Vol 7 No. 24 - March 7, 2007

Fishing with Captain Tom Van Horn

Captain Tom Van Horn and Captain Rodney Smith show a black drum caught by Rusty Chinnis before it was released back to the lagoon.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

One of the pleasures of fishing, and in particular, fly fishing, is the quality of the friends we meet. Fly fishing seems to attract anglers who have interesting lives, who are committed, and give back more than they receive. Recently, I had the pleasure of reacquainting with a friend I met through fishing and meeting a new friend when I spent a day on the water at the Kennedy Space Center with Captain Rodney Smith and Captain Ton Van Horn.

I first met Captain Rodney Smith at a Florida Outdoor Writers meeting, but we later solidified our friendship at a Cotee Outdoor Writers’ Outing on Pigeon Key near Marathon. Over the years we’ve stayed in touch, fished on occasion and recently talked about fishing the no-motor zone at the Kennedy Space Center. Smith and his wife, Karen, are building something of a fishing dynasty on the Indian River Lagoon near their home in Satellite Beach. Besides raising four children, this dynamic duo somehow found the time to run a successful guiding business, publish a popular fishing magazine, “Coastal Angler Magazine;” publish a book, “Fishing Made Easy;” hold seminars; conduct kids’ fishing clinics; champion conservation causes and much more. A few years back, the Smiths decided to end Rodney’s guiding business so they could concentrate on their burgeoning publishing business. Their grasp of the area’s fishing opportunities and their stewardship of the local resources attracted the attention of Tom Van Horn.

Initially Van Horn approached Smith at a Shallow Water Fishing Expo and announced that he was going to become a guide. He wanted to learn the ropes and learning from Smith was part of his business plan. The two fished together and Smith was so impressed with his organized method that he hired Van Horn to work for “Coastal Angler Magazine.”

Van Horn is also a fireman at the Kennedy Space Center, a job that allows him direct access to the No-Motor Zone, where he is only allowed to take friends and relatives. On his charters, he still fishes this magical area but is required to paddle in from the south like the other guides and anglers who frequent the area.

We had talked about this trip for a couple of years and the day we managed to make it happen, a front was looming and the day dawned with leaden skies. We launched a canoe and a kayak on a causeway near an old vehicle assembly plant and paddled to the south along a shallow flat thick with Turtle grass. The visibility was difficult in the morning and never any got better as the day progressed. Fortunately, the wind never blew more than 15 miles an hour and after spending the first hours hunting for fish our luck began to change. We had seen what appeared to be a school of redfish earlier in the day, so we returned to the area later in the morning and managed to catch several redfish by tracking their wakes on the shallow flat. In the afternoon after lunch we fished back to the north and began to spook large fish that Van Horn thought might be black drum. The area is famous for these large cousins of redfish, so we slowed our progress and paid special attention to the edge where the long grass flat met deeper water. As I was scanning the horizon, Van Horn tapped me on the shoulder and pointed out a school of tailing black drum that were working their way towards us. I raised my rod in anticipation of making a cast but my guide wisely suggested that I wade to the fish. We paddled the canoe 50 yards up the flat, staked out and got into the water.

I had been coached by Smith and Van Horn on the special technique needed to get black drum to take a fly. I stationed myself in their path and when they were about 50 feet away, I made a cast into their path, letting the fly sink to the grass. I then waited until they were over the fly and watched my fly line carefully. Suddenly, I noticed an almost imperceptible movement of the line and made a short strip strike. The line came tight and a 20-pound drum actually surfed to the surface on its side before bolting for deeper water. I fought the fish with just enough pressure to tire it, making sure the small black crab fly I was using didn’t pull loose. In ten minutes we had the drum at hand and I took several pictures of Smith and Van Horn before we released it back to the lagoon. We got a few more shots that afternoon, but decided to head to the ocean to see if there were any opportunities in the surf. The tide was low and although we didn’t spend much time actually fishing we enjoyed the expansive Atlantic coast that was devoid of people. In the distance we could see the launch pads of several new generation rockets and Van Horn acted as a tour guide showing us where some of America’s most ambitious space attempts were launched.

Captain Tom Van Horn fishes the Space Coast 12 months a year and has extensive knowledge of the varied fishing opportunity it holds. For more information or to book a trip, call Van Horn toll free at 866-790-8081. Check out his web site at www.irl-fishing.com. Captain Rodney Smith’s web site has a wealth of information on the Space Coast. Check it out at www.camirl.com

<< Go back to Index March 7

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper