Nov 27, 2022

Florida Day 3

      Day three dawned and we headed out again into the weirdly urban but still wild wilds of south Florida. The plan was to check a variety of canals for a mix of fresh and saltwater species. Our first stop was some sort of diversion dam on a certain canal. Fishing was a bust here except that we could see a large group of mullet schooled up right below the dam. We both tried everything we could think of to get them to bite: worms, corn, artificial baits, bread, bugs, all the lures, etc., with nothing to show for our efforts. Then I finally got what I thought was a little nibble on a tiny bread ball on a sabiki rig. So I stuck with that strategy, and tried not to be bothered by the literal hundreds of fish actively ignoring my offerings for the last 45 minutes. It's one thing when fishing is tough because the fish are hard to find. It's another thing altogether when you're clearly watching hundreds of fish and they're going out of their way to swim around your bait. It's just hurtful at that point. But then one curious fish finally made a mistake and after a short but spirited fight, I pulled in one of the more difficult species I would add to the list on this trip, the Striped Mullet.

My first mullet species!
 
An altogether unadorable creature really. As you can see, this fish was all business in the front and party in the back.

      Our next stop was my best shot at one of my top targets of the trip, the peacock bass. However that one was not to be. We struggled to get anything at all going in freshwater, so back to the saltwater spots we went, and the next one ended up being a short stop but one of my favorites of the trip. 

     My first big catch at this spot was one I was particularly excited about: a wild coconut. Now that might sound weird, but for a guy like me raised in the frozen north, a coconut is pretty exotic!

These things are freaking hard to get in to!
Getting close now.
Sweet victory!
Random lizard picture with no context? Check.

     Besides coconuts and lizards, we did also catch some fish at this spot as well.

The mighty Hardhead Silverside. The tan blob by the head is a parasite that was clinging to the gills of this little fish. That couldn't have been comfortable.
Next was the Checkered Puffer!
Some puffers remain uninflated while being handled. This one however, lived up to its name and was puffed the whole time.
Such a cute little smile.
This Atlantic Needlefish became the 4th species of the day!
These would be scary if they were bigger, but they weren't, so they weren't.
This is not a good picture so you can't see the crest on this Crested Goby, but it's there. Species 5 of the day!
 
And finally, a Tidewater Mojarra, which brought my overall score to 184 and the trip total to 34.
 
I also caught this juvenile which is clearly a mojarra of some sort, but at that size is not possible to identify from my pictures.

     Bret and I had both been catching pretty much the same species at this spot. We did see a small Nurse Shark swim by, not that we could do anything about it at the time. But for the most part the new species had slowed down by this point, and we were considering moving on. Then he spotted what I'm going to call my favorite fish of the trip. It took a few tries, but this oddity finally ate his piece of shrimp and was hooked! The Scrawled Cowfish has a hard "shell" around most of it's body, and horns like a cow. It was definitely one of the weirdest fish I've seen to date. I was glad to see that one, and only somewhat jealous that I didn't catch one of my own.   


Photo credit: Bret

      Bret even got some video of this weirdo fish. It's towards the end of the video below. If you haven't already checked out his channel Peeling Line, you should do that too.

 


      The last daytime spot resulted in three more mojarra species, which were cool, but certainly not Scrawled Cowfish cool.

The Irish Mojarra, which looks just like a Tidewater Mojarra except it speaks with a different accent.
The Yellowfin Mojarra, which looks just like an Irish Mojarra except it has yellow fins.
And finally, the Silver Jenny Mojarra, which looks just like the other three species except this one also answers to the name Jenny for some reason.

 

     I also enjoyed making friends with some local wildlife at this spot. These pelicans were anything but shy, and they loved a good game of catch, as long as what was being thrown was a fish. Though now that I think about it, they never did throw one back to me, so now I'm questioning if we were actually even friends at all.

 

 

      For our last evening, we went back to the catfish spot from the previous night and drowned more worms. The first participant of the evening was a Coppernose Bluegill, not a new species as it still counts as a Bluegill (which was species number one for me actually). This one does still go on the spreadsheet though, just on the subspecies tab. Oh come on, your spreadsheet has a subspecies tab too, don't pretend it doesn't.

A Coppernose Bluegill, which I think should be called a "Purplecheek Bluegill" if anything, but here we are. This one had been caught before based on it's messed up mouth.
 
This Zebra Tilapia (sometimes called a Hornet Tilapia) became the 38th species of the trip.

     Forty species was within reach, but time was running out. I patrolled the shorelines with my headlamp looking for potential new ones. I kept seeing little striped fish sitting on the bottom near the shore, but they either immediately spooked or would not bite. We were out of time though so I decided to just badger one of the slower ones until it got mad. So I bumped this little fish in the face with a piece of worm until it was aggravated enough to bite. Am I proud of this? A little bit actually. Should I be? Probably not, but it got me a species, so I'm good with it.
The "striped fish" ended up being a Spotted Tilapia.

