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Friday, December 12, 2014

Florida's Reckoning: Darkness Engulfs The Sunshine State (2012)

"And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts and I look and behold a pale horse. And his name that sat on him was Death and Hell followed with him..."
Man, has this trip been a long time coming guys, a years worth of preperation went into making this happen, inspired by members right here on Roughfish my dream was developed and has come to fruition. The following will be picture heavy and long, but before we get to that. A much needed thanks specifically to Moose and Blueye for a much needed heads up for what to expect in FL and advice, also to PMK for similar advice. Also I love to be corrected, I'm not sure if my ID's live up to scrutinity, if you see something fishy let me know so I can change it!
First things first, this is as roughfishy as it comes, I am by no means a traveler or a rich man, a lot of my trips come with a steep price and this was no different, this trip had hampered my daily spending habits for 365 days and still does. We had to reroute our cheap hotels because of a bed bugs scare and most nights were spent fine dining with either fast food or food from walmart on the hood of a rental car, yeah it defined Rough! And here we go.........
Day 1: Oh You Planned to Go Somewhere?
I awoke pumped beyond belief the day was finally here I awoke at 3:30am RUNNING on pure adrenaline. Dreams of delicious invasive fish species danced in my brain and I was secretly in the process of writing my expedition report over and over again in my head, trying to find the words to describe the feelings, after all what could go wrong? So much anticipation, so much preperation, it couldn't fail could it? Not this close to the end! As I arrived at the local airport to get on my connection flight, which is coincidently the first ever time on an airplane in my entire life, I discovered that my flight was not only delayed, it was outright cancelled. My friend Mark (a lurker on the site) who is a frequent flyer, was dumbfounded and turned to me and said "Of course this would happen your first time, you're a bad omen" he said something along those lines but regardless, he was right. We made the decision to not even speak with the lady at the front desk, who was at that time dealilng with angry customers likely from our flight, we hopped in the car and drove 2 hours to Newark, NJ to try and make the main flight to Ft. Lauderdale. Welp, guys, late for that too. Alas, we eventually landed late, and day 1 was abolished. Dreams of Brown Hopolo and Walking catfish on the first night were dashed in favor of a much needed good nights sleep, tomorrow it was fish or die!
Day 2: The Reckoning
We awoke in a blaze of glory, running for the door, fully loaded with pre-tied rigs and poles in hand. Off to walmart where we bought our first of many batches of crawlers, we were impressed by the sheer volume in which we bought them, little did we know this would be a daily endevaor and something we would eventually deem not photo worthy.

The first 5-6 hours were bust, we went to about 4-5 spots and caught absolutely nothing. At this point I was speaking blasphemy consulting with Mark on if it kept up we would abandeon fishing in favor of a "beach vacation", Marlins game, or go to amusement parks. Yeah guys, I was in a dark place, I'm a cold weather lover, it was hot and not a fish was in sight. Then we got this brilliant idea it sounded insane, it sounded ludicrious and it sounded most it just might work. Disregard all information given to us, all the spots we had cherry picked out via maps online, and just stop at what looked to be a good place to fish....and here my friends is where the report begins.......
First stop was a little pond that held coppernose bluegill, not an official roughfish lifer, but a personal one for me. Shortly thereafter we headed into miami...

Mid-Miami we pulled in next to a local buisness next to some random canal we saw. We hopped out of the car and observed Pleco catfish of some sort swimming, that was enough for us, we opened up shop. Didn't take long before I heard screams of MIDAS CICHLID!!!!!!! What would you know our prime target was the first fish landed. Mark was ecstatic, I kind of felt dissapointed that my first exposure to it was through someone elses catch, and then I looked down, a bright, bright orange blur held the shoreline. I droppped a nightcrawler on his head and he dissapeared, I came to terms with the defeat until BAM, the line started dragging out of my rod and it doubled over in my hand, after the 2nd hardest battle of the trip I had brought this brute to shore, only to fear losing him reeling him up the bank to Mark, luckily he didn't escape. The way these two fish stuck together I can only surmise they are mates, but I'm no biologist.

The next spot was the same old song and dance, buisness with a canal next to it. Unfortunately this spot had a homeless resident sleeping under it, kind of put a damper on my "hey look at this vacation" mood and sent it straight to somber. The bright side? This canal was deep and see through, and JAM PACKED WITH FISH! We spent most of the day oogling over species we've never seen before, or at that time remained unidentified. One of which was the elusive striped mullet. I watched as they fed in a pack of twelve off the bottom eating algae and other stuff off the rocks, I spent a lot of time trying to entice them with a crawler nub and eventually it paid off! Some of the lifers are Striped Mullet, Spotted Tilapia, and African Jewel Cichlid.

Two more canals we approached in the same manor,  they gave up some Mayan Cichlids and a lifer Grass Carp for Mark man was he stoked, especially since it compensated for my hard earned Striped Mullet lifer he wanted earlier. Heres his Grass Carp and what I think is a Redear Sunfish.

Later that night we returned to the spot where the initial midas was landed, besides its mid-miami location it seemed the safer/better suited of the places we fished for night fishing, we were right. Besides a very, very close call with what can only described as a living zombie, we killed the fishing. Mark landed another Midas Cichlid and a Mayan. I caught a bruiser brown bullhead I had mistook for a spotted, and a lifer Walking Catfish!!!! Walking Catfish was another prime target of this trip and a much needed climax to our first day of fishing, that was a real cool fish to handle!

