We moved to the lighted area immediately and yet again saw many silvery flashing fish. Since our weighted sabiki rig caught nothing yesterday, we tried it briefly this morning before we tried to freelined the sabiki in the water column. The fish seemed very shy of the sabiki so Michael took it off his line and replace the sabiki with a 3 foot fluorocarbon leader and a small octopus hook. Using no split shot at all, he freelined the bait and soon caught a very cool little fish that I have yet to identify. I have a rough idea of the family but I have yet to nail down the species.
We all switched over to freelining chunks of shrimp on the light line and Michael and I were soon bending rods with BIG Atlantic Bumpers! A couple of these fish were in excess of 10"! We were hoping to find our Lookdown and Moonfish freelining our bait, but yet again we stuck out in that category. Before the bite was over, I also caught a nice Bigeye Scad that had Michael trying for them for the next few days.
Once the sun was up, the bite at the lighted area ended. The water was calm and crystal clear today and it was prime time to catch some reef fish. It was literally like fishing in an aquarium as we saw all manners of parrotfish swimming about. I had my sight set on the French Angelfish and Princess Parrotfish while Mark simply wish to add a Scrawled Filefish to his list.
We all started fishing with #8 sabiki on the advice from our friends Martini and George. It wasn't long before Michael and I were hooking up with Scrawled Filefish. I noticed that the parrotfish were extremely shy around the sabiki rig and the French Angelfish simply didn't even come around to inspect the bait. There were these big parrotfish milling about with a red head and bright green back. I suspected that they were Rainbown Parrotfish. We had seen this species at Fiesta Key in 2013, but they were very wary and everyone said they were impossible to catch.
Realizing that we were fishing extremely clear water conditions, I took off the sabiki rig and tied on 4 feet of 8lb fluorocarbon to my 15lb mono topshot. Using a #14 octopus hook, I carefully hid the hook within a chunk of shrimp. Freelining the bait under the pier (since the current was drifting our rig in that direction), I soon connected with a Redtail Parrotfish. This was a species I had caught before so I released it promptly without a picture.
After losing a few more baits to the reef fish, I hooked into a Scrawled Filefish that finally cut my line with their sharp chisel teeth.
A little more persistence later, I hooked into a more powerful fish. Surely this was another parrotfish and I was hoping it was one of the Rainbow Parrotfish on my line. When I finally fought the fish out from underneath the pier, it wasn't a Rainbow Parrotfish, but it was certainly a species that I had not encountered before. When I looked up the species in the evening, and after some consultation with my Species Think Tank, we concluded that it was indeed an initial phase Queen Parrotfish!
Queen Parrotfish (Scarus vetula) - Species #417
A few more stolen baits later, I hooked into a parrotfish that appeared to be a terminal phase Yellowtail Parrotfish. However, the fish ran into the barnacle and oyster encrusted pier support and snapped me off before I even had a chance to pull it out from the pier. :(
I landed an initial phase Redband Parrotfish not too long later. I had caught this species before so it was quickly returned to the water. A few more baits later, another new species of parrotfish was on the line! Technically, I caught this species once in Belize but failed to take its picture. At the time, the little juvenile fell through the cracks of the pier before I took out my camera. I was so disappointed. It was nice to finally catch this species again and the picture was stunning!
Stoplight Parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) - Species #418
I shared my success and technique with Mark and Michael. Mark had never caught a parrotfish before and he tried my presentation for a while without much success. Michael was simple obsessed over the Houndfish and Great Barracuda that he was seeing around the pier.
I stayed the course and soon caught a very beautiful terminal phase Redband Parrotfish. I had caught initial phase of the this species but the terminal phase deserve a few pictures. They were simply stunning!
Terminal phase Redband Parrotfish (Sparisoma aurofrenatum)
I caught one more initial phase Redtail Parrotfish before we had to call it a morning. In total, I hooked 7 parrotfish with this technique plus a few Scrawled Filefish that had cut me off repeatedly. This was certainly the Day of the Parrots for me!
We had to leave at 10:30am since I was meeting with my cousin for lunch. My cousin lives in Hawaii but she is currently attending University of Miami. Since it had been more than 6 years since I had last seen her, we scheduled to have a quick lunch despite her busy exam schedule. While I was having lunch, Michael and Mark went to fish at Tropical Park nearby and Mark caught his lifer Golden Topminnow.
After lunch, our plan was to fished in Miami and Homestead area for some exotic species. The one big exotic species on my list was the Hornet Tilapia. On my 2013 trip, Michael and Ben caught the Hornet Tilapia but I was buggered by Bluegill Sunfish. It had been a big unaccomplished goal hanging over my head since. Our intended fishing location was blocked off due to construction, but luckily we found another access point that offered even better fishing in hindsight.
I started off poking around the rocks for a small Hornet Tilapia to check off the species. However, I soon saw a large specimen chasing off other fish. It appeared that this individual were aggressively guarding a nest. However, I couldn't see one in the immediately vicinity.
