Pelican Sunrise at Homosassa Flats Skiff

Fly Fishing the Homosassa River

A short story by Captain Edward Johnston

There are many beautiful rivers in Florida, but none give me the joy of the Homosassa. Dawn Cool spring water provides a seemingly endless supply of fresh water from the Crystal, Homosassa, Chassahowitzka river, and their tributaries. As those rivers snake their way toward to Gulf of Mexico the water begins to turn brackish. Within a few miles, the subtropical landscape gives way to meadows of saw grass. The saw grass gradually transforms to black needle grass and then to mangrove islands tight with brush. Beyond is the shallow beginning of the Gulf of Mexico where limestone bedrock reaches for the surfaces in the form of invisible obstacles. All that talk about the treacherous waters here is no joke. For the unwary, the gulf waters take no prisoners.

The coastal marsh that surround Homosassa are natures high production factories in terms of fertility. The coastal marshes gain their extraordinary productivity from the abundance of nutrients delivered by the abundant fresh water rivers and the tide, which disperses the nutrients over the broad shallow flats. Where there is food there are fish.

rolling tarpon After a brief run out to the fishing grounds the engine is quieted. The 12 weight fly rodcoupled with a tarpon reel is slowly removed from under the gunnel. The fly line lays coiled upon the deck ready for action. The search begins. Arms are flexed and the push pole bends, silently propelling the skiff in search of the elusive tarpon.

Three brown pelicans sweep low along side our skiff. They beat three long stokes upwards in unison. Once. Twice. Now gone. Left behind is the low sound of the gentle clear warm water quietly lapping against the hull. Eyes strain in the first light for something which to focus upon. A tarpon breaks the surface and disappears into concentric rings. Another fish rolls further out. You can see the passing pod's silhouette through the translucent water.

The fly begins its graceful journey as the line unrolls in tight loops along a perfect plane then shoots briskly through the guides. The fly sinks deep. A short hard tug on the fly line and the rods bends. The feeling is unmistakable. jumping tarpon A moment later the water erupts in an explosion. The air is full of fish.The rod bends deeply with a great heaviness on the end. The line shears through the water and sounds like a ripping bed sheet. The fly reel spins wildly. A tarpon is on.

After three majestic jumps the fish sounds with surging energy and charges off like a locomotive. Fly line is surrendered and retaken. The tarpon breaks the surface for a gulp of air and then submerges with liquid fury. The rod bends and recovers. The tarpon twist and turns as she tries to get away from the mysterious power holding her.

The battle is over in twenty minutes. The magnificent fish is eased to the side of the boat to be admired. The silver sides of the tarpon seem to drain back into the Gulf. Her fins seem almost transparent. That huge eye stares in wonderment. tarpon release After pausing for a brief moment she is gone to be reclaimed by the gulf. Only her memory remains.

Clearly this is the best time of the year to be here. Fish are everywhere and the finest tarpon fishing in the United States is here in my own backyard.

The brightness of noon burns a whole in the sky. The water is as clear and flat as a windowpane and shimmers in the sun.. You can see right to the bottom and watch the turtle grass sway in the current. Seagulls lift in the easy breeze and call to one another. The man-a war birds are riding the thermals skyward. Inland the cumulus clouds are piling up. Sounds of distant thunder bolts echo in the background. Dramatic changes of light and wind form the ever changing sky and sea.

It is times like this that you wonder just what you have done right in your life to deserve such a gift.

The flats

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Crystal River, Florida 34428
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© 1996-2011 Leisure Time Travel, Inc. - Tarpon photos courtesy of Capt. Steve Kilpatrick

Revised March 1, 2011 - html by Edward Russell Johnston