Double Your Pleasure
Monster Reds Await Anglers Inshore and Offshore on Florida’s East Coast
By Mike Mazur
Florida’s Space Coast might be most famous for space-shuttle launches and NASA tours, but wise anglers know another type of rocket lurks in the waterways around this large peninsula bordering the Atlantic Ocean.
Here’s a hint: They’re red rockets.
Each year, bull redfish amass on the surface throughout the Cape Canaveral region, providing ample opportunity for anglers looking to score trophies on top. But there’s a catch: The “red tides” here don’t come in a one-size-fits-all package. Instead — to the delight of anglers — they’re encountered in both nearshore and inshore environments.
The most celebrated red-tide fishery here involves big schools of redfish that swarm throughout the Indian River Lagoon System, a network of interconnected rivers and lagoons that weave around Kennedy Space Center and its surroundings.
While redfish commonly school on the surface all year, they begin to cluster more tightly and in greater numbers as water temperatures heat up in late summer. These fish are big too, in the 15- to 40-pound-plus range.
“It’s generally good from August through October,” says Capt. Scott MacCalla (321-795-9259; www.redfishonfly.com). “We get a big influx of finfish — especially mullet and pogies — and the redfish transition over from shrimp and crabs. The warmer the water gets, the more aggressive the fish become.”
Guides cruise the Indian River, as well as nearby Mosquito Lagoon and the Banana River, looking for signs of reds on the surface. Calm conditions and clean water help them to spot the schools, which push wakes, fin and sometimes blow up bait on the surface.
Once a school is spotted, the stalking game starts.
“You’ve got to sneak up on them with a trolling motor or push pole, and cast past them,” says Capt. Troy Perez (321-268-1194; www.troyperez.com), who was among the first to put this fishery on the map more than 20 years ago. “Some days they’ll eat whatever you throw, but they’ve gotten tougher over the years.”
Perez says that at times the fish take only live or dead bait, but they can usually be coaxed into hitting soft-plastic swimbaits and plugs, such as Rapala X-Raps and MirrOlure MirrOdines.
Since redfish more than 27 inches must be released in Florida, MacCalla likes medium-heavy spinning gear with 20-pound braid and 40-pound shock leaders to minimize stress on the fish. Most important, he replaces damaging trebles on his plugs with single J hooks.
Another lesser-known Space Coast red tide erupts around the same time, August through November, in the open waters of the Atlantic. These schools are not as finicky as their inshore brethren, but they’re much more difficult to find. The trade-off, however, can make the search worthwhile.
“We’ve caught up to 40 on fly in one day,” says MacCalla. “If you can find them, they’re usually very easy to catch, and they’re all big. I caught one on a piece of beef jerky once!”
While that tactic might not be the preferred method, virtually any lure or bait tossed into these schools will be annihilated. But first you’ve got to find them.
To do that, two things are required — extremely calm conditions and excellent sun. The reds usually show up along the eastern edge of the shoals off Cape Canaveral, an expansive area several miles northeast of the inlet at Port Canaveral.
“When you find them, you’ll know it,” chuckles MacCalla. “Just huge masses of orange water.”
These redfish are often encountered accidentally by anglers looking for cobia, Perez says. MacCalla agrees. “It’s funny,” he says, “a lot of people know about these fish, but they’ll run right by them. They’re looking for other fish to put in the cooler.”
All the more for you.