Thursday, April 28, 2011

Florida Trip- Day 1

The canoe on the road
 The excitement had been building for a while for this trip and it was finally happening. I was heading to South Florida with Marty and Tim Sienkiewycz to fish with the Bonefish Whisperer- Cordell Baum Jr. The planning had been going on for months now: gearing up, tying flies, researching our target species- all the stuff you do before a big trip. And now we were on the road. And stuck in gridlock.

The drive the night before was fine. We left Vermont around 4:30 or so and drove until midnight to Delaware. We drove instead of flying because it allowed us to bring my canoe to fish with. Cordell fishes the flats of Biscayne Bay out of a canoe and the three of us are very familiar with that style of angling. I guide on Lake Champlain the exact same way. By bringing a second canoe we would be able to mirror what Cordell was doing. We were heading to Bonefish Bootcamp afterall!

The early Saturday drive started off alright but we got caught up in slow traffic on 95 near Washington, D.C. It seemed like half the population of New Jersey and New York were heading down to Florida with us. It was stop and go traffic on a road with a posted speed limit of 70 with no discernable reason for the slow down. It was frustrating. When we hit North Carolina in the afternoon it got worse. The skies blackened then opened up. Hail like I had never seen was coming down. It was nearly the size of golf balls. Folks were pulling off the road to get shelter underneath the overhanging trees on the edge of the highway. When traffic started rolling again we passed some melting hail that looked to be closer in size to a tennis ball. The fiberglass canoe would not have survived that.

We hopped off the highway shortly after that to try to make up some time on roads that parallel 95. This didn’t last long. Those roads were shut down. We had just missed the series of tornados that ripped through the Carolinas by about half an hour. It was devastation on a scale I had never seen before. Houses were torn apart and debris was strewn everywhere. After getting back on the highway we decided to drive to South Carolina and find a hotel for the night. We hadn’t travelled more than 450 miles in 14 hours of driving. Frustration was firmly entrenched.
A good dinner and a 2 am start to the last leg of the drive refueled us. The traffic was light but it was obvious that others had the same idea. We passed families with sleeping kids in the backseat frequently. By 7 am we had passed into Florida and made it to Miami by 12:30. Cordell was true to his word and waiting for us right by the road.
Cordell trying to hitch a ride into his driveway!

Cordell Baum Jr. is a true character. You can tell by your first look at him. Without question the first thing you will notice is his long blond hair, which is shorter than it used to be he would later tell us. He has a very rich face with skin that has definitely spent some time in the sun. His smile is infectious and his deep voice is filled with warmth and excitement. We felt welcome from the moment we stepped out of the truck. We took a few moments to unload the truck and get our gear stowed away in Camp Morningwood- the cottage Cordell has available for visiting anglers. It is a nice set up and perfect for a couple of guys. We were definitely going to be pushing it with three. One of us would be sleeping on the floor each night but the price is great and the hospitality was even better.
Cordell getting Marty rigged up for peacocks.

Since we were raring to go we all strung up 5 and 6 wt rods to head to the canals. The canals around Miami are home to a wide variety of fish: natives like largemouth bass and sunfish swim alongside intentional introductions like tilapia, grass carp and peacock bass. There are also a number of aquarium fish that are present- mostly cichlids like guapote, Midas cichlids, Mayan cichlids and a bunch of much smaller species that are of little interest to anglers but fascinate a fish geek like me. We were all pretty excited about some light tackle freshwater fishing to get ourselves psyched up for hitting the flats in the morning.
Marty's first peacock (of many)

Cordell got us on the highway and we started for an off ramp next to a lake in the canal system. He pulled off the side of the road into a grove of trees and Marty followed with much honking from motorists behind us. This is the only way to access this lake so it doesn’t get that much pressure. Within moments we were by a culvert looking at a bunch of fish. The huge blue tilapia want nothing to do with flies but the peacocks are another matter altogether. Marty got into the first one. Not a big one but any fish was going to work at this point.

The peacock bass in South Florida took a big hit in the freeze during the winter of 2009-2010. There were massive die offs because of the cold. Peacocks are an Amazonian fish that can’t handle temps below 60 for long. Miami had a three week period where the temperatures remained in the 40’s. Fortunately this past winter wasn’t as bad and the fish are recovering. Since it has not been long after the big freeze the population isn’t as big as it once was and there aren’t as many of the bigger specimens. This is going to change quickly however. The fish grow fast and are definitely starting to spawn which was going to work in our favor!
Tim gets in the game

Tim picked up a second peacock similar in size to Marty’s. Gorgeous colors on those fish. I could not get anything to stay on the hook. I got a couple of good takes but I was not sealing the deal. I was tired from all the driving and lack of sleep and it showed. A huge snook coming through the culvert got our attention. The fish was in the 15-20 pound range and Cordell explained that it was not unusual to see these saltwater predators stalking the canals. He also fishes freshwater tarpon in the same areas.

After working these fish for a bit we packed up and headed to another stretch of canal that Cordell haunts. There are lots of bigger peacocks in the area and other fish as well. It was a 20 minute drive (which is fairly quick by Miami standards) and we were parked behind some fast food joints. The fish were there though: much larger peacocks, some Florida gar and a variety of other exotics. I was having fun watching jewelfish, a small bright red West African cichlid, chase each other through the maze of limestone along the edge of the canal.
Marty pleased with another peacock- chartreuse and pink was the hot color.

After watching Marty and Tim both nail some nice peacocks I was getting ready to get into something myself. I had a couple of shots at good sized Florida gar but they were not interested in the least. None of the native sunnies wanted anything to do with my flies either. I had some half hearted swats at my fly by some peacocks. Mostly they seemed less than interested though. But along one canal something gold caught my eye and I pitched my orange and green Clouser minnow right to it. I watched the fish hit that fly hard and I knew I had a guapote! 

The guapote is a fish I am very familiar with- I have kept it and bred it in aquariums. The guapote (more properly Parachromis managuensis) is a fish that is primarily black with gold or silver vermiculations. This highly aggressive cichlid will readily attack anything that comes in the neighborhood of its nest- including a fish keeper’s hand. Considering the teeth that they have and that they can reach about 20” this makes a pretty formidable fish on a 5 weight.
My guapote! Like a smallie with teeth on steriods!

The fight was awesome!  It dug deep into the canal and peeled line off the reel. It took about 5 minutes to land. I got some great shots of it and then released it to get back to doing what it was doing- making more of these little terrors. Definitely looking forward to finding them there next time I hit the canals!

I never ended up with a peacock in hand that first day. I had a good solid take from a really nice fish but the fly popped from its mouth. Marty and Tim really outfished me. I will blame it on my lack of sleep and being overly excited but the reality is that they simply got the job done better. All in all this was a good warm up for what was to come in the morning- off to the flats of Biscayne Bay with Cordell!

1 comment:

  1. I've always been a fish geek too. That guapote is an awesome addition to the list I'm sure you're keeping!