Elijah said he would be a little late this morning, so we stopped for breakfast, then got some bait, and met both George and Elijah at the parking lot of Dania Pier. Anglin's Pier was closed due to a dispute so this gave us an opportunity to explore another pier.
Parking and admission was much cheaper than Anglin's, however, the pier was set in an area with less reef. There could be a different mix of species. George and I started in the surf zone just as the sun rose. After an hour without much of a bit except for small Jack Crevalle, we decided to join the rest of the group out at the end of the pier.
On one of my first drop with the dropper loop rig, I caught a large Blackear Wrasse. As with other species I've caught in the past, finding the first specimen (in April) was most difficult. Once the species is no longer a lifer, it becomes incredibly easy to catch.
Elijah was fishing on the other corner of the pier and constantly hooked up with some hard running fish. I joined him for a while and hooked into many Grey Triggerfish.
I also caught a Black Margate, lots of Bermuda and Yellow Sea Chubs, some Sergeant Major and Slippery Dick. A Redtail Parrotfish was the only Parrotfish for me at the pier, and most of us did not fare any better for them. There was a couple of Grey Angelfish feeding on the chum bag, but they are too line shy to be caught.
By 10am, our parking fee (and the chum bag) ran out. Without any significant species catch, we decided to move to another location where I had see many interesting Parrotfish and Angelfish before. George had to get back to Sebring as his daughter was arrive for Christmas, so we bid farewell and part ways.
Upon arrival at our new location, there were indeed some Parrtofish around. I spotted a few Redtail Parrotfish, a Rainbow Parrotfish, a couple of Yellowtail Parrotfish and even saw a Blue Parrotfish in a spear fisherman's catch.
However, our arrival seemed to attracted other anglers to our spot and soon we were surrounded by people. Perhaps all the activity created too much commotion. The Parrotfish simply disappeared.
Bartek had yet to catch a Scrawled Filefish. I put the rod down and guided him to one without too much effort.
I fished the sabiki rig later and saw two small Striped Parrotfish circle my bait, but the other fish such as Sergeant Major, Slippery Dick, Grunt species and Pinfish were too fast on the bait. Eventually the Striped Parrotfish simply moved on and I didn't see them again.
Michael and Bartek were off somewhere else fishing and Michael returned to announced he found a Lionfish. I had wanted to catch a Lionfish ever since I heard story from Richard about seeing them close to shore in Roatan. They are usually found in deeper water, and the inability to see them presents a difficulty to catch them on hook and line. They usually sit tight to structure as they ambush their prey. Using their long pectoral spines, they slowly corral their prey until it is within reach, upon which the Lionfish would open their mouth to vacuum in the prey. They mostly target small fish and shrimp, greatly preferring live prey over dead prey items.
I had already knew all of this. However, all our bait were frozen bait. At the time, I was rigged with only a splitshot and 2 small hooked to fish frozen sand fleas. Initially, I simply want to find the fish to observe its behaviour. Based on Michael's description, I was finally able to see the fish moving about slowly by the seawall. I could see the fish slowly moving closer and closer to deeper water. I didn't want to waste time to change bait and risk losing a shot at the fish while it is still shallow. So I tossed the sand flea toward it. Michael then arrived after he baited up again. The Lionfish was flanked by my sand flea on its left, and Michael's bait on its right.
I could see the fish swim over, with pectoral fins spread out, to inspect my bait and then lost interest. It then went over to Michael's bait and did the same. Back and forth, the Lionfish refused our bait over and over again. I suspected that it could smell and see out offering, but the still presentation was not triggering a bit.
Recalling the Lionfish preference for live bait, I started to jiggle the sand flea. The sand flea jumped and vibrated, and soon the Lionfish returned to my bait. As it inched closer and closer, I kept a steady jig-pause cadence. I could tell the Lionfish was trying to trap my bait, turning its body side to side to sweep its pectoral fins around the sand flea. Finally, I saw the jaw flashed open. I didn't feel the hit, but trusted my visual that the Lionfish had sucked in the sand flea. When I lifted the rod, felt weight, and saw the Lionfish's head angled upward, I knew I had it.
The Lionfish didn't fight impressive at all. It wiggled it tail trying to dig down, but my rod was much too stiff for the fish to fight back. Knowing I only had 8lb fluorocarbon leader and two small #14 hooks, there is a real chance I could lose this fish, especially since the fish appeared to be skin hooked. I called for the net and steadily walked back toward the group. Elijah was ready with the net and without much drama, the fish was raised!
Red Lionfish (Pterois volitans) - Species #481!
I was not expecting to catch this species from shore on this trip. It was yet another species that I had caught by complete surprise while not targeting them. Can you sense the theme of this trip yet?
In fact, I started to not care about targeting any species for the rest of this trip. It was quite different from my usual approach on a lifer hunting trip.
With nothing much else around, I got bored and I started to challenge myself to load up all six hooks on the sabiki rig. It was actually a much more difficult feat than most assume, as a hooked fish could wiggle off the hook. The top 2 hooks were the most difficult since fish usually would not swim too far off bottom to take the bait.
At last, I finally caught all six fish on the same sabiki rig.
Finally, the group decided to return to Dania Pier to see if the late afternoon bite would spark something interesting.
I only had a couple of hours to fish before I had to leave. I was scheduled to arrive at my uncle's house by 6:30pm at the latest. We were picking through much of the same species when something else came up that I didn't expect...an Ocean Surgeonfish!
Ocean Surgeonfish (Acanthurus bahianus) - Species #482
This species looks very similar to the Doctorfish. Ocean Surgeonfish lacked the vertical dark bars of the Doctorfish. In addition, Ocean Surgeonfish has a slightly more lunate tail with a white to light blue margin on the caudal fin. They often school with Doctorfish. To the untrained eye (like mine in the past), it is easy to overlook them. I wonder how often I had caught them in the past.
By 5pm, we had to pack up and called it a day. I was completely satisfied with two unexpected and very cool species for the day.
After dropping off Michael and Bartek at their hotel, where we were swarmed by sand flies since it was located near the mangroves, I was off to spend the next some time with family for Christmas.