Indian River Lagoon Tackle

Rod and Reel

Jump to; Lures ||| Bait and tackle

To fish for the most popular game fish species in the Indian River Lagoon, a good quality basic spinning outfit for 8-12 lb test line will work just fine. My favorite is a seven foot medium action rod with a spinning reel holding about 200 yards of line. I use a Shakespeare Ugly Stik Intracoastal graphite spinning rod, 7 foot, medium action, and rated for 6 to 12 lb test line. I have always been a fan of Ugly Stiks because even though the rod's action is listed as "medium", the tip has a lighter action for more sensitivity when casting lightweight lures such as un-weighted soft plastic lures or freelined live shrimp. For a reel, any good quality spinning reel capable of holding about 200 yards of whatever LB test of line you wish to use will work just fine. I use a Penn Spinfisher model 440 SSG. It is rated for 8 to 12 LB test and will hold about 200 yards of 10 LB test mono. For fishing line, there are lots of options. Stren, Ande and Trilene all make good products. I use 8 LB test because it increases the line capacity of my reel to about 240 yards, and with it I can cast lighter lures and baits easier and farther. I used to never use a leader unless I was specifically targeting snook or tarpon. However, when fishing for reds and seatrout, you never know when the fish striking your brand new $5-$10 lure will be a snook, tarpon, ladyfish, or a jack crevalle, which will cut through your line in a heartbeat. I've lost enough lures to now recommend use of a leader at all times, so I also carry a small spool of 25 LB test fluorocarbon leader material and tie about 2 ft of this with an albright special knot to the end of my fishing line to protect against cutoffs. Wire leaders with swivels on one end and a snap on the other for attaching hooks and lures are also available, however, in my opinion they are way too visible to the fish and will drastically cut down on the number of fish that will strike your bait.

Lures

Now this is a subject matter that you will be hard pressed to get a consensus among anglers on. Every one I know has their own personal favorites and the only conclusion I can come to is that there are a lot of lures that will at least occasionally catch a fish. Unfortunately every lure manufacturer around claims that theirs is the best. It can get real confusing for a newcomer to try and make a good selection. The following list and photo below is not an all encompassing list as there may be lures on the market that may perform as well if not better on any given day. What I can say is that lures listed and in the photo have produced for me. This list is designed to get a beginning angler started with a reasonable chance of catching fish in the waters he is most likely to have access to, publicly owned shorelines and docks. They will of course work even better if and when you get a boat or kayak and can explore the lagoon to a greater extent. One last note before we continue; I never use a snap swivel to attach any of the lures listed below to my line with the exception of the Johnson's Silver minnow Spoon, which requires one because it will twist your line if you don't. I always use a Loop Knot such as a Rapala Knot or a Mirrolure Knot, as a loop knot will allow your lure to produce it's maximum designed action. A hard tied knot such as an improved clinch knot will retard much of your lure's action.

We will start at the top of the water column.

Surface Walkers; This class of lures is very popular especially in the spring and summer when there are lots of finger mullet in the lagoon and can bring explosive strikes from redfish, trout, snook and tarpon on the expansive grass flats. A steady retrieve incorporating a twitching action with the rod tip will produce a zig zag pattern on the surface of the water called "walking the dog". These can be used in very shallow water as they will only submerge if you reel them in too fast. This class of lures is represented by Heddon's Zara Spook series, Mirrolure's Top Dog series, Rapala's Skitterwalk series and several other manufacturers. They also come in a variety of sizes with the larger versions designed primarily for "trophy fish". If you have a boat and can access more remote flats and cover more water, by all means try the larger versions. If you are just starting out, or most of your fishing is shoreline and docks, go with the smaller versions. More fish will hit them and the hookup ratio will be higher. One that I am very impressed with is a fairly recent addition to Mirrolure's line of surfae walkers is the MirroMullet model # 16MR-21. This lure very closely resembles a juvenile finger mullet and is a great lure for early morning flats surface action.


Floater / Diver; Rapala Original Floating Minnow Model F09 If I were told that I had to fish with one and only one surface plug for the rest of my life, I would choose Rapala's original floating minnow. First hand carved in the 1930s out of balsa wood by a Finnish Commercial Fisherman named Lauri Rapala it launched an industry. It is a very simple lure to use. Cast it, let it settle on the surface, and then twitch it so that it dives just beneath the surface, let it resurface, and repeat. If you are not catching anything after a bit and you have enough clearance between the surface of the water and the bottom, about two to three feet, just cast and reel with a steady retrieve. This has worked for me more than once. They come in a variety of sizes and colors. I carry two with me, both of them 3 1/2 inches long, one in silver, and one in gold, and I recommend both of them. Use the silver in cleaner water, the gold in water of lesser clarity, but if you are buying only one, get the silver.


