PEACOCKS & TARPON

At just about the time the rest of our Bud n’ Mary’s group were touching down at Heathrow Airport, Terry Thomas and I were climbing into the back of Capt. Mark Hall’s pick up truck. After a twenty minute run through the then still dark Miami suburbs we pulled off the main rod, and followed a rough dirt track down to a launch ramp leading into a narrow, weed choked canal running behind a large department store. Here we launched Capt. Mark’s skiff then ran a couple of miles through Miami’s extensive and complex system of inland waterways, eventually arriving at a large lagoon flanked by large and clearly very expensive waterside homes.

The colourful peacock bass, an introduced species that thrives in the freshwater waterways around Miami.

The colourful peacock bass, an introduced species that thrives in the freshwater waterways around Miami.

Terry & I had been given the option of either throwing plugs and other artificials on spinning rods, fly fishing, or free lining live ‘shiner’s’ on small circle hooks. Having been assured that the latter was by far the quickest and most reliable way to ensure our target species ended up in front of my cameras, that was what we elected to do.

Capt. Mark Hall holds a nice peacock bass

Capt. Mark Hall holds a nice peacock bass

We were fishing for peacock bass, butterfly peacock bass to be precise, a species native to the Amazon basis. These beautifully coloured and highly regarded sports fish were first introduced into the canals around Miami in the 1990’s, in an attempt at controlling the rapid rise in alien freshwater species that then, and now, proliferate throughout the region. With minimal tolerance to cold water biologists had assured there was no way that spawning peacocks could extend their range northwards throughout the state. The rest, as they say, is history, and today you’ll find a fantastic peacock bass fishery right in the heart of the city suburbs, and extending out west into The Everglades.

Terry Thomas & Capt. Mark with a fine brace of peacocks.

Terry Thomas & Capt. Mark with a fine brace of peacocks.

In no time at all I had hooked and boated our first peacock, a chunky 2-3lb fish, which seems to be the average size. Throughout the eight hours we fished we caught peacocks at a constant and steady rate, our biggest  nudging the top side of 5lb; double figure specimens have been caught. In addition to peacock bass we caught numerous largemouth bass, and several so called ‘alien species’ including Midas and Mayan cichlid’s and oscar’s, fish you’d typically pay a small fortune for at an aquarium shop back home.

How much would an oscar this size cost in an aquarium shop in the UK!

How much would an oscar this size cost in an aquarium shop in the UK!

A largemouth bass for Terry, one of several we caught

A largemouth bass for Terry, one of several we caught

A Midas cichlid, one of several 'alien species'  common throughout the system

A Midas cichlid, one of several ‘alien species’ common throughout the system

It was a thoroughly enjoyable and hugely productive day, a day easy to schedule into any trip to southern Florida, as Capt. Mark will happily pick you up at your hotel then drop you back either there, or as he did with us, directly at the airport. Best of all this is some of the best value guided fishing you’ll get in Florida, with a full day, including tackle hire and bait, costing just $325. For more information visit: http://www.flyfishpeacocks.com

Contact Capt. Mark if you are travelling through Miami, you'll not be disappointed

Contact Capt. Mark if you are travelling through Miami, you’ll not be disappointed

After saying goodbye to Terry at departures I grabbed a coffee and wandered downstairs to arrivals. I was just in time to meet a travel weary Mrs Lewis for two weeks holiday, starting with three nights at Fort Lauderdale, followed by 5 nights at Orlando, finally ending with a week on the beach at Sanibel Island. After 8 days solid fishing I was ready for a break during the first week, but by the time we checked in at our hotel on Sanibel I was ready for another cast.

My original intention had been to fly fish at day break for trophy snook in the surf along the white sand beaches on Sanibel’s Gulf Coast, but strong onshore winds had churned the water to a milky soup. Luckily I had a plan B, which involved fishing throughout the plethora of mangrove channels and lagoons that are easily accessed via the four mile wildlife drive running through the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Once again snook were high on my target list along with redfish, speckled trout and ‘hopefully’ tarpon.

Hooked up to a lively fish!

Hooked up to a lively fish!

A self-guided fly caught tarpon from the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

A self-guided fly caught tarpon from the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge

As much as I love fishing with good guides, I find most pleasure from finding and catching my own fish, especially with a fly rod. Over the years I have caught a large amount of self-guided snook, bonefish, trout and many other back country species, but never tarpon. The first morning I drove into the Ding Darling refuge I found a small bay tucked amongst the dense mangroves with dozens of fish rolling on the surface, fish I could clearly see were tarpon.

