The Indian River – Fishing and Manatees

In October some friends came to visit and we went fishing on the Indian River. The water was exceptionally clear that day and we could easily see manatees near the boat.

We all enjoyed the beautiful weather and the fishing was pretty good.

Where is the Indian River?

I often write about being out on the Indian River. So, where is the Indian River? It is part of the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) that runs up the eastern side of Florida. In my (central east coast Florida) area it is named the Indian River. A bit further south, part of the river branches out by Merritt Island and the Space Center and that part is named the Banana River. Here is a good map of the area.

The river is salt water, or brackish, which is a mix of salt and fresh. We only live about two miles from the local boat ramps. This is the main area we go when we travel by boat. Our part of the Indian River is actually designated as “north” and is part of the Mosquito Lagoon area. The Indian River is also referred to as a lagoon: Indian River Lagoon.

The area is known for it’s abundance of fish and sea life specifically bottlenose dolphin and manatees. We see lots of dolphin while boating, but only see manatee when the water is warm.

This area of the river can be a nursery for fish until they grow and migrate offshore. Whenever we fish in the river, our catches are usually small in size, and are released back into the water. However, some fish hang out in the river once they have become large. We’ve caught good size Redfish, Jack Crevalle, and trout. The Snapper is usually very small as they move offshore to grow large. Offshore fisherman catch some really nice snapper. An old friend of ours runs a fishing charter business out of Jupiter if you like offshore fishing.

The only parts of the river and lagoon that are deep are the dredged parts which allow for large boats to travel it like a highway. This can make for some very big waves at times! Well, big if you are in a small boat like ours.


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Going Boating, Catching Fish in February’s Clear Water

On a recent Thursday we had sun and warmth and finally took the boat out. The boat ramp was very busy. I can park the truck and trailer which helps so my son can back the boat away from the ramp and make room for others, but crowded lots make me nervous. If I misjudged while parking, I’m not so sure I could back the thing up! On Thursday I parked fine. Whew!

Riding south on the Indian River in our Hewes Redfisher boat.
Traveling south on the Indian River

It was a beautiful, sunny day and the water was cool and clear. First we stopped at a deep hole and three in our lines. I was using live shrimp and my son used artificial bait. I caught some small trout and a mangrove snapper, and he kept catching Bluefish, after he first caught a Jack. At first he couldn’t identify the fish, but they kept destroying the bait with their teeth – Bluefish have very sharp teeth. That was how he knew what they were.

I don’t think we have ever caught any Bluefish while fishing on the River. After reading this article about Bluefish, I guess I know why. We fish primarily in summer when the water is very warm, and the Bluefish have probably migrated to cooler places by then.

Small bluefish on the hook.
We caught a lot of smaller fish in one of our spots – Bluefish

Three Sisters is a group of three islands in the backwater area of the waterway. One of the islands has a long sandy beach area when the tide is low. When we arrived at Three Sisters the tide was going out and I decided to walk the sandy flats looking for interesting sea life and seashells.

Gray heron spreads his wings on tree roots on the edge of the Indian River.
Wings out! Heron at Three Sisters

Often the birds we see perched in trees, on sign posts, or along the edge of the water will stand with their wings spread out, like the heron in my photo above. I walked all around the sandy area and he stayed right where he was – airing his armpits wing-pits.

Bride on the sand as the tide goes out.
Tide is going out and the birds are enjoying the sandy bottom. This is where I found the seashells pictured below.

The hermit crabs were not at plentiful as they are in summer months, but I did find two little shells that intrigued me. I was only interested in the brown one at first. It had an odd shape that I never see. The dirty tan one is probably a juvenile horse conch, but I’m not sure about that either. Since the horse conch is found in this area, it’s my best guess.

Both shells contained little crabs, so I got some photos on the boat deck and put the shells back on the sand. I’m still not sure what that stubby brown shell is. Coloring is similar to a crown conch, but not the shape.

Two little seashells which are home to hermit crabs
Two little shells – with hermit crabs inside. Got some photos and put them back on the sand.