Krocodile Spoon by Luhr Jensen,3/8 ounce, model 1003; If I were told that I could fish with only one lure of any kind it would be a close contest between the spoon and the jig. While the Johnson Silver Minnow below is better known in the area, I feel that the Krocodile with it's trailing treble hook has an overall better hookup ratio. I use this whenever possible and in the chrome finish has been my go to lure for searching for schools of seatrout on two to three foot deep flats or around docks and seawalls for over 30 years. It is also a great lure for light tackle bluefish and spanish mackerel fishing in the surf. Another advantage is that with a properly spooled reel you can cast these things a mile. My all time favorite lure when fish are attacking baitfish in the lagoon and will catch anything that eats small fish. Cast and retrieve while providing a pulsating action with the rod tip. I ahve also caught trout from under docks by being very quiet on the dock and jigging this lure straight up and down. Now if the water is shallower and there is lots of grass I will switch to............


1/4 ounce, model SM1/4 Johnson's Silver Minnow now marketed by Berkely Fishing. In gold color it is considered to be a redfish standard. The Johnson's Silver Minnow has a welded in single hook weedless design that allows you to fish it over very shallow water seagrass beds without hanging up in the weeds. It can also be bounced of the bottom in deeper water. While the Krocodile has a swivel attached to the front, the Johnson's does not and the use of a snap swivel is highly recommended. Again cast and retrieve with a occasional twitch of the rod tip. If you buy nothing else, get a Krocodile in chrome, and a Johnson's in gold.


Jigs; The good old bucktail or hair bodied jig is probably the most overlooked lure in the tacklebox,and probably one of the best lures you own. The feather or bucktails dressing on the jig produces a lifelike "breathing" action with water movement. I prefer these over soft plastic swirley tailed jigs due to the fact that when using soft plastics small fish tend to attack the tails, severing them and reducing the action of the jig. Plus most of the action is behind the hook. With the bucktails, the action is at the hook. There are many different types of jig heads, some are meant to be fished deeper while others like the Salt Wobbler Jig at left by Cabelas have a head design that produces a wobble when they sink, and are designed to be fished in shallower water. These can work great when casting toward mangroves, in canals, along docks and seawalls. The important thig to remember is to choose the right style of jig and this can be done by checking out the shape of the head. A bullet shape head with the eye for the line in the middle of the head is designed more for jigging in deeper water over some sort of structure. Trying to use these in the lagoon shallows will result in seagrass being snagged. The arrowhead shaped heads designed for bonefish jigs will work well here as the shape of the head as well as the line eye being mounted on the from of the head indicated that these are designed for casting and retrieving. They will run shallower and are less likely to be snagged on submerged vegetation. Choose jigs in the 1/4 to 3/8 ounce range for best results in the lagoon. effective colors can run in msny combinations including brown to imitate shrimp, chartreuse and white, red head / white bodies, and pink. A selection of jigs should always be included in a lagoon tackle kit.


DOA Shrimp, 3 inch; We are going to round out our selection lures by including some soft plastic lures, starting with one of the better newer lures around, the 3 inch DOA Shrimp. For years I have seen some variation of plastic shrimp on the market and they were all pretty much worthless. The DOA Shrimp is the first exception I have come across. While imitating the look of a shrimp in plastic is easy, the DOA is by far the most realistic when it is most important, in the water. It actually looks like a shrimp swimming when retrieved slowly with an occasional twitch. This is due to the small weight inserted into each body. It rides with the hook upright to reduce snagging and It comes in packages of three. Get one package each of the three inch model in chartreuse with silver glitter and the root beer with gold glitter.


Saltwater Shad Assassin; 5 inch; Made by Bass Assassin, rig them weedless with a size 2/O plastic worm hook and attach to your leader with a rapala or mirrolure loop knot without additional weight. These lures will sink slowly and can be fished in very shallow seagrass flats, or under mangrove trees. Provide a very slow retrieve by twitching the rod tip slightly and resting, using the reel only to reel up the excess slack in the line. The lure will dart upward and to one side, then sink slowly imitating a stunned or dying minnow. This triggers strikes from gamefish who by their nature will always go after the easiest meal possible. Using this lure has saved to day for me when nothing else has worked, especially around the culverts of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge when the water is flowing through them from the impoundments into waters connected to the lagoon.

 

To rig the above bait weedless use the same hook freshwater fishermen use for plastic worms for bass fishing. the point of the hook is driven into the from of the nose of the bait until the first curve after the barb, then turn the hook downward and exit the lure. Turn the hok in the lure point up so that you can reinsert the hook into the belly of the lure. You want the point to end up just under the top sruface of the lure without distorting the overall shape of the lure.

