Urban angling

Urban angling

Gary Meyer | Tuesday, 18 June 2019

We are about a week into this year’s monsoon season, which (likely only to me) is in a strange way comforting. Despite the soggy fishing equipment that never seems to dry out, and the uncomfortable dampness added to every-day chores, the incessant rain feels normal or regular, as in how things always used to be growing up here. If things remain acting like an average beginning of summer it should dry out sometime before July 4th.

The weather does tend to dissuade even the most ardent anglers from heading afield for some fishing. At least for daylong excursions, but there is a close-by, short-term option that I occasionally fall back on. And that is fishing the man-made waters that permeate all throughout urban south Florida. Although not a secret, and definitely not overlooked by all, the availability of decent and sporty fish would likely surprise many of the newer residents. It helps to have grown up here and been an avid angler since childhood.  During the years before I could legally drive a car, I scoured the local resources by any means possible, which usually meant by foot, small boat or bicycle. Those days made me intimately aware of the local urban opportunities, especially the inshore salty waters.


Of course, much has changed since those days, but in some ways things are actually better. Environmentally, at least as far as water clarity goes, surprisingly there has been a lot of improvement. On the other hand, the people population has skyrocketed. Empty lots on the water are now non-existent, and where once a boat dock behind a house was uncommon, and most were boatless, now every house has a dock and almost all are occupied by a moored craft.


All those docks and pilings account for an incredible increase in structure for the fish. Even better, a fair percentage of those docks have lights on them. Some lights are simply for nighttime security of the boats moored there, but a percentage shine not on the boats but directly into the water for the homeowner’s entertainment. Those lights, at night, attract a food chain that tops out with some rather sporty gamefish, like snook and tarpon. This fact has spawned a well loved flyfishing subsport, not surprisingly called “fishing the dock lights”.


By design, I am only a short walk away from a canoe launch and water access. Up until about a year ago I used a small folding cart to transport my canoes, but a recent addition is so light that I can shoulder it. My fishing equipment bag, fly rod and paddle actually weigh more than the canoe. The only downside I have found so far is that I have to part my hair down the middle to keep from tipping.


Even though the fishing takes place after sunset there is no need for a flashlight as the urban light pollution makes them unnecessary. Fishing after dark is good for not only is it comfortably cooler, but also the sunlight initiated rains diminish. I commonly fish with an 8 foot 4 weight with a floating line. The flies, although tied on size 2 or 4 saltwater hooks, are so minimal and sparse that to the uninitiated they appear to be worn out discards. That is on purpose. Many times the fry that the fish feed upon are so small and translucent that the angler cannot discern them. But the fish sure can!


Not all of the fish are small but the easier ones are. Besides the smallish snook and tarpon, the more commonly encountered species is a weird silvery member of the jack family called a Lookdown.  Extremely thin and flattened although vertically deep with a long sloping face, these aggressive predators seem almost totally nocturnal. Between their looks and the nighttime preference for feeding, they are oftentimes erroneously called “Moonfish”, which are similar but a different critter.


Additionally, there are four subspecies of snook in the genus Centropomus. In my neighborhood it is possible to catch 3 of the 4, and sometimes one of the rare subspecies, the Fat Snook, will be more plentiful than the Common Snook.

Larger snook are definitely available, although not on the equipment I mentioned above. If spotted around the lights they are usually too experienced to fall for a fly. Even if they do, those dock piling are only a short distance away and the snook seem to be familiar with each and every one. If someone actually desires to be tangle with a larger “linesider” the trick is to use much heavier tackle and a good-sized black streamer… and stay away from the dock lights. With all the light pollution, the bigger snook have no need for any extra light. Simply swing the streamer through the dark though likely prime lies where currents and structure suggest a predator might be waiting. Bring lots of flies and an extra dose of humility.


Drifting along in a canoe at night and getting your string stretched frequently is a nice dry way to endure the monsoon. There is, however, a creepy, almost voyeuristic aspect to silently floating along behind your neighbor’s well-lit houses.


I learned long ago not to speak unless spoken to… I almost scared one poor lady into heart failure.