Well, two weeks ago, the weekend that I’d been looking forward to since last July finally came. My dad and his long time fishing buddy hauled the kayaks down from Pensacola, picked me and my roommate up, and headed down to the Everglades.
The target species was cichlids and peacock bass. I had three stops in mind when we were on our way down. The first, and furthest north, was Alligator Alley (I-75). We arrived Saturday morning and to our dismay, the weather was awful. A cold front had blown through the night before and the temperature was in the low 50’s. To make matters worse, the wind was howling about 25mph out of the north. We proceeded to launch off of I-75 and fish.
Had we been fishing further north in the state, I would say that the fishing was fantastic. However, we weren’t catching what we’d driven 6 hours for. Nothing but bluegill and stumpknockers. We were actually coming close to catching a little gill every cast. Reports from last years fish kill made it seem like all the cichlids had been wiped out along I-75 and from our experience, I can say that it might be true. Just the sheer number of small bluegill that were being caught tells me that they’re having a boom season right after the cichlids got wiped out.
We decided to leave I-75 and proceed further south toward Homestead. We stopped by the Tamiami trail to look at the canals, but couldn’t really see much. The weather wasn’t getting any better anyways so we drove on down to Homestead to stay the night.
The next morning we got up and went back to the Tamiami. We launched around 9 am and fished for a few hours. The bite was slow, with only a few non-picture worthy bass and bluegill to show for it.
Our next stop was my “if we don’t catch cichlids in this canal we aren’t gonna catch any anywhere” canal. Upon arriving, I couldn’t see any cichlids in the water like I had the summer before. We still launched and proceeded to work our way down the canal. As it got later in the day, the topwater bite picked up and I stopped using my popper/dropper setup and switched to poppers only. I succeeded in catching about 15 very small bass.And ONE eety beety Peacock bass (which at least gave me a boost of confidence).
And with no one else catching much, we put the yaks back up and headed for the motel.
With the freshwater fishing being so terrible, we went to plan B: Fish for Snook and Tarpon around Everglades National Park. I had to be back in Gainesville Monday night because I had a test the following morning, so we fished the park until around mid-day.
As soon as we launched, I went to the spot that I caught my juvenile tarpon and huge snook in years past. The first thing I see when I round the corner is this:
An American Crocodile. I’d never seen a wild one before this. The picture doesn’t do it justice since I didn’t want to get closer in my little kayak. I’ve seen BIG gators before that have easily gone 13-14 ft. and this monster dwarfed them. At a distance, it looked like a pile of dirt that a bulldozer had pushed up. I snapped a few pictures and headed out of that pond after casting to rolling tarpon with no success. Later in the week, I took the picture to the FWC office here in Gainesville and confirmed it to be a crocodile.
I paddled back around the launch and started fishing with the fly rod again. The water was VERY clear and I could see down about 10-12 feet. This however, didn’t stop the bass from biting and it wasn’t long before we started hooking into them. By this time, the weather had finally decided to warm up some and I think that sparked the bite. I ended up with about 8 bass and only one that I deemed picture worthy.
My dad lost a pretty big one on conventional gear and his fishing buddy managed about 10 small ones on the fly. Once noon came around, it was time to go.
Sometimes you just don’t hold your mouth right and things don’t work out as planned. It’s a shame the weather was so bad that weekend as it was beautiful and hot the next weekend (temps in the 80’s and sunny). The Peacock bass and cichlids were just too cold from the weather and found a hole somewhere deep to try and stay warm. But…that’s how it goes. We still caught fish and I still had a good time. Besides, if it weren’t for bad fishing trips, how would we know when we had a good one?
I’m really looking forward to getting back down there when the weather heats up. I’ve got a score to settle with some Oscars and Mayans on my new 3 wt. Until next time,