May 24, 2012
Where to Launch
To fish the “outside,” (the local term for the shallows adjacent to Flamingo) you can trailer into Everglades National Park at the entrance south of Florida City and launch at the Flamingo ramp, or launch from numerous public ramps in the Upper or Middle Florida Keys. Your one-day Everglades National Park pass plus boat launch is $10.00. The ramp has ample parking, but does fill up on picture-perfect weekends and holidays, so get their early! There is also an inside launch ramp that provides access to backcountry waters. At present there is no overnight lodging or restaurant, though a primitive campground and a marina store with basic groceries, bait and fuel is in operation. Visit www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/flamdirections.htm
for contact phone numbers and directions to Flamingo.
Local knowledge is imperative here. Basic channel markers exist in deepest channels, only the occasional PVC stake marks smaller cuts transecting the flats.
There are ramps to launch boats into the Lagoon and roads such as Biolab Rd., to drive along until you see an enticing opening to wade out from or launch a canoe or kayak. Canaveral National Seashore, on A1A south of New Smyrna Beach, has two launch ramps suitable for outboard skiffs; the southernmost (parking lot No. 5) is pretty good for wading, too. The unimproved Eddy Creek ramp in Playalinda Beach, just east of Titusville, is another dual-purpose access point, with hard bottom for waders. The Haulover ramp, accessed from State Road 3/Kennedy Parkway on the west side of the Lagoon, is very popular for boats of any size; the Haulover Canal links the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon.
Hotspots from South to North:
-- Whale Tail: Open-water flat near the very southern end of the lagoon.
-- Cucumber Island: Some good redfish flats near this island on the east side.
-- Glory Hole: A shallow, grassy cut well into the east shoreline that fills up with redfish, and skiffs.
-- Tiger Shoals: Mid-lagoon flat that holds schooling reds.
-- Georges Bank: A long, east-west sandbar west of the southern Canaveral Seashore ramp, along the last bit of open water at the north end of the lagoon.
For more productive areas, check out Florida Sportsman Chart No. 04.
The St. Johns River system between St. Augustine and Jacksonville has hundreds of launch ramps, many close to creeks bordered by ideal spartina marsh for redfish sight fishing. Refer to Florida Sportsman chart No.'s 01 and 02 for locations, or visit www.Jacksonville-boating.com/boat_ramps.html
for detailed listings and ramp locator maps.
Tackle and Flies
Most fly fishers carry an 8- and a 9-weight outfit to cast flies best suited for reds. A floating line is the primary sight casting line, though a sinking line is best for prospecting deeper waters. A commercial knotless, tapered bonefish leader is ideal for stealthy presentations.
Unless you are fishing flats where mature bull reds live, choosing a fly rod and reel for redfishing boils down to what size fly you're casting, and current wind velocity. Most flats reds are 4- to 12-pounders, so there's certainly no concern that an 8- to 9-weight rod won't handle a fish of that size. Many fly fishers enjoy fishing lighter rods, even 6-weights when its calm, and small flies are the order of the day. On the flip side, a 25-pound-plus brute might be easier to land quickly with a 10-weight rod.
When you're casting into a stiff breeze, particularly when casting heavy or bulky flies, you will have to decide whether stepping up to a bigger rod will help your presentation. Weighted flies for fish in over two feet of water will be tougher to turn over, so again, keep that in mind when choosing a rod.
Reds will take poppers and “waking” flies. From left, Woolhead Mullet, Pencil Popper, Skipping Bug, and two foam Gurglers.
Most flats fishing for reds is done with a full floating line, and many fly fishers prefer a saltwater taper (many companies call them their “redfish, “bonefish” or “flats” lines) that has a shorter, aggressive head in the 30-foot range, rather than
40 feet. This allows the caster to load the rod better, and false cast less, to deliver a fly to a fish less than 50 feet away. This taper also handles big flies better.
As far as redfish leaders go, you'll have to consider the conditions foremost. Slick calm, sunny days can put reds on edge, so a longer leader will be more stealthy, distancing the fly line impact from the fish. You may need an 11- to 13-foot leader for spooky fish, otherwise a 9-footer or even shorter will do the job on a choppy surface, or darker days when the fish are aggressive. Be aware that the longer leaders are tougher to turn over with weighted flies, or on especially short shots. A 12-footer is harder to turn over than an 8-footer when you spot a fish 20 feet from the bow. A long leader is also harder to turn over when you reach out for a fish 70 feet away. You just have to find a good middle ground. Most commercially made, knotless flats leaders are offered in tippet strengths of 8 to 20 pounds. It's a good idea to use the heavier tippet on flats with rough terrain, or when casting heavy flies. Reds are generally not leader-shy, but fluorocarbon might be a good choice is very clear water, and when abrasion resistance is a concern.
Crab patterns are deadly on tailing reds. This assortment includes the Kwan Fly, Raghead Crab, Borski's Chernobyl Crab and Bonefish Critter Crab, Del's Merkin and others.
As fly fishing for reds exploded, so has the number of dedicated redfish fly patterns. Reds eat crabs, shrimp and baitfish in shallow water so a good selection of flies would cover these food types. Size-wise, it's a good idea to let the prevailing forage guide you. Most redfish flats flies are tied on hooks in the No. 4 to 2/0 range. Crab flies are typically weighted with lead eyes so that the fly plummets for the bottom as the real thing would do. Some flies are heavily hackled, or tied with buoyant materials to keep the fly in a cruising fish's face in very shallow water. Most Florida redfishers claim that the basic, colorful attractor patterns that worked years ago are not as effective today on hard-pressured fish. That's a topic for debate, but the move has been to more realistic patterns in smaller sizes. To cut to the chase, a good Florida redfish fly box should contain the following patterns, in the following color combos:
>> Sea-Ducers in red/white with p
earl flash, brown/orange with gold flash, all brown with gold flash, Shrimp Sea-Ducer (all brown grizzly hackle)
>> Bendbacks in green over white with pearl flash, brown over orange with gold flash
>> Clouser Minnows (weight according to depth) in chartreuse over white, with pearl flash, brown over orange, with copper flash
>> Crab impersonators: Del's Merkin, Dorsy's Kwan, Borski's Chernobyl Crab, Raghead Crab
>> Shrimp/gobie impersonators: Borski's Bonefish Slider, Borski's Swimming Shrimp, Tasty Toad (tan and orange), Marabou Muddler
Streamers for redfish include, from left, the Prince of Tides Bendback, Sea-Ducer, a spoon fly, Maribou Muddler, Eztaz Shrimp, orange-and-brown Bendback and Eztaz Sea-Ducer.