Species: Black Sea Bass (Centropristis striata) Location: Tampa, Florida Date: July 13, 2018
Perhaps the biggest surprise of my first “real” Florida trip was this Black Sea Bass. Note: my actual first trip to Florida was a single night fishing in Pensacola the summer before, but this was an extended stay. The Black Sea Bass took a piece of shrimp on a Sabiki rig, and I was shocked. I had no idea these fish made it as far south as Central Florida.
Though it wasn’t the rich blue-black with white tubercules I’d seen in pictures, it was still a Black Sea Bass, and I was up to 24 species on this trip. Not bad.
I released it after a quick pic and moved on to the final fish of my Florida trip.
#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard
Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #156 — Atlantic Kingfish.
I first “met” Ryan Crutchfield on Instagram before I’d even started species hunting. Our social circles overlapped, and I found myself following a guy on Instagram who posted some out of the ordinary fish pictures.
Sure, the tarpon, snook, redfish, and bass pics I expected from a Florida-based account were awesome, but so were the fish he posted that I wasn’t as familiar with.
Knowing Ryan was nearby, I had to fish with him. After all, he’d provided me with several locations that panned out in Orlando.
Besides, after fishing Orlando hard for a week, I moved over to Tampa to try and notch some saltwater species. I mean, it was Florida, after all.
I spent the first night alone, but that’s the norm. Coincidentally, I also fished alone that first night, landing one new species in the White Grunt, as well as a number of unsolicited Hardhead Catfish.
But apart from seeing other people catch small sharks — why can I never catch sharks? — it was sort of a misadventure in the dark.
Misadventure in the Dark sounds like the title of your sex tape. Sorry. That was inappropriate, but I’m just happy Brooklyn Nine-Nine got renewed for a seventh season, and the signature catchphrase is arguably better than “That’s what she said.”
Regardless, Ryan agreed to meet me mid-morning to do some fishing with a window of free time he had.
Between his bait and mine, we had shrimp, squid, and half a dozen artificials. The cocktail assortment of bait proved to be the ticket, and we quickly started catching fish.
The new species came almost immediately: a Spottail Pinfish. It was going to be a good morning; I could feel it.
Species: White Grunt (Haemulon plumierii) Location: Tampa, Florida Date: July 13, 2018
I spent two solid days at ICAST with Fishbrain. From meeting Roland Martin and April Vokey to sitting next to Scott Martin during breakfast, I couldn’t have been happier. It as about as much fun as you can have while not fishing.
Nonetheless, spending two whole days in Florida without catching a new species was killing me. Sure, it was awesome to get so much face time with my heroes and introduce a few new friends to microfishing, species hunting, even watch some nice Florida bass caught on the fly, I was itching for something new.
I arrived in Tampa late, and by the time I made it to my first stop, it was dark.
As I walked up, I saw a small shark caught and was optimistic.
Alas, all I would catch that night were the ever-present Hardhead Catfish and a single new species, the White Grunt.
This White Grunt is a fish and not to be confused with the sound Caucasian men make when espousing manliness during a football game or at a barbecue.
It was no shark, but it was a new species, and it was welcomed.
Species: Golden Shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas) Location: Orlando, Florida Date: July 10, 2018
A school of Golden Shiners pestered me for almost an hour at the Lake Fran Urban Wetlands. I knew what they were, and I knew I’d never caught one, but for the life of me, I just couldn’t get one to bite.
They were holding far out from shore, and I didn’t want to soak my boots or go to the car for a longer rod, so I spent a fruitless hour trying to get one to bite. To make matters worse, they were holding just under the surface, wouldn’t touch anything more than two inches below the surface.
Add to that my lack of floats, and my confidence sunk faster than my micro rig.
After trying a pond I was told was full of them and fighting off Bluegill and turtles for the better part of an hour with no Golden Shiners to show for it, I returned to the spot from the day before.
Though it was slow-going, it proved the right idea. Eventually, my bread chumming paid off, and I got a Golden Shiner, then a few more.
All the commotion even attracted the attention of the tiniest little predator around, a certain topminnow species that I desperately wanted to catch…
I remember reading about Walking Catfish in one of the dozen or so outdoor magazines I subscribed to growing up. Yes, I spent virtually all of my disposable income in junior high and high school on magazines, but that’s beside the point.
At the time, Walking Catfish were relatively isolated and just beginning to march across much of their current range in Florida. Magazines painted them to be some vicious monster that would decimate fisheries on a large scale.
Some 15-20 years later, we know that was overblown. Like most invasives, they do cause harm to the environment because the niche they carve out displaces some other (usually native) species, but in the case of Walking Catfish, they haven’t radially changed the Florida scumsucker hierarchy. Lawyers still rule, followed slightly by Channel Catfish, Flatheads (where present), and then Brown Bullheads, Walking Catfish, and Brown Hoplo. The latter is another invasive and one “easy” species I failed to capture on my first trip to Orlando, but I’m not bitter.
Brown Bullhead, a Florida native, are so widely established across the country that even though they may have lost some territory to the Walking Catfish, they are doing just fine.
As for my Walking Catfish, I caught it in a disgusting swill hole at a park. It was flush with Eastern Mosquitofish, Bowfin, and Walking Catfish. I finally added this species while soaking half a nightcrawler on a No. 8 hook.
The fight was forgettable, and though at the time it was a vacant world record, I knew that was short-lived, so I made like a ball and bounced. The record of six-plus pounds has since been recorded, reaffirming my decision to leave when I did.
Every time a fish bites a baited hook, the reality is that they may be digging their own grave. I have no qualms with keeping fish, especially since seafood is my favorite.
When given the opportunity to catch plentiful, good-eating fish, I’ve been known to shovel them into a bucket, take them home, and host a fish fry.
The Atlantic Spadefish is no different.
At least, it would be no different were it located in a place where I had access to cooking facilities. Since I didn’t on my first trip to Florida, I released every fish I caught — even those barely big enough to handle.
I named my first Atlantic Spadefish Doug and the second one Phil, and since you can’t eat fish you’ve named, they both swam free.
Spadefish are incredible fighters as a hole, and if you are lucky enough to tie into them on light tackle, consider yourself lucky.
I hooked into my on small bits of shrimp, but I’ve since caught them on shrimp, squid, bits of fish, artificial baits, and sabikis. They’re not even that slimy, so you won’t need your trusty hand trowel to wipe off afterwards.
It was something lighter in color with a big mouth.
It was a snook.
Snook are awesome. For years, they’ve been near the top of my target list, but they always seemed so unrealistic. Every video I’d seen involved a guy on an expensive boat very obviously out of my price range.
I figured I’d get one eventually, but when I cast my Rapala between two mangrove gnarls on the way back to the car, haggard from a morning of failed tarpon hookups, I was pleasantly surprised by a spunky little snook.
It jumped my Rapala at the bank, crushing it against the shore and providing a nice little change of pace for the repeated disappointment I’d been boiling in all morning.
Mine was only 20-some inches long, and give where I hooked it, the photo-ops were limited, but I managed to snap a quick #SpeciesQuest photo and let it go to let it grow.
Besides, it was a small consolation for the all of the tarpon I’d lost that day, and if