Monday, July 25, 2016

A Florida Chronicle Pt.1: A Tale of Armadillos, Angry Dinosaurs, and Lost Fins

The time for our Orlando trip had come. We were visiting my Aunt, uncle, and two cousins in Florida for a few days. Fun, family, and fishing was just around the corner!

In terms of fishing, I didn't have too high expectations, since we were only there for a few days, and a couple were reserved for theme parks. But, as always, I had a goal in mind: A florida gar and two new Lepomis species: either a redear, spotted, or warmouth would all do.

Our place was right on a lake, and a couple minutes of a walk would get me right on the dock. I was hoping that I could nab my lifer gar and redear sunfish here, but it was not to be. I came here for two mornings, before we left for entertainment, and all I caught were bluegills.

 They were bluegills, but they were coppernose bluegills, so that was cool. On a piece of cut bluegill, I hooked a rather large bowfin several times, only to have the hook come out of his bony mouth everytime. He jumped and ran, and everytime the line would go slack. Eventually, I gave up trying to catch him, since these guys were ravenous:

On the upside, I did get to see my first-ever armadillo - a wild one, too! It was pretty cool.

Summer in Florida was a bit odd. Twice, at a theme park, we were literally just about to get on a ride when the park closed all rides due to weather. It was always clear and sunny in the morning, and in the afternoon, it was cloudy, humid, and it poured rain. 

On one particular afternoon, however, it was relatively clear. My little cousin David had never caught a fish in his life, so I took him to a pond to try is luck at the ravenous bluegills. It was the same pond, where, 4 years earlier, I had caught my first southern brown bullhead on a hot dog. Unfortunately, at the pond, the bluegills were nowhere to be found. I'm sure they were there, as I hooked a little one, but the action wasn't consistent enough to entertain a four-year old. 

Instead, we headed to the canal next to the pond, where the pond drained out. It was small, but I sent a cast out, and got bit immediately. I handed the rod to David, and he reeled it in all by himself! It turned out to be a bluegill, and a nice one at that!

We caught a couple more bluegills, when I pulled up a sunfish that looked a bit odd. I lifted it up into my hand, and gasped. I saw the red opercule, and shouted out. This was totally unexpected... I had a redear sunfish! A rather small specimen, but I'll take it as species #68.

A completely unexpected lifer. I proceeded to catch a couple more small specimens. I got a pretty nice one, but it flopped out and back into the drink as I was trying to get a photo.

I tossed a little redear out to see if I could get a bass or bowfin. It got taken a couple minutes later. I thought I had hooked a monster bass when a bowfin surfaced. I reached to grab it, since I was without a landing net, and as soon as I touched it it went berserk, tossing the hook. Oh well. My bowfin curse remained the same.

The farm hand came out to talk to me after he saw me fishing, and told me of the big bass and catfish in this canal. But my ears perked up when he mentioned gar. I inquired about it, and he pointed me to between two trees where the gar like to hang out. I thanked him profusely, and raced off with a piece of cut bluegill under a float. I threw it out and sat down to wait for a bite.

David and I waiting for a bite. 

After a while, I realized that that was the wrong tree! So I rectified my position and sent another cast out. Immediately, the float started dancing right next to shore, under the shade of the tree. I watched intently as the float slowly dragged off. The water was dark, so at first, I didn't see anything. But soon enough, I saw a long, brown fish swimming with the bait in its mouth. My adrenaline levels skyrocketed. But then - what was that? Another gar was right behind the fish with the bait, biting at the float! I waited until I couldn't wait anymore, then I set the hook. 

The bait came back flying at me. That's okay. At least I knew there were plenty of aggressive gar. Meanwhile, David had his own discovery: He found a nest of turtle eggs, and was anxious to tell everybody. So we were both pretty pumped up. 

Seeing the gar biting at the float got me thinking. I decided to put the bait about 7 inches under the bright orange float. I cast it to the opposite side of the canal, and slowly reeled the setup in, so that the bait was dragging right behind the float, creating a nice wake. Sure enough, on my first cast, I watched a gar come up behind the float. I stopped reeling, and he noticed the cut bait and snatched it. Again, the float slowly dragged off. The anticipation is too much. The little kid in me wants to absolutely rip that hookset, but logical me tells myself to wait. I waited just a tad bit longer this time before setting the hook. This time, the gar was firmly attached, and after a spirited tussle, lifted him up onto the bank. However, as it is with all dinosaurs, they don't quit when they get out of the water. 

My first gar was in my hands: The florida gar, species #69!

This fish looked completely alien to me. Look at 'em toothies!

The florida gar - a portrait

Another little redear

As I was fishing for gar, I suddenly saw a huge shape in the water right next to my feet. A long dorsal slithered underwater.

"Oh crap there he is"

I immediately grabbed my rod and threw half a bluegill out right in its path. I watched the fish grab it without a second of hesitation. Bowfin are damn awesome. 

I slammed into the hookset and the fish tore off. I fought it for a good 5 minutes on my heavier rod. It even jumped! It came out of the water completely straight, and belly-flopped back in with a splash that rivaled a nuclear explosion. The fact that a 10 lb+ fish was able to launch itself more than two feet out of the water completely straight is a testament for the strength in these fish. That is something not many freshwater fish can accomplish. 

I had the fish on shore when I reached to grab it, but again it went berserk and cut the line with its knife-like teeth. Oh well. I had photographic evidence, at least.

Bummed about that bowfin, which was clearly much larger than the other one, I switched back to gar fishing and landed a solid specimen.

Someone was pumped about the gar

But when it was closer, he grew a little more cautious...

Obligatory angry gar pics

As I was trying to tempt the bowfin again, David and my uncle were messing around with bluegills, and he caught his second-ever fish.

In the sunset. 

And so ended part one of my Florida Chronicle. A new day was to begin.. with new hopes and dreams. 

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