Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Where I Fish In My Dreams

This blog entry is my submission for the Red Tuna Shirt Club and Outdoor Blogger Network Writing Contest.

Photo taken from

The Red Tuna Shirt Club makes fishing shirts featuring highly rated fishing charters or guides from around the world. Each month, they unveil a new shirt that is sent to all of their members. They are currently having a writing contest which asks the question:

"What's your dream fishing destination? Who would you fish with? What species would you fish for?"

I personally thought about this question for days. It's nearly impossible to decide on -one- dream fishing destination. After all, I can think of probably twenty different places around the world that, if asked to fish it, I would immediately drop whatever it is I was doing and go fish.

I tried to narrow my dream destination down a bit by selecting a target species, but that just made matters worse. My ideal fishing trip involves some remote place that few have fished or seen, and casting to fish that have rarely (or never) seen a lure. The bottom line is that there are just too many fishing destinations...too many fish (if that's possible)...the world is just too big to pick one place to go. But, after quite a bit of thinking, I decided on the place that might be on the top of that -very- long list.

Now I'm generally a saltwater guy. No offense to all the freshwater fisherman, but I become bored with bream and bass pretty quick. And sadly, I don't get much of a kick out of throwing microscopic pieces of hair into a fast moving creek in hopes of landing an 8 inch trout. I much prefer slapping a foot long bait fish onto a bridge gaff-like hook and tossing it out just to hook something bigger than myself.

But after some thinking, I made an exception to that rule: Cichlids. Almost all species of cichlid have what I want in a saltwater fish, but in freshwater form. Tough fighters, highly aggressive, and will hit a lure half the size of their body. I discovered fishing for these fish years back in the Florida Everglades. Back in the 60's, aquarium hobbyists released the Oscar into some of South Florida's canals and they soon became established. It wasn't long before more, and more, and yes...even more species were released into the canals and began to multiply. These South American and African fish are able to survive in South Florida because of its tropical weather. Soon, the state began to look for ways to help control the population of Oscars, Mayan Cichlids, and other invasives. They decided on purposefully introducing another species of cichlid; The Butterfly Peacock Bass.

Today, South Florida is still home to exotic fish and the number of established species continues to rise every year. I try every year to make a special trip down to the Everglades to fish for cichlids with a fly rod and I have a blast every time I go. The only problem I have with these trips is the people. There are -constant- signs of people wherever you go. Giant mounds of garbage, grocery buggies sunk on the bottom, other boats, car traffic (many canals parallel roads), etc. Although I may love sight casting my fly to an unsuspecting peacock bass that's hanging out under a bush, the semi-truck passing by a 70 mph takes away most of the naturalness...well...more so than the fact that I'm fishing in a man made canal, for an introduced species.

Taking all these things into account, my dream fishing destination would be The Amazon River in Brazil. The Amazon is home to numerous cichlid species including the Butterfly Peacock Bass and the Oscar. From everything I've read, the Peacock Bass get even bigger in Brazil than they do in Florida. World records for these fish continue to be broken along the Amazon. To make things even better, scientists continue to describe new species and subspecies of peacock bass.

Photo taken from

One may ask, "How would you even go about fishing a place like this?". Well, it certainly isn't cheap, but I hope to be able to do it one day. There are several different options available for people who wish to fish the amazon for peacock bass. Probably the most common method is a mothership trip. Fishermen stay on the mothership and take smaller boats into the backwaters to fish during the day. Another method is floating cabins which are literally just like they sound. Several floating cabins are hooked together and towed around the river. Meanwhile, like with the mothership, fishermen get to take smaller boats or even float planes into hard to reach places. The last method that I've seen is a safari camping style trip. It allows fishermen to reach nearly inaccessible locations, but at the price of camping alongside the river. Did I mention this is in the jungle? I'd have to seriously consider whether I'd want to camp or not. There are a multitude of different outfitters for Amazon fishing, but here's one that is an example of the kind of thing I'm looking to do: Peacock Bass Fishing

And if my calculations are correct, after I sell my Jeep to pay for the trip, I should have just enough money left over to buy something off McDonald's dollar menu.

