December 31, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 19)

My cousin Tom and his wife Annie had work on December 31 and they left for work early. Michael and I were not too far behind because there was a spot I wanted to fish for some freshwater micros that had been suggested by my friend Pat.

About an hour later, we arrived at one of the many freshwater springs north of Orlando. These springs usually have shallow crystal clear water. It was beautiful to look at, but the clear water made fishing particularly tough.

We were restricted to only two fishing docks at the park. All other areas were off limits to fishing. The hike into the swampy area was a treat though.

While walking to one of the fishing docks, we passed over a tiny trickle of water. We were looking to see whether there were Sailfin Molly in the stream when Michael spotted some kind of shiner sitting over the sand. There was just that one shiner. Michael offered me the chance to try for it and I hooked the fish on the tanago hook...but as I lifted the fish above the water, it flopped off the hook. :(

We finally reached the fishing dock and started looking for Dollar Sunfish. They were nowhere to be found and I even fished under the mats of shallow weeds tight to shore.

Michael saw some fish with dark vertical bands and white fin margins. I knew they were Bluegills but Michael wouldn't believe me and he thought they were tilapia. I left him to chase after them and these fish were extremely wary in the crystal clear water. He spent a lot of time on the Bluegills while I found Seminole Killifish. Once we know what to look for, we found many Seminole Killifish and Michael caught one too.

Seminole Killifish (Fundulus seminolis) - Species #386

We couldn't find the Dollar Sunfish or the Sailfin Molly, so we moved to the next dock.

We finally found the Sailfin Molly at this dock but the swarms of Eastern Mosquitofish would not allow us to fish worms or bread at all. They would even simply grabbed onto the tip of a piece of worm and held on long enough for us to swing the fish up the dock without being hooked in the first place!

Spotted Sunfish were shy but we were still able to catch them sparingly.

I saw that the Sailfin Molly were ripping pieces of algae off. I dragged an empty tanago hook through the algae to collect a clump, then balled up the clump onto the tip of the hook. The mollies would suck the clump but spat it out just as quick. I tried to set the hook using all sorts of timing but it was never quick enough. None of the mollies swallowed the algae deep enough either for a good hookset.

After trying for an hour for the mollies, I gave up. Michael had no interest on these unwilling micros and took a nap on the bench. If it had been a big shark, he would have use dhis very last bloody ounce of energy to make it bite.

It was a shame that we ran out of time for the day. I wanted to make it back to Orlando in time to get my cousin and his wife a couple of gift cards...and luckily we got there 15 minutes before the store closes! We were caught in some traffic on International Drive going back to my cousins but he had already started preparing our awesome Surf-and-Turf dinner that night. My cousin had just taken 4 deer on his recent hunts so we had grilled venison as the Turf. We added in our grunts and Graysby to the dinner as the Surf. Needless to say we had some good eats!

That was all the fishing we had in Florida. We spent New Years with my cousin's friends at a wicked house party and had too much to eat. We started our drive north on January 2 and drove through some scary whiteout conditions near Lexington, KY at night. Thankfully the weather was dry and clear on January 3 as we got home right on time.

I did much better than expected on this Florida trip. It was surprising that most of my targets were met, except for Blacktip Shark, Bonnethead Shark and Dollar Sunfish. I added 30 new species on this trip, which surpassed my estimate of 25 new species at the start of the trip! This also meant I added a total of 103 new species in 2013!

I was happy to crossed off Spanish Mackerel and Cownose Ray to close the chapter on those two species. The big Nurse Shark was the icing on the cake definitely. I had a blast fishing with Ben, Ruoxi and Miciah (and maybe even the rabbit-footed, horseshoe-up-his-arse, and shamrock-totting Michael), and even better to have the chance to meet 4 new friends - Martini, Ryan, Meghan and Leo - who I hope I will have the opportunity to fish with them again. I also have to say thanks to our Keys fishing guru for his help giving us all the information he could to help us do well. I hope to fish with him on the next trip when he has healed. Best of all, I spent Christmas and New Years surround by family and friends in sunny Florida! If at all possible, I might do it again next year. ;)

December 30, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 18)

After dropping Ellen off in Miami, Michael and I were on our way to Sebastian Inlet. I've always heard good things about the area but never had the chance to fish it. Today was more about scouting than actually being productive.

We stopped by a bait shop called Wabaso Tackle Shop to get some live shrimp, but unfortunately they were out. I wanted to mentioned this shop since they gave us some really good information about the area and the service was very friendly.

The fee to get into the park at Sebastian Inlet was $8 for the two of us. We took a look at the water while crossing over the inlet and we could see big rollers slamming the beach. The wind was blowing hard onshore and it was rough!

Michael and I decided to fish inside the inlet but we took a walk out to the north pier.

