Welcome to Salt Water Fly Fishing

Welcome to Fly Fishing The Salt! If you are just discovering the joys of fly fishing the salt (or salt chuck as some call it) here you will find information to steer you in the right direction. Tips on what equipment to use, why, where and how to fish. And we will try to include a little inspiration to get you going. For the experienced salt water angler, there will be personal stories about real fishermen and their experiences, tips on what flies for which fish and techniques that work. Your stories and articles are also most welcome. Share the knowledge and adventure. Pass it on! This is for you.

The Bronze Bruts of the Flats

By Capt. Gary (Flats Dude) Henderson

It was a typical early summer morning in August. One could cut the air with a knife. Not a ripple on the Indian River just east of Titusville, Florida. My Hewes Redfisher glided across the salty, pristine waters at close to fifty miles per hour, but seemed we were not moving. The glassy illusion of the river blended with the morning horizon where the heavens and earth became one.

Making a sharp left turn towards shore, I began to cut back the throttle, letting the skiff settle into eighteen inches of gin clear, quiet water. A silence fell over the flats. My wife, Linda, touched me on the shoulder, pointing out three Roseate Spoonbills, as their reflections painted an abstract watercolor on the river's slick canvas.

Gently, I climbed onto the poling platform and she began to remove the light spinning rods from their holders and put my fly rod together. Complete silence is of the utmost importance here. Any noise would spook our quarry for a long distance.

Poling the skiff southward and parallel to the shoreline, it didn't take long before Linda whispered, "eleven o'clock." I had been looking toward the stern of the boat and didn't see the rolling waters coming toward us. At least two hundred redfish were pushing water into a massive turmoil, disrupting the smooth surface of the river and my heartbeat! They were heading right for us and by the size of their "wakes," they were huge fish.

I quickly and quietly turned the skiff in the same direction as the fish were swimming, fearing the entire time, they would suddenly spook and be a constant nagging memory for us both. They didn't!

I was now kneeling on the tower thirty feet from these bronze brutes! My heart was in my throat and beating loudly enough to send the school scattering!

Linda had caught many reds on light tackle in her year and a half of being my wife and new fishing partner. Never had I seen anyone learn so quickly; the skill of handling ten to fifteen pound fish on eight-pound tackle. But these guys were not what she had ever experienced before. These fish were in the forty to fifty pound class!

Seconds seemed as hours as I poled quietly with the fish until I was sure they weren't skittish. Linda turned to look my way and I nodded. She fired the half-ounce gold spoon far across the school and began to retrieve it underneath them. When it reached the fish, they exploded! I held my breath and she snapped the tip of the rod several times, driving the hook deep in the jaw of a red that was now blistering toward the sunrise. All silence was now broken! The reel screamed, Linda screamed, I screamed...we all screamed!

Almost an hour had passed when we managed to get this monster close enough to get a really good look. I got a net over his head and, with help from an extremely excited wife, we carefully hoisted him into the boat for a quick measurement. Forty-eight and one half inches long, fifty-three pounds, and dead batteries in the camera! With a quick kiss on the top of the old red's head for luck, Linda revived him and he swam away. This was to be repeated two more times that morning!

This is a true story and a not so uncommon occurrence here in central Florida's Indian River Lagoon.

The Indian River Lagoon is not really a river at all, but a very important estuary and part of our inter-coastal waterway. It is comprised of three main bodies of water, the Banana River, Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon. The northern part of the "river" is where we mostly fish.

Flyfishing for reds is probably my favorite way to fish for these bulldog fighters. Usually a seven to nine weight rod with a weight forward, floating line is more than enough, since open water is the ticket here. Along with this, two hundred yards of twenty-pound backing is standard equipment. Oh yeah, and a good drag! In the fly box, any type of shrimp imitation will work. These fish will even take top water flies, but with their turned-down mouth, it's comical to watch them almost have to roll over on their backs to take one. I tie a gold bend back pattern that I have found to be very lethal.

Sight fishing is the exciting part. These guys "tail" like bonefish and permit. A redfish that has a crab or a shrimp cornered in a clump of grass, in twelve inches of water, just has to stick that red tail out of the water, thus, giving up his location! The trick is to either carefully and quietly pole up within casting distance or wade to the tailing fish. The fly placement has to be three or four feet past the fish and, when stripped, has to be within half a foot of his nose. Too far results in a fish that doesn't see the fly, too close results in an explosion of water and a very ticked off redfish! Once spooked, forget that fish for a few hours.

Light tackle is another way of taking these wary creatures. Usually, we are armed with a seven-foot, medium-light rod and a reel loaded with six or eight pound test line. The running line is attached to a twenty-four inch twenty pound leader. Our preferred lure is a Johnson gold spoon, either one half ounce or one quarter ounce, depending on wind and depth of water. The same technique is applied with spinning gear and flyfishing for reds. The closer one can get the better. Accuracy is the secret to getting the strike. I usually tell people that fish with me, if they are able to hit a five-gallon bucket at sixty feet, they should do okay!

Several years ago, I became involved with an organization that cut its teeth to protect the redfish from over-fishing by the commercial netters. A large red, say, over twelve pounds, looses a lot of desire for table fare. They become rather tough and tasteless. However, these larger reds are the breeders that we need to keep in our waters. The Florida Conservation Association (FCA) was born, now known as the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida. Many studies of over-harvest by purse seine nets were causing a very noticeable decline in the redfish population. About the same time, someone came up with a recipe for "blackened redfish." This opened up a whole new commercial market for these large breeding sized reds. When these fish begin their spawning, they congregate in large schools and swim the coastlines on, or near the surface. Being easy to locate from a spotter aircraft, the pilot would simply give the coordinates of the fish and the purse-seine boats would literally scoop up the entire school.

Several years of this over-fishing went by and the recreational fishermen went to the politicians for help. However, several of the politicians, here in Florida, had vested interests in the commercial fishing industry. So, by pressure from the CCA, many meetings with the top government officials and other agencies, the CCA was successful in closing the season on redfish and having them put into a "gamefish status."

As the years passed, the reds came back as strong as ever. We have opened the season again on the "keeper" sized fish. The slot limit is no shorter than eighteen inches and not to exceed twenty-seven inches and limited to one fish per person per day. My personal "slot" is twenty-three to twenty-seven inches. My wife Linda however, is strictly release. After listening to me for several years about my concerns of the reds, and the fact that they "drum," she politely kisses each one on the nose, wishes him well and turns 'em loose (she reminded me of my own boat rule, "anglers' choice").

Now, I release my fair share of reds. However, I will keep one for the table every once in a while. These white fillets marinated in fresh lemon juice, Louisiana Hot Sauce and a seasoning salt, dredged in yellow corn meal then deep-fried in peanut oil, well, you get the idea! Oh yes, they are excellent on the grill, too! But, there's still the great feeling one has just watching the red swim away.

So, if y'all get down here, or up here for that matter, be sure to invest in a trip to the Indian River Lagoon. Go ahead, pick a fight with our Bronze Brutes of the Flats! ~ Flats Dude

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