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Saturday, March 12, 2022

Fishing South Florida in March

An unplanned to South Florida just came along with short notice. To those of you on my mailing list, or those that follow my social media, you'll know that the trip was based around me joining the 305 marathon as part of the run for Yitzi team. Again, many thanks to those of you that stepped up to help my cause, thank God, the campaign goal was reach within a few days, and we went well beyond our goal, with extra cash donations coming in as well.

In my book, it would be a sin, possibly even a crime, for me to visit Florida without fishing. As well,  I now have my daughter and her growing family living in North Miami beach. Accordingly, I planned a 7 day trip around the marathon, with evenings reserved for family time, and daytime during the week all being dedicated to fishing, being that everyone else was at work or school.

For the first time ever, I opted to try my hand at freshwater fishing in Florida, and instead of hiring guides, I just set a few goals before leaving, and scouted a few potential shore fishing spots online. I did also book one full day on Biscayne Bay for some saltwater action with one of the best guides, but more on that later... 

I purchased a Florida freshwater fishing license before going, brought along a reel, some lures and end tackle, and planned to get a rod at Basspro to leave down there at my daughter's house for future visits. My goals for the trip were to attempt to catch 3 freshwater species, namely largemouth bass, peacock bass, and invasive snakeheads. All freshwater fishing was planned  on various canals in South Florida, that had both parking options, and access to lots of fishable water on foot.

After landing at Fort Lauderdale International airport, my daughter drove to pick me up along with my grand daughter. One the way home, we were joined by my son in law, and we met up at Basspro to get myself a rod. I opted for a 6 foot medium light Ugly stik gx2, with paired nicely with my Penn Pursuit 30 series spinning reel. Here's a shot of my grand daughter Shaina getting her first glimpse at the Basspro fish tank, with a sizeable redfish making it's appearance for the pic.


Day 1 - Friday March 4th:

Got out for a few hours onto the Royal Glades canal in North Miami beach. Not having any car at my disposal yet, this canal is a convenient 5 minute walk for where I was staying. 


Shoreline trails lined with joggers, people walking, few on bikes, tons of birds species, and an infestation of iguanas.


I immediately started seeing a mix of cichlids along the shore, mixed in with some very small peacock bass. Having seen some largemouth bass in the canal in December, I knew that 2 of my target species for the trip will next door to where I was staying. Now, the challenge was to see if I would be able to catch any.

Unfortunately, winds were gusting at 50 k/m per hours, which made any hope for finesse topwater fishing, obsolete. I did manage a hit from a good 12-13 inch peacock bass at a Mepps #3 spinner, but it didn't get hooked. Later on, while burning a buzzbait at high speed, another half hearted hit from a small largemouth bass, but again no hookup. I made my way over to the other side of the canal, where I was a bit more sheltered from the wind. Surprisingly, I managed to get follows from 2 baby tarpons, and 3 small jacks. No hookups, but good to know that there are saltwater species in the canal as well.

All in all, and informative outing despite not hooking any fish in 3 hours of fishing. I did manage to spot the biggest largemouth bass I had ever seen, I'm quite sure it was over 10 lbs. Only had 2 shots at it, but she wasn't playing along with my plans.

After and enjoyable Shabbat with the family fueled by good drink, I joined the marathon early Sunday morning. Again, not having any training, I opted for the easier 5k option. Pics can be viewed online at: 

https://marathonphotos.live/Event/Sports%2FMPUS%2F2022%2F305%20Half%20Marathon%20and%205K/5125

Day 2 for fishing:

Monday's weather still had persisting high windS, though gusts were down to about 40 km/h. Having rented a car the previous night, I made my way North West, planning to fish the c14 canal in Tamarac, as well as Big Cypress creek in the everglades at Coral springs. Both waterways were confirmed to contain largemouth bass and snakeheads, and I was hoping to land at least one of each species.

I started off fishing 2 spots on the c14 canal. 



Unfortunately, nothing biting in the high winds, but did manage to SEE a bunch of protected burrowing owls all over the place.


Also spotted this big cool looking bird eating a huge beetle or caterpillar. I believe it may be called anhinga.


Eventually, after not getting any bites, I made my way to a small canal where I had spotted some spawning peacock bass during a trip to the area in December 2021. All I managed was to spot a small grass carp in the 6-7 lbs range. Wasn't going to bother with it, so I made my was West to the Sawgrass trailhead. This is a park on the border of the everglades that runs along hwy 75 , aka "alligator alley". 

I was warned by one of the locals to be very weary of spooking alligators on the bank, being that most of the shore is line with 4-5 foot tall grass. Last thing I'd want was to startle a gator, copperhead, or rattlesnake, while trekking alone in the swamp.

I got to the park around 1 PM.



I believe the canal is named Big Cypress cReek, thought I'm not 100% sure, as there weren't any signs up. Regardless, I again began throwing a variety of lures, and eventually, my Berkely Choppo topwater lure paid off with my first largemouth bass of the day, and first target species acquired.


