Fly balls and flyfishing in Florida

LEAVE THE PASSPORT IN THE DRAWER, grab your rod, and head to sunny Florida for your springtime twofer. The combination of cozy Grapefruit League ballparks and hordes of saltwater game fish will cure your wintertime blues. First pitch for most games is on March 1, with the season going through April 4. Here’s your scouting report.


Dunedin – Clearwater –Tampa – Bradenton – Sarasota

Tigers, Blue Jays, and Phillies fans can expect to find the usual suspects—snook, redfish, and trout—near the northern reaches of Tampa Bay, not far from any of the ballparks. For anglers not fond of a tippy poling skiff, Capt. Jared Simonetti runs charters in his 23-foot bay boat, employing a bait-andswitch style using live chum that can lead to fast and furious days with good numbers of fish. For fishermen looking to throw flies in Gulf waters off the beaches of Pinellas County, there will likely be opportunities for Spanish Mackerel, Kingfish, Triple Tail, and nearshore False Albacore. (

Another guide option in the area is Capt. Nick Angelo. If you’re more of a Yankees, Pirates, or Orioles fan, he’ll get you on the water from Tampa Bay to Sarasota. “I can have you sight-casting to redfish, trout, and snook in the morning, and you’ll still be at Steinbrenner Field for the first pitch,” Angelo says. He suggests the charming Anna Maria Island as a home base. “From there, you’ll be centrally located to a lot of ballparks, tons of fishing opportunities, and some of the best beaches around,” he says. “And if you’re looking for a DIY option, try Fort de Soto Park. You can rent a kayak there to target fish on the inside, or take it along the beach if the weather is fair.” Angelo also suggests knocking the dust off your 8-weight before game time. “Be ready to cast accurately at 30 to 40 feet, with a minimum of false casts.” (


Port Charlotte – Fort Myers

Rays, Red Sox, and Twins fans have some great options for fishing in March. Norm Zeigler, local icon and owner of the eponymous fly shop, shared his thoughts on what to expect. “It’s a great time to be here, because the fish start to turn on with the warmer weather,” Zeigler says, adding that he catches 90 percent of his fish on foot, and recommends wading for pompano as a DIY option along the Sanibel Causeway Islands and Tollbooth Flat. As for flies, he says a yellow and fluorescent orange #2 Clouser, or a Tangerine Tidbit, is what you’ll need. Visit him at the shop to get the latest info. As Zeigler puts it, “There are no secret spots.” If you’d rather have a guide, you can book one of 13 captains he recommends in the area. (


Port St. Lucie – Jupiter

If you head to South Florida to catch a Mets, Marlins, or Cardinals game, you’ll be on the doorstep of one of the best springtime fisheries in the Sunshine State. The coastal and inshore waters are full of fish, and the variety is unbeatable. As Capt. Scott Hamilton puts it, “There’s no other place in the world where you can leave the mangroves and be in 500 feet of bluewater in 15 minutes.” If you have the chance to fish with him, expect a wide spectrum of opportunities, from blue runners and false albacore on 4-weights, to spinner sharks on 12– to 14-weights. Spring Training lands you in prime time for the spinners. While Scott is one of the most laid-back guys you’ll ever spend a day with, the sharks will be just the opposite, with jumps rivaling tarpon and brute strength that will take you 200 yards or more into the backing. Depending on weather, you may find yourself targeting sailfish, dolphin, snapper, grouper, or amberjack a little farther offshore. (


Lake Buena Vista – Kissimmee – Viera

Aside from the obvious destinations along the Space Coast (Indian River, Banana River), followers of the Astros, Braves, and Nationals should consider the short drive south to Stuart, for a wide range of options. Local guide and owner of Stuart Angler, Giles Murphy, can dial you in on a pompano run that will be in full swing on the flats inside St. Lucie Inlet. He also suggests getting out in the evening in March, noting that there will generally be larger snook around the dock-lights in spring. Giles also looks forward to the annual northern migration of cobia, which should also be underway along the Treasure Coast. “We run and gun for the cobia,” Giles says, “looking for schools of rays that they follow along the beach.” If you and your spring-training wingman are both on the younger side, then consider planning your trip to include a Friday night, and take in the popular “Flyday Nights” program at the shop—a tying session geared toward the next generation of fly tyers and anglers. (

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Larry Littrell
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