Featured Story

Fish on: Heading out for snakeheads

Greetings from the wonderful world of warm sun, dry weather and soft breezes known as Florida.

We’ve been here for over a month in the Naples area and have struggled to find even a few days where the weather can truthfully be described as noted above.

After this year’s lousy fishing around Shelter Island, Plum, Gardiners Island, etc., I toted lots of fishing gear here expecting to it to work on trips in a skiff out on the local bays or even in the Gulf.

I expected the local game fish to be active since the waters cooled, migrations started and snook, redfish, seatrout, grouper and other “close in” fish would make it fun again. But we really haven’t had a calm day in weeks.

Two hurricanes have brushed through our location and the winds caused significant damage, canceling any opportunities to head out.

I decided earlier in the month to hook up with a guide I’ve fished with twice a year on the east coast of Florida about 100 miles from here. He and I have fished some exotic areas together in the past, so I called him and set up a trip to fish not the exotic areas of the fancy locales on that coast, but in the confines of one of Florida’s Public Parks and the canals that it connected with.

I rallied a buddy to go with me and we met with the guide early one morning. Weather forecasts were for warm temps, sunny skies and brisk winds. It turned out only the latter was correct. It rained hard for about a half hour as we fished.

We didn’t see much of the sun until we were pulling the boat back on the trailer at the end of the day. But, in spite of the weather, we had a great time catching a variety of our target fish and I set a second “first” by hooking two nice fish on the same cast — very hard to do.

As we drove East across the state on Alligator Alley (U.S. Rte. 75) on the way to meet the guide we noticed that the water in the Everglades on either side of the road was unusually high with most of the parking areas totally flooded. We also noted that the volume of vehicles on the road was about half of what we normally saw on the morning run, probably because of the pandemic

After our 90-minute trip we drove into the park entrance where there were about 50 cars parked on the road in front of us, which we deduced were citizens going to get a COVID test. I swung around them and reached the ramp where our guide and the boat were ready to go. We loaded up and were off on the first canal in a few minutes as the clouds gathered and were becoming more onerous. 

Our plan was to go from one canal to another for most of the day looking for some of the more exotic species in the canals. The canals are pretty uniformly about 75-feet wide and anywhere from 2 to 8 feet deep and were designed to provide drainage for the properties around them.

As we moved along, slowly casting toward each shore we got to say hello to all sorts of folks walking or cutting grass or talking to friends as they moseyed along paths near the canals. There were about 10 different varieties of ducks spread and lots of 3-to-4-foot long iguanas that jumped into the water as we spooked them speeding by in the boat. The canals themselves were all connected, and each were usually about 2-to-3 miles long with road bridges about 5-feet high above the water crossing over the canals as we went under them.

We often had to duck our heads as we motored slowly under a bridge and actually had to lie on the boat’s deck going under one or two of the lowest bridges.

I had brought along a regular bait casting rod anticipating larger fish and my partner was using the guide’s spinning rod. We both used almost exactly the same floating lures with a small propeller at one end that made a sputtering set of bubbles as we yanked it through the water.

The idea was to aggravate the fish and they, in turn, came up in the water column with murder in their eyes, splashing water every which way as they tried to kill the lure. The canals were full of all kinds of aggressive fish including hard-fighting largemouth bass,  small jacks, beautiful and feisty peacock bass.

But what I wanted to catch more than the rest of them was a newer intruder that has taken up residence all over the state called a snakehead. It’s a long, thin, murderous fish armed with a nasty set of teeth and a mean disposition.

They were in the canals and could weigh up to about 15 pounds for the big ones. I’d never caught one, but lucked out with three of them, the largest about 24-inches long.

My fishing partner got a few that were smaller, but just as mean. He also missed the bite on one that the guide swore was about 10 pounds, which would have been a terrific catch.

The way we worked this project was to have the guide try to fight the gusty wind and hold the boat in the center of a canal with his electric motor and I would cast to the bank on one side of the canal and my partner would cast to the other.

The idea was to get the lure as close to the canal bank (inches) and start the lure out with all the sputter we could crank out of it. More times than not if there was a fish near where the lure landed, the fish would try to kill it on the first try and if it missed it would go back into hiding.

We fished hard for a few hours, getting a few bass, a few snakeheads, a jack and some peacock bass when the rain put us under some thick trees for about 30 minutes. When it stopped we dried off and went back at them on the main canal heading back to the boat ramp. That’s when we really got some good fish in the boat.

I managed to land the 24-inch snakehead and get a good photo of it for my album before releasing it. I thought I heard it say something like “I’ll be back” as it slid into the water — I wonder what that means?

My partner continued to peck away, catching fish and winning the tiniest fish of the day reward. Immediately after that I got two nice-sized peacock bass to eat the lure at the same time and they became my second double catch in my long and checkered history.

After we turned out of the next to last canal where we had been sheltered for several hours we hit the main canal heading to the ramp and caught a few more fish before calling it a good day with rain, wind, sun and weeds hooking up to our lures.