A handful of minor coldfronts have diagonally swept by South Florida, helping to cool water temperatures and ramp up winds just enough to improve the mixed bag fishing at Flamingo to slightly better than excellent. It’s that special time of the year when anything you can think of to do in Everglades National Park is currently available.
Jim Calareso of Colorado and Peter Knaus of Utah teamed together to jig up 94 fish, all taken using 3/8 ounce yellow bucktails. They worked a series of small ditches near Clive Key. Jim & Peter tallied 19 species and finished the day off with twin, angry 150 pound bull sharks that inhaled whole one pound butterflied jack crevalles. The very next day, they enjoyed a pre-frontal explosion of action, and on 8 pound spin, with the same artificials, landed 205 fish with 14 species including: trout, bluefish, and tasty pompanos.
Kal Blumberg from Ft. Lauderdale (and owner of a Mirage 17) took 88 fish on light spinning gear. His day was constructed with 13 species. Kal’s highlights included: 14 trout from 2-5 1/2 pounds (not newsworthy by upstate standards, but hogs for Flamingo), 11 fat reds from 3-8 pounds and delectable black drum, sheepshead and pompano. When late morning action slowed with the decelerating tide, Blumberg went 3 for 5 on sharks with 2 high-jumping 75 pound spinners and one six foot plus lemon.
Eric and Rebecca Bornstein, from Ohio (owners of an 18 Mirage HPX) took 70 fish and 12 species with artificials, then landed 5 sharks from 8 bites that sucked in whole ladyfish off the bottom near Frank Key. They took four thrashing spinners from 60-80 pounds and ended with a two hundred plus pound, 7 foot lemon. Eric’s son Ben, on break from Purdue, joined him the next week and they fought 60 fish with 10 species including a trio of 50 pound, high flying spinner sharks. Then Ben locked up and defeated a rare and stunning 200 plus pound tiger shark, his first, and his largest fish ever!
Dave Dodich and his son Shane from Ft. Lauderdale, recorded a double digit specie list and ended up with a body count of over 80. At the very last trickle of outgoing water, they jigged a mulle-filled runnoff and nailed 2 nice reds and 2 head shaking snook. During the first two hours of incoming water, using fresh dead baits on the bottom near Dave Foy Channel, they landed 11 drag ripping spinner sharks and a vicious bull out of 17 bites.
Three generations of Heinmiller were aboard for 16 species and 103 fish. John, his son Joe and Joe’s 4 year old son John, battled ladyfish, jack crevalle, horseye jack, mangrove snapper, trout, pompano and bluefish. They ended the outing with back to back nasty lemon sharks of 200 and 175 pounds, the latter of which full body charged and slapped the outside hull and rub rail. Then after being released, bit the underside of the bow so hard you could hear and feel it’s teeth crunch!
Alan Routman hosted his son Zach, down on break from U of F, to a 228 fish day and 14 species. Along with the expected Park fish were: 27 trout up to 5 1/2 pounds, and 61 redfish up to 9 pounds! The trout and reds were “holed up” in a 50 by 15 foot sand bottomed trough and were thumping jigs sweetened with small sections of shrimp.
All of these catches were made in the Mirage 18 HPX. Carrying the vast and versatile arsenal required for a day of fishing here is one of the many areas that showcase the uses of this boat. We try to pack 10 or 12 rods for a trip to Flamingo. Statistically, the most damage is done with 6-10 pound spinners and 20-30 pound mono or fluorocarbon leaders. Even though the fluorocarbon is all the rage, interestingly our hook-up percentage with mono leaders is noticeably higher. The fluoro does not seem to bend around corners of the mouth nearly as well as the mono.
You can always use live shrimp, but be prepared to burn through lots of bait, and almost endless garbage fish. Jigs work over the channels, ditches, runnoffs and potholes much more efficiently. Any jig will work in nearly any color. No doubt this is a highly argued issue, but weight and size are probably the most important factors. Yellow and chartreuse seem to slightly outfish other hues. Adding a Gulp! or shrimp chunk is sometimes almost unfair.
Jim Mayhew of Miami has been custom tying jigs for many of the best anglers and guides for years. Unlike most store bought and overpriced artificials that rip apart, or look like Don King’s hair after 1/2 dozen ladyfish, Mayhew’s lures are durable and affordable and most of all, acutely applicable for all of Florida’s fish, from tiny lookdown jigs, to bonefish, tarpon, permit, redfish, trout, snook and pompano, to the offshore snapper and grouper deep droppers. Jim can be reached at Tight Line Tackle at 305-781-5488 or online at email@example.com.
Traditional sightfishing for reds, snook, etc. is most productive with a live shrimp. Jigs and soft plastics, plugs and spoons will all work, but hook ups on the weedless spoons can be frustrating. The same post that blocks weed from the hook will frequently deflect fish. On the long wand, you can sit at a vise, close your eyes and wrap any four feathers to a hook, and you’ve made a great redfish fly. The reds on the shallows in the Park will eagerly take anything that is properly drawn within inches of their nose, but will eat nothing outside of this tiny bite-zone. They’ve got to see it before they sense the boat or you will catch very few.
For potential giants, a couple of 20-30 pound spinners or conventionals in the racks are a must. A full 15 foot bimini twist with 5 foot 100 pound single strand wire is a good all around outfit for these large animals. The wire is mandatory for the impressive variety of sharks found here.
With the arrival of colder water, the tarpon tend to leave the “outside” areas of Flamingo and can thicken up inside White Water Bay, especially if you can luck into several days of warmer, calmer conditions in the middle of winter. They will readily suck in flies and large plugs. Sometimes you will stumble upon an area with a concentration of rolling, busting or even free-jumping tarpon. Live bait under a cork, like a throbbing pinfish or vibrating pilchard is very effective. During the other times when tarpon are only occasionally surfacing and scattered, overall, the dead bait will outfish the live bait at a rate of roughly 1 trillion to one, possibly a little more.
Because of the normally discolored water, in most of the Park’s productive channels and rivers, fresh dead bait on bottom with a wire leader will not interfere with the tarpon bite. They just can’t see it. Also, fishing the bottom bait on sand and gravel seems to be far more productive than on grass. The big ones seem to locate the bait better. A fighting belt, or some type of small gimbal will help protect you from an involuntary vasectomy.
by Capt. Mark Krowka