Friday, December 20, 2013

FL shameless lifelisting part 7 - Tampa Bay

We set up at a popular fishing pier in Tampa for our last day of Florida fishing.  This particular pier allowed vehicles, so it was nice being able to drive to our fishing spot rather than walk.  I had surpassed 200 species the day before, so anything I caught now would be a nice bonus.  My only regret thus far was not catching a shark.  After using a sabiki to catch a few bait fish, I set up four rods, each with 100 lb mono abrasion leaders, 135 lb coated steel bite leaders, and either a 6/0 or 8/0 Octopus circle hook.  Surely with that many baits in the water I would hook up with a shark!  The next four fish were species we used as bait.  Three of them were new lifers!

Pigfish (Orthopristis chrysoptera) - new hook & line species #205

Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)

Scaled Sardine (Harengula jaguana) - new hook & line species #206

False Pilchard (Harengula clupeola) - new hook & line species #207

While sabiki fishing for bait I also caught a nice surprise, this Spanish mackerel.  It had been one of my targets on our first day, but we had missed out on them.  I didn't catch many sport fish during the trip, so I was glad to add this mackerel to the list.

Atlantic Spanish Mackerel (Scomberomorus maculatus) - new hook & line species #208

Finally, mid-morning I got a bite on one of the shark rods.  The baitfeeder drag on my spinning reel worked perfectly, and after about 30 seconds of "click, click click..." I tightened up the line and had a fish on.  It was one of my heavier setups, so it didn't take long to get the fish to the surface.  It was a clearnose skate!  Ken helped me with the bridge net, and we lifted up my first lifelist addition not in the ray-finned fish class (Actinopterygii).  It wasn't a shark, but I was still excited!

Clearnose Skate (Raja eglanteria) - new hook & line species #209

An hour or so later, another one of my rods went off.  "Click, click, click..."  I tightened up the line again and had another fish on, but this time it was heavier!  In fact, it felt too heavy, so right away I figured that it wasn't a shark.  Sure enough, it was another ray, this time a cownose ray.  This time the fight was a bit more spirited than the skate, and at one point the ray swam under the pier.  I had to carefully get it to turn around so we could get the bridge net under it.  It took several attempts to get it into the net, but finally we had it in and hoisted it up.  Cownose rays are not as flat bodied as other rays, so this guy had some serious weight to him!

Cownose Ray (Rhinoptera bonasus) - new hook & line species #210

Other than a snagged sea turtle, the shark rods did not get any further action.  We fished sabikis while we waited, and in the afternoon I added crevalle jack to my list, and after the after the sun had gone down I caught my last lifer of the trip, a black sea bass.

Crevalle Jack (Caranx hippos) - new hook & line species #211

Pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides)

Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) - new hook & line species #212

Overall, the trip was a blast!  Thank you to Ken and Michael for sharing your knowledge and previously fished spots and being great travel companions.  Thank you to Martini for taking us around to your Miami cichlid spots and being so friendly to a bunch of oddball strangers.  Thank you to Miciah for taking the time to fish with us and convince us to switch spots in order to catch new fish.  Thank you to Ryan for taking the time to come out and fish with us in Tampa.  Thank you to Anthony and whoever else I talked to online before the trip asking advice.  And most of all, thank you to Ruoxi for putting up with me and making the trip such a success!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

FL shameless lifelisting part 6 - The Everglades

With the keys behind us, it was time to make the journey across the state to Tampa. However, before we headed through the everglades we took some time to stop at a few more urban spots. The target at the first park was Midas cichlid. We baited up with bread, and I cast out to a feeding school of bright orange fish. The cichlids looked interested, but something dark rushed in and grabbed my bait. After a short spirited fight, I landed this nice oscar.

Oscar (Astronotus ocellatus) - new hook & line species #198

My next bread ball was picked up by one of the Midas cichlids. I'm impressed that he got to it first, because his eyes were clouded over. While Ruoxi was taking my picture, Michael was in the background fighting something larger, a triploid grass carp stocked to keep the vegetation in check. After some comical efforts by Ken to get it into the net, he got a chance to pose with his catch as well.