 

Here (roughly, very roughly) is the path the worm hook should follow in the shad assasin for best results. In this way the body of the hook outside of the lure hangs below the lure, meaning the lure will ride upright when in the water. This will be completely weedless and can be fished effectivly over thick grass in shallow flats. When setting the hook on a strike be sure to set the hook hard enough to come out of the body of the bait and stick in the mouth of the fish. Just a bit harder than normal, as you certianly don't want to break the line.

 

Snap swivels; These are designed to do two things, allow quick and easy changing of lures or hooks and to reduce twisting of your line that certain lures will cause. I rarely use them, preferring to use a Rapala Knot to attach most lures to my leader. The only exception to the above list of lures is the Johnson's Silver Minnow as the lure does twist a lot and has no swivel attached to the front end.

Tackle for fishing with Bait

But first, a word about the baits themselves.

Live Baits

Live shrimp is by far the most popular live bait in use around here and is available in most tackle shops. Other popular baits are live finger mullet, about three to six inches in length and in the summertime, live pigfish. I fish live baits primarily with two rigs with as little terminal tackle as possible. The first rig is called a freeline rig, which is just a hook tied to my leader with no other tackle, and a float rig where I use a float to suspend a live bait just above the tops of the seagrasses as Shrimp, Mullet, and Pigfish will attempt to hide from gamefish in the grasses. About the only time I will use a weight is when there is a current in a deeper are such as Haulover Canal on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and I want to get a live shrimp near the bottom. Live Shrimp can also be used on jig heads and complete jigs and worked as a lure, just hook the shrimp from the chin upwarduntil the point of the hook comes out the top of the head. Be careful to miss the dark spot. That's the brain and will kill the shrimp.


Mullet are great bait for Trout, Redfish, Snook, Tarpon, and many other species within the lagoon, and each summer into fall become the primary species of forage for these gamefish. They can be hooked on a 2/0 hook either through the upper lip, (cast very gently) or through the back between the two fins. Take care to avoid the spinal column which is along the lateral line.

Dead Baits

Go into almost any tackle shop in Florida and you will find a selection of frozen baits for sale, including shrimp, whole finger mullet, cut mullet, sand fleas, clams, squid, etc. Many fish species will eat pretty much any of these although fresh is by far better. The most popular of these are the mullet baits and I reccomend these if going after any of the lagoon big four (redfish, seatrout, snook, and tarpon.) It has been my experience that seatrout are more of an ambush predator and are more likely to take a moving bait rather than a dead bait just lying on the bottom or suspended under a bobber. In fact on more occasions than I can count, while fishing for seatrout with live shrimp, I have been in the middle of a bite when suddenly all action stopped. Upon reeling in to check my bait, I've found the shrimp had died on the hook, replaced it with a fresh live shrimp and resumed catching trout immediately. However if using a dead finger mullet hooked through the nose you can twitch it like a lure and they will hit it. I've rarely been able to do this with dead shrimp. Redfish are basically hogs and will eat almost anything edible they come across. Snook and tarpon will also occasionally grab a dead bait they come across. Unfortunately, so will saltwater catfish which is one reason I don't use cut bait all that often.

 

Bait Fishing Tackle

Hooks; Obviously the most important thing to tie on your line is a hook. I use Circle Hooks and strongly recommend them. If used properly they will almost always hook a fish in the corner of the mouth rather than gut or gill hooking, allowing a successful catch and release. With a traditional "J" hook, you set the hook with a sharp pull of the rod when the fish takes the bait and the hook would grab the first thing it contacted or pull out of the fishes mouth. If the fish had already swallowed the bait it would hook them in the gut or would sometimes hook them in the gills, effectively killing the fish even after you released it. With a circle hook, you don't set the hook with a sharp pull of the rod or it will not likely hook the fish. To set a circle hook provide a steady tension to the line by holding the rod tip upward and reeling until you feel the fish on, then fight it to shore like you normally would. Here's how a circle hook works. When a fish takes and begins to swallow the bait it will not likely be facing directly towards you and will start to swim away. Steady tension on the line will pull the hook safely past the gills and to the corner of the mouth. Once the hook reaches the corner of its mouth, the circular design of the hook's shank will cause the point of the hook to rotate and imbed itself in the corner. In this way the hook can be easily removed without any real harm to the fish and I have also noticed a much higher hookup ratio. For live shrimp I use an Eagle Claw Lazersharp Size 1/O to 2/O Circle Hook in bronze finish hooked just under the clear spot right under the horn of the shrimp's head or occasionally I will place the hook horizontally near the base of the tail. For live mullet I will use an Eagle Claw Lazersharp Size 2/O or 3/O Circle Hook, depending on the size of the bait. Insert the hook near the tail just behind the dorsal fin above the lateral line. Pigfish can be hooked the same way but many people will hook them underneath near the anus. Fished under a popping cork over grass flats, you can pull the popping cork which tends to make the pigfish turn upside down momentarily at which point it will emit a grunting noise (hence the name pigfish) and attract the attention of large seatrout.