     The tally was at 39 species on the trip, and my list sat at 189. The clock had run out though, so although 40 is a much more round and satisfying number, it wasn't going to happen. My OCD has since made peace with this fact. Kind of. I am certainly not complaining though. Thirty nine species in one trip is phenomenal and by far my personal record and a score that I doubt I'm likely to beat any time soon. In fact, if I add up all the new species I added to my list from 2018 to 2021, it still doesn't add up to 39, so it really was a drink from a fire hose kind of a trip. And it was a blast to have someone else there to geek out over weird obscure fish species with.

Nov 13, 2022

A Slippery What?

Just a lizard, doing lizard stuff, on the trail to the fishing pier.

      After basking in the afterglow of my new personal record of 17 new species in a day on day one of our south Florida adventure, I wasn't quite sure what to expect for day two. We headed out to a few shore-based spots, with a few specific targets in mind, but hoping for more interesting random stuff as well. One fish that I had my hopes set on in particular was a small unassuming wrasse with one of the funniest names in the fish world - the Slippery Dick. Yes, it's really called that.


Close enough to Miami Beach to be able to say I've seen it.

      We started the day casting to some long skinny fish that we could see schooling near the surface. We first thought they were some sort of needlefish, but couldn't quite tell. I started casting to them with some small jigs, and promptly caught something interesting and random that I wasn't targeting.

The first new species of the day! This Silver Porgy became my 168th species.  These are VERY similar to another species, the Spotfin Pinfish. But I'm told that those have a slightly more prominent black spot. I'm pretty sure this is a Silver Porgy, but it still makes me a tad uneasy.
 

     The next fish up, after a couple quick gear adjustments was the target "long skinny" fish that we could see. It turned out to be a Ballyhoo Halfbeak. 
The mighty Ballyhoo with its distinctive weird mouth, like an upside-down swordfish. These are well known among fishermen as they make fantastic bait for many large pelagic offshore species.

This Night Sergeant came up next. Abudefduf taurus is their scientific name. I challenge you to say Abudefduf 5 times fast.  I couldn't help but notice how it looked exactly like an oddly colored bluegill.
 

      And then it happened. I had my first encounter with a Slippery Dick. Then I learned that they come in a range of sizes and colors!

     Sorry, I'll try to control myself here and not make too many bad jokes about the name. But in all seriousness, I was glad to finally add that one to the list, and it was interesting to see the different color morphs.

A handful of the Slippery Dicks I encountered! Of course the photo had to turn out blurry on the prettiest one on the bottom here.
 

     We moved around between the pier and the adjacent rocks, catching new species as we went. Shrimp on small hooks was my main tactic, but I also got a few on jigs and lures as well. 

My first lizardfish! A feisty little critter with a big mouth, sharp teeth, and oddly enough, an adipose fin.
 
This Sailor's Choice Grunt (another weird name, if you ask me) became species 173.

This Stoplight Parrotfish is another favorite species of mine on the trip. This is the initial color phase. They change color completely as they get older and transition to the terminal phase.

This mighty beast is called a Masquerader Hairy Blenny, a name longer than the fish itself. This is another one with a closely related look-alike species, but I'm reasonably sure I've got it right.

This adorable little guy is a Redtail Parrotfish, species 176 if you're counting along at home. Also, I know you're wondering, so I'll tell you. It's called that because of the red on the tail.

 

Of course they couldn't all be new, like this Pinfish. Still a pretty fish though.

 

I stared at this photo long and hard trying to determine if this is just a Tomtate Grunt without their usual spot on the caudal peduncle, or if it's something else. I think it's just wishful thinking though. If anyone out there reads this who happens to be a south Florida grunt expert though, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

      In the evening, we tried a local canal for some freshwater species. It took a while to figure things out, but once it got dark a few fish started coming in. My first was a cool new species that I hadn't really expected, the Walking Catfish. These bit hard and put up a great fight on light tackle. The last new species of the day was an African Jewel Cichlid, (which also make great bait), which could be seen patrolling the shallows. It became my 11th new species of the day, and 28th new species of the trip!

Walking catfish. This one "walked" itself down the grassy bank and back into the water. It was pretty interesting to see.
For a fish with a flashy name like jewel cichlid, this particular one is disappointingly bland. These get quite a bit bigger and prettier, but hey it still counts.

Jun 5, 2022

Sometimes You Just Gotta Liutenant Dan.