I put on a slightly larger #14 octopus hook and half piece of a nightcrawler. Poking the worm down beside a large rock, a dark, banded fish came out to inspect the worm and I quickly hooked it, but alas it was simply a Mayan Cichlid.
I continued to look in the area until I saw two large and dark fish over a cleared patch of rock. Perhaps this was the nest of the Hornet Tilapia. I tossed the worm over the nest and before the bait even sunk a foot into the water, I saw a flash of green, gold and orange. Well, this wasn't the Hornet Tilapia I was looking for. It was a spawning pair of Butterfly Peacock, aka Peacock Cichlid. This male had a split dorsal fin and worn caudal fin from its nesting and guarding duties.
Peacock Cichlid (Cichla ocellaris)
Mark needed a Peacock on his list. In fact, it was an item very high on his list. I could see the female on the nest so I waved Mark over. The female was so aggressive that she swiped at Mark's bait repeatedly. However, since they were guarding the nest and not necessarily feeding, she would drop the bait fairly quickly if she felt line tension. But after the fourth try, Mark finally landed his Butterfly Peacock!
I believe in karma and goodwill. After assisting Mark with his lifer Peacock, I finally saw the Hornet Tilapia I was looking for. There was a pair on a nest just 10 feet to the left of the Peacock nest. It was in a semi shaded area which explained my initial difficulty in locating the fish. I only spotted the pair when Mark was releasing his Peacock and I just happened to look in the right area.
The catch was actually a bit anti-climatic. With my first try, I tossed the worm a little too far from the nest so I retrieved the worm and presented it again right over the nest. The Hornet Tilapia initially paid very little attention to the worm until one finally decided to pick it up. I set the hook immediately and pulled the fish off the nest and cleared of the rocks. Mark had the net handy and the fish was netted without any issue. But I felt extremely accomplished to have caught such a beautiful specimen of a Hornet Tilapia as my lifer fish! This fish goes by various names such as Hornet Tilapia, Zebra Tilapia and Zebra Cichlid. Fishbase does not list a common name on it. I'll simply use Hornet Tilapia since this is the name most recognized for the species. This is why I ALWAYS attach the latin name to my fish.
Hornet Tilapia (Tilapia buttikoferi) - Species #419
There were also Green Severum in this canal, so Mark went off to search for one. Michael had given up on his search for the Green Severum and he was just fishing for fun. I joined him and soon caught a number of Mayan Cichlid, Hornet Tilapia and Spotted Tilapia. This specimen size Spotted Tilapia definitely deserved a few pictures.
Spotted Tilapia (Tilapia mariae)
Time was creeping past 5pm and we had to leave. There was one last spot in Homestead that we wish to try. An hour later, we were in the Homestead area when Michael spotted some fish in the ditch next to the road. We saw some juvenile tilapia and assorted cichlid. We tossed a bit of bread into the water but none of the fish came up for the bread. When I dipped a small piece of worm near the school of fish, they immediately responded. It didn't take long before I landed my lifer Blue Tilapia. These fish behave unpredictably. Sometimes they would not bite anything. Sometimes they may gingerly sipped the bread off the surface, or eat bread that is slowly sinking in the water column. But once in a while, you'll find a school that competitively fight for a chunk of worm. Perhaps these smaller juvenile had a lot of competition for food in this little ditch. They were aggressively taking the worm.
Blue Tilapia (Oreochromis aureus) - Species #420
A short drive away, we finally pulled off the side of the road to fish a little ditch that Martini and George had suggested. I immediately saw the target I was after, the Pike Killifish. George had spoke about the aggressiveness of this little predator. Indeed, these fish struck with a fury I had only seen from fish like Muskellunge and Barracuda species. With their aggressive nature, it took no time to add this species to my list.
Pike Killifish (Belonesox belizanus) - Species #421
Seeing the opportunity, Michael spotted a Pike Killifish of his own and quickly caught one too. Unfortunately for Mark, his lifer Pike Killifish would require much more work.
Since Michael and Mark both needed their lifer Black Acara, I left them to search for their fish. Poking around the area, I quickly found some beautiful Jewelfish. The fading light cannot do these fish any justice. Next time I will catch them in better lighting and hope to get some stunning pictures.
Jewelfish (Hemichromis bimaculatus)
After a bit of trying, Michael and Mark finally caught their Black Acara. The Black Acara was very high on Mark's list. He was especially ecstatic to have caught the Butterfly Peacock and the Black Acara on the same day.
I caught some Black Acara of my own too. This may be my new Black Acara lifer photo.
Black Acara (Cichlasoma bimaculatum)
It was strange that the Pike Killifish had suddenly gone into hiding after Michael and I caught ours very quickly. Mark spent a considerable time poking around looking for them, and the ones that he found were exceedingly not willing to bite. At long last, just before we lost light, Mark finally caught an aggressive Pike Killifish to finish off our day.
Sometimes, fishing these roadside ditches can yield unexpected results. Thanks Martini and George!