MOSQUITO LAGOON, FL — Have you seen this redfish before? I wouldn’t be surprised. A quick-and-dirty calculation of the ratio between fishermen and redfish in the Mosquito Lagoon suggests that the 43-inch trophy in the photograph above has almost certainly appeared on numerous Facebook profiles before starring on my own wall. And this fish (or one of his many portly brethren) can star on your Facebook wall, too. All you need is a few hundred bucks, a smidgen of luck, and the phone number of a good fishing guide.
No doubt the Sciaenops ocellatus serves some vital role in the marine ecosystem of the Space Coast, and after quick snapshot we let him return to his quotidian underwater chores. But for our purposes his primary job was to oblige us by getting caught. This he did, reluctantly it seemed, after a day of polling around and tossing countless chunks of fresh-cut ladyfish, mullet and live pinfish in the path of his aquatic posse.
He and his cohorts take the bait with enough regularity to make the Indian River Lagoon one of the best in-shore fishing hot spots in Florida, attracting millions of fishermen each year. The bull reds — “slobberknockers” one local guide calls them, because they’ll knock the slobber out of you — are more or less penned in by the shallow lagoon, which stretches from Ponce Inlet south of Daytona, to Juniper Inlet in Palm Beach County. The Indian River Lagoon actually comprises three smaller bodies of water that include the Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River and Banana River. In addition to redfish (or red drum), the lagoon is a hot spot for black drum, spotted sea trout, snook and tarpon.
The reds travel in schools of 50 or 100 fish, frequently pushing up a wake in front of the school that permits sight fishing. On the best days (my more experienced friends report) it’s like fishing in a barrel except that the barrel is 156 miles long. On the worst days (I know from experience) it’s maddening. We returned to the Mosquito Lagoon a year after our first outing and spent the day with redfish out ahead of us like herds of dairy cows ambling about in a pasture, frequently in site but always just out of reach.
A nearby kayaker, though, got himself into a dramatic tussle for a moment when he hooked into a bull red directly underneath his kayak. He failed to set the hook, but if he had it would’ve been a memorable fight. When we return to the Mosquito Lagoon, it will be with a pair of kayaks!
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We consoled ourselves with the magnificent sunrise, the historical significance of the location (just along the railroad tracks used for the space shuttle booster rockets), and the comfortable salt breeze. And besides, the Dixie Crossroads Seafood Restaurant in Titusville was just a few minutes away. An empty ice chest doesn’t seem so bad after a basket of coconut shrimp and a margarita . . . or perhaps two.
How to Catch Redfish in the Mosquito Lagoon
Local fishing guides charge $300 to $500 for a guided fishing trip. All you need is some sunscreen, drinks and a lunch. They’ll teach you everything you need to know and put you within casting distance of the fish. Beyond that, here are two tips that may help:
Rule Number One: No bananas! Little did I realize on the day that we got skunked, I brought a banana as part of my lunch. The guide groaned and my fishing partner cast a condescending look my direction. Apparently bananas are bad luck, for reasons that date back to the days before science when bananas were associated with vermin infestations on south sea sailing ships. On the other hand, stowing away a banana may also provide an easy excuse for failure — and I find that always comes in handy!
Rule Number Two: Check Facebook along with the weather reports. Many guides now post their daily activities on their Facebook pages. Yesterday’s success is no guarantee for today, but you’ll get an idea of what’s catching by checking out the recent postings. Just search “Mosquito lagoon fishing guides” on Facebook. Tides don’t affect the lagoon, but a windy or stormy day will put the kibosh on your fun. Season matters too, and the Fall spawning season is the high point of the year.