It was a complete clusterf-k up and down the pier. Maybe it was the holidays and you have both local and tourists (including us) swarming the pier. But it was indeed a clusterf-k at the end of the pier because it was the definition of shoulder-to-shoulder - if you were within the cluster of people and you hooked into a good size fish, you would be f-k'd! There was not even room to squeeze in! We did see a couple of Jack Crevalle, a Fat Snook and a couple of Southern Kingcroaker landed during our 2 minutes of watching. But this type of combat fishing is not something I need on my holiday...unless I see someone catching Florida Pompano with ease...which I did not.

So Michael and I fished within the inlet for a bit and nothing was biting. We decided to check the catwalk out and caught a few Hairy Blenny. I also found a really rounded Spottail Pinfish that I thought was interesting enough to take a picture. I have never seen them this rounded.

I cut the pinfish up for bait hoping for something large. Bonnethead Shark is common in the inlet and I was hoping to find one. Winter also brings along large Red Drum and Black Drum to the area and both loved to take a pinfish. But nothing was going on at all for the 20+ anglers at the catwalk, except for one guy who caught a really big Sheepshead.

Michael and I caught a few more Hairy Blenny, small Black Seabass and a Sergeant Major. We waited until the 6pm high tide but the water never did slack completely, so we packed it up to be on our way toward Orlando.

December 29, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 17)

Michael and I woke up early to find the wind shifted again, this time from the southwest. We simply went back to bed since the bridges would be murky and rough.

At about 8am, I woke up and decided to take a walk around the marina. I saw a little cardinalfish hiding under a ledge and ran back to grab my gear. When I returned, I couldn't locate again. After fishing there for over an hour, I still couldn't find it.

There were a lot of Dusky Damselfish and Threespot Damselfish. I tried for 30 minutes to get a few of the Foureye Butterflyfish to bite. They would follow my squid tentacle around if it was moving, but when it stop moving, the butterflyfish would lose interest. If it move too far out of their home range, they could lose interest as well. Frustrating!

At one point, I saw what looked like a Bicolour Damselfish and had it hooked on the tanago hook. But when the fish dove under the ledge, I tried to pull too hard and and the tiny tanago hook pulled. :(

Someone spotted a very small flounder and I think it might be a Peacock Flounder. It was only 2" long but it was in about 3 feet of water. It was difficult to track it and even more difficult trying to present a bait to it. Even when I had the bait about 2 inches from that fish, it didn't want to bite. It looked like it was just moving from one area to another in a hurry.

There was a huge school of parrotfish foraging on this one rock. They congregated there for the entire hour while I was fishing. They didn't want to bite shrimp or squid and I had no bread with me. I also didn't have a suitable rod to target them anyways since all I brought was the tenkara rod and an ultralight rod. Some of these parrotfish were over 4lbs.

I had to return to camp by 10am. Michael and Ellen was just getting up. We had to vacate our campsite by 11am and the next group had already arrived and they were waiting for us. We packed up in a hurry and went to get some lunch at Robbie's on our way out of the Keys.

Robbie's has this Offshore Sandwich that was basically a piece of seared tuna on a bun. I asked for rare but the tuna was still over seared. I like my seared tuna almost raw...5 seconds on high heat on each side and that's all! This piece of tuna was almost what you would consider pink if we're talking steak. What saved the day was the wasabi mayo. I would purchase a jar if they had it for sale!!!

We washed the seared tuna sandwich down with a slice of Key Lime Pie...this time without the raspberry sauce...

After lunch, we drove to our Miami motel where we would stay for the night. It was still early and my online friend Leo called to see if we were free to fish the evening. Hell yeah!

We met at the party boat for our 8pm departure. Since the waters off Miami drops rapidly, it normally would be a short 10-15 minutes ride before you start fishing. But the skipper decided to head way north on this night and it was almost an hour before we got lines wet. I don't know why the skipper traveled so far north. It was pretty rough and there were a few rogue 4' swells that rocked the boat quite well when we were hit broadsided.

The stern spots were "reserved" for regulars. It was hard for us tourists to get in. The captain wanted a $20 tip to get us a stern spot. I just had to laugh at it.

Since we couldn't drift baits back, Michael and I fished the dropper loop and had steady action with grunts. That lucky SOB also caught a Jolthead Porgy beside me. I hate his stupid luck!

But at least he didn't catch a Bigeye Scad :P

Bigeye Scad aka Goggle Eye (Selar crumenophthalmus) - Species #385

And I caught a 13" Graysby just to even the score a little. Michael hasn't caught a Graysby yet (not that I know about).

Leo fished beside me and he also caught a large Graysby. There is no size limit on them and the locals called them Strawberry Grouper. They were really good eating! Leo also caught a bunch of grunts and a legal Yellowtail Snapper. Michael and I caught a bunch of short Lane Snappers and Yellowtail Snappers that we released.

