Did you know that the Indian River Lagoon is the most biodiverse ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere? The Indian River Lagoon is comprised of three different lagoons: The Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River and Indian River, with the Banana and Indian Rivers not being rivers at all. These lagoons are located on the East coast of Florida along what is known as the Space Coast with Cape Canaveral looming in the background. Indian River Lagoon (IRL) boasts 685 fish species, 370 bird species, 2,100 plant species, and 2,200 animal species and is the only place in the world where the Atlantic salt marsh snake is found. There are several different habitats that are found within the lagoon which also makes it one of the top fisheries in the country. Seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and salt marshes all play a big role in providing food and habitat to wide variety of fish species. Tides do not play a big factor here in the lagoon, so planning your trip is much easier than other east coast Florida locations. Habitat, fish species and fishing techniques will be discussed when fishing the Indian River Lagoon.
Seagrass beds play the most important role within the lagoon as they act as a food source and as a nursery that provides cover from predators for a number of different species of fish as well as shrimp, crab and other invertebrates. This seagrass is related to grass we all know in our dry land world, but adapted to life underwater once sea water levels rose. Today, it acts as the foundation of the food chain within the estuaries. Some of the most exciting inshore fishing can be found along these vast fields of seagrass beds for that reason.
Along undeveloped portions of the lagoon, you will find mangrove forests. These forests act much like the seagrass beds in providing food and shelter for juvenile fish species. The roots and decaying leaves that fall into the water offer up feeding opportunities for young fish, which in turn attract much larger predatory fish. These shorelines also offer up great fishing opportunity.
Whats an inshore fishery without salt marshes and oyster bars? Again, the salt marshes provide a nursery for young, growing fish and provide feeding opportunities for larger game fish as well. Although the marshes are typically too shallow for predatory fish to access, they can be found cruising the edges waiting for bait fish to come and go from the marsh. In the northern reaches of the Indian River Lagoon, oyster bars can be found which provide excellent feeding grounds for redfish, black drum, snook, seatrout and sheepshead.
So what types of fish can you find within the IRL and which habitats are they more apt to visit?
There are several different species, but lets discuss some of the more targeted gamefish, known as the big four.
Spotted Seatrout are found throughout the lagoon and can be caught on a number of different techniques. Seatrout are ambush hunters so fishing potholes within the seagrass beds often produce. Live shrimp works well when targeting trout, but for a more exciting style try topwater plugs in the mornings for explosive hits. In deeper water (~4 ft.) throw spoons, jigs with soft plastics or a suspending twitchbait to entice the strike. You can also find the trout hanging out around the mangrove shorelines and canals. During the coldest times of the year, large schools can be found in deeper holes. You will need to slow your presentation down in order to find success. Average size of trout caught will be in the 2lb range, but fish reaching up to 20lbs is possible.
Redfish within the Indian River Lagoon is quickly gaining worldwide recognition. Average redfish are found around 6 lbs, but 50lb fish can be had. Being more of an opportunistic feeder than seatrout, they can be caught using cut mullet or halved blue crab while fished along the bottom. Artificials are also very effective with topwater plugs using the walk the dogtechnique being the most exciting. Spoons, jigs and soft plastics can also be effective. Look for schools along the grass flats and rooting around in oyster bars.
Snook is another highly sought after gamefish. Much like the seatrout, they are ambush predators and can be found along mangrove shorelines, creek mouths, oyster bars and docks. Fishing for Snook at night along lighted docks is another popular way to target them. Live bait and artificial lures can be used, but be warned, Snook are ferocious fighters with an abrasive mouth that can cut line. Using a fluorocarbon leader is recommended in order to not lose your catch. The gill plate is also sharp and can cut your hand if improperly handled.
Last and certainly not least on the big four list is Tarpon. Tarpon are the largest species of Herring in the world and can reach up to 200 lbs. But here in the IRL, you can find them up to about 100 lbs. with the average more like 5 to 20 lbs. You can target Tarpon with a wide variety of tactics including dead and live bait, topwater plugs, spoons, soft plastics and subsurface lures. When hooked, Tarpon are known for their aerial acrobatics that is sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
Of course, the best way to experience this unique ecosystem is with a guide. A qualified guide knows the area well and takes all the guess work out when you are searching for that next fish. Captain Mark Wright of Florida East Coast Fishing Adventures has the knowledge and experience to make your day enjoyable and successful. Captain Wright does things your way, whether you’re looking for a kick-backed way of fishing, a diehard looking for your next trophy catch or you are just wanting to learn the ropes of flats fishing, look no further then Florida East Coast Fishing Adventures.