Brackish Water Fishing

Copyright Gary A Anderson, Editor Southwest Florida

When the wind whips up, I love the brackish waters from Snook Haven to the canals of Ft. Myers, and down through the vast stretches of the Glades and across Alligator Alley for that is where one can find an abundance of excellent fishing. Yakking the brackish waters of our canals, streams and rivers will pit you up against some hefty critters on the rod, fly and gators in your eye. Caution should be taken when angling these waters in late winter to early spring for gators are on the prowl for a mate. They can be extremely aggressive and that yak you’re in only is of a different color, get my drift? Stay away or make noise when approaching basking reptiles. Otherwise, happy hunting for the first fishes on our list The Tiger Fish and a super fish it is too.

 

Super Mayan cichlid that is! The Mayan cichlid (pronounced sick-lid) is a small fish, about five to ten inches in length, with dark vertical stripes and a blue spot at the base of its tail. The Mayan cichlid is an “exotic” fish from Central America that was discovered in Everglades National Park fourteen years ago. It is not known who brought it to Florida, but since its arrival this fish has spread rapidly throughout most of the Everglades, from the saltwater estuaries of Florida Bay to as far north as canals in Palm Beach County and west through-out Ft. Myers.

Mayan Chiclid caught on a light flyrod

Mayan Chiclid on a flyrod; the species offers quite a battle for a small panfish, and are quite delicious. If you've watched their behavior in an aquarium, though, you know that they're agressive predators that find it very difficult to live with anything except for others of their own kind.

Adult and juvenile C. urophthalmus have a yellow to olive-brown body, with five to seven distinct vertical bars and a prominent dark ocellus at the base of the caudal fin, otherwise known to local as the Orange Tiger Fish. Spawning in south Florida occurs April to June, meaning they are on their way to the beds and go on a binge before the spawn, seek and find for being an exotic fish there is no limit and they a tasty too. Put that together with a 3-weight fly rod and a kayak and you have one heck of a showdown. The IGFA World record is one at 15 inches long and 2.6 pounds in weight.

That is shark size to the Bream and Sunfish who share the same habitat. Found in the canals or mangroves as far north as North Port to the Glades, these fish offer thrill and excitement to old and young alike. Windy days make the bays, inshore and offshore rough sometimes so it is nice to sometimes stay inside and fish for locals. Tiger fish are found in both salt and fresh water but prefer that of brackish and they sport a good; white, flaky meat with mild flavor; no bag or size limits. They too are easily caught on worms, insects, and dead or live shrimp, dry fly, wet fly, poppers, under a cane and on beetle spins with light spinning tackle. Since they are considered a freshwater fish, even in saltwater, you will need a freshwater fishing license and in addition, if you are boating you must have a license. Therefore, to be on the safe side, it is best just to pick-up a combo-license anyway covering all the bases when you too are stopped.

(Ictalurus punctatus)

CHANNEL CATFISH

Common Names - spotted cat, blue channel cat, river catfish

Description - Channel catfish closely resemble blue catfish. Both have deeply forked tails. However, channels have a rounded anal fin with 24-29 rays and scattered black spots along their back and sides. They have a small, narrow head. The back is blue-gray with light blue to silvery-gray sides and a white belly. Larger channels lose the black spots and also take on a blue-black coloration on the back with shades to white on the belly making my mouth water and drool as I write. This could be why many a person calls me Cat Man Do! Hmm

Fresh to brackish water, the Channel cat normally feed on the bottom; channels also will feed at the surface and at mid-depth. Major foods are aquatic insects, crayfish, mollusks, crustaceans and fishes. Small channels consume invertebrates, but larger ones may eat fish and chicken livers to hearts free lined with a current or under a Cajun cork with a number one wide gap Eagle Claw snelled circle hook. I can smell the grease heating now. These incredible fish will take almost any lure thrown at them too but prefer baits that slowly drift or lay on the bottom for an easy ambush.

