The 2018-2019 Christmas break would mark my first ever "long" distance trip with the main purpose of species fishing. I was heading to Florida with fellow lifelister Ken from Toronto, and we would be meeting up with 3 others: Tim and Casey from North Carolina, and Gerry from Illinois. The plan was to fish all around the state, catching as many species as possible.
Ken and I had a total of 10 days to complete the trip, the first day and a half consisted of uneventful driving and a relatively noisy night at a rest stop on I-75. Thankfully, I made great time driving and we managed to arrive a day before we had planned. We used this extra time in the evening to try for Spotted Bullhead at a spot where Tim had caught several on a previous trip. Unfortunately, the water was very high in the area and the rivers were essentially unfishable. In fact, the water was so high that it completely submerged fences. We found a beautiful free campground at a boat ramp and attempted to catch some Golden Silverside we saw in the shallows, but they would not bite in the dark.
The next day, we were still a good few hours ahead of schedule. While we waited for the tide to go out at our first planned stop, we fished for one of our top targets of the trip: the Suwanee Bass! The water at the spot was beautifully clear; it flowed directly out of one of the springs in northern Florida. It took a few casts, but I was lucky enough to catch my Suwanee pretty quickly on a spinner tipped with a worm. With this fish, I was already very happy with the trip!
Despite seeing many of the desired Bass swimming around in the clear water, Ken was not able to convince one to hit :( That being said, the extra time was not wasted because it allowed me to catch an unexpected lifer: the Redear Sunfish. I did not think I would have time to catch one on this trip, so it was a welcome surprise (little did I know I would catch several in the coming days lol).
We were finally back on schedule, so we headed out to Cedar Key where we planned to catch a number of Killifish species. Two of the four targets never showed up, but we both managed to catch Gulf Killifish and Diamond Killifish. I have to thank Ken for showing me the perseverance required to catch the tiny Diamonds.
The next stop on our way south was in Tampa, where we were meeting up with one of Ken's friends, Ryan, to fish for an exotic Cichlid that he had discovered in the community pond behind his house. It didn't take too much time before I caught it: the Dimerus Cichlid. This was a pretty cool catch because it is only known to be in this location in all of North America! Ken took a little while longer to catch his, but I didn't mind because I was catching massive Coppernose Bluegill and Redear Sunfish in the deeper water off the end of the dock. A big thanks to Ryan for his hospitality and for the opportunity at another lifer!
With the Dimerus checked off the list, we said our goodbyes and continued south into the Everglades. We drove all the way to Monroe Station where we were supposed to meet up with Tim and Casey. They were sleeping by the time we arrived, but I couldn't keep myself away from the nearby canals. I knew they held a good number of Walking Catfish, another exotic species I had yet to catch. It took a bit of searching, but I eventually landed one and got to see them "walk" for the first time. They really do walk quite efficiently on land! I also caught a Florida Gar on 4lb mono for the hell of it.
This next capture was pretty special. While fishing for the Walking Cats, I saw tons of Plecos all around the canal. As many species fishermen know, these fish are notoriously difficult to catch because they will ignore any and all presentations offered to them. After being disappointed by them many times, I noticed a dead Walking Catfish on the bottom. Investigating closer, I saw about 8 Plecos feeding on its slime coating. I knew this would be my chance! It took about 20 minutes of placing a small chunk of worm on the dead fish, but eventually I lifted up a fair-hooked Amazon Sailfin Catfish! What a crazy-looking fish.
After my Pleco, I headed to bed while Ken stayed up to catch his. I believe he caught it about an hour later at 1 in the morning, but I was asleep by then. The following morning we rose with the sun and introduced ourselves to Tim and Casey, who had also woken. We quickly packed up camp and headed east to Miami for some more exotic goodness.
The first (successful) stop of the day was under a bridge in a very urban area of Miami for Hornet Tilapia. The homeless camps set up under the bridge were a little unnerving, but I did catch my first Hornet Tilapia as well as a Spotted Tilapia. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the group to catch these species.
Next, we headed to a peaceful suburban park to try for Midas Cichlids and whatever other exotics would show up. I had no luck with the Midas, but Tim did manage to catch his! Very jealous of that one haha. I did get my lifer Mayan Cichlid and Jewel Cichlid at this spot though.
The final spot of the day was literally a ditch on the side of the road. Tim, Casey, and I quickly caught lifer Pike Killifish :) After that had been accomplished, we began catching tons of Tilapia. As it turns out, they were Mozambiques, another lifer for everyone in the group. Casey also caught a Jaguar Guapote, and consequently made everyone very jealous!
We then continued heading south into the Florida Keys, where the next part of this report will begin :)