January 1, 2013

2012 Florida Road Trip (Day 5)

To be honest, fishing was very slow by my expectation. On my trip to Florida in April 2011, there were cichlids and Cobra Snakehead everywhere! I didn’t have much time to fish freshwater last time and was expecting to hammer the freshwater fish on this trip. After a couple of warmer days, we were hoping that fish would be active again and our luck could change.

We woke up earlier this day to reach our fishing location by 7am. Our first spot was a canal in Hammock area following a tip from our friend that we could find numerous willing Midas Cichlid and Mayan Cichlid. There could also be a small number of Jaguar Guapote and Butterfly Peacock. Unfortunately, we arrived to a creek devoid of any cichlids in sight.

After 30 minutes, I finally saw one unwilling Butterfly Peacock and a school of large mullet. Having fished the area thoroughly both shallow and deep without so much as a tap, we decided to head to the Tamiami Canal for the rest of the day.

We really didn’t know how to proceed. The continued slow fishing really dampened our spirit. Despite fishing hard, we just can’t find many of our targets. We debated whether we should head deep into the Tamiami Canal or fish closer to civilization. In the end, we decided to go as deep as possible. I had a number of areas marked on the GPS to try.

Along the way to our final destination, we decided to check out one of my spots for a quick look. Right beside the roadside ditch, we were greeted by wildlife…

Despite the danger of a 7-8 foot alligator, we fished this spot within 15-20 feet of this reptile…since the ditch was literally boiling with Florida Gar!!!

We first tried some small lures to see if they would hit artificial. However, we soon changed to pieces of cut sunfish to fish under a float. Once we started fishing cut sunfish, we were being picked up by gar almost every cast! We had to let the fish take the bait for a while before setting the treble hook, or else we often pull the bait out and the hook would not set. It took a few times to figure out how long we should wait, but we finally caught some Florida Gar!

Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) – new species #6

Michael and I both caught our lifer Florida Gar. We were hoping to find other native Florida species such as Warmouth Sunfish and Dollar Sunfish, as well as exotic species like Oscar and African Jewelfish. We were instead pestered by Bluegill Sunfish, Spotted Sunfish and Largemouth Bass. I even had a Bowfin on the line briefly before the hook came out. I tried to horse the fish quickly to shore since our gator friend was now taking notice of our fish on the line. It slowly approached us by creeping closer, then entered the water to sit about 2 feet from our PREVIOUS fishing spot. We both jumped back when we saw the gator enter into the water and swam toward us. Scary moment indeed!

I’ve caught a Spotted Sunfish on my previous trip but didn’t have a great photo. This one was just a little better…

When we found no other interesting species, and having the gator chased us off, we decided to fishing another spot.

As soon as we arrived in the new spot, Michael said he spooked an Oscar. That was quite optimistic…but we only and one other glimpse of the Oscar in the next 3 hours. This spot was filled with Largemouth Bass, some around the 3-4lb range, a very large number of Florida Gar, and a school of tilapia that did not want to bite. We fished the area well trying to find more Oscars or the other target fish mentioned above…but found none. I’m really not sure if it was the cold weather that turned off the bite, or if we were just not fishing the right area. African Jewelfish should be very prevalent in the Tamiami, but we had yet to even see one!

With very little action, I decided to play with the gar. At one point, I caught a bluegill sunfish that was deeply hooked. I tried to keep it in the water to keep it alive while I dig for my hemostat. While the sunfish was in the water, it attracted the notice of the Florida Gar and they started to chase the sunfish. They were following it intensely and I could “walk” the gar like you walk a puppy, haha! Finally, they started to hit the sunfish and grabbed on. The sunfish was a little too big to fit their mouths, so after grabbing on for a while, they would simply drop it. I retrieved the sunfish and cut it up for bait…and that was the beginning of a full hour action with the gar! I could almost get every gar in the area to grab the bait as long as I drift the chunk of sunfish on a free line in the current to the gar. They would grab the chunk and drift back in the current.

Most of the time, I just let them pull around a little and then yank hard to pull the bait out. A few times, I set the hook to fight the gar for a bit before the hook comes out. There was a bigger gar that I had wanted to land for a picture, but as I was lifting the gar out of the water and hand line it up the bridge, the line snapped.

When we had enough of the gar, we decided to fish another spot we passed by. Although the area looks very weedy and every bit the habitat for Oscars, we found no Oscar. Instead, we saw a large bass, caught a couple of bluegills, and hooked a 3-4lb Bowfin that snapped the line when we tried to hand line it over the fence.

We were parked at this place that sells gator tail sandwiches…I just had to try one. It was pretty darn good…MMM!

With about an hour left of daylight, we tried one last effort. We fished closed to the civilized end of the Tamiami before we had to return to my uncle’s house for dinner. We finally found something new with determination! Michael caught his first Butterfly Peacock and I caught my first Banded Cichlid!

Banded Cichlid (Heros severus) – new species #7

I also caught my third Redear Sunfish.

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