Of course one can't go on such an adventure by them self. A fishing partner is a must. The person I would love to take with me would be my dad.

He is, after all, the person who got me hooked on fishing at age 3. I make nearly all of my fishing trip with him and I couldn't imagine not having him along on a trip such as this.

One of these days I'll get a chance to fish the remoteness of the Amazon, see the eruption of an enormous Peacock Bass under my fly or lure, and feel the pull of one of the toughest freshwater fish species around. Until that time, I'll be here in the states, getting my yearly fix somewhere in the metropolitan nightmare that is South Florida.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Getting Close...Don't Get Stung!

While scrolling through some pictures of a recent fishing trip, I stumbled across one that qualifies for a photo prompt given by the Outdoor Blogger Network. They want macro shots. I'm notorious for -not- taking up close pictures, but I managed to get one kinda by accident.

The jellyfish were out in full force, and I'm still in the process of writing the report for that day, however uneventful it may have been. Took quite a few underwater shots with my camera and I'm always pleased when I can just dunk it in the water and not worry about it.

Lots...And lots, of Jellies

Latest report should be on its way later this week. On second thought, maybe getting sea sick and snatching a cobia from the kayak doesn't really qualify as uneventful. Anyways, stay tuned!

Friday, August 19, 2011

My Summer Ends

Scared? Maybe...

Woah. There went my summer, spiraling out of control. Kinda scary how quick it went. It slipped through my fingers before I knew what happened. The road ahead consists of being land locked, no kayak fishing, school, living with 3 other guys, and hunting public land. Am I excited? Sorta. It'll be good to see all of my friends again, but it's gonna suck not getting to just go kayak fish for anything saltwater whenever I want. Overall I enjoyed my summer big time. It may have been my best summer yet.

Tomorrow morning (in like 5 hours), I'll be getting up to make one last trip in the Gulf with the yak. I'll be aiming for another King...maybe even a Tarpon. I'd like either and I hope I can catch it on film. I'll definitely keep everyone posted!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Look Back: Dead Lakes Fishing, 2009

This is a report from kayak fishing The Dead Lakes in Wewahitchka Florida during the summer of 2009. 

 The Dead Lakes are located right outside of Wewahitchka Florida. To give one an idea of where this is located geographically, I'd put it right between the middle of no where and oblivion. In all honesty, Wewahitchka is a small town located about 25 miles east of Panama City. The Dead Lakes are extremely unique to Florida. Years ago, the Chipola river was backed up by sandbars from the Apalachicola River. This resulted in a large amount of forested land to become submerged, killing tons of timber...hence the name Dead Lakes. Today, the lakes are covered with stumps and cypress trees which prove to be great habitat for fish.

My dad and I made a trip down to Wewahitchka during the summer of 2009 to fly fish for bass and bluegill. Upon arriving, I was rather...intrigued. Our cell phones didn't work. This isn't something new to me, but usually, our phones will work at -some- point during the day. Whether it's in town, down the road, or even out on the water, there's usually a point in time when we can call home and check in. This wasn't the case on our Dead Lakes trip. We couldn't get a signal -anywhere- around Wewahitchka. And to be honest, it was kinda cool. I wouldn't want to always be cut off from civilization, but for a few days, it was awesome.

Our Cabin

The launch was located right across the street from our cabin. We chose to visit the Dead Lakes during the week since we'd heard the place is a nut house on the weekends.

Almost like a tunnel

In this particular creek, I noticed TONS of crawfish. I mean a bunch. If I stood at it's edge and waited a minute, I could see at least 50 of them crawling around. I would have killed for a crawfish trap.

The fly fishing during our trip was definitely sub-par. It was -very- difficult to catch fish out on the open water. Since the water levels were high, the surrounding timber was flooded and most of the fish retreated into it. I therefore had no choice but to go close-quarters-kayak-bream-fishing. This consists of laying down everything in the kayak (including yourself), strapping the paddle to the kayak side, and pulling the 16ft kayak through the woods like a battleship in a parking lot. It took quite some doing, but the work paid off. The pools deep in the woods were loaded with bream beds and it took little effort to fill the cooler.

