Fishing has been a part of my life for as far back as I
have memory, and while that time frame arguably grows
shorter with each passing year, it's still a fair amount
of time. As a pre-teen and teenager, if it was Saturday
and my Dad and I weren't going fishing then I would be up
at dawn, devouring the morning assortment of fishing shows
on ESPN. Whether it was a spring creek in the Midwest,
monster trevalle in the South Pacific, or Jimmy Houston
catching farm pond crappies with his kids, I loved it all.
One of the strongest memories from those early morning
sessions was for any show where the host was after peacock
bass. I was in awe of their beauty, humbled by their strength.
I remember one of the hosts describing the experience as
"dropping a line off an overpass, and tying into the most
drop-dead gorgeous tractor trailer you'd ever seen."
"Some day", I told myself as I watched in silence. Some day.
A business trip to Miami, in November? With time to fish?
Yeah, I can make that meeting. The child within me thrilled
at the opportunity to make good on a promise made years ago.
The plane touched down in Miami to weather in the mid-80's, and
the memories of the 40 degree weather I had left behind at the
Baltimore Airport were burned from my mind. After picking up
my car and getting checked into the hotel, I quickly pulled the
6 wt rod out of its travel tube and dug the reel out of my luggage.
Out came the vest, and some fishing information pulled from the
Florida Fish and Game website. I headed off to Antonio Maceo
Park, the boat launch on the Tamiami Canal. What the Fish and
Game papers forgot to mention was the big "No Fishing" signs
posted on the shore around the boat docks. I drove blindly
along various streets, trying to follow the bending path of
the canal, with moderate success. I finally found a small
patch of shoreline that wasn't somebody's fenced property
and pulled up onto the grass.
I rigged the gear quickly, and headed over to the water.
The water was deep and tannic, the flowing current pulling
long strands of weed downstream to wave and undulate. I
worked both sides of the bank knowing that the small Clouser
minnow was being held close to the surface by the swiftly
moving current. I lay casts under the small bridge crossing
over the water. The papers had said to fish under bridges,
that peacocks liked to hang out around them.
A disturbance of water downstream caught my eye and I began
to wander down the bank. Several feet of body rose to the
surface of the water, and like any good Yankee raised in
Southern California, I immediately assumed it was an alligator
and was half way to the car before my breath caught up with me.
Common sense finally caught up as well, and I realized that
there was little chance that most any alligator was going to
come straight up 5 feet of nearly sheer bank to get to me.
I kept my distance anyway. After longer observation I realized
that the disturbances were not alligators, but a pair of manatee
feeding in the weeds along the shore. The fishing being non-existent,
I sat down quietly and watched the manatees as the setting sun
threw pink and orange hues over the surface of the canal.
Wednesday presented my "real chance" to get some fishing in,
with meetings wrapping up at mid-day. I sent a pleading email
to a friend who was familiar with the area, and she encouraged
me to be a good explorer, drive further, look closer, and fish!
In practice, great idea. For the antsy teenager inside me
burning to fish, this was hard advice to follow, but I did my
best. After the meetings wrapped for the day, I was back at
the hotel changing into fishing clothes and heading out the
door. I headed west on the Tamiami Trail, eyes splitting
their time between the road in front of me and the canal
to the right of me. I made mental notes as I drove along.
"Side canal at 97 Street."
"Some open shore line around 110 Street."
After what seemed like an eternity of driving that probably
wasn't more than 20 or 30 minutes, I drove past a wide stretch
of open property along the bank and had to stop. I pulled off
the main drag to a paralleling side street and parked the car.
The wind blew briskly into my face as I walked towards the water.
A quick look showed more deep, fast, tannic water. Gotta try,
though. I spent a half hour flailing against the wind that
seemed to be perpetually in my face, regardless of how I turned.
Top water, sub-surface, it didn't make a difference. I still
hadn't even seen a bluegill!
After putting the Clouser I was fishing across my back seemingly
as often as I put it in the water, I headed out. The blowing
wind seemed to suck the spirit and enthusiasm out of me as it
pushed me back across the open lot to the car. Ready to give
the valiant effort, I pulled back onto the side street, headed
back towards one of the other mental notes that I had made.
The road turned sharply, pulling me away from the canal and
leading me to who knew where. I followed easily, looking for
a cross street to take me back to the road I was looking for.
As the car drove under the freeway, the road crossed a small
bridge and a thin blue sign caught my eye. Snapper Creek
Canal. Hadn't noted it on the drive up, so maybe it's not
connected. Something nagged at me to at least take a look.
I flipped the car around and headed back, pulling up the
street beside the canal and parking it.
I headed over to the water and peered down. Shallower.