There was an older gentleman at the corner of the stern that landed four legal Mutton Snappers that night. There were also a few other Mutton Snappers, a few Graysby and a short Greater Amberjack landed.

Soon, 12am arrived and we head back to port. By the time we processed the fish, it was well after 1:30am. Leo had to work the next day so we bidded farewell and we hoped to fish again in the future. Michael and I sneaked in quietly at the hostel at 2:30am and Ellen was already fast asleep.

December 28, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 16)

Our friend had suggested three smaller bridges that we could fish if the bigger bridges were blown out. We check those smaller bridges and the water visibility was 3 feet at best. We're just not having any luck with the weather! :(

Michael and I had an area to try in mind last night as a backup...but the wind changed direction overnight to the southeast and even our backup plan failed. Ok...not what to do?

In my mental map, I know of one bridge that might be fishable since a large island blocks the wind and current on its eastern side. So we headed deeper into the Lower Keys.

We arrived to find a nice grass flats that goes out about 100 yards on either side of the channel. There was an 8' Bull Shark that died and flipped over in about 3 feet of water. A little while later, we saw a 5' Nurse Shark feeding on the grass flats, a Spotted Eagle Ray and some Southern Stingray. The flats drops off into a deeper channel and guys were catching grunts and snappers using shrimp. That was more life than we had seen on all the bridges thus far this morning. We decided to get fishing!

I dropped all the gear off on the bridge before finding a spot to park the car. When I returned, Michael was already hooked up to a 3-foot shark! Unfortunately, an annoying passerby, who couldn't mind his own F'ing business. "helped" us to unhook the shark and tossed it back in the water before we even got a decent picture to ID the shark. He said he was experienced in handling sharks and he said it was a Spinner Shark. It was a load of crap since the shark nicked him as he tried to unhook the shark barehanded and there was no way it was a Spinner Shark since there was no black tips on ANY of the fins. I specifically remembered looking at the anal fin and didn't see a black tip either. It has slit-like pupils...that's all I remember from the eye. The snout was very points and the teeth were small but not symmetrical. I'll have to look up some more info to see if we can ID it based on what I could remember. The bullshit that guy was feeding us was so palpable. I would bet my bottom dollar he was just some wannabe PETA type who didn't like to see us land a shark. I'm still pretty pissed about it.


That was all the "big game" excitement we had all day. We kept tossing shrimp (our once live shrimp died when our bubbler failed!), live Pinfish, palm-sized chunks of Jack Crevalle, cut pinfish, dead finger mullet chunks...and not another bite from the predators.

After a while, I just left the shark rods soaking with live Pinfish and fished the sabiki. I found a little area with really slack water and saw a pair of Spanish Mackerel. They chased the Gotchas a bit but would stop the chase once the lure was about 30 feet from the bridge. Strangely, I did get a hit on the Gotcha close to the surface but it was not what I had expected...

Inshore Lizardfish

I knew the area was promising for porgy species. Grass Porgy and Jolthead Porgy would have been lifer but all I could catch were Littlehead Porgy. The three species feed in the same just have to be luck...or in my case, unlucky.

But by chance in late afternoon, I finally found the little guy, the Sand Perch!

Sand Perch (Diplectrum formosum) - Species #383

Just as the sun set, someone hooked a Lookdown on a jig while searching for Jack Crevalle. I immediately fished the piling with a dropper loop and shrimp. I caught a bunch of grunts, including this Caesar Grunt.

Caesar Grunt (Haemulon carbonarium) - Species #384

Although I was happy to have caught the Caesar Grunt, it wasn't the Lookdown I was targeting. The grunts, snappers and even a Jack Crevalle would not leave me alone. Something then wrapped me around a piling and I had to retie. While I was putting on a new rig, Michael caught a Lookdown using the small sabiki at my spot! Man, I was FURIOUS!!! I went back and fished the same piling until dark and not another Lookdown was caught. WTF!!! I hate fishing with Michael sometimes...he and his stupid luck...

We kept a few of grunts, a large porgy and a Jack Crevalle that was intended for sashimi. But in the end, without trustworthy portable water to clean knifes and cutting boards, everything was simply filleted and pan fried. The Jack Crevalle fillet looked way too good as sashimi. It was a crime to fried it up.

We fished the entire day and everyone was too dehydrated, sunburned and heat exhausted to fish the night. That's just how we roll.

December 27, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 15)

The night before, I talked to an online friend over the phone and he gave me a wealth of information on how to fish the Keys. He had planned to meet up with us for the weekend but a torn rotator cuff kept him at home. I really appreciated the phone call and all the help he had given us! Now...if only the weather would have cooperated...

Michael and I woke up to some howling wind. When will it ever stop!!! Today it was blowing 20mph from the north...