Yep, they're back there^

Because of the close quarters, fly fishing was out of the question. Instead, I took my 3ft ultra-light rod and perfected the prone-throw-cast technique. This is done by laying down flat on your back in the kayak to fit under the branches. You then pull out approximately 8 feet of line and hook a wiggler on the end. You then take the wiggler in your hand, and throw it sidearmed to the nearest set of stumps. Wait for the bite, and reel him in. Rinse and repeat. No casting, just literally throwing the bait with your free hand.

At one point, I rounded a corner is some thick trees and heard a hollow 'thump' and then a bunch of scratching. I quickly located the source of the noise and snapped a quick photo. He was stuck big time and I was more than happy to free him.

It only took a few hours and several chiropractor trips to fill the cooler with bream. Once back at the cabin, I set about cleaning all the fish. As my luck would have it, the bream proceeded to reproduce sevenfold while dying in the cooler and I was stuck cleaning more fish than I remembered catching. Even with an electric filet knife, cleaning 62 bream took an eon. When we finally left Wewahitchka, I never wanted to see another bluegill again. least not for a few days.

Overall the Dead Lakes trip was a blast. It's nice to go 'catching' every once in a while. I do, however, wish that the water levels had been a bit lower. It would have pulled the fish from the timber and made throwing flies to them a bit easier. A shorter kayak would been nice for such situations as well. I found there were many places that my kayak couldn't fit it simply because it was too long.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pole Spear Spearfishing for Mullet

A few days back, I decided that it was time to test my new HD GoPro's underwater video capabilities. What better place to test this out than during a spearfishing trip?

With my pole spears, snorkel gear, and camera in hand, I took my buddy Johnny down to a place where I'd seen a bunch of mullet a few weeks prior. I had hoped that we'd find several schools of big mullet and have a chance to stick a few with the spears.

Sadly, once we arrived on site, we noticed that heavy cloud cover had moved in. To make matters worse, the tide was running out and silty water from the Escambia and Yellow River made visibility quite poor. I was only able to see a few mullet and they either spooked when I went to load the spear, or simply took off before I had a chance to react. I -almost- shot a HUGE Sheepshead, but it was his lucky day and I couldn't quite keep up with his swimming speed and load the spear at the same time. I did see 3 other sheepshead, but all of them were too small to keep. I suppose it's just as well. Justin over at told me that big Sheepshead are actually really old, and I guess I'd think twice about stabbing something older than I am.

I was, however, pleased that my camera performed beautifully underwater. I even got the hang of Movie Maker. Check it out!:

This video was just a test. I think I'll probably stick to music-less videos in the future (to avoid all the copyright bs), but it was nice to learn the ropes of Movie Maker. I still need to figure out why the quality is 380p in youtube, but I shot it in 720p...

And yes, I did manage to finally stick a mullet just before we left. The camera was (of course) off, and I didn't have time to turn it on. I was snorkeling in about 1.5 ft of water (skinny people for the win) and turned to see three BIG mullet cruising right by me. I quickly loaded the spear, aimed for the closest one, and fired.

The spear slammed into the fish and sent it cartwheeling off into the murk. I chased the spear down (which was being dragged away by the fish) and pulled the fish in. I noticed that my shot wasn't great. On a mullet, I usually try to aim for this area:

Instead, in my usual awesomeness, I hit here:

You might notice that the mullet pictured above is in perfect condition. This is because it isn't my mullet. *Sigh* No, my mullet successfully slipped my death grip on it's head, whipped itself back and forth, and managed to rip the spear from its belly. Then, in a feat of heroic bravery, swam away at light speed, never to be seen again.

It actually makes me kinda sick to my stomach and not because the fish's stomach was literally ripped out...well...sorta. I know the fish died, 100%. But I wasn't able to harvest it. Instead, I just simply killed it. I hate having it happen, but it's just one of those things. Hopefully I can make up for it with some well placed shots in the future.

