Sunday, March 28, 2021

Florida surf fishing for sharks

March was a busy month! Shortly after arriving in Florida I saw reports that blacktip sharks were migrating through the area. It seemed like an opportunity that we needed to jump on, so Ally and I assembled our surf fishing gear and headed down to the beach. We had some frozen mullet from the bait shop and planned to catch fresh bait on light tackle while we waited.

Photo credit Ally Toth.

There were plenty of bait fish within casting range. We caught jack crevalle, bluefish, and ladyfish. Ally caught a huge ladyfish that turned out to be fantastic shark bait.

Ladyfish (Elops saurus)

Everything was going well until the sharks showed up. I got picked up first. My rod doubled over, the drag on the reel started buzzing, and I quickly realized that I didn't stand a chance against the fish on the other end. It was taking line even with the drag fully tightened, and I was worried that the rod might snap, so I pointed the rod tip towards the water and used my thumb to put extra pressure on the spool. The braided line snapped.

Less than a minute later, Ally's rod bent over. Another shark! Her experience was worse than mine. First her rod holder pulled out of the sand before she could get to it, and then in the process of diving on her rod she sliced her foot open. Finally, the shark somehow broke (or bit) through her 200 lb mono shock leader. We were clearly outgunned, and Ally needed to go to prompt care to get stitches, so that was the end of our session.

A few weeks later Ryan said he wanted to drive over from Tampa, so we decided to try for sharks again. Ally and I bought new reels and stronger braid, and I brought a new heavy surf rod that I've been holding for my friend Marc. We brought the ladyfish from the previous session, chopped it up, and cast out two baits on the two rods. It didn't take long before the first shark showed up. I was ready to do battle with a 100 or 200 pound beast, but I was actually quite happy when I realized it was a much smaller model.

Finetooth Shark (Carcharhinus isodon) - new hook & line species #714

All three of us had completed the FWC online shark fishing course, so this was a good opportunity to practice a quick catch, photo, and release with a smaller shark. We kept it on the wet sand where the waves would wash over it while we unhooked it and took a few photos. Then it was back into the waist-deep water, and off it swam. Success!

Ally's rod was the next to go off. She was using the 13 foot rod that I had used during the previous session, and it paired well with her reel. Her shark came in quickly as well. I'm sure she was glad it wasn't a monster.

Two sharks on the beach! This one was also a finetooth. It ended up being the only species we caught that day. Ally had caught a finetooth from a boat before, but this was much bigger one, so she was plenty happy.

We sent the baits out again, and this time it was Ryan's turn to grab one of the rods. It was a similarly sized shark again, and Ryan quickly got it in where I could grab its tail.

I'm really happy with how quickly we worked as a team to land, dehook, photo, and release these sharks. The practice will pay off when we catch something bigger next time.

Congrats to Ryan on his first finetooth shark! I'm sure it was well worth the early alarm and 3 hour drive from Tampa.

We still had a few pieces of ladyfish left, so we kept casting them out and hooking up with sharks. At this point we were really hoping for something new. A blacktip would have been great. A small bull shark or bonnethead would have been good too.

All five of our sharks ended up being finetooths though. And interestingly, all five of them were males. There was definitely a school of them out there hunting together.

After a picnic lunch, Ryan was interested in going to the small spillway that we had fished before. He wanted a spinycheek sleeper, Ally wanted a bigmouth sleeper, and I wanted to try for the sailfin catfish and mountain mullet. When we arrived though, we saw gar and bowfin. And when you see big gar and bowfin in front of you, gosh darnit, you fish for big gar and bowfin.

Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

Bowfin (Amia calva)

After playing with the prehistoric fish, we downsized our tackle to fish for new species, and unfortunately I kept catching the bigmouth sleepers that Ally wanted. I wasn't trying to. I was using a #8 hook with a quarter of a redworm as bait. I also got a blue tilapia with interesting colors.

Bigmouth Sleeper (Gobiomorus dormitor)

Blue Tilapia (Oreochromis aureus)

The heat finally wore us down. Ally caught a really big blue tilapia, and then we decided to wrap things up. It's been a few years since Ryan and I have fished together, so we got a photo. Guys need to remember to get photos like this more often.

