We all started in the surf zone with high-low rig fishing with shrimp before dawn. Michael and Mark both caught their lifer Yellowfin Mojarra while I didn't get any bites. After a while, the bites stopped and Michael and Mark went to fish the lighted area. We checked the lighted area quickly and caught a couple of Atlantic Bumper, but my mind was focused on Florida Pompano. The surf was rough and murky and everyone's expectation was high.
I returned to the surf area with a high-low rig with 15lb mono, #6 hooks and 2oz pyramid sinker. We only had shrimp for bait so I put two whole shrimp on the hooks. Most of the people were fishing on the right side of the pier. I thought I would try something different and fished the left side for a while without any bites. Soon, there were a few pompano coming off the right rail so I moved my rod over to the right.
Not long after I moved my rod, someone was leaving the pier and he asked if anyone wanted his bait. Seeing the bag of sand fleas offered up for free, I jumped on the offer faster than you can say "YES!". Sand fleas are the top bait for pompano and no one in the right mind should even refuse such an offer.
Armed with a bag full of fleas, my confidence had never been higher. Further down the pier, I heard some commotion and saw Mark brought up a pair of Florida Pompano on his line. Fighting a double on the same line must have been fun! The people around me started landing some pompano while I had yet to received a bit on my sand fleas. I was starting to worry that perhaps I wasn't rigged up properly or perhaps I wasn't casting into the right area.
I paid attention to the rigs of successful anglers and they were quite similar to mine. Everyone was casting about 50 yards from the pier and I was fishing in the area also. Apparently, pompano will zig zag through the surf and it was simply a matter of chance that they find your bait. Certain, if you were baited with sand fleas and using lighter line, there is a better chance that a pompano will bite if it happened to find you bait.
Persistence is probably one of my better traits...and it was through persistence that I finally felt a solid bite on my line. The strong running fish gave promise that the target was finally within sight. When the fish was close to the pier and near the surface, I could see the reflective silvery side of a diamond shaped fish. Was it a pompano, or perhaps it was just a Jack Cravelle? At long last, I could see the perfectly shaped chevrons of the pompano's dorsal and anal fins and it was circling below the pier. Calling for the net, since I was using a 9' surf rod that wasn't really suited to swing a fish up the pier, I had a bit of a heart attack when the net didn't arrive. Mark was untangling his line and hooks from the net and it took him awhile to arrive...a period of time that felt like an eternity with a long awaited lifer hanging on the line below me.
Thankfully, the fished stayed on the hook and Mark finally helped me net the fish. There was a huge sense of relief to check this species off. Not only were they beautiful, not only were they strong fighters, not only were they tasty on the table, but they were one target I've been trying to time perfectly to catch. The sun, moon and stars aligned this time, so perfectly tuned, that I was lost for speech.
Florida Pompano (Trachinotus carolinus) - Species #425
I was so happy, but the sun was so strong in my eyes, that I had a frown on my face. But trust me...I was beaming the whole day and you couldn't wipe the silly smile off my face!
Not long after, I had just rebaited my line and made an off target cast to my right that crossed the line next to me. Just as my neighbour and I shuffled to fish the lines straight out, I felt a hit and the fish was on. At that exact moment, my neighbour's rod bent over as well and I thought my fish had ran into his line. However, his line was moving in opposite direction to mine and our hooked fish helped to sort our crossed lines out.
I was happy to have caught just one pompano, the second one was a big bonus!
Later in the morning, the bite slowly trickled out. A few anglers were still catching the odd fish here and there, but I was content with the two pompano. I returned to the sandy/rocky area of the pier and started fishing a sabiki rig for smaller reef fish such as my Orange Spotted Filefish target.
On the first drop, I hooked a fish that was a welcomed sight...the very beautiful Bluehead Wrasee. Although they are fairly common, this would be the only Bluehead Wrasse we caught on this trip.
Bluehead Wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum)
A few Sergeant Major later, a Bermuda Sea Chub came up on my line.