I was quite impressed with the new set up I was using. During my trip to Port St. Joe, I used a longer, heavier spear with a three prong gig to shoot mullet. This spear was shorter, lighter, and had a single point to it.

I was shocked at the penetration power and speed that I hit the mullet with. Rather than stick a few inches into the fish, the spear rocketed through it, well over a foot, and the handle was the only thing that slowed the penetration.

Back at shore, I found out that Johnny hadn't had any luck all day either. He'd seen a few fish, but like myself, couldn't get the spear loaded quickly enough. Next time we'll try on an incoming tide and sunny day. Maybe our luck will turn out.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Here Piggy Piggy

As my summer vacation comes to a close, I'm forced to start thinking about land-locked outdoor activities. Primarily...Hunting.

Bow season around Gainesville begins in a little over two months from now and I've already begun planning. In my usual fashion, I missed the quota drawing for the WMA's this year and will be forced to hunt only one area during gun season. However, I have two areas on my radar for bow season and a total of four areas for small game season. I'll start off the season bow hunting Lochloosa WMA, home of the Kevlar Deer. If I find that I'm not having any luck there, I'll change it up to Goethe State Forest (which I've yet to hunt).

Once bow season is over, however, I'll completely switch gears off of deer and focus all my effort on wild hogs. I've had my fair share of run-ins with hogs in Florida dating back to my first hunting season at age twelve but have yet to kill one.
Never gotten a picture of one...I just needed an example

The first pig I'd ever seen was on Eglin AFB in an archery only area during scouting season. My dad and I were walking along a road near a swampy area and we jumped what looked like a black Volkswagen in a mud puddle. To this day, it's the biggest pig I've ever seen and it must have weighed a good 400lbs. The next pig was later that season. It came to the noise of my dad climbing out of his tree stand and just about walked right into him. It easily weighed between 200-250lbs and was cinnamon colored.  A few weeks later, I had one come to the sound of me climbing out of my tree and when I turned around, a little 50-75lbs pig took off the other direction.

Years later, while hunting (the now closed) Bluewater Creek WMA, I was nearly stepped on by a group of hogs. I was sitting under a tree near a creek bottom during Archery/Muzzleloading gun season and heard a group of pigs coming my way. Unfortunately, they came on the other side of impenetrable brush just 10 yards behind me. I heard every one of them, but didn't see a single one.

During my deer spotlight surveys last summer, I saw dozens of hogs and last season I nearly got lucky enough to shoot one at Devil's Hammock WMA. I recently read an article in Field and Stream and discovered that Florida is second only to Texas for it's feral hog population. In most places around the state, there is no size or bag limit as they cause TONS of damage to crops and agriculture every year. They're also known to carry several diseases. All of this translates into: Shoot more pigs.

So when Gun season opens up, I'll probably be making some trips over to Lower Suwannee NWR since they are actually open without a quota for gun hunting. I saw a video on youtube of some guys two years ago who hunted Lower Suwannee and bagged three pigs in two days. With any luck, I might be able to do the same.  I'll just need to decide on what gun to bring. The SKS...
or the 12 Gauge

I like the idea of the SKS in that I'm comfortable with the iron sights up to 100 yards. I also like that I can squeeze off 5 rounds immediately. However, 3 inch slugs from the Benelli will definitely drop even the biggest boar in its tracks. Any of you ever taken a hog with a gun before?

After gun season, small game opens and I'll still be able to shoot pigs. This, however, will have to be done with a shotgun because center-fire rifles aren't allowed during small game season. I've read reports of a bunch of hogs taken from Goethe, and I've personally seen the hogs in Devil's Hammock, so those two areas will be my go-to spots for small game.

And that will be my plan for the whole hunting season. Now it's time for me to live up the next two weeks and get as much fishing in as possible. Almost got some nice spearfishing footage on my camera today, but the camera was off when I finally shot a fish. Stay tuned!