Average weight is between two to five pounds but areas I fish they exceed thirty, with the state at 44.50 pounds. Most channels are caught by bottom fishing with baits such as dried chicken blood, chicken livers or gizzards, and night crawlers. They prefer dead or prepared stink baits to live bait, but at times will take live minnows and lures such as spinners and jigs. Strong fighters with good endurance, they are frequently caught on trot lines. Since channel catfish can also be taken by commercial anglers, except where stocked by the Commission, they are not legally classified as sport fish. By bush hook, set line or trot line baited with cut bait or other substance; but not including live game fish or any part of any game fish; bush hooks, set lines or trot lines (limited to 25 hooks total) are permitted for taking non-game fish for personal use only. Trot lines, bush hooks or set lines are permitted statewide except in these areas of the State of Florida and if more than 25 hooks are on the line a Commercial License must be in possession thereof.

Ameiurus catus

(Ameiurus catus) White Catfish

The White Catfish too lives with the Channels and are of the same eating habits or you eating them, delicacies to the pallet.  The sides are blue-gray to blue-black and may be mottled. The tail is moderately forked, and the anal fin is shorter and rounder than that of channel or blue catfish. Whites have only 19-22 anal fin rays. The chin barbells are white or yellow. They have a blunt, more-rounded head, and they lack black spots on their body. In Florida, they are found statewide in rivers and streams and in slightly brackish coastal waters. Seldom exceeding four pounds in weight, the state record is just over 18 pounds.

Ameiurus natalis

(Ameiurus natalis) Yellow Bullhead

The yellow bullhead closely resembles the brown bullhead with a squat body and a round or squaretail. It is yellow-olive to slate black above and lighter, often yellow to yellow-olive, on its sides with little to no mottling. The belly may be white, cream or yellow. The chin barbells are yellow to buff or pale pink; the upper barbells, which are light to dark-brown, help distinguish this species from brown bullheads. The anal fin has a straight margin with 23 to 27 rays. Another tasty critter though smallest of all our area catfish weighing in on an average of about two to three pounds and a record in Florida of… everybody eats them and nobody has turned one in for a record, the books are open on this one.

Lepisosteus osseus

(Lepisosteus osseus) The Gar or Garfish

Found throughout the state, they are olive-brown or deep green along the back and upper sides, with silver-white bellies. There are a few irregular, large dark spots on the body. The young display scattered spots over both sides, the upper and lower jaws and on their ventral fins. The long nose is generally distinguished from other gars by its longer, more slender body, and especially by its longer, narrower snout. The snout is twice the length of the rest of the head.

Gars are sporty fighters; however, they are not fished for to a great extent. They can be taken with minnows and artificial lures or during daylight by spearing (although not by spear gun) and snagging them with treble hooks. They are popular with bow-fishermen and anglers using frayed nylon cord as a lure snag, which entangles the gars teeth.

Although the flesh of long nose gars is edible, it is not popular. However, the Seminole Indians reportedly prefer gars to other fish. They roast them completely in the coals of open fires. The roe is poisonous to humans, animals and birds and the State record is that of 41 pounds.

And then of course catching one of these babies in a kayak is quite a rush, if not completely insane, the Florida Alligator Gar, Atractosteus spatula, a monster compared to its cousins coming in at a state record of just over 123 pounds. The largest I ever caught with my wife ‘Cat’ and friend David came in at 179 pounds in Rockport, Texas, where the record there is still unbroken since 1951 with a whopper at a hundred pounds more 279 pounds and over eight feet long.

So from little Tigers to whopping Gars, there are lots to catch out there in those brackish waters of the in shore’s inshore and I failed to mention the other Florida has 3 million acres of freshwater lakes and 12,000 miles of streams and rivers and from those waters over 250 different species of freshwater fishes have been collected. This includes several rather rare native fishes and 73 species of non-native fishes (fish that come from outside of the United States and would not have been found in Florida if it were not for man's intervention).  That is just the tip of our berg for there are a number of saltwater fish that are caught up here in the freshwater/brackish end of the ditch too. From Bull Sharks to Sturgeon, Redfish to Snook so what are you waiting for, pick up that license and go get em!

“FISH ON!”

Capt. Gary Anderson

 

 

 
 

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