Sticking with the Choppo, I started getting chased by many small gar. I believe they were Florida gar, or perhaps spotted gar, which are very similar. Regardless, they were all quite small, extremely aggressive, and very tough to hook. Eventually, I hooked into a small snakehead, a good 15 - 16 inches or so in length. Not having any landing net, I wasn't able to heave it up onto the shore, as I was about 4 feet above the water level, which was quite low for the canal. My heart sank as I saw it spit the hook and swim off, but I was happy to have had a decent fight, and hopeful of getting another one.

Working my way down the canal, I started seeing less and less activity. After a couple hours and few Kilometers fished, I made my way back to where most of the action occurred. Sure enough, the fishing was much better as evening rolled in, starting off with another largemouth bass.


After getting an explosion from a huge snakehead and another follow from it, I ended up teasing a gar ENOUGH into biting, and then followed up with a second one as well.


Not exactly the new species I was looking for, but more than welcome...

While I didn't manage to hook any more fish after that, I spotted a huge tarpon sunning itself along the shore just as I came up on it. It must have measured 6+ feet, and likely weighed well over 100 lbs, possibly 150 lbs. I wouldn't have stood a chance on my light freshwater gear, but cast at it hopefully a couple time just because. 

Shortly after that, I spotted my first alligator of the day. Luckily it was cruising around a good 120 feet away from me across the canal.



That was the end of my outing, headED back South with new plans for the following day.

Day 3:

Another sunny day with brutal winds, I started off fishing the Royal Glades canal again. Nothing doing for an hour or so, I decided to try some saltwater fishing off the pier at Pompano beach. Having seen a ton of snook and caught a few filefish off the pier in December, I was hopeful. Unfortunately, I learned that those fish were seasonal, and the hot bite at the pier now were pompano. Not having the proper rigs or bait for them, I simply baited up some squid hoping for the best. While some of the locals hooked a few pompano fishing 5 hooks per line baited with sand fleas over heavy pyramid sinker, a couple people manage jack crevalles using fresh bait caught off the pier. 

I manage to catch one of the baitfish they were using.


It eventually died on the line while I waited for a hit, and I ended up feeding it to one of the many pelicans hanging around the pier.


Also spotted a Portuguese man o war or perhaps some sort of jellyfish swimming to shore next to the pier. Luckily, not many swimmers in the water with the high wind and waves, just a couple surfers.


After a good 3 hours or so fishing the pier without much to show for, I headed back South to North Miami beach, to spend the rest of the afternoon back at the Royal Glades canal. With the high winds, I decided to go unconventional, and throw a big HJ14 Rapala Husky Jerk. 

Sure enough, I landed this decent largemouth bass on my first cast!




A good 2.5 + lbs, possibly close to 3 lbs. Turned out to be the biggest bass of 4 bass through the afternoon, they surprisingly got smaller with every catch.






Eventually, my grand daughter Shaina joined me for a few pics, and her first attempt at handling a rod.




Perfect way to end my day, really looking forward to teaching her the ropes as she gets older.

Day 4:

This was my big day planned on Biscayne bay. I hired Captain Carl Ball, who runs Awol fishing guide service. 

Having fished Biscayne bay in December with some less experienced family members, I was looking forward to fishing alone with Carl. Plan was to target tarpons, bonefish and permit, none of which I had ever caught before. Using a variety of tactics, with his favorite being sight fishing, I was curious to see how the day would turn out.

Captain Carl suggest we start with tarpons, which are in high season this time of the year. Unfortunately, he'd been having a tough time finding good concentrations of them. We did find a school of tarpons under a bridge, and threw a variety of slow rolled swim baits at them, as well as live crabs. I managed one hookup, but unfortunately it came of within seconds after a couple powerful head shakes.

Next item on the menu was sight fishing for tarpons. Poling around in shallow water, Carl has the ability to spot tarpons when all the seems like are dark blobs in the distance. While I've done quite well casting topwater lures into tight cover on calm evening, sight casting very light swimbaits on heavy tackle in strong wind was simply too much for me. Out of a good 12-15 fish we spotted, I only managed to present a few good casts, resulting in 1 or 2 follows, but no hits. All the other tarpons spooked.

Carl tried his best to correct my method, but with the lack of more opportunities from the scarce tarpons, he eventually decided to go for bonefish. The experience was quite humbling, but luckily for me, I wasn't hellbent on getting a tarpon...

Next spot we tried was a shallow flat, famous for it's bonefish. We fished cut shrimps on bottom, and within minutes, I landed a small puffer fish, followed by a bonnethead shark.





Decent fight on light tackle. Wondered how much stronger the famed bonefish would be. Sure enough, within a few minutes, I managed to land my first ever bonefish. 





