Florida Keys and Everglades trip: 12/10/2011 - 12/18/2011
12/14/2011 (continued from part 1)
After stocking up on food we stopped and stocked up on nightcrawlers. Then we drove into Everglades National Park. It was so awesome being able to visit and fish both the Florida Keys and the Everglades in the same trip! Such a worthwhile adventure!
Our first stop was the visitors center:
The road into the glades:
Made it! Flamingo visitor center:
We set up camp...
And then we got some lines in the water! We started off right at the seawall at the visitors center.
The mosquitoes were INSANE! We wore pants and long sleeve shirts but the still devoured our hands and faces. We couldn't stand to stay long, but I got lucky with a quick lifelister - the hardhead catfish (Ariopsis felis; Lifelister #143. I think catfish are especially awesome, and I was thrilled to catch my first sea cat.
The bugs were just too bad to continue fishing (and for us, that means they really were bad!), so we went back to the campsite. There was more of a breeze there, so we were able to cook ravioli over our camp stove. It had been a long day, so we hit the hay early.
We woke up to the sound of beak drilling on metal the next morning. Our camp was under occupation by vultures.
We were able to spook them off and Joy heated up some corned beef hash for breakfast.
We had decided to canoe the everglades this day, so we rented the equipment from Flamingo and headed up to 9-mile pond, which is considered freshwater. My hope was to add a Florida gar to my lifelist but we also brought micro fishing gear, which would turn out to be a wise decision.
At 9 mile pond: the beginning (and end) of a 5 mile loop through the mangroves.
It was a good thing the trail was well-marked. Much of it looked like this, and it would be really, really easy to get lost in there:
We saw some little fish swimming about in some of the open pools, and a little fleck of worm on a tiny tiny hook landed my first sheepshead minnow (Cyprinodon variegatus; lifelister #144):
Joy also added the sheepshead minnow to her lifelist. We continued to paddle through the mangroves in awe of our surroundings. We were surprised there were essentially no bugs around. Unfortunately we didn't see too many fish either. We did spot a few Florida gar but they were spooked and wouldn't follow a rope lure (minnows/cutbait are not allowed as bait there). We also saw a couple huge Florida soft-shelled turtles, and we caught a few eastern mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) on micro gear.
Despite the seemingly endless patches of mangroves, channels, and periphyton-covered rushes called 'breadsticks', each place along the trail had it's own feel. Some areas were denser:
And other areas were more open:
Towards the end of the canoe trail Joy saw a bowfin go into some dense vegetation. She poked it with a paddle and the bowfin swam out and away from us, and I casted a Panther Martin spinner out in from of it and the bowfin hit it. After a brief battle it came unhooked, but it was exciting!
At the end of the trail we saw this gator in the pond:
We paddled back to the parking area, locked up the canoe, and headed back down the road to Flamingo. We started a fire hoping the smoke would keep back the mosquitoes and to cook our dinner - hotdogs!
The next morning we tried a new spot, the amphitheater area between the visitors center and our campsite.
I caught a pigfish, which I used for bait to catch my 2nd ever blacktip shark - the first (and only) shark of our Florida trip:
I caught some pinfish, but things got pretty slow so we grabbed a pizza at the Flamingo Visitors center cafe/restaurant. That evening we fished the seawall again, with mosquito coils and a little bit more breeze, which made the bugs at least tolerable. The fishing proved to be good.
Joy and I each landed a gray (mangrove) snapper (Lutjanus griseus; lifelister #145 for me):
Joy got a lifelister ladyfish (Elops saurus, and I got mine soon after (lifelister #146):
I also got a gulf toadfish (Opsanus beta; lifelister #147):
Joy got her lifelister hardhead catfish:
I caught another hardhead catfish before we called it a night.
We packed up camp in the morning and drove out of the everglades. We were staying in Naples that night, and our goal for the day was to fish along the way in the Tamiami canal.
This was the first spot we tried:
We each added spotted tilapia (Tilapia mariae) to our lifelists (#148 for me):
I saw some peacock bass and tried for them using small spotted sunfish and artificial lures but they would not take the bait. Meanwhile, Joy added caught her first spotted sunfish:
We tried another spot without a bite. We did see some plecos though.
We were having fun though!
We moved on and found a spot with lots of Florida gar!
I caught a Mayan cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus; lifelister #149):
Joy got a nice bluegill, I hooked into a 5 foot alligator, and at dusk the gar began to feed. We were both able to add the Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus to our lifelists. This meant I hit my goal of 150 species by the end of 2011 even though I didn't know it at the time (after looking over photos I realized I had caught three, not two species of porgy in the Keys).
As the sun set that day, and on our Florida fishing adventure, I caught one last thing and it wasn't a fish:
We drove on to Naples, checked in at our hotel, and then went to the Naples Pier to try a last bit of fishing. We only fished for about 45 minutes and didn't have any bites, but it was cool seeing the pier. We dipped our hands in the Gulf of Mexico before retiring for the night.
We got up Sunday morning and had continental breakfast and coffee and checked out the beach before saying goodbye to Naples...
...and goodbye to Florida. We drove back to Columbia that day. I added 22 species to my angling lifelist in just one week, and Joy added 18! We had an amazing time and would love to return to fish these awesome waters again!