Lacey Kelly is one of the worst guides we have ever had fun spending time with. Lacey is a full-time fishing and hunting guide from the Crystal River, Florida, which some might say is the last remaining area of ”Old Florida.” We had the privilege of spending a day on the bow of her boat in the historic waters of Homosassa to follow the great tarpon and most importantly learn more about what makes it sound.
After a fun day at the water, Lacey and I sat down to ask her about herself, fishing, the conservation issues she is passionate about, and her platform!
Flylords: When did you first get a fly rod? (any stories to get into fishing as well)
Lacey: Growing up in a family that did not push traditional sports. Instead, we were spear fishing and fishing every weekend. My parents threw me in the boat when I was 6 months old in my car seat! It was my whole childhood, no matter what age I was, it was a family thing for us. I finally chose to spend my adult days guiding and investing in fishing and hunting full time.
For fly fishing, I was in my 20s when I first got a fly rod. At the time I was a full-time conventional bait / gear guide in the Sanibel area of Florida and was looking for the next challenge in the water.
Flylords: What was your journey to becoming a guide?
Lacey: I grew up mostly underwater and in the woods. My dad has been spearfishing all my life and still does some to this day, so we spent almost every weekend in spearfishing and fishing. When I finished high school, I went to college for Hospitality and Tourism Management, but I knew this was not my calling or what I intended to pursue as a career. I was definitely not cut out for office life or a 9-5, I tried briefly for a few short periods and I always knew that being a guide was my calling. I spent all my 20s guiding in the Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island Sound areas. Fishing was my main concert, but I also did trips for sightseeing and shelling. I got into fly fishing and realized that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my guiding life! I found my so-called purpose and never went back.
Flylords: You spend almost every day either in the woods or on the water. How does your daily routine look to you?
Lacey: My daily routine varies from season to season.
Tarpon season: until 4:30 am, coffee, shower, email and customer reservations, etc., load the boat with ice, gas and accessories. Getting around 7am in Homosassa at the dock, poon guide all day, an old-fashioned Florida Cracker Monkey Bar with customers, wash the boat, dinner, emails and bed!
Turkey season: rises at 4 am, coffee, shower, email and customer reservations, etc., load the truck with turkey vest, phone calls, chairs, customer chairs, customer pick-up until 5:30 in the lodge, hunt until lunch, regroup, head head back, stay a bird, dinner with clients, email and bed!
General year-round fishing I wake up at 6:30 am, same as tarpon season, but location changes, I fish all the way from Homosassa North to Cedar Key.
Flylords: By spending a day in the water with you, you and some of the other guides like to worry, but also help each other. How would you describe the guiding culture around Homosassa?
Lacey: The guiding culture in Homosassa is the epitome of “Old Florida” to this day. It is the only place in Florida that I know that keeps it flying only during the tarpon season in tarpon flats. It is a difficult area to get into a guide as foreigners are not welcome. I have been fortunate to become friends with many OG guides in the area I have been looking for for years. It’s a small fishery and there is really no room for new guides until some of the older guides retire and do their best to protect it.
Flylords: Most people who fly fish, especially to Tarpon, know about Homosassa from the days of record-breaking in the ’80s and’ 90s. What was it like to call those waters at home?
Lacey: I wish I had been a fly in a boat in the ’80s and’ 90s just to see it once. One thing I love about sitting in Lorelei at Islamorada is being able to hear the stories of Old Homosassa from OG Key guides. Fairy tales may be as long as all the fish stories, but they still make me appreciate how lucky I am to call this fishing house nowadays. I’m not sure if I really believe tarpons eat scallops as Captain Billy Knowles claimed on a salty afternoon, but I learned a lot about what fishing once was and what we need to do to continue to protect it.
Flylords: Following this question cilat What conservation issues are you passionate about? Is there any organization you see making a difference in your fishing?
Flylords: Tell me a little about your Rig!
Flylords: Do you put your truck differently for turkey season versus tarpon season?
Flylords: Why did you choose a DECKED system for your truck?
Flylords: What’s next Lacey?
Lacey: I have been fortunate to manage and assist in running the Florida Outdoor Experience for almost a decade now and it is time for the next chapter. What the next chapter will look like, I can tell you after I finish knee rehabilitation due to 3 surgeries and lead full time. It has been a struggle to get back into groups and do a ton of physical therapy, but hopefully, next year, it will be better than ever!