Indian River Backcountry Trout
September 30, 2010
Shallows at the extreme northern end of the Indian River Lagoon are off the beaten path, but full of seatrout. Here's a look at the fishing in summertime. (July 2008)
Brent Jacobs casts for speckled trout against a backdrop provided by the levee road along the northwest shore of the Indian River Lagoon.
Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
A cloud of dust trailed behind the vehicle as it rattled over the sandy washboard road, obliterating the view to the rear.
On either side, a tangle of semi-tropical jungle was grudgingly giving way to more open vistas of mixed hardwood and palm hammocks splotched across a tableau of marsh grass.
The setting was hardly one to stir the call of the sea that hides in every saltwater angler. This slice of Old Florida seemed more designed to tease a deer hunter or bass fisherman. Yet we were driving across southern Volusia County, intent upon hooking up with a few speckled trout.
The dirt path that my son Brent and I were following leads from U.S. 1 into the very northern tip of both the Indian River Lagoon and the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
In colder weather here, you would meet far more duck hunters than anglers. And even in the summer, fishermen are scarce. In July, it is off the beaten path, hot and bug-infested
On the other hand, in the summer you can wade right into the water and find yourself amid schools of seatrout.
When we reached the end of the passable road, the lagoon stretched to the south before us.
If you follow the western shore for about three miles, you'd reach a very rough dirt boat landing near the village of Scottsmoor, where you could launch a johnboat.
At perhaps half that distance along the eastern shore lies Boathouse Point and beyond it, many more miles of shoreline before you reach the Haulover Canal.
All of which goes to say that this is one remote destination.
To the east, along the shore that lies in the NWR and past a locked gate, the road continued as a grass-covered pathway suitable for foot travel. On one side lies the Indian River Lagoon, and the other side is bordered by manmade mosquito-control canals. That was the direction we planned to move as we fished the shallow fringe of the lagoon.
Donning flats boots and sporting fly rods, we were soon wading into the Indian River's warm summer waters. Wading is the only practical way to fish afoot on much of this end of the lagoon. Otherwise, you would need to make gargantuan casts from the shore just to reach two-foot depths. Often at 100 yards out, we were just reaching thigh-deep water.
Pretty quickly, as we inched along parallel to the shore, we could hear sharp pops as the water roiled nearby.
That characteristic sound of a seatrout feeding near or on the surface is guaranteed to arouse the interest of any trout angler. Instantly, fly line went whizzing through the air as we laid our offerings near the most recent disturbances.
We were casting smaller-size No. 2 Clouser Minnows in blue-and-white or chartreuse-and-white patterns, both of which are usually killers for seatrout. The shallow depth of water over the sand and grass bottom we were targeting dictated the smaller-size flies. Even those sizes required a weedguard to keep them from fouling in the skinny water.
The action proved steady, but sporadic -- and at first, a bit disappointing. We would wade for perhaps 50 yards with no action, then find ourselves amid a school of active trout that attacked our flies.
But those fish soon proved to be some of the smallest trout I'd ever caught. Most were around 9 or 10 inches, but some were only 6 inches long!
Eventually, we found that wading farther offshore, into water nearly waist-deep, put us on the larger trout.
For this part of the lagoon, this situation was actually pretty odd. When feeding, the larger trout often come right up into water as shallow as 18 inches if that's where the bait is hanging out. And never before here had I gotten into schools of such small trout.
This day, the specks in the 15- to 17-inch range were deeper, regardless of why it was happening. We were even able to switch to larger flies on the deeper flat.
As for wading, along most of this part of the lagoon, the bottom is hard sand interspersed with some areas of broken shell. All in all, it makes for good footing, but inevitably you can expect to hit areas of softer bottom that may mire you up to the ankles or deeper. Generally, those are small and isolated.
The conditions and angling action for seatrout that we encountered are not unique to this portion of the northern end of the Indian River Lagoon. Similar situations can be found along the western shore as far south as the community of Mims, just north of Titusville. Through there, however, the access to shore is rather spotty.
On the eastern side of the lagoon in the NWR, the setting is more remote, but access to fishing is actually better. A number of dirt spur roads off old State Route 3 lead to or near the water on this side, all the way down to the Haulover Canal.
Also, levee roads separating the lagoon from more mosquito canals parallel most of the actual shoreline. Though the bulk of these are closed to vehicles, they provide excellent foot access.
While walking these paths, just be aware that you're not the only predator here. The brackish water in the canals is home to a population of alligators, which you may sometimes find sunning themselves in the roads and blocking your way.
Obviously, it's a good idea to give them a wide berth!
During the summer months, the other hazard of targeting this area is the insect life.
Be sure to bring plenty of repellent with you. Otherwise, the mosquitoes may simply carry you away.
Under the roads connecting to the lagoon are a number of culverts, used to flush these canals on a regular basis so as to help control mosquito populations. This region gets almost negligible tidal fluctuations, but they are usually enough to cause water to flow through these structures, in and out of the canals.
Invariably, the small channels leading into the pipe mouths are a bit deeper than surrounding waters and offer havens for trout, along with redfish and occasional snook.
Whenever you happen upon one of these structures, they're worth being the target of a few casts.
As I mentioned, on this trip we chose to chase the speckled trout with fly-casting gear. A good setup for this fishing is a 6- to 8-weight rod and matching reel.
As with most shallow saltwater situations, a weight-forward floating line works well, coupled with a leader that matches the length of the rod.
Since water depth is not a concern, lightly weighted flies like a Lefty's Deceiver or Bendback can be used, along with Clouser Minnows.
Most days, in fact, the color of the offering seems more important than the exact pattern. Lighter color patterns having chartreuse in them are hard to beat here.
On windy days -- or if you simply don't care to beat the air and water into a froth with a long rod -- spinning gear works perfectly for this action. Indeed, it allows you to cover more water with longer casts under any conditions. A 7-foot medium action rod with matching reel and 10-pound-test can handle just about any trout you hook here.
Because the water is so shallow, your best bets for artificial lures are noisy topwater plugs or jig-and-grub combos. On top, chuggers, poppers or prop baits all can attract the fish -- though smaller versions of the Skitterwalk or saltwater models of the Zara Spook family of stickbaits are hard to beat.
Beneath the surface, a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig tipped with a 3-inch chartreuse trailer is generally a killer for seatrout.
If live bait is more to your liking, a shrimp under a popping cork works well. That is especially true when the trout are popping the top, as they were during this trip. Of course, that will entail having a floating bait buck of some type to tether to you and pull along as you fish.
To avoid that inconvenience, you could turn to the new Berkley Saltwater Gulp! baits. Impregnated with scents that are released in the water, the 2- and 3-inch sizes in natural color are outstanding for seatrout. They easier to use than live bait since you don't have worry about keeping them alive. And they are tough enough that you can catch several trout on one before having to change baits. All in all, the Gulp! takes a lot of hassle out of the fishing.
But regardless of whether you cast a shrimp or a Gulp! with the popping cork, the method is exactly the same.
Toss out the rig and let it sit for moment or two. Then give the line a good snap that makes the cork jerk across the surface. The beads attached to the wire running thorough the float give off a clacking sound to go with the pop.
All that ruckus sounds like a trout feeding to others of that species -- obviously, because they often come running to the spot and then hit the bait they encounter there.
SUMMING IT UP
Regardless of what tactics that you employ once you get to the northern end of the Indian River Lagoon, expect to find some enjoyable wade-fishing. You're not likely to have to share the water with a lot of other folks as you wade in a region bypassed by a lot of what the modern world considers progress.