Cornucopia of frustration

Cornucopia of frustration

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Since I have not been able to bring myself to revisit the devastation of my beloved Everglades fishing spots post the hurricane, I did a bit of local fishing this past week. I do this occasionally for a cheap fix. I see it much like visiting a brothel instead of actually putting in the work for something really meaningful. That may be a sad comment on a rather spectacular fishery but one of which I have become rather spoiled by familiarity.

Excluding the coastal dunes, which are a tad above sea level, the remainder of South Florida is essentially a reclaimed swamp. To do that many, many miles of drainage canals have been dug. With the exception of the brackish coastal rivers close to the coast, all of these canals are freshwaters with a direct connection to the upper Everglades prairies. And in these freshwater canals reside an impressive assortment of fish willing to take a fly, both native and exotic.

So I grabbed my trusty 4wt and spent an hour or so on a section of canal that has very limited pressure. I started out harassing the native species, although my main quarry was really something much more exotic.

When I was first introduced to flyfishing as a child my entry drugs were the local panfish. My father set me up with a foam spider fly, any color as long as it was green, and from that point on my life’s path was seriously altered. Last week, however, I found a different type of “spider” works ridiculously well also. I had tied a bunch of trout spiders, aka north country wets, for a trout trip and the local panfish simply cannot resist them.

The splashing of the sunfish brought in some larger natives: the largemouth bass. The tiny ones appreciated the spiders also, but to get the larger ones I had to switch to a streamer. For that, I chose a local favorite called the “‘glades minnow”. The largest bass was less than 1 kg, but they all broke the surface in an attempt to dislodge the hook.  Some fun!
But that was not my real target. I had scouted the canal and knew the nonnative snakehead were escorting their young. Soon I saw the unmistakable long dark sinewy forms skirting the edge of the opposite bank. I tossed the same streamer at a few of them but drew no strikes. One seemed to follow my fly but did not eat. I wondered if it mistook my black fly as one of its young? The babies are only an inch or so in length at this point.
It was while I was walking the bank that I spotted what appeared to be the mother of all snakeheads sipping air under a low tree on the opposite bank. Unable to present the fly across the canal and under the branches I opted to walk around to the other side.
I approached the shade cautiously and slowly eased into a position where I could make a bow and arrow cast. I could see the large shape leisurely floating about, occasionally poking its mouth out of the water. It was huge! In fact, it was too big to be a snakehead. It was another exotic species: the Siberian grass carp. It was easily over 10 kg. Unfortunately, they are vegetarian and my previous flies were useless. It was under the tree to consume the small figs that fall onto the water, and of course, we have a fly for that. Much like an egg fly, but made from wood and painted, these “berry flies” have tricked many a grass carp. Alas, this day I was unable to make the switch before the carp moved away.
While stalking about and looking for the carp I came across yet another exotic species: the peacock bass. These colorful fellows were purposely introduced as a possible means to control the almost uncountable aquarium sized exotics that have been loosed into the South Florida ecosystem. They also provide great sport. But a berry fly is not going to get their attention, so back to the streamer. The peacock nailed it as soon as it moved. But that was the lone peacock I saw.
Then, while walking further, I came across the unmistakable nests of yet another exotic: the blue tilapia. These fish are nowhere aggressive enough to take a streamer, but I have found that a common bead head nymph allowed to fall onto their nest will oftentimes get them to mouth the fly although I think it is more of a protective response than an attempt to dine. The tilapia was my largest fish I caught all day.
It was then that the common South Florida afternoon thunderstorm quickened my pace and sent me back to the van.
The frustration came from the fact that each species I came across required not only a fly change but also a modification to my leader:  a long sinking 4X for the sunfish, shorter 0X for the bass, add a 20# bite tippet for the snakehead, back to 0X for the carp but greased to float, then muddied for the peacock, and finally back to 4X for the tilapia.
I literally spent ¾ of my time changing flies and tying knots. I made very few casts.
I think I need to spend some time pre-rigging flies to tippets that can be easily added to a general purpose butt and tippet ring. However, that likely won’t happen. I miss fishing from my canoe with the luxury of four rods pre-rigged for whatever I may stumble upon… down in the mangroves.