Midas Cichlid (Amphilophus citrinellus) - new hook & line species #199

Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)

Our other urban spots didn't produce much, so we headed west into the everglades. At the entrance to one of the parks we found a great spot full of fish. Florida gar were splashing on the surface, so I tossed out a spinner that works great for shortnose and spotted gar back home. It didn't get any hits, so I caught a few sunfish to use as cut bait. My first was a new subspecies of bluegill, and my second was a spotted sunfish, my 200th hook & line species!! Using my 200th species as bait, I caught my 201st species, a Florida gar. Lifelist fishing doesn't get much better than that!

Coppernose Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus mystacalis) - new subspecies

Spotted Sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) - new hook & line species #200

Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus) - new hook & line species #201

Ruoxi also caught this huge oscar.

Oscar (Astronotus ocellatus)

Further down the road we stopped a spot that Michael and Ken had fished at the beginning of the trip. They had caught walking catfish here, so I was hoping to pick one up as well. It was daytime though, and we couldn't find any catfish for the life of us. We caught plenty of other exotics though, so we didn't complain.

Mayan Cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmum)

Spotted Tilapia (Tilapia mariae)

We had to reel in our fish quickly, because something lurked in the water that wanted a meal.

As the sun began to set, we switched to smaller hooks to try to find some smaller fish.  Thanks to Michael's need to commune with nature, we found a nice area with rocks and small fish.  With a Tanago hook I was able to add two new cichlid species to my lifelist.

Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus)

Black Acara (Cichlasoma bimaculatum) - new hook & line species #202

African Jewel Cichlid (Hemichromis bimaculatus) - new hook & line species #203

Ken insisted that once the sun set the walking catfish would make their appearance.  Sure enough, once it was completely dark, I pointed my spotlight into the water and saw dozens and dozens of catfish.  When the light hit them they rushed for cover, so I turned off the light and dropped a nightcrawler to the bottom.  Two seconds later I felt the tap tap of a fish and caught my first non-native catfish.

Walking Catfish (Clarias batrachus) - new hook & line species #204

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

FL shameless lifelisting part 5 - The Keys cooling down

After the previous day's bonanza, we had to work slightly harder to find new lifers during our third day in the keys.  Ruoxi had been the first to catch one of the vibrant blue colored parrotfish, which after some ID help from Martini we determined was a blue parrotfish.  I was fortunate to catch one as well, and I photographed it immediately after catching it and also about 30 seconds later.  It seems that they quickly lose their yellow and green hues and transition to a more intense blue with pink around the scales and on the fins.

Blue Parrotfish (Scarus coeruleus) - new hook & line species #195

With the morning sun beating down on us, Ruoxi and I decided to head back to the base of the bridge to fish in the shade (and look like hobos).  There were plenty of sergeant majors and damselfish near the concrete wall, but the juvenile grunts and snappers were always the first to bite.

Bluestriped Grunt (Haemulon sciurus)

A school of filefish and parrotfish moved in near the wall, and after catching several of the parrotfish, I caught my first planehead filefish!  They certainly have an unusual shape.  Another species, the scrawled filefish, had been tormenting me the past two days out in the middle of the bridge.  The planehead isn't quite as neat, but any filefish is better than no filefish.

Planehead Filefish (Stephanolepis hispidus) - new hook & line species #196

Ruoxi and I felt we had spent enough time on the bridge, so we packed up the car and headed east towards Islamorada.  On the way we stopped at a sandy beach with shallow water and vegetation.  The sea grass was teeming with small shrimp and crabs.  I got a net out of the car (this was the first and only time it was used on the trip) and found a variety of micros, such as sheepshead minnows, longnose killifish, gobies, and a pipefish that I think is a shortfin pipefish.  Microfishing can take a lot more time than you might think, so I skipped the rod and reel so we could be on our way.  I am curious though if anyone will ever catch a pipefish on hook & line.

Goby sp. (Bathygobius sp.)

