Back to the Flats

fishing okuma

Throughout the history of my fishing obsession since I hit the saltier waters of Florida, I’ve enjoyed fishing the inshore flats and lagoons. Though the focus of my professional career has been focused on offshore fishing, I dabbled in inshore charters for a couple years. I ended up moving back to bigger boats offshore and just by the “nature of the beast”, my excursions inshore have been few and far between.

But now, with a recent local move, I’ve been reintroduced to the shallows and the excitement has been renewed.

offshore fishing

While watching a big dolphin charge into the spread from the side throwing a rooster tail off his forehead is hard to beat, the same rush can be had watching a redfish, snook or tarpon gulp your carefully positioned offering on the appropriate tackle.

This brings me to my story; I now live on a very tiny “creek” that leads out to the Indian River. We call it a creek because that sounds better than glorified ditch, but whatever one calls it is irrelevant, because it is my ticket to renew a love of inshore fishing.

inshore florida

I’ve recently been fortunate enough to get a 16-foot Fin and Feather that was partially redone a few years ago. I needed a boat big enough to be stable and hold the whole family, yet small enough to make the skinny and narrow trip up the creek to the house. This boat has been perfect and my list of rigging chores continues. My list of desired accessories continues to grow as well, but that is another story.

So with this switch to fishing inshore again, I began blowing the considerable dust off my river-gear. Reels that I used nearly 15 years ago still worked thanks to a regimented maintenance program during their use and pre-storage but it was still obvious that they were old and tired. I began to pay attention to the surge in technology of modern reels and the variety of features and attributes were almost overwhelming.

Luckily because of my working for BD, I attend many of the tackle and boat shows and I get to play with the newest offerings from many companies.

I wanted, I mean “needed”, a light spinning reel for tossing tiny minnow imitations to the finicky “ditch tarpon” that frequent the nearby canals, but sturdy enough to withstand the head-strong bulldog fights of redfish and more when I hit the flats or mangroves.

okuma helios

I was looking for a lightweight reel that would hold up as well as my older reels had. After playing with many varieties at the shows, I was impressed by the new Okuma Helios spinners. One of the main features that caught my attention was the lightweight characteristic of the C-40X carbon fiber frame and rotors. The construction using long strand carbon fibers makes the reel incredibly strong while reducing the weight by 25% compared to similarly sized reels.

The Helios does continue to use an anodized aluminum spool that houses the Hydro Block watertight drag system and has a sturdy one-piece anodized bail wire. Okuma’s elliptical gearing design is key in producing even line lay on the spool and improving the reel’s smoothness and long life.

okuma makira

My first experience with using an Okuma Reel was catching my first giant bluefin tuna in Prince Edward Island with Tony’s Tuna Fishing. The Race To PEI contest has taken the BD team there with a lucky winner to do battle with bluefin tuna up to 1000-pounds or more. Capt. Tony uses the Okuma Makaira reels and they hold up to insane amounts of pressure on a daily basis during the tuna season. So I felt pretty good about the quality and durability of Okuma products.

Once I bought the Helios HX-25s, I could not wait to test it out in the creek. I swapped out one of my old reels and spooled the Helios with 10-pound braid and a short 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. I put a loop knot to a Berkeley powerbait, 2-inch swimbait. I like these as they match the hatch to the many tiny mosquito fish that swarm the edges of the creek. I’m sure they are the main staple for the local inhabitants.

trout fishing

I slipped out of the house when no one was looking and made the first casts at the ever-rolling tarpon. They seem to roll much more than they bite, but on about the third cast I felt a jarring strike on the other end. The first fish was hooked up and the Helios was smooth. I was waiting for the normal jump that follows the hook set, but no jump came. Instead the familiar headshake of a speckled seatrout came to the surface and the fight was nearly done.

It was a good first fish and I was happy to have checked that off, but it did not have the strength to put the Helios to any kind of test.

That was my reasoning for why I had to keep trying until I heard my wife’s calling, not knowing where I had slipped off.

I’ve now caught over a dozen tarpon on the Helios and it has certainly performed flawlessly. The drag is smooth and the lightweight frame casts the tiny lure effortlessly. The EVA grip handle is nice cause even with a little fish slime, you don’t feel like your going to slip off the handle at the moment it counts.

tarpon fishing

Even my daughters prefer “Daddy’s new reel” because it is so light.

Now that I had “creek fish” notched in my handle, I was anxious to catch something bigger to test it even further. Being winter in Florida, we have had a bunch of high winds lately, especially on the weekends when I can slip out in the skiff. Therefore I’ve been hiding in canals and sheltered areas looking for hungry redfish or drum.

redfish reel

I have caught a handful of smaller redfish on the reel now and the reel has taken everything in stride. I can cast for hours without feeling like I need to stop and stretch my hands out.

In working with one of our contributing charter guides, Capt. Rick Worman, I was talking about the need to test my new reel on bigger fish. He graciously invited me to join him on a recent scouting mission. Though Capt. Rick is an avid fly fisherman and his Flatline Guide Service often caters to anglers of that persuasion, he is also well versed in all tackle.

Capt. Worman

We met at the ramp and launched his Action Craft into the Indian River. The weather could not have been calmer and we skimmed down the channel for a short run to an area where he had been on a school of 5 to 15-pound black drum. We eased into the area and staked off with the Power Pole while we did our final prep.

I changed out my swimbait for a Berkley Gulp shrimp on a jighead. Black drum are very scent oriented, so the Gulp bait is the next best thing to having real shrimp. A few blind casts to judge the range let me know I could really wing it. But there was no need, because just off our bow was the subtle shine of a fish pushed near the surface as he worked for a spot in the big school right in front of us.

sight fishing

I cast beyond them and eased the lure back to their path slowly to keep from spooking them. My heart was pounding as they passed over the lure but then eased on down the flat a ways. We watched excitedly as they turned back towards us. This time an underhand fling put the lure out ahead of them and I let it sit until they closed the gap.

okuma reels

A very slow twitch and sit was all it took and the line jumped and then began to shift to the side. I reeled out the slack and then jacked his jaw. The Helios dumped line smoothly as the drum charged away from his buddies and then decided he wanted to try and get back to them. I gently leaned on it for all I could with light gear and everything worked like it’s supposed too.

black drum

A drum does not jump or do anything erratic, but digs in and will not give up. Even after half a dozen circles under the boat, the nice drum would not give in. But neither did my Helios and after a few quick pictures, we revived the fish and let him swim for another day.

trout fishing

A little while later, we eased up on another flat and caught redfish and a really nice trout, which also fought much harder than previously mentioned. I guess size does matter.

Thanks to Capt. Rick for helping putting me on the fish and certainly giving the Okuma Helios more of a test. It performed perfectly, but now I need to catch a bigger one on it.

That is the beauty of a fishing addiction, the more you go, the more you “need” to go again.

Capt. Scott Goodwin started fishing in the lakes of Kentucky where he grew up. A move to Florida, however, brought him into a whole new realm of fishing. After receiving a bachelor's degree in biology from Eckerd College, he decided that he liked catching fish more than studying them and thus began ...