Bermuda Sea Chub (Kyphosus sectatrix)
With nothing new and exciting on the sabiki, I fished the freelined shrimp again to try for more parrotfish. Unlike two days before, the smaller reef fish and Scrawled Filefish were relentlessly stripping my whole shrimp before the parrotfish had a chance to bite. The Scrawled Filefish were so thick that Mark finally was able to catch his lifer Scrawled Filefish, plus a few more.
Suddenly, I had an epiphany moment. What if...?
I can't divulge too much here. It took a lot of thinking and experimenting that I prefer to keep the details tight lipped. You are welcomed to contact me and ask, but I'll keep the access to this information at my discretion.
Using a new technique, I was able to keep the bait from the bait thieves' constant nibbling to a minimum. Now, the only non-targeted species that may bother my bait were the filefish and trunkfish. What was most surprising, however, was the Rainbow Parrotfish. Suddenly, the new presentation attracted their attention and they started taking the bait.
At first, I couldn't believe my eyes. The Rainbow Parrotfish would circle the bait carefully and after a bit of looking, they may either refuse it or accept it. When the Parrotfish did bite, my light line was no match to their powerful run. I would quickly get snapped off or cut off or wrapped up by these big parrotfish. Slowly, I kept tying on heavier and heavier leader until I finally arrived at a line diameter where the fish can no longer cut me off.
As the wind calmed down a little around noon, the water started to clear up. I could watch the Rainbow Parrotfish inspecting my bait once in a while. Finally, one took my bait and I was hooked up to the fourth Rainbow for the day. Despite my heavier drag setting and the backbone of my surf rod, the fish pulled me into a pylon and I could feel it running into a second pylon on the other side of the pier. But this time, my line diameter was thick enough to resist the shredding of the line by barnacles and oysters. In fact, it stayed intact enough that I could pull the fish back gently and steadily from the pylon. Inch by inch, I gingerly pulled and cranked the fish back. Finally, I had the fish in the clear but it went on a second run. Luckily, it ran out from the pier and I kept the fish from diving down into the reef. A few more surges later, the fish was finally tired enough that I could coax it into the waiting net.
After trying to catch them since seeing them on our first day at Anglin's pier, this species was finally MINE!!!
Rainbow Parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia) - Species #426
While Mark was getting the net ready to land the parrotfish, his rod was inadvertently wrapped around the net line and fell over the pier. I felt responsible for Mark's rod since he was rushing to get the net ready for my fish. Mark and Michael started jigging for Mark's rod but they couldn't see where the rod was located. I could see the rod once in a while when the trough of a wave offered just enough calmness to spot the dark outline of the rod. While Mark went to the car to dig out some treble hooks to snag his rod, I tied on a 3oz pyramid sinker with a 3/0 single hook just 3" up from the sinker with a 3" leader. In essence, the sinker and hook hung flush with each other.
Plumbing the area where I had seen the rod, I gently jigged the weight on bottom feeling for any tension. On the fifth jig, I felt a little bit of resistance and gently tightened up the line. I could feel definite weight on the end so I retrieved the line steadily to prevent the hook from coming out of its hold. I could finally see the rod tip surfacing and called to Michael for the net. With a bit of careful maneuvering, we dipped the net under the rod in case it fell off the hook on the surface...and with one swift lift of the net the rod was retrieved!!!
It is probably one of my greatest catch this year!
After my success, everyone rigged up to try for the Rainbow Parrotfish. After couple of lost fish, Michael finally landed his own. Mark lost a few of his own but he wasn't able to land any before our bait ran out at 2pm.
Seeing as we were tired and hungry, we got off the pier to grab a quick lunch. We never did made it to lunch as there wasn't any McDonald's along our route. A bag of Chex Mix filled us up for the meantime.
We didn't spend time running around since we had a couple more spots to fish in the afternoon. Our first location was the canals that ran next to Highway 27 off the Alligator Alley. George and Martini found a number of micros here including Dollar Sunfish, Marsh Killifish and Bluefin Killifish. I had been fishing all freshwater areas for the Dollar Sunfish but I've yet to find one. George promised me that this area was filled with Dollar Sunfish.