     There comes a time in every fisherman's life when they must decide how dedicated they want to be to their hobby. There also comes a time when the line between dedication and stupidity gets blurry. On a trip this past January, that dedication/stupidity line was nowhere to be seen anywhere in my rear-view mirror. Sometimes rolling with the punches pays off though and that was certainly the case with this particular trip. 

     In early December, my buddy Bret texted me about an upcoming trip he was taking to Florida, and he was looking for someone to go with him. That sounded like a great way to get a pile of new species, so we began working out details. The trip was in early January and as the dates drew closer we watched both the weather forecasts and the trends in flight departures. Covid was still heavily affecting airline staffing, so flight cancellations were still uncomfortably common. But what became a more immediate concern was the weather forecast. 

     Our flight was a direct one from Seattle to Florida, so all I had to do was get to Seattle on time. My plan was to leave after work on Wednesday, drive to Seattle that night, with plenty of time for some sleep before our 8:00 AM departure. That's a perfectly reasonable plan normally, as it's a 4 hour drive from my office to the Seattle airport, I figured it would maybe take 5 since it was winter after all. This time however, Mother Nature decided to throw what I can only describe as an absolute unmitigated temper tantrum. The forecasts got worse and worse as the time to leave came closer, and I began considering my options for getting to Seattle. Usually large well-maintained roads like I-90 are the most reliable way to get there, but no matter which way I went, I would have to cross the Cascade Mountains. That was going to be a problem. Snoqualmie Pass was my Plan A, with Steven's pass being Plan B, but both of those were expecting up to 36 inches of snow that evening.

Dark red on these kinds of maps is a bad thing when you have to travel through it.
 

     Knowing that my two best options for getting to Seattle were definitely out the window, I considered what my Plan C would be. There was a third way to get there but it was a depressingly farther drive. I could head straight south to Oregon, then west to Portland, then north again to Seattle. The up-side to this plan was that this route didn't involve any high mountain passes, so the roads were more likely to stay open. The bad news (and this was a real kick to the shorts) was that it changed my 4 hour drive to a 9.5 hour drive, under good driving conditions, which were nowhere to be seen that day. There was probably still enough time to make my flight, but it was going to be tight. 

How to turn a 4 hr drive into a 9.5 hr drive.


      Out of other options, as both of the mountain passes involved in plans A and B did in fact close as expected just as I was leaving, I put Plan C into action. I headed out into the storm and tried to channel my inner Lieutenant Dan. My poor mother, a worrier as most mothers are, was also watching the forecast and knowing I was going to be on the road, texted me that evening. 

There was more to this conversation, but this sums up my evening pretty accurately.

 

     But wait there's more! About 4 hours into my drive I got a message that our flight was canceled. But I was already too far down the crazy train to back out now. Bret found another flight leaving a little later in the afternoon, that would still get us to Florida on time for our plans, just later in the evening. I panicked a little, but we both bought new tickets for the later flight, and I kept squinting down the road through the blizzard. There were cars and trucks in the ditches and off the road all night. All together I would pass 11 accidents before I got to Seattle. At one point somewhere in northern Oregon, some overconfident sedan passed me, then proceeded to spin off the road about 100 yards in front of me. I'm a pretty confident winter driver, but the dedication/stupidity line was long crossed by this point. 

     At about 1:00 AM, I made it to The Dalles, just east of Portland. I decided to get a hotel for what was left of the night. But with the Snow still coming down in buckets, I was back on the road at 5:00. And I'm glad I was, because later that morning that road would also be closed. Even the "safe route" was closed!

An update from our friends at Washington Department of Transportation. At this point I couldn't even call it off and get back home if I wanted to. All the routes were closed!

 

     Finally, long story (not so) short, I made it through security at the airport by 10:00 AM, in plenty of time for our new flight. But actually glad that the original flight had been canceled, as I likely would have missed it. 

     We landed in Florida, checked out the rental car, and finally headed to the hotel. The final tally was 30 white-knuckled hours from the time I left my office to when we got to the hotel in Florida. In true Florida fashion, we were immediately met with a high speed car chase on the freeway before we even got to the hotel.

Welcome to Florida!


          Friday morning dawned clear and sunny, and we had work to do. Bret had rented a boat for the day, and we headed out to do some reef fishing to kick off the first day of three straight days of fishing. At this point I had caught a total of 11 species in Florida during a work trip to Tampa (see this post for details), so most of the species we were likely to encounter would be new ones for me. This had definite potential to be a drinking from a fire hose kind of situation.

     We got some general advice from a guy at the bait store, but didn't really have specific spots to hit once we got out of the harbor. We (and by "we" I mean Bret, as he was driving and navigating) just used the boat electronics to find interesting bottom topography, and watched for promising marks on the fish finder. Well it worked. We drifted over many spots that day, and I can't remember any of them that didn't produce at least some fish. 