Shortfin Pipefish (Cosmocampus elucens)

Once in Islamorada, we stopped at Bass Pro to pick up a few things, and when we walked out on the docks in the marina behind the parking lot we noticed thousands and thousands of tiny fish near the surface.  I rigged up one of my rods with a Tanago hook and quickly caught one of the fish.  As I was pulling it out of the water, two guys on the next dock over yelled over at us, "No fishing!!!".  I had my lifer in hand, so I smiled, apologized, and hurried off to photograph my catch.  At first I thought it must be some sort of anchovy, but it didn't fit any of the descriptions in my fish book.  After flipping through the pages for a while, I found a fish that matched perfectly, the hardhead silverside.  It's definitely the coolest micro of the trip!

Hardhead Silverside (Atherinomorus stipes) - new hook & line species #197

After our excitement at the Bass Pro, we met up with Michael and Ken for some dinner and souvenir shopping.  Sometimes you have to take a break from fishing!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

FL shameless lifelisting - Michael and Ken's nurse shark

After catching so many new lifers in the keys, it was hard to get my mind on sharks.  The funny thing is, all of my friends had to listen to me talk practically nonstop about sharks during the two months leading up to the trip.  I had purchased heavier rods, higher capacity reels, and lots of heavy terminal tackle specifically for sharks.  The week before the trip I spent nearly every evening making shark leaders with my new crimping tool.  And yet here I was on a bridge in the keys, catching tons and tons of small fish with a sabiki without setting up my shark rods.  Can you tell why I named this trip "FL shameless lifelisting"?

Ken and Michael, however, were focused.  They got up earlier in the morning, stayed awake later at night, and always had several shark rods set up with baits in the water.  However, as far as sharks were concerned, it was a slow trip.  Finally, on the 16th their hard work paid off.  In the late afternoon Michael got a hit on one of his baits.  It seemed to take forever for him to get the fish to the surface.  When he did, we recognized it right away as a nurse shark.  It was pretty big too, probably 6 or more feet!

Nurse Shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)

The problem with our fishing spot was that we were fishing 0.5 miles from shore.  That is a long way to walk a big fish while bent over a concrete ledge!  The bridge was made up of arched supports every 50 feet or so, and each time you passed one the shark would try to head under the bridge.  A strong tide made the issue even worse.  If the shark made it far enough under the bridge, your fishing line would be pulled tight against the concrete edge of the arch.  Abrasion is a big issue under those conditions.  I can't remember if Michael wanted to walk his first shark to shore or not, but either way it broke off not long after we took some pictures of it.

While it was still light out Ken hooked up with another nurse shark.  He got it to the surface, we took some pictures of it, but soon after it snapped off when it went under one of the bridge arches.  Ken had reeled in his line to the point that the leader was on the reel, so he counted it for his lifelist.  Michael was also counting his nurse shark on his lifelist.  This is a common practice among species anglers when it comes to large fish that can't be landed.

After dark, around the time Ruoxi and I had sent up a tent on the bridge to go to bed for the night, Michael hooked up with another shark.  Again, it was a nurse shark.  This time, for whatever reason, he was determined to walk it all the way to shore and land it.  After seeing how quickly the previous two sharks had broken off, I figured there was no way he would make it the full half mile.  Ruoxi and I wished him luck and being exhausted, went to bed.  We unrolled our backpacking trail pads and fell asleep.

About an hour later, I woke up.  It's hard to sleep with a clear sky, full moon, and the wind howling around the bridge.  I wondered if Michael and Ken were back.  I got out of the tent, and to my amazement, saw lights bobbing far off in the distance near shore.  I woke Ruoxi up, and we got up and started the hike towards the base of the bridge.  Just two archways from shore, this is how we found Michael!

Somehow Michael and Ken had managed to get the shark nearly all the way to shore!  It has gone completely under one of the arch supports though, and Michael was stuck.  After some debate, he decided to give the shark some slack and hurry over to shore so he could fight the shark from a better angle.  The trick worked, and soon he had the shark up to the sea wall at the base of the bridge.

At this point I saw my opportunity to help out.  We had to get a rope over the shark's head in order to safely get it to shore at a break in the sea wall.  I hopped up on the wall and grabbed the bright green leader that Michael had constructed using weed eater line.  I wish I had brought gloves with me, but there was no time to walk back and get them.  I pulled with every bit of strength I had, and once the shark's head was above water Ken got the rope over its head and pectoral fins.

