MELBOURNE, Fla. - It would appear that even fishes can become moon struck.
At least those fishes that live in Florida’s Indian River, which really isn’t a river at all. Not in the sense of what we typically think about when it comes to such things as creeks, streams, tributaries and rivers.
What the Indian River is, is an 121-mile-long knife blade of brackish water that has peeled away a slice of the east coast of Florida’s mainland.
Scientific folk call it an “estuarine.”
The Indian River’s salinity typically goes up and down according to how much freshwater washes into the system. That influx is derived at least in some measure by tropical storms that can dump tons of rainfall into the river.
The reverse happens when drought conditions choke off the sweet water, leaving the Atlantic Ocean to turn on its salty spigot instead.
Indian River fishing guides like Terry Lamielle have to take the river’s salinity into account when they prepare for a day on the water. Just as they do by assessing the phase status of the moon.
And on May 5 not only was the moon full it also was at its closest approach to Earth of the year, being at its so-called parigee.
With a clear, moonlit night sky the Indian River’s fishes no doubt had fed through the night and likely weren’t much in the mood for breakfast.
“It’s been an epic year for sea trout fishing,” Lamielle said. “But that full moon last night could have hurt things.”
It did, too, with the very first stop being void of sea trout activity, which really aren’t trout at all but look something like one. Florida, it seems, has no problem co-opting terms that aren’t exactly what they seem to be.
Lamielle had piloted his fishing vessel to the edge of a shallow-water mud flat that often in the morning is the scene of sea trout feeding action. The hope was that the flat would show a lively dance of fish to which we then could cast top-water popping baits.
Sadly it was not to be, however, and after a cursory look of the surroundings Lamielle charged up his boat and moved on.
The next angling port-of-call was at “Honest John’s Canal,” a mangrove-encrusted sea of small islands; the spawn made from the dregs of muck dredged up decades ago in order to construct Florida’s share of the 3,000-mile-long Intercoastal Waterway.
This waterway is a trench gouged out of the shallow Indian River so that vessels can navigate without running aground on mud flats.
“It’s nice and quiet back here,” Lamielle said in an almost church-like whisper. “Maybe the fishing’s not as good as it once was but it’s still my favorite place to fish.”
And that favoritism goes back to the latter part of the 1960s. That is when Lamielle’s parents uprooted him from their Canton home and transplanted him to east-central Florida.
Ever since Lamielle’s become something of a fishing fanatic, spending first his youth and then his adult life unlocking the Indian River’s angling secrets.
That fishing fatal attraction eventually led Lamielle to shy away from his stable, well-paying but dull job as an official with a food-supply company to undertake the uncertainties of being a full-time fishing guide for both freshwater and saltwater species.
He never regretted his decision.
“This is where I became a fishing guide,” Lamielle gushed as the fishing boat entered the labyrinth of small but heavily forested islands. “The way I see it, ‘salary’ is just another name for slavery.”
Lamielle handed off a spinning outfit rigged with braided line, a stout leader of monofiliment and properly saddled with a wooden top-water bait similar in appearance to a Heddon Torpedo.
For my father-in-law, Lamille pressed into service another spinning outfit and one equipped with a banana-shaped (sort of) jig body and a soft plastic imitation shrimp. I swear that lure looked so real it could have become part of a shrimp cocktail appetizer should the fishing prove slow.
The object, Lamielle said, was to cast the baits as close as possible to the snag of mangrove roots. The roots of one tree interlock with those of another to produce a chain-link fence of wood into which bait fish flee for security.
Also occupying space within the mangrove root system are snook, sea trout, flounder and even tarpon which use the web from which to launch their attacks. They didn’t appear to be at home, though.
“I knew it was going to be tough bite,” Lamielle said.
After an hour of rifling my top-water popping plug toward the edge of the mangroves I had not attracted even so much as a follow from a fish.
Meanwhile, my father-in-law had snatched one just-under-size sea trout from the water while enticing a small skillet-size flounder to strike. That fish was lost just as Lamielle leaned over the boat’s gunwale to hoist aboard the fish.
Swapping out the top-water lure for a shrimp-jig combination of my own I rebooted my casting toward the mangroves.
If the fish didn’t hit within the first few feet of the cast then chances were that no fish would strike, Lamielle said.
True enough, as I felt a solid tug when a fish struck the bait and then vanished.
“I call those ‘drive by’ fish,” Lamielle said, who was chock-full of such descriptive analogies.
There also was the one for casting the lure, missing the water by a country mile and then seeing the bait hanging from a mangrove branch.
“‘Birds are in the trees and fish are in the seas,’” Lamielle said as his rhyme for this sort of inaccurate casting.
He also had descriptions for casts where the lure makes a hearty “kur-plunk!,” while Lamielle uses another term for the arching casts where a lure shoots high up into the air and then drops rock-like alongside the boat.
As Lamielle coaxed his fishing platform through the integrate network of islands we would cast to the most promising points of angling interest. Aiming toward one overhanging tree Lamielle instructed me to cast my artificial lure to near the base of the mangrove tree.
A few short jerks of the rod allowed the imitation shrimp to bounce life-like along the Indian River’s mucky bottom.
In short order I felt a not-so-timid response from a fish that made a good account of itself. All in spite of the fact that it was so flattened to lead one to believe it was road kill.
It wasn’t, of course. Instead it was a flounder, an oval-shaped, dark-colored fish with its two bug-eyes resting above.
Lamielle explained that the flounder is a perfect ambush predator, resting on the bottom until some sort of meal passes overhead. At that point the flounder moves with surprising speed to snatch its meal.
However, that was the final fish of the morning. In spite of several more stops within the maze of mangrove islands we could find no more willing biters.
By late morning the peppery-hot Florida sun had squelched the angling. Besides, Lamielle needed to get back to the boat landing and pick up his second crew of anglers.
I surely would have liked to have caught some legal-sized sea trout; something that I’ve wanted to do for many years. I understand that when prepared properly that sea trout make for exceptional eating.
Maybe, but I will say this, Atlantic flounder isn’t bad either. On that score I can now speak with both experience and authority.
For information about fishing with Lamielle, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at 321-725-7255 or 321-537-5347. The web site for his “Easy Days” guide service is at http://www.landbigfish.com.