Captain Nick Angelo holds a Nature Coast redfish that fell for a chartreuse clouser.
Fishing has always presented challenges. For me 2020 proved the most challenging in recent memory. Consider the inherent conditions that combine in mysterious ways to effect fish behavior: wind, weather, tides and moon phases. Add to that dwindling habitat and water quality combined with the covid-19 pandemic and it seems we’re weathering a perfect storm of poor fishing and fishing opportunities.
Fortunately, there are some bright spots. Last week I experienced one when I traveled to Crystal River to fish the Nature Coast with Captain Nick Angelo. I first met Angelo over a decade ago through a mutual friend when we fished for tarpon off Anna Maria and Longboat Key. In the ensuing years I had kept track of him but hadn’t connected on the water. After a phone conversation in December we made a plan to reconnect and fish his home waters, an area aptly named the Nature Coast. Stretching from the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge near Homosassa north to Waccasassa Bay, the coastline is sparsely populated and is fed by several wild rivers and numerous springs. It’s one of the few places in Florida where you feel you’ve gone back in time. Its relative remoteness and shallow gulf water are studded with oyster bars and limestone outcroppings, a magnet for many species including the redfish we targeted on fly.
I booked a room at the Hampton Inn in Crystal River where I reserved a first-floor room next to the back entrance. Through the Hilton Honors App (Hilton owns the Hampton Inn chain) I was able to check in and out, and access the hotel and room with a digital key, avoiding human contact, a challenge during the ensuing pandemic.
While the weather wasn’t perfect we still had two excellent days sight-fishing big redfish in less than two foot of water. Since we were both avid photographers we kept our cameras at hand and were rewarded with images of bald eagles and a peregrine falcon. During our first day an unusually low tide kept us from fishing the exposed mangrove shorelines Angelo prefers. Instead we fished creek mouths and the edges of oyster bars. That proved to be a winning strategy and it wasn’t long before Angelo positioned me for a cast to a big redfish sitting in about six inches of water. My first cast was off target but the fish didn’t spook and on my next presentation the fish inhaled the fly on the second strip. In my world, I consider this the “apex of angling”, watching a fish pushing 35 inches open its mouth and turn on its side to take the fly! We had numerous shots and hookups that day and I was impressed with the stamina of the fish that made numerous long runs well into the backing.
The tide wasn’t as low on our second day and we were able to work the edges of the area’s extensive mangrove islands. Angelo prepped me to concentrate on sunken mangrove roots that extended out from the shoreline. His words proved prophetic, and it wasn’t long before we were encountering groups of fish just as he had predicted. Once again we were able to feed individual fish and took turns casting and poling. Besides the obvious pleasure of sight casting to large redfish, I reveled in the isolation of the place. In two full days we saw only two air boats and two other skiffs, both at a considerable distance.
If you haven’t experienced this part of Florida, I highly recommend it. It’s a place where you can immerse yourself in nature and excellent fishing opportunities. This is truly a special place, but it’s an area where you’ll want the expertise of an experienced guide. The many oyster bars and limestone reefs are a magnet for fish but can also destroy the boat of the uninitiated!
You can contact Captain Nick Angelo by phone at 813-230-8473 or by visiting his web site at www.shallowwaterflyfishing.com .