Coastal plants and flowers are something I need to learn about. One day I will gather all my plant photos to share. I have no idea what this little yellow flower is called, but I thought it was pretty growing on the shell-littered beach.

Beach plant with yellow flower
Pretty yellow flowering plant on one of the islands along the river

In the photo below you can see how clear the water was! We have a flats boat and can get into very shallow places. The water here is only a few feet deep.

Clear water in the backwater areas of the Intracoastal waterway, Indian River area.
The shallow backwater was very clear and about 65 degrees – this is saltwater.

My son maneuvered the boat over toward Oyster Bay just to take a look. Boaters must be careful navigating here because the oyster shoals can be hidden in murky water. The sharp shells grow in big clumps as seen in my photo and can damage boats. Oysters are everywhere along the saltwater river, but Oyster Bay is a community.

Oyster Bay and view of beachside condominiums
View of the coastline condos across Oyster Bay area.
Heading north on the waterway
Heading north, back to the boat ramp

My son did a little more fishing while I walked along an island beach nearby. The tide was going out, but there wasn’t much to see shell-wise on the beach.

It was a good day, and although we didn’t see too many boats out where we were, the boat ramp was busy when we were ready to leave.

Relaxing with my feet up riding in our boat along the Indian River backwaters
The one thing I do like about Florida is being out on the water

Our Little Boat Fishing Trip Looking For Keepers

Catfish (not mine – credit goes to tpsdave @ Pixabay)

Went out on the little boat yesterday and three of us tried our best to catch a keeper. If we wanted to eat a meal of catfish, we could easily have done so. I caught a couple of large cats when we stopped one of the backwater canals for a swim and then fished from the water. We had more room than when we all tried to cast a line from the Gheenoe.

Other than the catfish, I did get a small snook. He was a silver shimmering beauty! It’s snook season right now, and my older son was hoping to reel one in. All he got was a few catfish himself. My younger son got a small redfish, and we certainly saw more than a few “tailing redfish” along the shore.

Yes, I am beginning to learn fisherman talk. When redfish are eating they circle and show their tail. The ones we watched each seemed to be alone, but they can swim in big groups with their tails above the water, and that’s what the fishermen look for.  The ones we watched would swim in a circle and make a large ripple in the calm water. These fish are really beautiful and they are delicious to eat. But size is important when you catch one you want to keep.

Because the little “Yea Mon” Gheenoe has a shallow draft, we can get into the backwater channels where most other boats can’t go. We always find shallow water to swim around in and sand islands when the tide is low.

And we have the place all to ourselves!  The water was flowing, and we could drift along in the very warm water.  Yes, it’s brown, but it usually is in this area.

florida backwater swimming
Floating in Backwater Chanel

Other than fishing and enjoying the sunny Florida weather, I also did some shell hunting. Because the tide was just coming in, there were a number of sandy beach areas exposed. I found a large shark’s eye shell with a piece missing. Also picked up a crown conch and pear whelk. Picked them up and then had to put them back down. Every shell was inhabited by a hermit crab.

sharks eye and crown conch
Shark’s Eye & Crown Conch

Slime covered Pear Whelk Shell

I really would have liked to keep those shells as they are all favorites of mine. In fact I don’t think I have ever found a pear whelk. I really wanted that one for my seashell collection! The place to go and get great shells is the Gulf Coast. A vacation may be in order – one day.

I took photos with my iPhone, but because of the extremely sunny conditions, it was difficult. Also, I worry about dropping the darn thing. I really need a waterproof case. Shuffling along the uneven sandy bottom of the canal is tricky. I could step into a hole at any time and drop my phone! My nice camera is still packed away, waiting for me to move into a permanent home.

Once we have our newer, bigger boat, it will be so much easier to grab the phone and get video and photos while the boys fish. Not to mention that fishing will be much more fun! So it’s all a waiting game, which is par for the course in my life. But we still had a very nice day out on the water.


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