We got to the base of the rocks and started fishing the sabiki rig around the boulders. There were lots of grunts but no squirrelfish. Michael soon took off to look for tarpon.

Ben told me that the morning he fished these rocks there were Scrawled Filefish and some Blue Parrotfish around. I still needed to add the Blue Parrotfish so I concentrated on them. When the morning brightened, I started to see a pair of them cruising the rocky shore. Fishing for them "blinded" was difficult since all the undesirable fish quickly jumped on the bait. In order to have more success, you have to drop the bait almost right next to the parrotfish to have a chance. They favoured strips of squid. I don't think I've ever seen an ugly parrotfish...this family of fish is simply fantastic!

Blue parrotfish (Scarus coeruleus) - Species #381

I poked around some more for the Squirrelfish but they were not around. So I went to the bridge to toss a few shark rods out. I needed some shark baits, but the area were infested with Porkfish and I can't use them for bait. They were so aggressive that morning and completely out-competed the wrasses and Bandtail Puffer for the sabiki!

There were tarpon under the bridge. We saw a couple of huge ones. But the water was murky green and the tarpon didn't want to play. At one point, Michael had a large barracuda took and dropped his bait three times. I also had a barracuda followed my lure when I was reeling in a shark rod to check the bait.

There was little diversity this morning and I didn't add any more new species. But I did take some decent pictures of species I've already caught.

Scrawled Filefish

Threespot Damselfish

Dusky Dameselfish

I told Michael about the Threespot Damselfish. He tried for a bit but then went back to fishing for tarpon and sharks. They were just had to put in time to weed through all the other fish...but Michael had no desire to put in that time for little fish sometimes. Oh well...

We had to leave by 10:30am since Michael and Ellen has scheduled an afternoon dive trip.

I dropped them off at the dive center at 12pm and spent an hour at Bass Pro Shops in Islamorada to replace some gear, especially sabiki rigs. I then had to decide where I would fish to find a Sand Perch. They were supposed to be very common and most people had no trouble catching them. Maybe it was due to the fact that I was specifically trying to target them and others simply catch them accidentally.

I stopped at a couple of areas where the bottom had rubble and there was seagrass beds nearby. These were typical Sand Perch habitat but I couldn't find any Sand Perch around.

Then I passed by a little shallow area that was bordered by mangroves. It looked like a good area to explore, not just for Sand Perch but for micros. I started paying attention to tiny movements and finally found some micros! Originally, I thought this was a Sheepshead Minnow. After looking around a bit more, I'm pretty sure this was a Goldspotted Killifish, a sister species to the Ocellated Killifish I caught in Belize!

Goldspotted Killifish (Floridichthys carpio) - Species #382

I had to get back to the dive shop by 3:30pm, so that was all the fishing time I had. ended up that Michael's tour left late so they were expected back at 4pm instead. I spent a little more time at Bass Pro Shops, but later found out his boat was not back at 4:30pm. In fact, Michael and Ellen wasn't ready until 5:30pm. I could have have a couple more hours of fishing time. :(

Everyone was hungry so we went to get a bite at the McDonald's in Tavernier and then picked up more supplies and bait.

Since we had some time in the evening, we fished a spot my friend had suggested for sharks. Unfortunately, the wind and tide were moving in the same direction and the current was very strong. The water was so murky that even the ever present grunts stopped biting that night. Needless to say that our 3 hours of trying ended up fruitless.

We decided to pack it in early and try out other spots next morning.

December 26, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 14)

I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas with my family and the rods were hung up during the holidays.

Some people go shopping on Boxing Day...I stay as far away from the malls as possible. Michael originally planned to return his rental car in Coral Springs, which would involve packing the car at my uncle's driveway at 11am. But he had already reached the Keys and he would be returning the car in the Keys. I had a free morning all of a sudden.

My cousin John was home visiting his parents for a few days. I visited him in June but we were glad to see each other again in Florida. He loves to fish too and we planned to fish the oceanfront piers in the morning. However, as I was driving to his place, it started raining steadily. Pier fishing was washed off the board.

John's home backs into a small residential pond. Instead of fighting the wind and rain, we decided to simply hang out at this place and sneak in a bit of fishing whenever the rain lets up.

Our cousin Bosco was also with us. He's not crazy about fishing, but he's quite natural. I gave him an ultralight rigged with a 2" plastic grub on a jighead. He landed a little Largemouth Bass on the first cast.

Last time I fished the pond, it was swarming with small bass and Bluegills. But the water was cloudy today and the fish seems to have left the shallows. Perhaps the dropping water temperature and the low pressure had something to do with it. Bosco outfished John and I two to one! John caught his one bass by first catching a Spotted Tilapia on a grain of cooked rice, then freelined the tilapia. I got my bass after Bosco retired from fishing and I used his ultralight and jighead.