Floats and Bobbers; Almost any bobber or float can be used to suspend a shrimp or pigfish at a desired depth. A very popular version here is called a popping cork. Usually these are made of styrofoam and will have a slit in the side cut in the side and a peg to secure the cork to the line. they will also usually be weighted a bit to increase casting distance and make them float in an upright position. An occasional twitch of the cork with the rod tip will produce a popping noise which attracts nearby gamefish, especially seatrout. You can also use these over artificial jigs with a popping retrieve.

Sinkers; I rarely use sinkers in the lagoon as most of the water I fish is fairly shallow or I am using lures most of the time anyway. But there are occasions where I will use a small sinker to get a shrimp down to deeper depths, especially when I am fishing a place that has a current in it like Haulover Canal on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge near Titusville. When I fish there I am not trying to get a rig to stay in one place on the bottom ust trying to drift a live shrimp into the depths so I can cast upstream and let it drift back. I carry a small box of reuseable split shot that can be applied by finger pressure alone. These have little fins by which the shot can be removed from the line by compressing them together. Care must be taken not to compress split shot on the line too tightly as it can compromise your line strength. I attach them with finger pressure above the leader as the knot will prevent them from sliding down to the hook.

A Few Other Essentials

Tackle Bag; Obviously by now you need some way of carrying all this stuff around and the one thing I hate is to carry tackle with me that I won't need for that particular trip when fishing. If I'm fishing saltwater in the lagoon, I don't want to carry surf or freshwater equipment. I also do a lot of shoreline fishing out on the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and when I do there are dike roads that I will walk a considerable distance along as I fish and I hate having to constantly pick up and move a hard tackle box. For this reason I like a softsided tackle bag just big enough to carry my equipment that has a shoulder strap. I am currently using a Plano model 4450 Softsider that carries four 3500 Series ProLatch Utility Boxes. This will carry all of the tackle in this article with room for a bit more. In this way my tackle stays with me everywhere I go. The primary advantage of soft sided tackle bages is that at least with Plano, extra utility boxes are readily available, cheap, and you can have separate utility boxes for other types of fishing and simply switch out the boxes for the day's fishing. One additional thing I love about about this particular bag is that it has two velcro straps designed to secure the bag to the center thwart of a canoe which I do fish out of occasionally. It will also attach to the handlebars of a mountain bike. With the Refuge having some litter and vandalism problems some areas previously accessible by motor vehicle are being closed to vehicles and marked as bicycle and hiking access only.

Multi-Tool; Manufactured by Leatherman, Gerber, Victorinox (makers of Swiss Army Knives), and many other companies, this tool combines a pair of needlenosed pliers with at least 1 knife blade and makes a great addition to your fishing gear. Can be used to remove hooks from fish, cut leader material and trim the excess tag line (the part of the line that sticks out from a fishing knot not attached to the reel). These usually have screwdriver as well which can be used to perform minor reel repairs in the field. I consider either this or a pair of pliers and a pocketknife essential tools to carry with you with the multi-tool having the advantage of carrying an entire tool kit in one piece of gear. Carry this in a separate pocket in your tackle bag and it will allways be there no matter what lure boxes you carry.

 

Boga Grip; In my opinion the greatest thing to ever happen to fishing outside of the rod and reel. This device is essintially a pair of hooked jaws that open when you pull back on a trigger mechanism that you then use to pick up or land a fish by grasping a fish by it's bottom jaw. You can then remove the hook, weigh the fish, take pictures, and release it without ever having to touch the fish with your hands. This prevents removal of the fishes slime coat, which protects the fish from infections. It can also protects you from getting a hook in your hand, getting bitten by toothy species and from getting finned by fish with spiny fins such as catfish while giving you complete control of the fish from landing until release. It will also protect you from ever having to wash fish slime from your hands in cold water in the winter. Using one of these is better for both you and the fish. The actual Boga Grip is made by Eastaboga Tackle Company (www.bogagrip.com) while Rapala has it's own version called the Rapala ProGuide Lock and Weigh (www.rapala.com). Available is several sizes ranging from freshwater use to large units for deepsea fishing. If buying one for lagoon use, get the one rated for about 20 to 30 lb fish. Use the jaws to clip it to the strap of your tackle bag and it will be there when you need it.

Good Luck!

Dean Pettit