Consisting of three unique saltwater estuarine systems, Mosquito Lagoon, Indian River Lagoon and Banana River Lagoon, the 156 mile Indian River Lagoon system is the largest and most diverse inshore saltwater estuary in North America. Extending north to south from Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County to Jupiter Inlet in Palm Beach County, the Indian River Lagoon is home to more than 2100 species of plants and 2200 species of animals, including over 700 species of fish and 35 species of animal listed as threatened or endangered.
Covering over 1/3 of Florida’s east coast, the Indian River Lagoon system’s unique north to south positioning places it’s northern reaches in a temperate climate zone and it’s southern reaches in a tropical climate zone thus setting the stage for its wide diversity of species. Combining this 156 mile long diverse inshore saltwater lagoon with it’s five tidal inlets, Ponce de Leon, Port Canaveral, Sebastian, St Lucie, and Jupiter with Florida’s near-shore beach fishery, the warm water Gulf Stream pushing north just offshore and its deep-water coral reefs, the diversity of angling opportunities abound year round. Altogether the Indian River Lagoon system and its connecting near-shore and offshore habitats place it as one of the three most diverse aquatic regions in the world.
The Indian River Lagoon system varies from .5 to 5 miles in weigh and averages 4 feet in depth. The deeper areas of the lagoon are the manmade dredge areas like the inlet passes and the Intracoastal Waterway passing through it. The standing joke while fishing on the lagoon is, if you fall into the water, you just stand up. The Lagoon serves as a spawning and nursery ground for many different species of oceanic and lagoon fish and shellfish. The lagoon also has one of the most diverse bird populations anywhere in America. Nearly 1/3 of the nation’s manatee population lives here or migrates through the Lagoon seasonally. In addition, its ocean beaches provide one of the densest sea turtle nesting areas found in the Western Hemisphere. Between 200 and 800 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins also live in the Indian River Lagoon.
Although all of the above information sounds glamorous, Florida is one of the fastest growing human populations in America, and the more people who live here, the more challenges the Lagoon faces. Like most of America’s coastal estuaries, the Indian River Lagoon has seen its share of alga blooms; seagrass die offs and it has become a heavily pressured fishery.
Recreational angling is the third leading economic industry in Florida behind tourism and real estate. According to the Florida Oceanographic Society, nearly 1 million people live and work in the Indian River Lagoon region. The Lagoon accounts for $300 million in fisheries revenues, includes a $2.1 billion citrus industry, and generates more than $300 million in boat and marine sales annually. In 2007, visitors spent an estimated 3.2 million person-days in recreation on the Lagoon. In 2008, Hazen and Sawyer, P.C. submitted a report titled “Indian River Lagoon Economic Assessment and Analysis Update” to Troy Rice, Director of the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program. The report described the estimated 2007 recreational uses and economic value of the Indian River Lagoon to residents and visitors of the five counties that comprise the Lagoon system. The sum of recreational expenditures and recreational use value was estimated at $2.1 billion.
Although the lagoon faces these many challenges, it still remains a beautiful place with exceptionally diverse fishing, and as a professional fishing guide, who loves and respects the lagoon, the resource comes first in my book and I do my best to fish my charters in a responsible manner.
The region of the Indian River Lagoon I fish begins at the headwaters of Turnbull Creek near Oak Hills and extends south to the Barge Canal connecting the Indian River Lagoon to the Banana River Lagoon and to Port Canaveral. This region of the Lagoon is a non-tidal saltwater section with extensive grass flats and a number of freshwater and brackish creeks flowing in during rainy periods. This is a temperate region of the IRL which can be affected by harsh winter weather.
In the north IRL we experience year-round populations of redfish, black drum and sea trout with populations of snook and tarpon during the summer months. We do have year-round juvenile populations of snook and tarpon in the backwater creek and canals, but hard freezes can take a toll on these landlocked fish. These backwater fish present an excellent light tackle fly fishery if you know where to go and on some occasions present an excellent alternative during windy conditions.
Almost two thirds of this section feature undeveloped shoreline as it falls within the boundaries of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and the Kennedy Space Center. Additionally, the majority of the flats and shoreline in this area are protected with manatee speed zones. Some fishing guide operators like mine have Manatee Zone Exemption Permits issued by the State of Florida allowing them to operate on a slow plane in some of these areas as long as they have a paying charter on board and it is a week day.
Like stated earlier, the majority of the north Indian River Lagoon from Turnbull Creek to Black Point on the east side and the NASA Railroad Bridge fall within the boundaries of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and therefore require professional fishing guide operations to have an Incidental Business Permit with the Federal Government to conduct business within their borders.
4915 S Washington Ave
Titusville, FL 32780
1 A Max Brewer Memorial Pkwy
Titusville, FL 32796
Captain Tom Van Horn
540 Lake Lenelle Drive
Chuluota, Florida 32766
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