As the temperatures start to dip into the 30s and below here in the Colorado high country, my thoughts are starting to turn from trout to chasing snook, tarpon, and redfish in my winter home in Florida’s Everglades. I live on a little island in the Glades called Chokoloskee surrounded by miles and miles of beautiful saltwater teeming with big fish. Here’s a sampling of my favorite places that can be reached easily by kayak or small skiff from my latest article from Florida Sportsman with the inside skinny on lures and technique as well. Come on down when you want to thaw out and catch some fish this winter!
Click on the link below to view a copy of the article “Chokoloskee Up Close.”
Like many anglers, I cut my teeth chasing bluegills and sunfish in farm ponds, first with worms under a pencil bobber, then graduating to cork popping bugs trailing behind a spinning bubble, and eventually to a fly rod. It’s fun to revisit those carefree kid fishing days when I caught fish-after-fish in the warm Kansas summer sun courtesy of a newcomer to Florida that’s a bit of a bluegill look-alike—the Mayan Cichlid (p. sicklid), also called Atomic Sunfish because of their explosive colors. When the snook are snoozing, the redfish retiring, and tarpon torpid, these hard-fighting invaders from south of the border provide endless entertainment.
Indeed, my fishing buddy Bob Wayne and I are so enamored with them that we call them Mayan Chicklettes, which sounds ever so much more inviting and appropriate than the unappealing name some scientist visited upon them.
What’s not to like about these invaders? They may not be all that big, rarely growing larger than nine or ten inches, but in addition to their flamboyant colors, they are eager to eat anything that moves and feisty with pulsating runs courtesy of a big fantail caudal fin.
It’s so nice to have an immigrant from Central America that even Trump could love…if he fished. Chicklettes are indeed invasive, found throughout the Everglades in fresh and brackish water. They were first discovered in the area in 1983, probably released from home aquariums by owners when they got too big or perhaps escaped from aquaculture impoundments. Now they are everywhere in canals lining highways throughout the region like the Tamiami Trail (US 41) and in backcountry brackish water lakes and ponds and waterways like Halfway Creek and the Turner River. The real treat and test is in the backwater lakes where sight fishing for Chicklettes along shorelines in shallow water is a real possibility.
On my drive from Everglades City to Naples, Florida, for weekly provisions, I routinely hustle by Collier-Seminole State Park.
For the past three years I have been meaning to plan an outing down the Blackwater River in the park, a trip I need to make to complete the kayak fishing guidebook to the Everglades environs that I’m working on. But I’m always put off because I know the park, being so close to Naples, gets heavy use, especially on weekends when canoes and kayaks descend for ecotours. The image of being engulfed by a flotilla of brightly colored boats filled with chattering tourists has limited appeal. But with my annual migration to Colorado looming, I figured it was time to bite the proverbial bullet and get on the water. I’m glad I did…SO glad! When I start to do a little pre-trip research, my interest is definitely piqued. None of the dozens of posts by visitors mention any serious fishing. I find almost no information about fishing in the park on official websites aside from some general remarks about it having both salt and freshwater fish. I do finally discover on Pinterest one post by a nature tour company offering guided kayak fishing that features a photo of a happy angler with a big snook. Maybe the place is a sleeper!
Anglers can’t resist showing off a big fish, where size really does matter. Ever wonder about the back story behind the smiling pix, the agony as well as the ecstasy? Here goes….and this is a true story!!
My erstwhile fishing buddy Bob Wayne and I love to probe hidden backcountry tidal creeks in the Everglades where big snook lurk in narrow channels lined with downed trees and mangroves.
The mangroves are an essential element of the ecosystem here, providing shelter for myriad small fish, crabs, and other life. But their thick, dangling air roots will tangle a fishing line in a flash if a hooked fish dives under them, not to mention they are covered with razor-sharp barnacles that will slice and dice anything that rubs against them.
In these tight quarters only a small, narrow boat like my Gheenoe can squirm through, and our hard-earned experience has taught us it is a real team effort to hook and land big fish successfully.
One Angler with a 6-to-7 foot medium/light spinning rod and 2500 Series reel is positioned upfront on the small bow deck with the Wingman in the back of the boat where he is outfitted with the remote controls for a small quiet electric trolling motor and the shallow water power anchor that with a push of a button unfurls and pins the boat firmly in place. The Wingman doesn’t fish.
Our efficacious technique to land big fish in these mazes has been honed through trial and error, with the emphasis on the latter. By the numbers, here is how it is supposed to work:
When I was a kid, my parents moved a lot! But I always found them!!
I’ve just landed a muscular fish over 20 inches that smashed my Gulp! swimming mullet lure like a freight train, then ran hard and deep like a redfish. I’m already salivating over the thought of savoring one of the best tasting fish in Florida over dinner tonight. So why is my fishing buddy laughing, his nose turned up slightly in disdain?? Because it’s Bagrus marinus, popularly known as a gafftopsail catfish.
Okay, okay, I’ll have to deal with the gelatinous snot it’s left on my leader, and yes I’ll have to dodge those wicked, venomous spines to get my hook out, but sail cats just can’t get no respect—just like Rodney Dangerfield and the way it used to be for barracuda before Keys angling guides pushed to have it listed as a gamefish. In other southern states, anglers appreciate saltwater catfish, but not so much in Florida. It’s time for a change! By the end of the day, after landing numerous sail cats on light spin tackle, my fishing buddy Bob Wayne, a renowned saltwater flyfisherman who has chased fish worldwide and appeared on covers of several national fly fishing magazines, is a devoted convert to the gafftopsail!
Click on the link below to view a pdf of my article on sailcat fishing that appeared in the June 2018 issue of Florida Sportsman