By 1pm, we ended the fishing session. After a quick lunch provided by John's mom, I drove Bosco back to his parents and I was on my way to the Keys - for the second time this trip. I was hoping for better fishing conditions and perhaps finding more sharks.

I ran into some traffic around Islamorada. At one point, the cars completely stopped moving and it took 15 minutes just to move 200 meters! I got to the parking lot 30 minutes late and Michael already had all his gear out of the car lying on the ground.

We were camping at Fiesta Key for the next few days. It was already dark when we returned to the campsite. Michael's girlfriend, Ellen, had been spending the last 3 days in Florida on her way home from Cancun. She'll be with us for the next few days as well.

I set up my tent while Ellen made dinner. Michael filled me up on his last two days of Keys fishing - no shark, but he did hooked and jumped two tarpons and caught a Jack Crevalle in places that were borderline immoral and illegal.

I had a long day already and the wind remained relentless. Instead of fishing the bridges at night, we decided to check out the outlets to the marina at the campsite. We could see some smaller micros on the surface. Around the rocky areas there were some reef fish settling into the night time hiding holes.

I found a small Gulf Toadfish for Michael to try. They would usually bite at night, but this one only showed a flash of interest before deciding it was best to avoid us.

Using the tanago hook with a piece of squid, I finally found out what the micros were - small Scaled Sardines. Something had attacked this sardine in the recent past and it still had a fresh wound on the other side of the body.

Michael saw a 1' Nurse Shark in the marina. There were a lot of small lobsters in the marina and the cleaning table added to the attractiveness of the area as a foraging spot. Later that night, I was out chatting with guys fishing at the other outlet of the marina and we saw a shark swimming in the shallows. I found out the next morning that they caught a 3' Nurse Shark at 3am.

Michael and I wanted to check out the base of the bridge the next morning. Ben caught a Squirrelfish during the dark hours and we were hoping to find one of our own. We called it an early night and hoped for better weather for the next day.

December 23, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 11)

We woke up early at 6am to get on the road early. We debated about fishing the Tamiami for Snook and Tarpon the night before, but getting live shrimp early in the morning would be a challenge. Instead, we decided to fish the Intercoastal around the Miami area. Fishing the oceanfront piers was out of the question since it was blowing a stiff NNE wind.

We pulled into a little tackle shop in Dania called Anglers Bait and Tackle. I wanted to specifically mention them since the guys were super helpful and really glad to share a lot of fishing information and techniques with us. They suggested a local boat launch where we may be able to catch snook. After getting 2 dozen live shrimps, we set off to soak some shrimps.

People were already fishing at the launch but fishing was a bit slow and no snook had been caught that morning. We did spoke with a guy who had caught snook and tarpon a couple of weeks ago.

With our targets not cooperating, we started looking for other species of interest. I caught a really blue Sergeant Major.

Michael saw a few more Sergeant Major and soon added his lifer. He then spotted a Houndfish for me to add as a lifer.

Hound Needlefish aka Houndfish (Tylosurus crocodilus crocodilus) - Species #379

I saw some little gobies on the rocks and caught (most likely) a Frillfin Goby. I should have check the tongue to see if it was a Notchtongue Goby.

There was a pair of Horse-eye Jack around and Michael caught his first. Apparently, there was a big moray eel around and Michael went to chase it for a while. There were a few parrotfish around the rocks but we couldn't get the bait past the small Mangrove Snapper, Schoolmaster Snapper, and several grunt species.

Someone caught a Sand Perch earlier so I was fishing a split shot rig hoping to find one of these bottom associated fish. Unfortunately, I didn't find one that day, but I discovered that there were Checkered Puffer in the area. I hooked one and had the fish bit through the line close to shore.

Toward the evening, Michael went for a walk and found another area to try for snook. Instead of snook, we caught a few Checkered Puffers!

Checkered Puffer (Sphoeroides testudineus) - Species #380

It was getting late and Michael had to pick up his rental car by 6pm. We hit some traffic on the way to the rental company, but luckily they agreed to wait for us to arrive.

The next couple of days, from December 24 to the afternoon of December 26, I spent time with family so I didn't get to fish much at all. There was really nothing to report.

December 22, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 10)

Ryan and Meghan got up before Michael and I and they were already making breakfast. We took our time enjoying breakfast and company. Although we planned to fish today, we were not at all in a rush.

We finally decided to fish close to the outlet of Tampa Bay at Fort de Soto.

It was a really windy day and the wind blew directly onshore. The water was very rough and murky. Pinfish were plentiful and soon baits were sent out on shark rods. Not long into fishing, I noticed my line was a bit slack and it seems to be moving off to the side. I engaged the reel and tighten on the line to find something running really fast right at me. Unfortunately, the mystery creature ran under the pier and wrapped me around a piling.