Day 3: Yuck at Myakka, Luck at the Everglades
 A little birdy here on roughfish pointed me to Myakka River State Park. We were a little overwhelmed by the sheer amount of tourism taking place an only manged to escape a half day and a very long drive with a Eastern Mosquitofish, Seminole Killifish (another prime target of mine), and some Spotted Tilapia! Thanks again Snook99 and DJ for the ID help!

We then headed to a spot Moose gave us and right before a doosey of a storm hit we landed a flurry of Jack Dempsey Cichlids, what an amazing feeling, without the moose that would not of happened!
That night we headed to the everglades in search of our nemesis the Brown Hopolo, little did we know what he had instore for us. We pulled off on the side of the road and dipped our poles in the water, BOOM Brown Hopolo, we ran around like children high on pixie sticks exclaiming our excitement, but the mosquitos must of heard our arrogance, and started descending to bring the wrath. We lasted about an hour pulling out various lifers with every cast, we had to take pictures in the car, we had only moments to snap a picture before the mosquitos would sense we stopped moving and would strike, it was that bad, when my girlfriend called me to see how we were I lashed out on her for making me stop to answer, thats how on edge we were. That was it, the lifer spectacle was over, we needed bug spray and fast!!!! After a quick and much deserved apology to the girlfriend back in Pa we headed to the nearest store and dousesd ourselves in it, it only worked 10 minutes at a clip but it was worth it. We never quite caught lifers after that although close to 15 alligators encircled us and 2 appeared to be using a flanking manuever within about a foot of me......yeah Florida doesn't play guys but at 4:30am, it was time for bed! Below are lifer Brown Hopolos, Mayan Cichlids, Southern Brown Bullhead and a Warmouth.

Day 4: Keys Please
As we drove home I joked with Mark about heading down to the keys for some bonus saltwater fishing, the only thing my friend loves more than new places is a challange and with that said we arose super early to drive down to Key Largo. Slippery Dick Wrasses out the ***, Needlefish, Schoolmaster Snapper, and plenty of micros were a sight to behold and held our attention for the entire day, man it was paradise down there. I spent most of my time playing tug of war or steal my bait with a Scrawled cowfish, but man in terms of fishing was it a blast, the need to catch lifers subsided and we were just fishing just enjoying the views...along with the screaming children and blaring music. (Thanks Jknuth and Hugbot for the wrasse and schoolmaster IDS).

Day 5: Blowout
This day was a blowout, it rained, it poured. So we decided to stop fishing to go to the IGFA Headquarters Musuem. Waste of time and money, so upsetting the potentional that place had, only to be bested by our local Cabelas store back home. We then headed over to Bass Pro shops, lame. We enjoyed our first "real meal" of the trip and got wings and beer, then headed to the Marlins Vs Braves game, one word AWESOME. Oh yeah we squeezed some attempted Peacock Bass fishing in between rain too, but I was so overcome with accomplishment I opted to play around with the mulitudes of Mayans instead and just have fun.

Day 6: An Ambush In The Canals
 Well guys, heres the part of the report you've been waiting for. Our last day in Florida we opted to target Cobra Snakeheads. We had a local contact in the area who knew it well and offered to put us in his "trying to catch the world record" location. He wasn't lying....I watched as a snakehead pushing 10lbs tried to beach itself to kill my topwater frog, I nearly dropped my pole in reaction, he hit so hard, he completely missed his target, it was truly an amazing site to behold. I caught about 10 snakeheads, but the real showstealer of the day was my PB the 6 1/2 lb force to be wreckoned with, the hardest pound for pound fight I've ever experienced. These fish are beasts, they make chain pickerel look like children. Theres really nothing more to be said about it, I'm a snakehead believer. I could see why you wouldn't want this mixing with your local natives, but on the other hand another side of me wants a snakehead in every body of water. I think this is one species I could targetly solely for the rest of my life and not care, it was that fun.
Day 7: Paradise lost

 Full of accomplishement and joy we headed home and so began the delayed flights!!! (AGAIN). With 1,200 miles on the rental car and a negative bank account we headed home, images of brightly colored fish and crystal clear water danced in my head as we flew past clouds in the sky, the trip went just as I had imagined in my dreams, like a symphony of destruction we achieved what we set out to do. I only had two Freshwater fish that I regret leaving behind in Florida, next time Florida Gar and Peacock Bass, i'm coming for you! As the fish danced in my head jumping from the crystal clear canals of florida, a fish lept up and landed in a brown pile of muck, I looked up and there I was, landing in Newark, NJ. Reality set in, 2 hour drive home, wait for luggage to land, ****! Life is back in motion, paradise lost.
Thanks again to Moose, Blueeye, and PMK for the advice.
Also a big thanks to my fishing partner in crime, for letting me talk him into this, Mark.
Hope you guys had as much fun reading this as I did making it happen.

Final tally 23 Lifers on this trip for me, 2 remain unidentified.
In favor of releasing the report earlier, some of my IDs still need a little help, so if you guys would be so kind anyone have any idea's what the following are?

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