East-Central Florida Flats/Back-Country Trout


This past week I was chased south out of Minnesota on the heels of a winter storm that almost kept us on the ground. Florida was the destination, and amongst other things on the itinerary was a small dose of fishing with the family on the Banana River/Mosquito Lagoon area near Cocoa Beach. I’ve fished on a few saltwater excursions in various locales, but with kids with and only a ½ day to fish, I decided to hire a guide to make the process go that much more smoothly. Not only that, but we were maxed-out on our checked-luggage and couldn’t have hauled a single scrap of our own fishing gear down!

After much deliberation and some discussions, I selected Captain Jim Ross to take us out and show everyone some of the types of fishing I’ve done on the Eastern Shore of VA every falls. While the scenery wouldn’t be quite the same, the targeted species would be similar. Not to mention, even though the focus would be to get bit and show the kids a good time, my hope was to study Captain Jim’s approach and perhaps borrow some tactics to take northward. Jim has been heralded as one of the “pioneers” credited with bringing shallow water “sight” fishing to the Indian and Banana Rivers, and Mosquito Lagoon in the early 1980’s, and though our fish that day weren’t up in the shallows lingering, the boys caught plenty to keep them happy, and I picked up more than a few tips I’ll bring elsewhere.

In working with guides and being friends with many more, the best advice I could offer regarding any outing would be to discuss expectations ahead of time. I made it clear that I’d like to put the boys on fish, and size wasn’t as big a premium as all the sights, sounds, and overall experience being their very first time on saltwater. Jim had been on a strong ocean-side bite that we decided was too far and too treacherous (4-6 foot waves) for the kids, so we stuck mostly to the tidal flats and lagoon backwater shallows. Although we would’ve preferred to get further out in terms of big fish and specifically redfish, we opted to soak some live shrimp under bobbers while I fan-casted the flats as we went along. The result was continuous action on all kinds of species like speckled trout, mullet, blowfish, silver perch, and even a small tarpon. Aside from the trout, what you and I would likely consider “non-target-species”, my kids were in awe-of. Especially the blowfish. Dolphins, manatees, even a squid made a rare appearance as they got pretty good at catching the quick shrimp and impaling the tail on a circle-hook.

I started the day throwing an X-Rap Pop in Chartreuse Ghost, and the wind quickly made us move to sub-surface offerings. Trigger X Saltwater Shrimp in Grey Ghost on a lead/red ¼ Bass Assassin spring-lock jig was probably the most effective bait for specks throughout the course of the day, though we didn’t turn any really-big fish. The spring-lock was an interesting twist and it did a great job keeping that plastic workable for a long period without having to fuss with the bait. The boys were tossing clacker-style or “popper” bobbers above live shrimp on VMC tournament circle hooks. The clacker set-up was a new one for me, consisting of your average float on a length of wire sandwiched between glass beads on the top and lead weights on the bottom. The bobber could travel a few inches or so, and when you picked up the bait and swept the rod tip, the bobber clacked, calling fish to your location to inspect. According to Jim, it’s such a deadly technique, people on the saltwater tournament circuits often look down at it. Everything eats shrimp too, so we caught a variety of fish especially on bait. Overall, a great experience for them, and a wonderful set of new skills and techniques for me to digest and hopefully apply elsewhere. The boys got to toss leftover shrimp to some over-eager pelicans back at the docks, which was one of the highlights of the trip for them, proving once again that it’s the simple things we tend to overlook which matter the most!

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Joel Nelson

From the big water of Chequamegon Bay in Northern Wisconsin, to the prairie ponds of the Ice Belt, to the streams of Yellowstone, Nelson has filled an enviable creel with experience, reeling in bluegills to lakers, walleyes to stream trout. Full Bio ›


  1. Here’s some more pics from the trip. We fished in a 2012 Skeeter ZX-22 bay boat, which was awesome for fishing the open flats we ran. I’ve been lucky enough to fish in a number of new Skeeters, and this one like all the others did not disappoint!

  2. Joel, now that is the right way to spoil the kids! Always great to be able to hop in someone else’s boat and pick up a few new techniques!

  3. Great report Joel! Looks like the kiddos had a blast. I’ll be heading down to Ft Myers in a week and hoping to get out and chase some specs and Redfish myself

  4. Yes Sir, you chose a god one in Capt. Ross!!! And while its nice to have some fishing equipment with, it is nice to use some one else’s every now and then too!!! Glad to see the kids did so well and the Mosquito Lagoon is on my inshore bucket list!!!

    I have never been able to use those bobbers yet, but my brother got his chance in Venice, LA a couple of weeks ago… A couple of miniscule reds at 26# and 23# for his big two of the ten he was able to play with…


  5. I’ve been in the Jensen Beach area since the begining of Jan and getting some experience wading the Indian River. Catching has been erratic. The popping cork is very effective and teeth marks on one. I was doing OK on some hair jigs I tied. Then I saw that young guy was out catching me so I picked his brain. He was using a Tsunami 1/8oz boxing glove shape with a Mirro Lil John twitch tail and I would have never bought that tail unless I saw his catch. The angle of the eye to the hook on this jig when worked erratic but aggressive stays remarkably weed free. The plastic is the toughest stuff I’ve ever used and didn’t have to change one out until after around 50 fish. When temps cooled had to swith to a 3/16oz jig weedless jig because the Tsumani would hang up a little when worked slowly. Another very effective lure when water cooled was a twitch crank by Mirro in 17 size chartreuse that stays suspended 10-12″ below the surface.

    Quite honestly I’m ready for ice out and some eye action.

    Grey Beard

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