Fly Fishing Florida

By: Terry Tomalin

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Angling for Florida's big three: tarpon, bonefish and permit

When the world’s top anglers talk about the best places in the world to fly fish, Florida always ranks at the top of the list.

Saltwater fly fishing, the fastest growing segment of the recreational fishing market, was once considered an elitist sport.

Legend has it that the ancient Macedonians caught trout on artificial flies while the apostles were throwing their nets into the Sea of Galilee. Yet despite its rich history, fly rodding, especially in saltwater, was long considered an oddity

But in recent years, everyday anglers looking for a challenge have embraced this fishing technique that can trace its origins back to Biblical times.

Today, serious fly fishermen anglers will pay top dollar to catch exotic species such as peacock bass in the Amazon or tiger fish in the Zambezi River. But no self-respecting fly fisherman’s life list is complete without a trip to Florida to catch the big three.

Try your luck with Florida’s big three: tarpon, bonefish and permit

While anglers fly fish from Pensacola to Naples and Jacksonville to Miami, the Florida Keys is by far the most popular fly rod destination in the state for three simple reasons: tarpon, bonefish and permit.

Tarpon, the silver king of gamefish, are chrome-bodied brutes that can grow to six feet in length and weigh more than 200 pounds. Catching one on a fly is considered the ultimate angling experience for good reason. For every ten fish hooked, an angler may only get one fish alongside the boat.

Year after year, the same anglers return, booking personal guides during the peak seasons for tarpon, permit and bonefish, the gray ghost of the grass flats. The water is so clear and the fish are so smart, that a good guide often is the difference between success and failure. The best guides can book up a year in advance, especially during tournament season. So plan early, but the reward is well worth the effort. 

Catch redfish on the Nature Coast, and then go scalloping

The shallow grass and sand flats off Homosassa are known for big tarpon and the dedicated fly rodders who follow these silver kings with near religious devotion.

Hidden clusters of rocks help keep pleasure boaters away, so these tarpon hunters can pursue their prey in peace. Each Spring, the grass flats draw some of the world’s best anglers to test their skills against the granddaddy of sportfish.

The Gulf Coast has produced its share of world record fish in recent years, and some anglers will fish for weeks at a time on the slim chance that a monster fish will put them on the list of legends.

The Homosassa area is also known for its trout and redfish. And if you are there in the month of July, you can go scalloping after you finish fishing.

The “IRL” offers diverse estuaries

The Indian River Lagoon System, or "IRL," as it is called by locals, extends 156 miles along Florida's east coast from Ponce de Leon Inlet to Jupiter Inlet.

This area is considered to be North America's most diverse estuary, with overlapping tropical and subtropical climates that support 4,300 plants and animals, 72 of which are endangered or threatened.

The lagoon, which includes the prime fishing areas of the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, Turkey Creek, Sebastian River, Banana River, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the Mosquito Lagoon and Canaveral National Seashore, is known for its monster redfish.

Over the years, fly fishermen have set more than a dozen International Game Fish Association world records fishing this waterway.  The combination of big fish, a large area to fish, and minimal angling pressure makes the Indian River Lagoon one of the top fly fishing destinations in Florida.

If You Go

You don’t necessarily need a guide to catch fish on a fly in Florida. A simple 8-weight rod with a basic saltwater reel and sinking line is all that’s required to get started. Fly fishermen who wade along the grass flats stand as good a chance as their boating brethren of catching a fish.

However, Florida law does require that both residents (except for those over 65 and under 16) and visitors get a license before they fish in state waters. For more information, go to www.myfwc.com.

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