Near 10lb of fly caught tarpon, outstanding sport on a fly rod

Near 10lb of fly caught tarpon, outstanding sport on a fly rod

Grabbing my fly rod I hastily tied on a home tied cockroach fly and started to cast. I got a solid hit on the second cast, not a tarpon but a welcome snook. I got my tarpon a few casts later, a perfect little specimen of around 6lb that fought magnificently on my fly rod, spending more time in the air than the water. As the sun got higher the rises became fewer and farer between, but by the time I drove home for breakfast a little over an hour later I had caught and released a brace of tarpon along with a couple of snook. Hoping to get a redfish to complete a backcountry slam I went back in the evening. I didn’t get a red, but consolation came by way of a third, near 10lb tarpon. Needless to say for the duration of our stay, most mornings saw me first first in line to access the refuge when the gates opened at 0700!

Few areas are easier to access and fish as the J.N.Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.

Few areas are easier to access and fish as the J.N.Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island.

FLORIDA MAY 2015

Regular readers of this blog, and apparently there are one or two of you, will know that each year around April and May a group of us travel to Islamorada in the Florida Keys, for a weeks back country fishing out from Bud n’ Mary’s Marina. As the dates for this years trip approached, May 9th, I watched the weather patterns affecting The Key’s and local fishing reports with great interest. Due to a very mild winter the main tarpon run had started unseasonably early in February, with excellent sport experienced right through March. April, traditionally the start of the main push of fish in the Middle Keys, saw several unseasonable cold fronts pushing down from the north west, followed by severe storms, both of which impacted severely on the fishing. Luckily by the time we arrived the weather had started to settle down, and the good news was that the fishing was getting back on track.

Gotcha! Big tarpon are the number one attraction during spring time in The Keys

Gotcha! Big tarpon are the number one attraction during spring time in The Keys

On the first morning Andrew Leaves and myself fished with Capt. Jeff Beeler, starting our day using live crab at iconic Channel 5, and by 0900 both of us had released a good tarpon. That first day the rest of our crews reported mixed fishing with some boats scoring well on tarpon and sharks, others not doing so well, which the local captains attributed to the crazy weather in the weeks before we arrived. This pattern continued throughout our week but as per usual by the time we headed back up Route One to Miami everyone had experienced a couple of good days, and some outstanding fish were caught.

On another day Andrew and I fished with our old friend Capt. Bill Bassett, who was keen to run us way back to a spot that had been producing an unusually large number of hammerhead sharks, a species he knew I was keen to chalk off my bucket list. During all of the years I have been escorting groups to The Keys only two hammerheads have previously been recorded, so you can imagine I was not overly excited when within the hour I was tight to what clearly was a modest shark.

My first hammerhead shark with Capt. Bill Bassett, just need to find a thresher now...

My first hammerhead shark with Capt. Bill Bassett, just need to find a thresher now…

Thinking it was a lemon, bull, black tip or one of the other more commonly caught sharks, you can imagine my delight when finally a lively little 50lb hammerhead appeared alongside the boat. In total around 8 hammerhead were caught this year, the biggest a monster estimated at 500lb+ caught by Dave Brady. Andrew followed up my success with a decent tiger shark estimated at 400lb, he caught using a Shimano Stella 8000 and four-piece travel popping rod he had brought for tarpon fishing.

Andrew's big tiger shark alongside the boat

Andrew’s big tiger shark alongside the boat

On another day I started off well releasing a 120lb tarpon, closely followed by a 250lb bull shark, then a 150lb bull shark, all within the first hour or so of fishing, while Andrew sat back and watched. Then the tide of luck changed, and Andrew started catching. First off was a truly monstrous sawfish that was easily well over 500lb, and this was followed by a couple of bulls similar to mine in the 150-250lb range. Next came a 100lb+ black tip with Andrew finishing an exceptional run of big fish with a 120lb spinner shark; all on his Stella/spinning rod combo.

Andrew puts his Stella 8000 4-piece rod to the tests: it passed with flying colours!

Andrew puts his Stella 8000 4-piece rod to the test as Capt.Bill prepares to grab the leader: it passed with flying colours!

For the rest of the week Andrew and I concentrated on light tackle sight fishing, with Andrew boating two good bonefish one day, caught casting live prawn to fish cruising in skinny water. Quite a few bonefish were caught by other group members during the week, which is always good to see. On another day a long run back into The Everglades saw me chalk up a release on an 8lb snook on fly. All in all despite less than perfect conditions another decent trip, but we are all thankful we never arrived a week or two early when things would have been really difficult.

Andrew & Capt. Bill pose with a decent bonefish

Andrew & Capt. Bill pose with a decent bonefish

All too soon I was dropping the majority of the group off at Miami airport, leaving just Terry Thomas to join me for cold beer at a local Cuban bar, as the next day we were going fishing for something very different in Miami, after which Terry would fly home, Alison, my wife, would arrive, and I’d continue for another couple of weeks of Florida sunshine; full report in the next blog. For information on fishing in the Florida Keys contact Anglers World Holidays on Tel: 01246 221717.

Without a doubt the best fishermen in The Keys; an osprey!

Without a doubt the best sight fishermen in The Keys; an osprey!