Michael also had something picked up his Pinfish but later discovered it was a dolphin. Megan had a dolphin took her Pinfish while she was making bait on the sabiki. These dolphins were annoying!

There was not much going on with the rough water. We caught ample Pinfish and Spottail Pinfish but the species diversity ended there.

Luckily for Meghan, she found a Scrawled Cowfish and added a lifer on this otherwise species poor day. Congrats Megan!

It was still fun hanging out together and time flies when you have fun. By 1pm, we were getting hungry and Ryan suggested a little sandwich place to grab lunch. As a thanks to Ryan and Meghan for hosting us for the night, lunch was on Michael and I.

After lunch, we bidded Ryan and Meghan farewell. Michael and I wanted to check out another spot in Tampa for shark potential but it was getting late. Instead, we headed directly to Miciah's rental house in Punta Gorda. There was a starfruit tree on the property ripe with starfruit. Michael and I stuffed our faces with that goodness.

December 21, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 9)

We woke up in Ben's motel room quite late. We had about 4 hours of "sleep" in total since the morning of December there was much sleep to catch up.

Ben and Ruoxi left at around 8am. I took my time so Michael grabbed me some breakfast before they stopped serving. We didn't get out the door until 10:30am.

The debate was where to fish. We could go back to Skyway; but I remember chatting with someone on December 13 that the area had a recent run of small Blacktip Shark and Bonnethead Shark. So we decided to fish that spot again to see if we can find some small sharks.

We didn't get fishing until 12pm. Upon arrival, I met someone who had just arrived but he needed to leave after 30 minutes of fishing. He gave me some small Pinfish he had for bait, so I casted a couple of shark rods with the small Pinfish.

While checking bait, I noticed that one of the Pinfish had a crescent shaped bite taken out of it. In fact, it was chomped in half by a small shark. The shark was able to bite without setting the clicker off. A little while later, Michael also had a Pinfish chopped by a small shark without setting off the baitrunner. Although this was a promising sign that small sharks were around, we couldn't connect with any of them. We tried to fish chunks of Pinfish but the small sharks simply ignored the cut bait. Later in the afternoon, someone offered us a large mullet that he had netted to use for bait, and there was still a good portion of mullet left. We tried to fish chunks of mullet but it was either untouched by the small sharks, or it was getting chewed by crabs.

While waiting for a shark bite, we also tossed the Gotcha around or fished the sabiki. Hooked a Spanish Mackerel on the Gotcha but I think the fish heard that we were going to get it. It got off the hook right at our feet. Michael was fishing the sabiki and found an Inshore Lizardfish and a Sand Perch, two species I wanted to catch. I've been fishing for them the entire time that afternoon and can't find them.

Before sunset, someone was leaving and offered us his live shrimp. I was fishing a live shrimp for Bonnethead when something hit and I finally caught my Inshore Lizardfish!

Inshore Lizardfish (Synodus foetens) - Species #378

We were hoping the bite would pick up as the sunset, but we only had a beautiful sunset to enjoy and the rods remained silent.

After the shrimps were used up, I returned to fishing chunks of mullet on my 9' light surf rod. It was a bit of surprise to catch a Sand Trout on the chunk of mullet. I actually counted the anal fin rays to confirm that this was a Sand Trout.

After sunset, the fishing completely shut off. We were debating where to spend the night (since we didn't book any accommodationg) when I returned a call to Ryan and he invited us to stay with him. Thanks so much for your hospitality, Ryan and Meghan!

December 20, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 8)

We arrived at the Skyway Pier at 11:30pm. Entrance to the pier cost $12 for Michael and I, but we have unlimited access to the pier for the next 24 hours. The real bonus here is the ability to drive your car onto the pier and basically fish next to your car. For once, it was much easier loading and unloading all our fishing gear!

Upon arrival, we saw schools and schools of Cownose Ray, and one lonely Spotted Eagle Ray. I had a little history with the Cownose Ray. In 2011, I accidentally snagged one in the butt in Maryland on my 9' salmon rod while fishing for Red Drum. Somehow, I was able to bring the ray back to shore with only a #8 hook, 15lb mono leader and 30lb braid mainline on a 4000 size spinning reel. However, I couldn't count the snagged fish. Even though there were a lot of spawning rays around that weekend, I failed to get any of them to bite.

So here I was staring at the tens and possibly hundreds of Cownose Ray swimming by the pier all night. We started sabiki fishing for some bait to toss out. Pinfish and Scaled Herring were there in huge number so we had fresh bait all the time. It's a bonus that I'm catching a new species while making bait.

Scaled Herring (Harengula jaguana) - Species #375

Apparently, Ben caught a Pilchard amongst the Scaled Herring. I remember checking every one of my "herring" and all of them looked the same. Maybe Ben found a small school somewhere.

