Call it Red Heaven: It's the redfish that bite at Mosquito Lagoon in Central Florida

Call it Red Heaven: It's the redfish that bite at Mosquito Lagoon in Central Florida
Outdoor Channel

MERRITT ISLAND, Fla. (MCT) - The Mosquito Lagoon is a flats fishing paradise.

Labeled as the redfish capital of the world, the lagoon lives up to its billing.

Tailing redfish can be found all over this stretch of water that runs from the southern tip of New Smyrna Beach to the north end of Merritt Island in Central Florida.

It's a very shallow body of water. In simple terms, it's a 20-plus-mile flat.

"One of the best things about the lagoon is that you don't have to worry about the tides," said Jon Lulay, a captain who fishes the lagoon. "You can come out here anytime and find fish."

On calm days you can spot redfish tails. These fish generally feed off the bottom and give themselves away as their tails come out of the water.

This provides an excellent chance to sight-fish. This method is extremely popular in the winter when the water becomes gin clear.

There are schools of reds throughout the lagoon and several locations that attract fish.

Bigger reds congregate in the southern portion, near the "Whale Tail" - a sandbar in the shadow of NASA's launch pads. Fish run up and down the bar, feeding on crabs, shrimp and small baitfish.

This school is commonly targeted by recreational anglers and guides, so if you're looking to fish a secluded area, it's best to move on.

Schools of slot-sized fish are on the eastern flats of the southern end as well.

Move up into Eddy Creek, a small bay on the southeastern side if you need some protection from wind. Black drum bunch up in the creek in the winter.

Tiger Shoals in the central lagoon is another place to look for reds. The Pole-and-Troll zone established a few years ago is in this area as well and has been very successful. Without boats running over these fish they have a chance to settle down and some very big trout have been taken here. The northernmost part breaks up into a network of small islands and, while the fish will school here, it's mostly singles or small groups of fish.

"It's a great fishery, I spend most of my time here," Lulay said. "Every now and then I'll go over to the (Indian) river, but it's rare, I can almost always find fish here."

While redfish are the most consistent, the lagoon offers plenty of other opportunities.

Work near spoil islands just north of the Haulover Canal for snook and trout. Most snook here are on the small side, but you can get a few fish in the slot.

There are creeks and culverts lining the lagoon and when the redfish aren't cooperating, begin looking for these areas. Juvenile tarpon, snook and trout will be near them, especially if there is flowing water.

There are several places to wade the lagoon if you so choose. Bio-Lab Road boasts a hard bottom and a small boat ramp west of the Whale Tail.

Watch out for gators.

If you do wade this area, do not go alone and make sure you keep an eye out for large alligators.

Kayak fishing is popular most everywhere, but more so in the lagoon because of how shallow it is. Larger boats can only run in the channel here, making it much easier for those in a paddle craft.

In the winter time, the lagoon hosts huge schools of black drum. These fish will tail, but they muddy up the water. These fish root along the bottom, kicking up crabs and shrimp.

Big trout can be found on sand holes in the winter and the best offering is a soft plastic jerkbait.

The trout are difficult to catch because they're very spooky. A soft plastic jerkbait makes little sound when it hits the water and should keep fish from pushing off.

Flounder make an appearance in winter as well. There aren't huge numbers of them, so they're not commonly targeted here. Bounce jigs on sand holes or use fingerling mullet or shrimp under popping corks.

If you aren't successful in the lagoon, you can always give the Haulover Canal a try. This canal is loaded with fish and the best time to fish it is at night.

The canal only allows boat access at night. You can only fish from the shoreline during the day.

Drop some live crabs, pinfish and shrimp down and you could hook up on some big redfish, black drum, snook and trout.

© 2008, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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