80-miles of two-lane highway and a canal
Up early, following a fitful and disturbance filled night, we found ourselves heavily reliant on caffeine as we made our way towards the eastern edge of the Trail.
An extension of Calle Ocho, the aptly named Tamiami Trail extends west from Miami, transecting the Everglades en route to Naples and eventually Tampa. Heralded as an economic boon at the time of its construction, the road is now viewed as an environmental disaster; it’s presence interrupting sheet flow through the River of Grass that is the Everglades. Still, for the angler (both then and now), its very presence is a boon to fishing with countless miles of waterway now accessible to the shore bound angler.
Edge of Civilization
While the canals of Miami proper hold countless native and exotic species, we elected to begin our day along the eastern edge of the trail. Here, just beyond view of the Miccosukee Casino, strip malls give way to wild grass and the road parallels a clear, deep canal.
Peacock bass were our primary target at this juncture, but, as luck would have it, it was the natives that first came out to play.
Pulling off at an open water control structure, I began blind casting streamers as I worked the currents just down stream. The day was still cool, and the lack of strikes made it apparent that I’d have my work cut out for me. Keeping an eye on the clear waters as I cast, large plecostomus (the armored catfish common to home aquariums) were the only fish observed.
Eventually though, luck turned in my favor as I spotted a sizeable bowfin cruising the weedline. A quick flip of my Clouser, and it was fish on…if only for a moment; the bowfin coming undone as quickly as it had been hooked. Glimpsing it briefly as it descended into the depths, I flipped the line in its direction. My Clouser disappearing in a flash and thump, I set the hook once more. To my surprise, what came to hand was not the bowfin, but a decent bass. Not one to complain, we captured a few quick pictures before continuing.
Down the Road
A few smaller bass and a foul hooked plecostomus later, and it was time to begin moving on down the road. With plans to cover the entire trail before dinner, we’d need to ration our time carefully and couldn’t afford to stay in one spot forever. After a brief stop (and more bass) at the L-67, the site of the 1996 ValuJet crash, we decided it was time to head for Shark Valley.
The heat of morning now setting in, we elected to take a short break from fishing as we explored the trails around ENP’s Shark Valley visitor center. A 15-mile paved loop, better suited for bicycle traffic, the trail was blistering hot by our arrival.
Still, we ventured a mile or so; Maedbh focused on the avian diversity while I appreciated the menagerie on aquatic species residing in the clear, trail-side waters. Fishing prohibited along the trail, the shallow waters teemed with bass, bowfin and cichlids of all type.
Eventually succumbing to the heat of the pavement, we retreated to the air conditioned gift shop before continuing on our way.
Before returning to the Tamiami Trail, however, we paused briefly to investigate a shallow canal just beyond the park’s boundaries. While No Parking signs were evident along one side, the other was unmarked and I decided to take the risk.
The water was very similar to those within Shark Valley and fish of countless fish were visible within the pools nearest the road. Rigging my 8wt with a small Clouser, I proceeded to catch a mix of Bass, Spotted Sunfish and the occasional Mayan Cichlid. The action was intermittent though, and it was apparent that the slap of my 8wt line was spooking fish in the clear, shallow water.
Peacock Bass were present as well, including one that appeared to be 3-5 lbs. It held deep in the hole though, and, despite my best efforts, would not commit to any of my offerings. Moving closer to the pads, I spotted a pair of bedding peacocks within casting range.
Sadly, they spooked on the first cast and the bite shut down.
The 6′ gator, unseen until now, did not spook, however, and responded to the line slap as if it were a dinner bell. Making a beeline towards me, the fishing holes alpha staked a claim along the bank between myself and the fish.
Retreating to give the gator its space, I was greeted by a second disruption to my fishing plans…the Park’s Game Warden running my plates…
Thankfully, he was more concerned with potential litter bugs than my attempt to skirt parking rules. So, after a quick chat and a passing glance at my fishing license, he simply asked me to move my rental around the corner.
We obliged, but ended up calling it quits as lunch was quickly approaching and the nearest lunch option was 30 minutes to the west.
On to the Salt
Continuing our trek west, we paused briefly at Joanie’s for fish tacos and a cold beer. An eclectic greasy spoon miles from any other option, Joanie’s is a must stop when fishing the trail. Housed in a 100-year old building decorated in Americana from floor-to-ceiling, it is an experience all its own and welcome escape from the south Florida heat.
Staying perhaps a little longer than we should, we felt recharged as we hit the road. And, I had high hopes of finding snook or tarpon before the afternoon was out.
Bypassing countless roadside opportunities amongst the mangrove, we made our way to Collier-Seminole State Park. While water access here would be limited, a few youtube videos highlighting snook being caught from shore was enough to draw my attention.
Unfortunately, I found no such fish on this day as even the mullet seemed to be absent from the dark mangrove-lined waters of the park.
Doubling back to the highway, we paused only once more to fish a small creek near the parks entrance. The water there proved low and muddy, however, and only bait was observed.
80-miles (and countless tourists) lay between us and the hotel, and it was time to call it a day.
With a non-fishing day planned for tomorrow, I’d have only one remaining day to figure out the bite.