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Indian River Lagoon Seasons


While fishing along the Space Coast is a year around activity, the seasons do play a role in species diversity and activity and by knowing what to expect and how to react at any given time of the year your chances of success are greatly increased. Here in Central Florida, the average summer high temperature is about 90°F while the average nighttime low is about 70°F. However we do have times where the daytime temperature can rise into the high 90s with a low in the 80s at night. In winter the averages are 72°F high during the day and 52°F low at night. When a cold front moves through however nighttime lows can drop below freezing with a daytime high in the 50s. Knowing what, when and where to fish during these times can make all the difference.


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Fishing the lagoon in the "dead of winter" can mean enduring numbing cold one day and warm shirt sleeve weather the next. By January water temperatures have cooled considerably from the previous summer and the fish will be seeking the warmest water they can find. The primary species sought will be redfish and sea-trout, while black drum, spanish mackerel, jacks and bluefish are also a possibility. The primary forage will be shrimp and crabs.
If fishing the flats, start by working the deeper edges in the morning and then move onto wind protected shallows as the day warms. One particular spot to target as the day warms is the shallow water sand pockets or "potholes". If you have ever walked in grass in your front yard barefoot in the summer and then stepped onto sand or the sidewalk you will know why. While the grass remains cool, the sand or sidewalk can be quite hot. On the flats, these "potholes" act as solar heat collectors as the sun rises and radiate heat into the water column directly above, while the surrounding areas where the bottom is covered by sea-grasses remain cool. Trout and redfish love to warm themselves over these sandy spots on sunny days. After a cold front passes, deeper holes, pockets, dredged channels and canals are the places to try, especially if they are adjacent to shallow flats. If using artificial lures here, try the plastic shrimp imitations such as the DOA shrimp or Cotee plastic jigs fished slow along the bottom. Remember that fish are cold blooded so that when the temperatures drop, they become sluggish due to the lowering of their metabolism. A few days after the front passes and the weather warms up a bit the fish will return to the flats and sun themselves around the "potholes".


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As spring approaches we will still have a few cold spells to deal with. On the cooler days continue to target fish warming themselves over the sandy potholes among the flats or along the deeper edges and holes, moving upward on the flats as the day warms looking for tailing reds. Soon you will begin to see schools of slot sized reds cruising the flats. Larger reds may still be hanging out along the edges. As we progress through the month of March, the finger mullet will begin to show up in the lagoon. This is when the fishing can get really exciting as working shallow "walk the dog" type surface plugs like Heddon's Zara Spook, MirrOlure's Top Dog Series, or Rapala's Skitterwalk Series of plugs around and among these schools of mullet can bring explosive surface strikes. This fishing is best in the early mornings and late evenings while midday is best working soft plastics and other jig type lures among the deeper flats and edges.


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Summer is the season of baitfish in the lagoon and with them come a variety of predatory fish. First of all schools of finger mullet are all over the flats sparking great shallow water surface action for Trout and Reds in the early mornings and late afternoons, especially after the ever present afternoon thundershowers. They can be caught on "surface walking" plugs such as the Zara Spooks, Rapala Skitterwalks and the Mirrolure Top Dogs, as well as live shrimp and live finger mullet. Due to warmer water temperatures and the presence of the finger mullet you may also encounter Snook, Tarpon, Jack Crevalle, and Ladyfish.
In addition, earlier during the Spring, a species of fish in the grunt family called Pigfish was spawning in the seagrasses of the Indian River Lagoon and by late May, the young were still under two inches in length. However by July they are about three inches in length and the trout absolutely love them. Fished under a popping cork over the seagrass or around docks and other structure they will make a grunting noise while on the hook that larger trout will seek out. They can also be used for Redfish and Snook.
In addition to the mullet and pigfish, schools of glass minnows, which are actually Bay Anchovies, are forming in deeper waters, bringing schools of smaller seatrout, ladyfish, and jacks to the surface. Look for terns and other seabirds feeding and try the area with a size 3/16 plain chrome Krocodile Spoon. Another personal favorite is Rapala's original Floating Minnow, model F09 in silver. Great fun with 8 lb spinning tackle!
In areas of moving water like the culverts of mosquito impoundments, Snook and Seatrout are feeding on minnows washed out of the culverts. Juvenile Tarpon are rolling in the canals and creeks connecting to the lagoon while Snook are hugging mangrove shorelines in the early mornings. Manmade structures such as docks will hold Mangrove Snapper, Snook and Seatrout as will deeper mangrove shorelines. Mangrove Snapper will take live shrimp as well as small spoons and jigs. They will also smack small top-water plugs on the flats. Try the Rapala original floating minnow model F03 or F05 on light tackle. Pompano will also start to school in the lagoon towards the later summer. Look for them around edges of sand flats, and around bridges with small jigs tipped with pieces of shrimp or sand fleas.


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As the weather starts to cool a bit in the fall, the seatrout will move towards the edges of the flats where great topwater action can still be had while the redfish can still be found shadowing the schools of Finger Mullet, will soon migrate out of the area. Where the summer flats action for trout was very early and late in the evenings, as the weather cools the action starts a little later and lasts on the flats until the sun is almost overhead. After the first cold fronts of the season pass try the sand potholes after the sun has come up. In deeper waters, the glass minnows are starting their southward migration but will draw plenty of action as long as they are around. The pompano will start schooling up and gathering near inlets as they prepare to move out through the inlets and hunt sand fleas along the beaches. Flounder will start to show up near the inlets as well. Gag Grouper can be found in some of the deeper areas of the lagoon and around bridges and other structure.

Good Luck!

Dean Pettit