There is more to this beach town than family vacations, NASCAR races and Bike Week!
On The Fly Saltwater
by Jimmy Jacobs
The Daytona Beach area of the Florida east coast is famed for a number of reasons. At one time it was “the” spring break destination in the Sunshine State for high school and college kids. Along with nearby Ormond Beach, it is the birthplace of speed, the cradle of NASCAR and home to the Daytona 500 race. Additionally, its beaches have drawn family vacationers for more than a century.
Sport fishing barely makes that list of activities, with most of that action taking place offshore over the years. When it comes to inshore fly fishing, frankly, it has not even been on the radar. Yet, there is a very good and overlooked option for casting flies at saltwater species at the north edges of Daytona proper.
Despite heatwave conditions that sent the mercury soaring to near triple digit levels over this past Memorial Day weekend, we joined Capt. Kent Gibbens during the first week of June to sample the action. Our target area was the Tomoka River drainage, on the northern fringe of Ormond Beach.
The Tomoka rises just south of Interstate 4 and west of Interstate 95, very near the intersection of those two highways. From there it flows north, just inland of Daytona Beach, before turning northeast at State Route 40 (Grenada Boulevard) in Ormond Beach. After passing through 1800-acre Tomoka State Park, the flow reaches the Tomoka Basin, where the stream spreads into a large lagoon at its junction with the Halifax River.
After launching in the state park, Capt. Gibbens first had us probing the north shore of the basin. The dark tannic water coming down the river brushed along the banks lined with marsh grass. Much of the bottom here is paved with oyster shell beds.
Unless you spot wakes being pushed by redfish, the angling here is blind casting. By targeting the shell beds or points and indentions in the grass, reds, seatrout, black drum, snook and even Spanish mackerel show up along the shore. Unfortunately, the recent heat had the water temperature pushing 90 degrees even at dawn. Fairly quickly we abandoned the basin and headed up the river to find cooler water.
Along the river there is a virtual maze of canals that were created in the 1940s and ‘50s to control the mosquito population. As the tides ebb, the water sucks forage out of these, providing lots of possible targets for the reds and trout.
We, however, were looking for snook and baby tarpon on this trip, so we concentrated our efforts on the main river shores, particularly where deadfall trees were breaking the current. Tossing Puglisi-style bait fish patterns soon proved that the Tomoka is a veritable nursery for 15- to 18-inch snook.
Despite the tannic color of the flow, the water was surprisingly clear and the fish responded well to the flies. Capt. Gibbens noted that the river gives up snook in the 12- to 15-pound range on occasions and tarpon up to 80 pounds are found rolling in the river. More often those latter fish are going to be in the sub-20-pound range.
In our search for some larger fish, we diverted up a canal to an old dredge pit that now forms a small hidden lake. Once on this backwater we continued to raise smaller snook, but also jumped baby tarpon, while adding a surprise catch of a 4-pound largemouth bass that lived in this brackish domain.
One of the most striking aspects of fishing this area is the scenery. Though quite close to major urban development, the shores of the Tomoka River provide a vista to what I think of as pre-Old Florida. Much of the river shore likely looks the same as it did when the Timucua Indians were the only residents of the region.
Information and rates for booking a day of fly fishing on the Tomoka River with Capt. Kent Gibbens are available on the Back Country Charters website.