First target species of the day acquired. Fight per pound was stronger than the bonnethead shark, with the initial rund being insane for a fish that small. However, I'd say the shark had more stamina.

You'd think we'd stick around with the bite being hot, but Captain Carl is unconventional to say the least. He suggested we sight fish for bigger and stronger permit, using live crabs behind small bobbers. 

He wasn't spotting much permits, and then out of nowhere, he point out a school of fish. Instinctively, I cast right at the school much to his chagrin. Just when he thought I'd have spooked the, one of the fish grabbed my line and tore off on one of the craziest initial runs I ever got from a fish in that size class.

Turns out that I had hooked into a decent sized Jack Crevalle, renowned for their speed and power. Sure enough, I tightened the drag a bit and settled in for what turned out be be one of my better light tackle battles in salt water. Eventually manage to tire the big jack, and Carl hoisted the decent 20 pounder on board for some quick pics.




Once released, we went searching for more permit. We didn't managed to see any more, but the variety of other species swimming around us, was astounding. When I mentioned that I was just as happy trying for some of those, Carl handed my a rod rigged with a pink top dog topwater lure.

As I worked the walk the dog action lure at high speed, we started getting chased by blacktip sharks. After a few missed hits, I eventually hooked into a shark that exploded on my topwater lure. Unfortunately, it came off within 30 seconds or so after a few blisteringly quick jumps during the initial run. 

After catching a small bluefish, I landed a blue runner.
 


I suggested to Carl that we use it as bait for sharks. Carl obliged, and started working on a shark rig, as it wasn't part of our original plan. While he did that, I managed to land a colorful yellow jack.



Once the blue runner was cut up for bait and rigged under a bobber, it didn't take long for the sharks swimming downstream in the incoming tide to start circling. For anglers like my self that enjoy soaking bait for big predators, the shear anticipation of what is inevitably about to happen, was getting me pumped. Sure enough, one of the sharks made a high speed run at my line, grabbed the bait and made a strong run up into the tide. It then turned, ran straight at us, all while making somersaults at high speed.

I can't really describe the quick chaos, but the shark ended up wrapping in the leader, straightening out, bending open the big circle hook, thereby breaking free.

Second shark lost, but with more bait and many sharks in the vicinity, we weren't giving up that quick. Baiting up another chunk of blue runner, didn't take long for the next shark to hit. This one didn't jump much, and I had it under control after a few powerful runs.



Nice, in-water, boatside release too.



That ended the outing, 8 hours goes by real quick when you're having that much fun.

I must add, that Carl is outstanding fisherman, and one of the better guides I've had the pleasure to fish with. His drill sergeant like manner when it comes to shouting instructions, were coming from a good place. They were constructive attempts to correct whatever observations he had as to my technique flaws. His tremendous knowledge of saltwater species and Biscayne bay, his eagle eye vision able to spot and identify target species from hundreds of feet away, are things that need to be experienced first hand. Though he tends to project his preferences for sight fishing or fly fishing for tarpon, bonefish and permit, with a little convincing, he'll put you on some crazy saltwater multi species fishing, using all sorts of techniques,  if you so choose.

Check out his web site at: https://www.awolfishingguide.com/, Please be sure to give him my best regards if you do ever end up on his boat.

Note: The "Run for Yitzi" shirt I was wearing, was what we were given for the marathon a few days earlier. Being made of breathable, sweat wicking material, I figured it would work well out on a hot day with temps reaching to 90F.



It also put things a bit into perspective, thinking of a childhood buddy that I probably fished with as a teen, who is now virtually imprisoned in his body to to severe ALS. Everyday of good health is a blessing, and again, having the ability both physically and monetarily, to be able to fish as much as I do, are all gifts from God.



Day 5:

This was my last day of the trip. With my flight home scheduled for the evening, I took a few hours to shore fish the Royal Glades canal again, hoping for one last shot at landing one of the peacock bass that had eluded me up to this point so far.

Armed with the HJ14 husky jerk, I managed another small largemouth bass that popped off at the shore. Shortly after, I finally raised a very nice peacock bass using the same lure, Probably a good 15-16 inch fish, it circle my lure around shore a few times, before swimming off without a hit. Not much more I could have done to get the peacock to hit, I had it's attention for a good 20 seconds or so. It was the biggest peacock bass I spotted all week.

Once I finished working my way down the shore with the husky jerk, I tied on a Mepps #4 spoons, just one size larger than the #3 that got hit by a peacock bass on the first day out. About halfway back to my starting point, at the final hour, I finally hooked and landed my first peacock bass!



Nothing big, maybe 10 inches or so, but the yet another target species acquired, and a fairy tale ending to my South Florida fishing adventure.

Now that I have a rod there, and being that my license is valid for 12 months, I hope to get back after some of these freshwater species, armed with more experience than last trip. Hopefully, the work I did will pay off bigger and better next time around.













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