Saturday, April 20, 2024

Species hunting adventures in Florida: Part 5.

The halfway point of the holiday had arrived and we headed south from our accommodation in Boca Raton down to a hotel in Homestead. For our first day out from our new base camp we headed west and drove along the Tamiami Trail into the Everglades National Park. We were soon fishing at a spot where I was hoping to catch an oscar. I flicked my red worm out as close as I could to some overhanging branches. After catching a few Mayan cichlid I hooked something bigger that tried its best to get right in under the trees. Applying a bit of pressure I was pleased when an Oscar eventually came out into open water and was soon drawn over my net. 

I concentrated on catching fish whilst Lillian took photos and kept her eyes out for alligators!
I was over the moon to catch my first oscar, a very cool looking fish with its vivid orange markings. 

With lots of spots to visit along the Tamiami Trail, and having caught my intended target at the first, we decided to head off. When we reached the section of road that forms the boundary between the Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area, we stopped at several spots. However, On that stretch of road you have to park on the hard shoulder, and it felt a little bit risky being so close to the road with vehicles flying past at high speeds. We didn’t see many fish either, apart from some that I think were large pleco. They eat algae from rocks, so I knew catching one of them would be virtually impossible. I did try casting a piece of worm in the path of a few of them, but they were very skittish and swam away when disturbed. Keen to get off the side of the road out of harm’s way, we headed further west to a spot where we could safely park the car away from the main road and where there was a small river I could fish that was tucked away from the traffic too. 

While trying different spots next to the main road, we spotted this funky grasshopper. 

Arriving at the next spot, we got quite a surprise when we drove past a very large alligator sitting by the side of the road. It was sunning itself on the bank of the small river I was about to start fishing! Luckily we were going to fish from a small bridge so even if it got back into the river and came upstream towards us, we would be up above it and not in any danger!

It was quite surreal to see such an incredible creature up close. The toothy reptile must have been well over two metres long!

To begin with, I fished from the side of the bridge facing upstream. I caught a few small bluegill, some Mayan cichlid, a warmouth and another small dark fish that I initially misidentified due to its colouration and elongated fins. 

I thought this might be a black acara at first, but it is in fact a male spotted tilapia.
My second warmouth of the trip.

After a while I began fishing from the other side of the bridge. After catching a few more fish, our new cold blooded friend arrived. I didn't even see it approaching and was unhooking a fish with my back partially turned towards the water when I caught it moving out of the corner of my eye. It didn't make any sound at all and just appeared from under the cover of some overhanging trees on the right hand side of the river!

Sneaky devil! Up close and personal and even closer than when we first spotted it relaxing on the bank. Too close for comfort if we hadn't been on the bridge!

After a few minutes, it stopped moving its enormous tail and slowly drifted back down the river, where it held its position.

After I caught a few more fish, including another oscar, the associated noise drew its attention again and back up the river it came, no doubt expecting an easy meal. At this point, Lillian seemed to be a bit freaked out, so we packed up and left.

This oscar was successfully released, much to the disgust of the alligator, who thought it was going to get a fishy snack.

The following day we visited a small park where fishing was permitted in a few small areas. The main target species there was zebra tilapia, which I caught fairly quickly after catching a few bluegill and spotted tilapia. I also caught a terrapin! We did see two of them when we arrived, but both vanished below the surface. A few minutes later, I lifted my rod after a subtle bite, only to feel a dead weight. I guessed immediately what had gobbled my worm! Thankfully, I managed to wind it in without too much trouble, it was successfully netted by Lillian, and I was able to easily unhook and released it again. I fished on for a while, hoping to catch a Salvini cichlid, another exotic non-native species found in the pond, but didn't have any luck.

Another nice example of the coppernose bluegill.

I also caught this spotted tilapia. This one doesn't have spots, as it is in between its juvenile and adult colouration.
A small zebra tilapia. Mission accomplished. 

We then headed to another spot, a canal running through a large park, where I was hoping to catch a Midas cichlid. We did see a few of the bright orange fish slowly cruising around, but I could not get them interested in my freelined worm. They were incredibly shy, a lot of the time they just swam off when my bait hit the water or got close to them. It was a very tough, frustrating session. There's nothing worse than being able to see fish but not being able to catch them. In fact, I only caught one fish during the time I spent fishing there.

Match the catch! Angler in bright orange T-shirt stalks bright orange Midas cichlid. 
The only fish caught during several hours stalking along the banks was this zebra tilapia. 

So, another couple of days focussing on freshwater fish with mixed results. Having seen a few Midas cichlid, I really wanted to catch one and decided I'd return later in the trip for another go. That said, I was keen to visit the sea again for some saltwater species hunting. The wind was due to drop off the following day, so we decided to head into Miami to visit a well known fishing spot on the coast there.

Tight lines, Scott.

Click her for the next part.

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