Echo rod and reed sitting in sargassum on Florida coast.

Two Coasts, Fly Fishing in Florida Part 1

Come mid-winter at Vail Valley Anglers we all start yearning for a little sun on our skin. So talk of trips to warm weather develop. And rather than stamping our passport for far off locales Florida rises at the top of the list. A saltwater fly fishing trip to mainland Florida gives anglers the choice between a pair of diverse coastal environments. Fly Fishers can choose between the formidable Atlantic ocean or the laidback Gulf of Mexico. (The Florida Keys are a whole different location and best to be covered separately from mainland Florida.) 

 This past summer I divided two weeks of fly fishing in Florida with a week spent on each side of the state. The Atlantic waters around Delray Beach provided exceptional fly fishing for snook, jack crevalle and barracuda off the beach. And the hospitable Gulf of Mexico around Sanibel Island possessed a variety of game fish such as spanish mackerel, snook and redfish. The Atlantic side and the Gulf side of mainland Florida both possess the key components for a successful fly fishing adventure.

The Atlantic Ocean in Florida

 The Atlantic side of southern Florida can be tough for fly anglers to navigate Do It Yourself(DIY) style. But with planning, the right gear and an understanding of the species available the Atlantic provides everything to keep any angler occupied for years. With a huge selection of species to pursue and miles of beachfront fly anglers enjoy the best beach action around.

 From storied locations like Biscayne Bay to the open beaches of Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties fly anglers explore miles of beachfront on foot. Walking the beach in the summer months is prime time to catch a snook of a lifetime. Focus your efforts along the swash zone, the area where the waves crash upon the beach. A trough develops that spawning snook use as a highway until bathers, swimmers and increased activity pushes them off the sand. Snook are in the midst of a spawning-no harvest season during the summer months. During which they experience a reprieve from the constant pressure Florida locals and traveling anglers apply.

 Jacks, bluefish and pompano commonly take a well-presented fly from anglers on the beach. The occasional permit or unexpected redfish are a welcomed bonus when fishing off the sand. And the opportunity to hook into a tarpon is extremely high. Landing a big tarpon from the beach is a different story.

Snook fish in Florida
Fly removal and a quick release for saltwater fish are ethical practices.

 Fly anglers that take advantage of inlets, places where the Atlantic ocean flows through barrier islands into the Intracoastal waterway, experience stellar fly fishing. Baitfish are pushed against the beach on a strong incoming tide. Snook, tarpon and big jacks cruise the beachfront and inlets when the tides show their strength. Inlets like Boynton, Boca Raton and Hillsboro are but a few of the locations where fly anglers on foot can take advantage of disorienting currents.

 Lake Worth Inlet is a prime location to exploit the incoming and outgoing tides. With predictable currents, this inlet is a perfect place to explore by kayak. Located within the inlet Peanut Island’s shoreline and the flats north of the island provide perfect summertime snook habitat. A healthy population of fly smashing barracudas challenges anglers here too.

 Similar islands are scattered throughout the Atlantic coast of Florida. Most are easily accessible by kayak opening up a world of untouched water. MacArthur Beach State Park is a perfect example of a location catering to do-it-yourselfers and kayak anglers. Kayaking allows anglers easy, quiet access to untouched fishing water and new wading areas. Kayaks provide a perfect platform for DIY anglers.

 Outlets, freshwater rivers flowing into the sea, have been undesirable locations to fish in recent years. Normally popular target areas for fly angling red tides, algae blooms and fish kills have depleted the quality of angling in otherwise prime areas. Nutrient laden discharge has disrupted the ecosystem destroying habitat and killing off greatly needed seagrass.

 Offshore storms out in the Atlantic ocean have the power to stir up a tremendous amount of sargassum making beachfront fly fishing difficult. Flies get caught in the suspended seaweed and loose line not placed in a stripping basket tangles as well. The debris can be so thick that fly fishing can be futile on the beachfront. This is prime time to explore new areas protected by mangroves or situated in the intracoastal waterway.

Over on the Gulf

 Transitioning over to the Gulf side of Florida is a pleasant adjustment. Instead of the sun rising in my face it comes up behind me aiding my vision into the surf. The water holds cloudy sediment, creating a soft blue tint to the waves. The Gulf’s gradual depth change reaches out far from the shoreline. And the beach is littered with seashells, not sargassum.

 Prime locations are scattered up the gulfside from Everglades National Park to Tampa Bay and across the panhandle. Pine Island sound holds some of the gems in southwest Florida like Sanibel Island and Captiva. Boca Grande stands out for fly anglers looking for tarpon. 

 The beaches on the gulfside of Florida holds the same summertime snook found on the Atlantic side. And the occasional spanish mackerel or jack crevalle pack extra reward for beach-bound fly fishers. The area between Sanibel and Captiva and the mainland, Pine Island Sound creates a seagrass environment that hosts a wide range of fish species. And redfish reign as the targets of choice.

 The Gulf surf is much more subdued compared to the dirty water often present on the Atlantic side. The open oceanfront along the Atlantic coastline receives a constant barrage of weather and waves. Whereas the gulf waters wash gently upon the beachfront. The smooth, calm waves enhance sight fishing along the Gulf.

Kayak floating through mangroves in Florida
Kayak fishing in mangroves.

Kayaks again open up new areas unreachable on foot. From canoe or kayak trails through mangroves to smooth-surfaced gulf waters a kayak is a great DIY tool for fly fishers. Pedal driven kayaks free up hands for anglers to change flies, keep hydrated and cast while moving. Using the pedals for locomotion anglers can semi-troll by trailing a fly in the water when changing locations.



Fly Gear Essentials that are Often Overlooked

 The sunshine beats upon fly anglers incessantly. Sunscreen is a pregame necessity. The popularity of neck and face-covering buffs takes the need for reapplying sunscreen out of the equation. Sun Gloves protect the often forgotten hands that receive constant sunshine. And without a good pair of polarized sunglasses sight fishing opportunities diminish.

Walking the flats while concentrating on tailing bonefish should not be overshadowed by concerns for your feet. A broken shell, smashed beer bottle or a jagged piece of coral all come into play after you hook into a fish. Footwear extends the area an angler can fish safely and effectively. Protect your feet a small ray buried in the sand that you shuffle across will ruin your day.

 Whether on the formidable Atlantic coast or along the laidback Gulf of Mexico, Florida has it all when it comes to saltwater fly fishing. Knowing a little about the conditions each coast of Florida presents helps fly anglers choose an appropriate destination. An informative stop into the Vail Valley Anglers store assists in pairing up the appropriate gear with your targeted quarry. A little bit of preparatory knowledge from the helpful individuals in the Vail Valley Anglers shop enhances your chances for success. Florida is a fly fishing location blessed with two coasts. Miles of sandy beach, large wadeable flats and close proximity to blue water insure a quality fly fishing experience on either side of the state. 

Michael Salomone

Vail Valley Anglers

Guide & Content Writer