I tossed out three rods for sharks. One of them with a live Pinfish, one of them with a live Herring and one of them with a dead pinfish. The dead bait on bottom ended up simply picked cleaned by crustaceans. We fished with mostly live baits.

Between Michael, Ben and I, we probably had 10 rods out fishing for "sharks"...but all of them were silent throughout the night from what I can remember. We were up until around 3-4am keeping rods baited and catching more live bait. At the end, all of us took a little nap until just before sunrise.

I think I woke up at 6am to check on the lines. Just as the sky was getting a bit of colour, my UglyStik Tiger and Saltist 40 combo took a rip! By the time I got to the rod and tightened the drag, the fish had already rocked me.

Michael took a similar hit not long after with a similar fate. Perhaps these were groupers?

We didn't have too much time to dwell on it. As the morning progressed, the pandemonium began. Remember how I mentioned that there were Cownose Ray passing by the pier all night and we didn't even get a rip? Morning was like a light switch. All of a sudden, the rays went on a feed and whoever had a bait sitting on bottom had a pretty good chance hooking up to a ray. At one point, there were double, triple and even quadruple headers. It was a fire drill alright!

Michael and I hooked up at the same time. My ray had the hook right inside the mouth but Michael's ray was hooked just below the head. Michael didn't count his ray at the time. This were our double rays.

Cownose Ray (Rhinoptera bonasus) - Species #376

After I caught my first ray, I was debating whether to cast my shark rods in again. I had all the rods reeled up since the rays would run parallel the pier upon being hooked. It was just a mess of rays that morning and I really didn't want to pull on them over and over again. I want to find new species and not hammer the same species all the time. Michael said he just wanted to pull on big fish so he kept at it. He was also looking for his first fair hooked ray. In fact, he had two other rays hooked just outside the mouth before finally getting a fair hooked ray on the fourth one.

I didn't take many pictures. I was too busy netting fish for people. Since we had the pier net, I volunteered to net the rays around me. If I don't net them, the rays were often brought up by a rope gaff. I simply didn't want to see people unnecessarily gaffing and releasing the rays. I think I netted over 10 rays for people that day...including 4 of Michael's and 2 of Ben's.

There was a sprinkling of other species caught by people fishing the sabiki, including Ben's Spanish Mackerel and a Florida Pompano caught by someone else down the pier. I really wanted to add Florida Pompano on my list, however, I was pestered by Pinfish, Scaled Herring and, later in the morning, Bluerunner and Jack Crevalle. Hooking up with 4 Bluerunner all attempting to swim in different directions was a lot of fun on the sabiki but it doesn't add to my species list. :(

By around noon, we were all exhausted. Ben and Ruoxi debated finding a motel to nap but settled for the rest area at the base of the pier afterwards. Ben wanted to fish the shallow areas for micros at the base of the pier so he didn't want to venture too far. Michael and I spent a little more time on the pier before joining Ben and Ruoxi at 2pm. By that time, we were all really I filleted some fish and Ruoxi fried them up.

Fresh Spanish Mackerel...MMM!

We kept 4 Oscars from the day before. They were tasty! A little like a mix of Bluegill and Largemouth Bass.

Scenery was rather nice around the rest area.

After lunch, Michael and I took a nap while Ben attempted unsuccessfully to catch some micros by hook and line. He did netted some neat species with the pipefish being the coolest.

At around 4pm, we woke up and headed back to the pier. Our squid was pretty rotten by then so we grabbed a new block of frozen squid as well as a mullet to cut up for bait. We were told that mullet is really good shark bait.

Something magical happened once we started fishing again. Throughout the past week, it had been windy and rough wherever we fished. Suddenly, the wind died down at the same time that the tide slacked. The water was completely slick!

Perhaps it was the condition change. Michael hooked a Bonnethead Shark not long after we started fishing again. He caught two Atlantic Sharpnose Shark that evening! It was absolutely bizarre since we were fishing the same baits with similar 4oz shark rigs in the same area. While he found all the sharks, I was kept busy by the rays and skate. I was super jealous about Michael's Bonnethead. He is one of the luckiest guy I know and he can pull out a new species by chance when you work your ass off for days fishing the same way and not catch the same species. It has happened too many times in the past...and it certainly happened too many times on this trip!

I took a rip at 7pm and thought it was the right kind until a Clearnose Skate surfaced. It wasn't a shark, but at least it was a new species!

Clearnose Skate (Raja eglanteria) - Species #377

But the Cownose Ray would not leave me alone...even taking live Bluerunners to ruin my chance at a shark! They were pretty big rays though.