Slower. Still a little stained. But what's that color?
That bright orange down there near the bottom? Most
likely it was a leaf or two of some tropical tree, it's
yellow color turning orange as it filtered up through the
tannic water. But that boil of water as I began to turn
was fish. Definitely. I put my 6 wt back together as I
threw on my vest. The first cast, and as I lifted the
fly quickly to the surface a small fish smacked it and
headed back towards the weeds. The coloring and the bright
red-orange on the tail were giveaways. It was a peacock bass!
I worked up towards the small bridge, flipping the fly
into the gaps in the weeds, across the channel, down the
bank. The fish were definitely interested, taking a look
at the fly as it moved by, but it had to really be moving
to draw a strike. As I placed a cast to the weeds beside
the bridge, I made two quick strips of the fly and it
suddenly stopped. It didn't get grabbed, it didn't get
hit, it just stopped. And then it tried to bury itself
in the weeds. Leaning back on the rod, it arched and
bowed as the fish slid out of the weeds and bullied its
way up the channel. The clarity of the water made the
depth deceptive, and the fish I thought was a foot long
and just below the surface transformed into a 15" fish
5 feet down near the bottom.
Back and forth, in and out of the weeds the struggle went,
until a gorgeous peacock bass lay on the surface of the
water. About this time I realized that my camera was back
in my luggage at the hotel. Well, there were bigger
concerns at the moment, like how to land the fish. The
rod was already dangerously bowed under the weight of the
3 pound pavon, and there was no way I was going to dead
lift it up the 3 or 4 feet of bank with the rod. While
I pondered, the fish suddenly got a second wind, leaping
from the water like a smallmouth bass, jumping and flipping.
I eyed a small cut in a few yards up the bank and walked
the fish up slowly. After a couple more jumps I lifted
the rod back until I could reach the 10# leader and carefully
lifted the fish from the water. The thick body, sloped forehead
and bright orange lower jaw rose out of the water like some
bizarre aquatic clown. I clamped down on the lower jaw with
my thumb and tipped the fish back, holding it high in the air.
The iridescent golds and olives of the body glowed in the
light of the early afternoon sun, as the strong bars and
intricate tail spot contributed their somber black to the
carnival of color. For fear of upsetting the residents
in the apartment complex behind me, I held on to the holler
of elation surging inside of me. I dropped the fish back
into the water and it disappeared quickly into the weeds.
I crossed over the bridge and headed up the canal. I landed
several more stunning bass, none as nice as the first one,
however. I caught beautiful spotted tilapia, which in the
water appeared to be golden olive with 3 or 4 black spots
running along their lateral line. Out of the water, they
turned into deep olive fish with iridescent, pearly scales,
and no spots to be seen. Their dorsal fins looked as thought
the top quarter of them had been dipped in fluorescent red,
and had then been touched up at the tips by an artist with
a liner brush and a bottle of the purest white paint. I
caught a jaguar guapote, a thick, aggressive fish, with a
body that was crappie-like in basic shape. Its body was a
rich cream color, mottled with heavy brownish-purple spotting.
The jaguar name comes from the two small, sharp teeth located
in both jaws. The teeth are spaced about 2/3 of a thumb width
apart, although I thankfully did not find this out with an
As I worked up the canal, an interstate worth of cars streaming
along behind me, I caught fish of color, and strength and of
beauty. Not only tropical specimens, but thick, acrobatic
largemouth bass and feisty, hungry bluegill. I must admit
that the best largemouths I saw were in the 5 pound or better
class, but I was unable to tempt them.
I had ended up in a gravel bottomed curve in the canal and I
saw a large mixed school of peacocks and largemouth prowling
through the water. I switched over to a large Semper Fleye
in all chartreuse, hoping to tempt these big fish with big
food. I managed to catch a couple of foot long butterflies
on the fly, and like all the fish that day, they had wanted
the fly moving, and moving fast. I noticed a large peacock
hunkered down near the bottom. I let the fly settle down
just past him and with two long, quick strips, streaked the
bait past him. In a flash of orange and white he rolled over
on the fly and inhaled it. I set the hook swiftly and he
responded with 3 quick, strong shakes of his head.
Unsatisfied with the results he was getting, the fished
streaked up the canal, line disappearing through my fingers
in a blur. Again he burrowed down, shaking his big, thick
head. And the hook pulled free. 5 pounds or so of angry
butterfly peacock shot up the canal and away from me.
As in most things in life, balance is important, and it took
a strong dose of bitter to help temper the sweetness of the
day. It helped me to appreciate the wonderful time I had,
and the boy inside me smiled at a promise kept. ~ Jason