Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fishing Where it's Warm (Florida)

I've neglected this blog for a couple months now, mainly because I haven't gotten much fishing in, and have been really busy with just about everything else in my life.

I just returned from a 5-day long weekend in which my family and I went to Florida. Between the sightseeing, hiking, and spending time with relatives, a piece of my time was devoted to fishing.

We arrived at a tiny airport at St. Augustine on Friday. We toured the Old Town and visited the Castillo de San Marcos. The Castillo was especially cool, with the cannon-firing demonstrations and the old stone walls. I also managed to get an hour of fishing at the local marina.

At the marina, I pulled out a size 12 sabiki to catch some bait, to eventually try to catch some snappers of something of that sort. I could see a lot of tiny fish in the calmer waters, but weren't sure what they were. It turns out that I caught one, which I identified as a Bay Anchovy! This was my first lifer and fish of 2015! (although tiny)

the Bay Anchovy

They came in rapid succession, and I hooked a couple and put them on the bottom. I had a couple stolen baits, and one hooked fish, but none came to hand. Maybe it was because I was fishing on Friday the 13th. With the temperature in the low 50's, and the wind at 10 knots, I decided to call it a day.

After that, we toured around some more, and headed to our hotel. 

The second day was spent at the Kennedy Space Center. No fishing was done, but the space center was really cool, and I learned a lot. We arrived at my aunt and uncle's place at West Palm Beach during the night.

The next morning, I was up early and itching to get fishing. Prepared with a hot dog and some shrimp, I set off to the canal across the road, with high hopes for exotics like cichlids and walking catfish.

And I got skunked.

I tried the nearby lake, where I caught a couple of bluegills and some dinky bass, but nothing noteworthy. After breakfast, it was time to head to Okeeheelee Park for me to fish, my dad to golf, and my sister, mom, and cousin to canoe around the lake.

At the first spot I tried, the water was murky and I caught nothing but plain 'gills. While I soaked bait, I whipped out my tanago hooks and tried microfishing, which quickly produced my second lifer of the trip (and its still tiny). 

the all-too-common Eastern Mosquitofish 

I then tried the dock near the boat rental area. The difference in the water was exponential, considering that it was still the same lake as my first spot! The visibility was probably around 30+ feet. 

But because of the clear water, the fish were wary. Very wary. I could see 'gills up to 10 inches, as well as every single leaf of the aquatic plants under them. Oh yeah, there was also huge bass. HUGE bass, maybe up to ten lbs. I tried catching both bluegills and bass, but none of them responded. Even the bluegill, which i know as a rather dumb fish, were super spooky. 

A family started feeding bread to the fish, and the bluegills, after a while, started to take the bread regularly. By freelining a piece of bread on a small hook, i finally managed to hook into a bluegill. Not a bad sized one either, although not a titty bream. But... It was a Coppernose Bluegill, white-tipped fins and all!

the coppernose

You may be able to see just how clear the water was. The water right behind the bluegill was a good 15 ft deep. 

The day was getting hotter and hotter, and nothing else took. The bass shunned all the lures I had, and i simply couldn't catch a bluegill for bait. Finally, I hooked into a small bluegill. Without wasting a second, I rigged it up on my heavier rod and cast it at the largest bass within sight. Apparently the biggest had swam off, but this one was still huge to me.

First cast by the bass, and the bass lunged with the most fury I've ever seen a fish strike. So much fury that it missed the bait entirely. I reeled it in as fast as I could, and sent it out for a second cast. The bass immediately hit again, this time hitting home. The water was so clear, I could see every detail in the strike; the flared gills, the white mouth, and the bluegill trying to swim away. The fish, having felt the hook, streaked off for deeper water, but even then, I could see every headshake, every little muscle in its body tense up. 

After a bit of time, the bass started to tire and it was time to land it. I crouched down, slowly grabbed it by the lip, and tightened. I lifted the thrashing fish up, and it was mine. My personal best largemouth bass! (It might not be big by Florida standards, but I'm from Jersey)

It was a good 6 lbs

That fish sure made my day. 