On arrival, we found many small fish in the area. I immediately saw some small sunfish in the shallows. Before my rod was even rigged up, Michael and Mark had already caught their lifer Dollar Sunfish. However, I couldn't see any more of them and fishing in the weedy shallows in the vicinity failed to yield any. I did catch a few Seminole Killifish and Golden Topminnow.
Moving to a more gravelly area, there were a lot of Seminole Killifish that kept taking the bait before some small sunfish in the area could reach it. After trying to work my bait away from the killifish, I found one lone small sunfish near the weeds that was a little hesitant to bite. Eventually, a bit more twitching of my bait tempted the fish enough to gulp down the bait. I waited until the line was pulled tight by the fish before lifting the tenkara rod. At long last, I got my Dollar Sunfish! I counted the pectoral fin ray to make sure that it had 12 rays.
Dollar Sunfish (Lepomis marginatus) - Species #427
Martini told us there were lots of Marsh Killifish, but we couldn't find any amongst the relentless Seminole Killifish and Golden Topminnow. We were losing day light and eventually had to leave. We'll be back next time to find the Marsh Killifish!
Our next spot was one that Mark had fished in the past to catch his lifer Brown Hoplo. He was confident that we would be able to add our lifer Brown Hoplo here. We only wonder whether the fish would bite while the sky was still bright. Perhaps these invasive catfish would only come out out night, much like the Walking Catfish.
We fished for an hour at dusk but didn't even get a bite. With time ticking down, we decided to return after dinner instead. My uncle had came to the pier earlier to take our pompano home so he could cook them for dinner. We promised to be back by 8:30pm but arrived early so we could finish dinner earlier and return to fishing sooner.
The sunset at my uncle's complex was simply stunning. I would move to Florida permanently in a heartbeat if I can find a teaching job there!
My uncle is a great cook and he delivered a great table of food. The stars of dinner were the steamed pompano and braised pompano.
That dinner was memorable. There is really nothing that compared to fresh steamed pompano. The braised pompano was fantastic as well, but steam was that much better.
After dinner, we returned to the Brown Hoplo spot. The mosquitoes were thick and I was being eaten alive as usual, even with long sleeve shirt, long pants, my buff and lots of bug spray. But nothing was going to chase me off from my best chance at a Brown Hoplo!
It took a while for the bite to start. In fact, the bite was so slow at the beginning that Michael went off on his own to explore. While Michael was away, I had one rod in hand and two set in the rod holders. I suddenly felt a tap on my rod in hand and fed the fish a little line. Upon the hookset, I could feel the wriggling struggle characteristic of a catfish. Now which species was it?
On the end of the line was a Yellow Bullhead, a species that I had not expected to catch. No long later, I noticed that one of the line was tapped and pulled up a Walking Catfish.
We were wondering whether the Walking Catfish had pushed out the Brown Hoplo. As my lines soaked in the water, the water hyacinth pushed the line around. One of my line was push well off to the right and I decided to retrieve it and reset it into the right area. Just as my line tightened, I felt a little struggle on the end. There was a smaller fish on the line and when it got closer, I could see that it wasn't a bullhead or a Walking Catfish. Finally, the third fish was the right species! Looking at the picture of this species in the past, I didn't expect the mouth of a Brown Hoplo to be so big. The little 7" fish had no issue taking my #8 octopus hook.
Brown Hoplo (Hoplosternum littorale) - Species #428
While I was photographing my fish, Michael returned and reported nothing was caught on his little expedition. I reset all my rods in the area and it was his turn. It didn't take long before he caught his lifer Brown Hoplo too. Mark's spot was dependable and his info was solid. Thanks Mark!!!
With our goals accomplished, we finally left at 11pm. It had been a very long day for me. I woke up at 3:30am and finally went to bed at 12pm. Luckily, with the pompano checked off, we planned to leave for fishing at 5:30am the next day. I thought I was on vacation, no?