While chatting online, Ben and I met Ryan, a fellow species hunter who had just started his own quest in Florida. Ryan and his partner Meghan came down to fish with us for a bit that evening. He has never caught a Cownose Ray and we were really hoping he would get one during the evening hot bite...but the rays simply gravitated toward me. :(

There were a lot of little crabs swimming around and I tried to net some to use for bait. Bonnetheads love crabs...but the crabs were actually much too small for bait. During one of the net pulls, I noticed a piece of weed stuck on the netting. Upon close inspection, I discovered it was actually a small seahorse. It had grabbed hold of the netting by its tail. How cool is that! I don't know anyone who has caught a seahorse on hook and line. It would have been too cool if this was a hook and line catch. Having the privilege to hold a wild seahorse in hand was enough though. Technically, I should look up the identity of this species (since seahorse is a fish), but I'm not even remotely even familiar with the seahorse, pipefish and sea dragon I need to do some digging later.

By around 10pm, Ben called it a night. Ben and Ruoxi have a long drive back to Illinois the next day. They were going to get a motel for the night. Michael and I left the rods out while we pack up but that was all she wrote for the night. Before Ryan and Meghan left, we chatted about fishing together again a couple of days later since Michael and I were still hanging out in the Tampa area.

December 19, 2013

Florida Road Trip 2013 (Day 7)

We woke up at 7am so we could maximize our fishing time. Our first location was an urban canal where I had caught Midas Cichlid and Grass Carp before. I'm hoping that Ben and Ruoxi can catch their lifer Midas Cichlid here.

I didn't want to compete with Ben over the Midas Cichlid, so I put on a Rapala X-Rap and started to walk the canal for Peacock Bass. I had a few chases and finally hooked up with a little Butterfly Peacock.

Ben and Michael had no luck fishing further down the canal. I spotted a good school of Midas by my feet so I waved them over. Ben's first cast with a piece of bread resulted in his lifer Oscar.

Michael was also fishing with bread and he hooked up a 10+lb Grass Carp. I went into the water to net that carp for him. At one point, the carp ran right between my legs but Michael was quick enough to open the bail on the spinning reel to keep the fish from snapping his line. As usual, it was pretty comical watching that scene unfolded.

Ben finally caught his lifer Midas Cichlid. Ruoxi tried hard to catch her own Midas but they stole the bread off the hook repeatedly. At the end, she called it quit and we moved to our second spot of the day.

Martini shared with me some sampling data of African Jewelfish caught at this location. We tried but couldn't find these Jewelfish. However, Michael and I found a couple of Golden Topminnows!

Golden Topminnow (Fundulus chrysotus) - Species #372

At around noon, we motored toward the Tamiami. We had hoped to stop for a gator tail lunch but the restaurant said it would take about 20 minutes to serve us. We passed on lunch and fished a nearby spot that Michael and I named "Garvana".

Ben tried to tease the Florida Gar with his trusty spinner but these gar just wouldn't cooperate. So I suggested Ben to catch a sunfish and cut it up for bait. It didn't take long for Ben to catch his lifer Spotted Sunfish. This was a significant lifer since it was Ben's 200th species...and he used it to catch his 201th species - the Florida Gar!

There were Oscars swimming around and Rouxi caught a big one that we decided to keep it for food. We wanted to catch a few more so I started poking around with a piece of cut sunfish. There were so many gar that they usually got to the bait before the Oscars did.

We also stopped at Shark Valley along the way to see the gators. From left to right - Michael, myself, Ruoxi and Ben.

There were gators right by the road.

We moved to the spot where Michael and I had fished a few days earlier for Walking Catfish. We were hoping Ben could catch his lifer catfish. However, the catfish were nowhere to be seen during the day. There were no shortage of Oscar, Mayan Cichlid and Spotted Tilapia though...and boy were they pretty! There was a big 8' gator sitting right under the bridge where we fished. We had to get the fish up quickly or else the gator would try to grab it!

Toward late afternoon, Michael had to take a little bio break. He walked over to a little side canal and saw a bunch of small micros. We headed over with the tanago rod trying to get the bait away from all the Eastern Mosquitofish. Then we noticed something else in the canal. We didn't expect to find Black Acara and Jewelfish here!

Black Acara (Cichlasoma bimaculatum) - Species #373

Jewelfish (Hemichromis bimaculatus) - Species #374

This spot had such a primal feel to it...and the canal held many stunning Oscars. There was also a gator that sat under the bridge here...and it also tried to grab our fish.

Once dark, the Walking Catfish came out to play and Ben caught them easily.

We had barely a bite all day and a quick dinner was in order roadside. Ruoxi took out the stove and we had some instant noodles under a dark sky studded with the most beautiful stars I've seen in a while. The Tamiami was truly a special place.

We headed toward Tampa around 7pm. We made a short top to pick up some supplies and bait and finally arrived at the Skyway Pier by 11:30pm. There was more fishing to come...