I didn't catch any other fish, but I did see some big shiners that I didn't hook. 

At the end of the day, I went fishing at the Lake Worth Pier. I got skunked really badly, lets just put it at that. 
Getting skunked at the pier

The fourth day of the trip, I was up early again to try the canals one more time. After an hour of no bites, I finally felt weight and a fight as I reeled in my chunk of hot dog to check my bait. I reeled it in, and I was surprised to see a little White Catfish on the end of my line! Another lifer, still small but at least respectable... I almost thought it was a channel catfish at first; it was so smooth in color and thin, but the tail was a dead giveaway.

It was a pretty little catfish

I received no further bites, and after breakfast the whole family went to downtown West Palm Beach for an art gallery and some fishing time for me! 

My uncle was kind enough to stand by while I fished for about an hour and a half, which I really appreciated. The first two spots we went to were private or didn't allow fishing. But eventually, we found a spot right next to a big bridge. I fished for a while using squid with no luck. I jigged a swimbait near shore, and something big took it when I was jigging under a rock. I didn't see it; it retreated as fast as a bullet back into the rock. The first time it took, it let go. The second time, it snapped my line. :(

After quite some time, my uncle left. Ironically, that was the point in which i started to catch fish! Jigging a chunk of squid under the lost swimbait rock produced a Hairy Blenny, which I quickly brought ashore. Another lifer, this time from Florida's saltwater!

It was actually quite beautiful!

There was a tiny dock nexy to the bridge, and I fished of it with some more squid. I felt some strong taps, and brought up a Checkered Puffer! The puffer fought pretty hard, I didn't expect so much from a blobby-looking fish.

A very cool fish nonetheless

Those little buggers sure bit hard, my finger strayed to close to its mouth, and it left its mark on me which remained there for the next two hours.

Jigging a piece of squid under the lost swimbait rock gave me a lifer Pinfish! (the rock was huge) The Pinfish also fought pretty hard for its size, and was a gorgeous fish with its yellow body and blue stripes.

After that, jigging under the same rock produced one more checkered puffer. 

Satisfied, i joined my family on the drive from West Palm Beach to Fort Myers. Along the way, we stopped by a wetlands preserve. I saw some GIANT tilapia, but fishing was prohibited. That was a bummer. 

On the last day of our trip, we made a decision to go to Manatee park because of the manatees, and because of a report on (thanks Gunnar!)

Shortly after gazing in awe at the manatees (as they were so much bigger than expected), I headed to the fishing pier armed with two rods and bait and tackle. This was my last shot at some cichlids and some Florida Gar. I was happy to hear that both had been recently caught there. 

Setting up shop, I noticed gobies in the water, and it about a minute to catch one, of which 58 seconds were spent setting up the tanago hooks. Another lifer, the Crested Goby!

I set of squid on the bottom, and waited for events. I also cast some spinners and lures with no luck. As I reeled in my squid to check, I felt a strong tap. I set the hook and something took off on my ultralight. The mangrove-stained waters made it hard to see what it was, but there was a flash of orange, the right color.

I was ecstatic to pull up a colorful Mayan Cichlid! It fought really well, living up to its "atomic sunfish" nickname. It even peeled some drag as I fought to turn it away from the mangroves. It was radiating orange light. This was awesome! 

It flopped around, tangling my gear, but I didn't mind. It was a cichlid! There was also plenty of big tilapia by the manatees, but fishing is only allowed at the fishing pier. I guess the fish there are smart.

No gar were brought to hand, but lets just say I didn't catch a gar so I'll have something to take my revenge on when I come back (not like there isn't anything more to catch in Florida :D).

We stopped by more preserves, where I saw gar, but again, fishing was prohibited...

So concluded my adventure in Florida. I left with 8 lifers, bringing my total to 39 species, as well as some fishing memories I'll never forget.

Thanks for all the people on for giving me tips and info!