Canal. This area
was dredged many years ago to bring the Inter-coastal
Waterway across Merritt Island. It's all idle speed due
to the many manatees that live there. I pointed several
out to Jack as we crept along the tree-lined embankments.
The area I wanted to fish was an extensive flat on the west
shore of the Lagoon. Linda caught her very first redfish
there several years before, and I knew one area that I call,
"Three Dead Palms" to hold reds due to a fairly good-sized
grass bed just out from the three dead palms. By the way,
the palms have now rotted away and the hurricanes have blown
away any sign of them, so don't go lookin' for 'em.
As if I were stuck in the movie, Groundhog Day, the day played
out the same, no fish were to be found. I tried several more
"great" places the rest of the trip and I couldn't buy the
customer a fish. Nothing!
Along about three that afternoon, I noticed Jack checking his
watch again as I poled the skiff slowly along the eastern edge
of Mosquito Lagoon, an area known for huge schools of big,
bull redfish. Still no fish were to be located.
There's an area on the northern tip of the Indian River
Lagoon that once was my favorite place to fish, but due
to so many other folks discovering it, I had abandon going
up there for several years. Linda and I used to fish there
all the time, she caught three reds on light tackle one
morning and two of the fish were IGFA world records, but
she's a stubborn woman and wouldn't let me take a needed
line sample to submit the necessities to claim the records.
I had one more shot.
"You want to try one more place?" I knew he had to be tired,
I certainly was, but if it meant putting Jack on just one
fish, it sure would take the pressure off of me.
"I thought you wanted to be off the water by three. Sure,
let's do it."
It was a twelve mile run from where we were, but the sea breeze
never happened and I knew I could run full-bore except for Haulover.
Within minutes, I pulled back the throttle and slid into
twelve-inch water praying to the fish gods that we would
see at least one fish tailing in the crystal clear grass
beds on the north end. They must have heard me.
As I scanned the area just over the sand bar, all I saw
were tails, beautiful tails. Mullet were everywhere and
were being blasted out of the water by huge sea trout. It
was if every redfish in the entire lagoon system had gathered
at this very spot. I poled to a safe distance and began pointing
out the fish to my sport, looking down at my waiting nine-weight
all the while. I think he read my mind.
"Hey, you going to fish?"
"I usually don't when I'm being paid." I bit my lip.
"Well, it sure would be a lot more fun if you did."
"You okay with wading?" All the while putting on my booties
and trying desperately not to break my rod as I snatched it
out of the rod holder.
We slid quietly over the side of the skiff and began the
short trek to waiting and feeding reds as all hell broke
out around us. Twenty, maybe thirty reds tailed in twelve,
or less, inches of water. I instructed Jack to walk to my
left a hundred feet and pick a fish. I walked over about
twenty feet to the right of the school and stood watching
and waiting and just as his fly touched the water, I let go
with my cast. A boil of fish exploded on the flies and both
of us hooked up at the same time.
As my fish ripped into the backing, I flipped open my phone
and called Linda. The first thing she heard was a singing
reel. "You found 'em, didn't you?"
"I'll be a little late." And with that, I hung up. I had to,
my fish was about to go over and find out what was wrong with
his fish, and his was about to do the same with mine.
We watched the sun setting as we caught red and after
tailing red. I think the final tally was thirty-two reds
between us, and they never stopped.
As the afternoon's sun began to cast that golden glow over
my skiff, I noticed Jack had walked back to the boat and
appeared to be getting a drink of water, and then I noticed
he was removing his flats booties. I released my last fish
and joined him.
"You okay?" I knew we had fished almost fifteen hours, and
the adrenaline rush had to be still surging through his every
cell, besides, he'd been slinging a nine-weight for two days.
"Go on back and fish, I am one-hundred-percent-plain-worn-out."
"Nope, if you're finished, I am too. I've had enough." I lied.
Jack and I sat on the side of the skiff for probably another
hour watching those fish feed. We hardly said a word. The sun
had set and silhouetted the shoreline; it was almost dark when
we reached the ramp at Parrish.
After we said our good-byes, and went our separate ways, I
relived that last three hours on the north end of the Indian
River, and I obviously still do. Jack called me a couple of
days later to thank me again. My thanks went to him more so.
It's not often one has the privilege to have a client like him.
His patience far exceeded mine, but it all paid off in the end
of that golden afternoon. He went on to say that after three
days, he was still sore as hell, but it was one of the best
fishing trips he'd ever taken. Me too.
'Til next time. ~ Flats
Gary grew up in central Florida and spent much
of his youth fishing the lakes that dot the area.
After moving a little closer to the coast, his
interests changed from fresh to salt. Gary still
visits his "roots" in the "lake behind the house."
He obtained his captain's license in the early '90's
and fished the blue waters of the Atlantic for a little
over twelve years. His interests in the beautiful shallow
water flats in and around the famous Mosquito Lagoon came
around twenty-five years ago. Even though Captain Gary
doesn't professionally guide anymore, his respect of the
waters will ever be present.
Gary began fly fishing and tying mostly saltwater
patterns in the early '90's and has participated as
a demo fly tier for the Federation of Fly Fishers
on numerous occasions. He is a private fly casting
and tying instructor and stained glass artist,
creating mostly saltwater game fish in glass.