     So began my most species rich day ever! The first fish over the rail became my species #151 and it just kept going from there. Sabikis tipped with shrimp were generally the most pruductive method of the day for me, but a few fish were also caught on jigs, and even just free-lined hooks with shrimp when the fish were schooling close to the boat. I won't describe all the fish that day, as this post is already too long (ten bonus points if you're still reading this!), but I'll let the pictures speak largely for themselves.

The Yellowhead Wrasse pictured at the top was the first fish of the day, my first wrasse species ever, and species #151 for me. Throughout the day, I also caught several others with slightly different color variations.

My favorite Yellowhead Wrasse of the day had these red highlights on its dorsal fin that looked just like fire!

Littlehead Porgy. #152!


 

A plain grey fish from a distance, but up close they have striking blue highlights.

#153! Doctorfish Tang. These were difficult to photograph as their skin discolored as soon as I touched it. I didn't touch this one at all.

#154! Bermuda Chub. A school of these came right up to the boat in about 70 feet of water. I was able to sight fish this one on a jig with shrimp on it.

#155! Tobacco Basslet, or just Tobaccofish. I love it when a fish pops up that I have no idea what it is. This little weirdo was definitely one of those.

#156! Graysby. My first grouper species ever.

 

A Graysby close-up. Ferocious, but in miniature.

 

#157! Blue Parrotfish. I'll give you two guesses why they're called that.

This was my first parrotfish species, and a strong contender for my favorite fish of the trip! The pictures don't do the blue justice.

Adorable.


     Of course they couldn't all be new species, we caught some old favorites also (dominant pests) including White Grunts by the dozen, and plenty of Tomtate Grunts:

White Grunts like this one, while pretty, and with interesting orange mouths (see inset), became our dominant pest for the day. It seemed like nearly every drop produced at least one of these.

Tomtate Grunt. Not a new one, but a photo upgrade from the tiny ones I got in Tampa.

     But weeding through the many grunts, plenty of other new ones were still coming over the rail: 

#158! This Queen Triggerfish is another strong contender for my favorite fish of the day. I like the weird ones, and the ones that are weird AND pretty are even better!

That smirk looks like he just told a joke and is waiting for the punch line to hit.

#159! Bandtail Puffer. This one remained uninflated.

#160! Squirrelfish. I have handled many thousands of fish in my life, and this fish ranks up there among the most sharp fish I've caught, despite its lack of teeth. There were spikes, blades, and spines everywhere on this thing.

#161! Yellowtail Snapper. It's called that because of the yellow tail.

#162! Yellowcheek Wrasse. I was lucky enough to get two different color morphs of this one. Though the name doesn't really fit what should be called the "Greencheek Wrasse" on the right here.

#163! Redband Parrotfish. Many species of parrotfish change colors as they grow older and mature, Shown here are the initial (top) and terminal (bottom) color phases.

This one is just happy to be here!

#164! Butter Hamlet. These are actually pretty common in the aquarium trade.

#165! Scrawled Filefish. This weirdo is the other top contender for my favorite fish of the trip. This was one of my top wish-list species, and one of the species that got me so interested in Florida to begin with. It was very nerve wracking to see a school of them come up to our boat and watch them promptly bite off several of my hooks before I finally brought a few of them aboard for a picture.

Another school of fish that came right up to our boat looking for snacks.

This school was all Grey Triggerfish. #166! This is another one whose skin would discolor when touched, note the white blotch on its cheek from my thumb.

I like the texture in this picture.

     After drinking from the species fire hose all day, we finally decided it was time to head back in to the dock, sunburned, dehydrated, but riding the high of so many species in one day. Bret had also added many new species to his list, and also got a few others that I didn't, including a Bluehead Wrasse, Atlantic Bigeye (which I'm still VERY jealous of), a Tatler, a Sand Tilefish, and even a Shoal flounder. 

     Bret has a YouTube channel called Peeling Line, which I highly recommend going and checking out if you haven't already. He put together an awesome video of our day:


     After getting some dinner and re-hydrating a bit, we tried night fishing for a bit to see if we could get some of the marine catfish species, or any other random ones. We struck out on the catfish, but Bret had a pretty exciting encounter with a Barracuda, though it got away in the end, and I added one final species for the day, the French Grunt.

#167! It's little but it definitely counts!

     And with that, we called it a day. We headed back to the hotel to rest up for our remaining two days of species hunting. My previous record for most species in a day was 7, which happened last year in Ohio. The final tally for this day smashed that record with 17 new species! And the trip was only 1/3 over! Sometimes pulling a Liutenant Dan pays off in the end, and this was definitely one of those times!