Lacey Kelly is one of the most badass guides we have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. Lacey is a full-time fishing and hunting guide out of Crystal River, Florida, which some may say is the last remaining area of “Old Florida”. We had the privilege to spend a day on the bow of her skiff in the historic waters of Homosassa to chase big tarpon and most importantly learn more about what makes her tick.
After a fun day on the water, we sat down with Lacey to ask her about herself, her fishery, conservation issues she is passionate about, and her rig!
Flylords: When did you first pick up a fly rod? (any backstory into getting into fishing too)
Lacey: Growing up in a family that didn’t push traditional sports. Instead, we were spearfishing and fishing every weekend. My parents threw me in the boat when I was 6 months old in my car seat! It was my entire childhood, it didn’t matter what age I was, it was a family thing for us. I eventually chose in my adulthood to spend my days guiding and investing in fishing and hunting full time.
For fly fishing, I was in my 20s when I first picked up a fly rod. At the time I was a full-time conventional/gear bait guide in the Sanibel area of Florida and was looking for the next challenge on the water.
Flylords: What was your journey to becoming a guide?
Lacey: I grew up mainly underwater and in the woods. My dad commercial spearfished my entire life and still does some to this day so we spent nearly every weekend on the water spearfishing and fishing. When I graduated high school I went to college for Hospitality & Tourism Management but I knew that wasn’t my calling or what I was intended to do as a career. I definitely wasn’t cut out for office life or a 9-5, I’ve tried briefly for a few short stints and I have always known that being a guide was my calling. I spent all of my 20s guiding in the Sanibel, Captiva, and Pine Island Sound areas. Fishing was my main gig but I also ran sightseeing and shelling trips. I got into fly fishing and realized that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my guide life! I found my so-called purpose and never looked back.
Flylords: You spend almost every day either in the woods or on the water. What does your daily routine look like?
Lacey: My daily routine changes by the said season.
Tarpon season: up at 4:30 am, coffee, shower, emails & client reservations, etc, load the boat down with ice, gas, and gear. Pickup around 7 am in Homosassa at the dock, guide for the poon all day, one old fashioned at the Florida Cracker Monkey Bar with the clients, wash the boat, supper, emails and bed!
Turkey season: up at 4 am, coffee, shower, emails & client reservations, etc, load truck with turkey vest, calls, decoys, client chair, pickup client by 5:30 am at the lodge, hunt till lunch, regroup, head back out, roost a bird, dinner with clients, emails and bed!
General year-round fishing I’m up at 6:30 am, all the same as tarpon season but location changes, fish all the way from Homosassa North to Cedar Key.
Flylords: From spending a day on the water with you, you and some of the other guides like to heckle but also help each other. How would you describe the guide culture around Homosassa?
Lacey: The guide culture in Homosassa is the epitome of “Old Florida” still to this day. It’s the only place in Florida that I know of that keeps it to fly only during tarpon season on the tarpon flats. It’s a difficult area to break into a guiding as outsiders are not kindly welcomed. I have been fortunate enough to become friends with a lot of the OG guides in the area that I’ve looked up to for years. It’s a small fishery and there really isn’t room for new guides until some of the older guides retire and they do their very best to protect it.
Flylords: Most people who fly fish, specifically for Tarpon, know about Homosassa from the days of record chasing in the 80s and 90s. What has it been like calling those waters home?
Lacey: I wish I could’ve been a fly on a boat back in the 80s and 90s just to see it once. One thing I love about sitting at the Lorelei in Islamorada is being able to hear the stories of Old Homosassa from the OG Key’s guides firsthand. The tales may be tall like all fish stories but they still make me appreciate how fortunate I am to call this fishery home nowadays. I’m not sure if I really believe that tarpon eat scallops like Capt. Billy Knowles claimed one salty afternoon, but I have learned a ton about what the fishery once was and what we need to do to continue to protect it.
Flylords: Following up on that question… What conservation issues are you passionate about? Are there any organizations you see making a difference in your fishery?
Flylords: Tell me a little bit about your Rig!
Flylords: Do you set up your truck differently for turkey season vs. tarpon season?
Flylords: Why did you choose a DECKED System for your Truck?
Flylords: What is next for Lacey?
Lacey: I’ve been fortunate to manage and help run Florida Outdoor Experience for almost a decade now and it’s time for the next chapter. What that next chapter will look like, I can tell you after I’m done rehabbing my knee due to 3 surgeries and guiding full time. It’s been a struggle getting back to poling and doing a ton of physical therapy but hopefully, in the next year, it will be better than ever!