Now all we had to do was use the rope to walk the shark along the sea wall to a broken spot where we could get it through to dry land.  Ken handed the rope off to me.  I asked Michael to take the tension off the line so I could have control of the shark.  Nothing happened.  I looked over my shoulder at Michael and saw the expression on his face.  He had fought this shark for well over an hour, and now someone was asking him to give up control over it.  I told him I had it, he gave the line some slack, and we walked the shark over to the break in the wall.

It took two or three of us to pull the shark through the break in the wall.  I let Ken and Michael pull on the rope while I got behind the shark and lifted it over rocks.  Good grief was it heavy!  A few minutes later we had it on dry ground and began untangling the rope and leader.

Once we had the shark free of the lines, Michael got a chance to appreciate his catch.

To the surprise of all of us, we found Ken's hook still in the shark's mouth.  It was the same one he had hooked up with hours earlier!  This was a dream come true for Ken, because he got a chance to pose with his lifer nurse shark on shore!

I was pretty excited to help out.

And last but not least, Ruoxi got her chance to pose with the shark.  Ruoxi helped out immensely with the spotlight and holding on to the rod  as we got the shark over the sea wall.

Huge congrats to Michael and Ken.  Your hard work paid off!

FL shameless lifelisting part 4 - The Keys on fire

Our second full day in the keys was spent east of Long Key. Michael, Ken, and Miciah set up early at the end of a long pedestrian bridge. Ruoxi and I decided to hang around the rocks by shore to see what small fish might be lurking. We saw sergeant majors and damselfish that we wanted to catch, but first we had to negotiate around the small snappers and grunts.

Schoolmaster (Lutjanus apodus) - new hook & line species #179

French Grunt (Haemulon flavolineatum)

We were able to catch the smaller fish we had our eyes on by downgrading to a Tanago hook and fishing in the crevices between the rocks.

Sergeant Major (Abudefduf saxatilis) - new hook & line species #180

Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus) - new hook & line species #181

I also caught this houndfish and made sure to get a photo showing that the dorsal and anal fins are rather long and line up with each other.

Houndfish (Tylosurus crocodilus)

We headed out to the end of the pedestrian bridge to join Michael, Ken, and Miciah. I caught another needlefish, and by looking at the fins I was able to ID it as an Atlantic needlefish. The fins are shorter with the anal fin starting forward of the dorsal fin.

Atlantic Needlefish (Strongylura marina) - new hook & line species #182

At the end of the pedestrian bridge I began working hard at catching new species with the Sabiki. It's not the most difficult type of fishing, but I experimented with every different type of structure and open water that I could think of. The variety was nothing short of amazing!

Yellow Chub (Kyphosus incisor) - new hook & line species #183

Scamp Grouper (Mycteroperca phenax) - new hook & line species #184

Leatherjack (Oligoplites saurus) - new hook & line species #185

Slippery Dick (Halichoeres bivittatus) - new hook & line species #186

Stoplight Parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) - new hook & line species #187

Yellowhead Wrasse (Halichoeres garnoti) - new hook & line species #188

Striped Parrotfish (Scarus iseri) - new hook & line species #189

Doctorfish (Acanthurus chirurgus) - new hook & line species #190

Puddingwife (Halichoeres radiatus)

Redband Parrotfish (Sparisoma aurofrenatum) - new hook & line species #191

Ruoxi didn't fish quite as much as I did, but when she did she caught quite a few different species as well! She especially made everyone in the group jealous with her brilliant blue parrotfish.

Blue Parrotfish (Scarus coeruleus)

Yellow Chub (Kyphosus incisor)

Puddingwife (Halichoeres radiatus)

After dark the bite switched over to grunts and snappers. After watching other people catch these two species for a while I was able to catch one of each myself.

White Grunt (Haemulon plumierii) - new hook & line species #192

Sailor's Choice (Haemulon parra) - new hook & line species #193

Michael and I poked around back at the base of the bridge to see what might be lurking near the wall and rocks. We were hoping for moray eels, but the current was too strong to see anything. However, I did get this surprise catch, a nocturnal squirrelfish!  It was a nice bonus at the end of the most productive lifer day of my species fishing career - 16 new species of fish in total!

Squirrelfish (Holocentrus adscensionis) - new hook & line species #194