I didn't really mention how the hunt for sailfin catfish and mountain mullet went. It didn't go well, but I promise I'll keep trying.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Hey everyone, I live in Florida now

Hey everyone, I live in Florida now! At the end of February I packed my bags and headed east. A week later I arrived in Florida, ready to start the next chapter of my life. It should come as no surprise that I quickly started fishing.

My first new species came from an urban park near my house. It had an assortment of micros in the shallows - eastern mosquitofish, golden silverside, jewel cichlid, and juvenile bluegill. I was dropping my bait through small openings in the vegetation looking for something new. To my surprise I pulled up a swamp darter, one of the few Etheostoma species with a range this far south.

Swamp Darter (Etheostoma fusiforme) - new hook & line species #707

Next I gave saltwater micros a try. There's plenty of public access in Florida, which means there are endless shore fishing spots to check out. I saw some small fish along the rocky shoreline near one of the local causeways, so I got out the micro rod and Tanago hooks to see what they were.

The fish I saw, which blended in very well with the sand, turned out to be goldspotted killifish. I didn't know they were in the area, so it was definitely a cool find!

Goldspotted Killifish (Floridichthys carpio) - new hook & line species #708

While I looked for micros, I also set up a medium-light rod in a rod holder with a piece of shrimp as bait. It got picked up twice, first by a small stingray and then by a striped burrfish. Neither was a lifer, but I got good photos of each of them.

Atlantic Stingray (Dasyatis sabina)

Striped Burrfish (Chilomycterus schoepfi)

The causeway bridge looked like a fishy spot. Ally joined me here, and we set up in the shade where we could fish the bridge pilings and rocks. Mangrove snappers were the most common (or aggressive) species, but after losing a few Tanago hooks I was able to catch a checkered puffer and frillfin goby to add to the list. The gulf killifish was also an interesting catch, because this is the northern edge of their range.

Mangrove Snapper (Lutjanus griseus)

Checkered Puffer (Sphoeroides testudineus) - new hook & line species #709

Frillfin Goby (Bathygobius soporator) - new hook & line species #710

Gulf Killifish (Fundulus grandis)

Usually I avoid posting photos of dead fish on this blog, but this sheepshead will be a rare exception. I like to take fish home for dinner, so I was excited when I hooked into this guy next to one of the bridge pilings. It was my first time cooking a sheepshead. My passion is photographing live fish that I catch and release, but keeping and eating local fish is also an important way that I connect with nature.

Sheepshead (Archosargus probatocephalus)

Back to the microfishing! Ally and Damion had scouted out a spot where flagfish were known to frequent in the spring, and they tipped me off that they had showed up. Ally joined me there, and after catching a few other species, we both had our endemic flagfish. We also caught some incredibly colorful marsh killifish that looked nothing like the ones I caught north of Tampa several years ago. Ally caught her lifer sailfin molly as well. I'll have to go back for mine.

American Flagfish (Jordanella floridae) - new hook & line species #711

Marsh Killifish (Fundulus confluentas)

In the middle of the month we had a surprise visit from Uncle Pat and Lia, who were taking a much needed vacation from our nation's capitol. Pat wanted to fish a few of the local spillways, so we joined them early in the morning before work. The top targets were the various snook species, but they weren't biting, so eventually I switched back to micros. I didn't catch anything new, but I did get a really good photo of a crested goby showing off its namesake crest.

Crested Goby (Lophogobius cyprinoides)

The next day we tried another spillway known for bigmouth sleepers and several other cool native species. Again the action was slow, but on my last cast I got a hit and pulled up a good sized sleeper. Pat and Lia stuck around after I left, and Pat texted me a photo of a juvenile bigmouth he caught further up near some rocks.

Bigmouth Sleeper (Gobiomorus dormitor) - new hook & line species #712

I forgot to mention, it's been FIVE years since Pat and I fished together. It's been way too long!

My final new species came from another local lake. While on a morning run I saw a school of slender micros that could only be one thing. Golden silversides! I had failed to catch them at the other lake, but they were easier at this one. My 12 foot crappie pole made it easy to reach the school.

Golden Silverside (Labidesthes vanhyningi) - new hook & line species #713

Needless to say, there will be plenty more Florida reports this year. Hope you're ready for them!

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

San Diego January 2021

It's a new year, and that means new blog posts and new fish. The first new species is a local nemesis that I've been trying to catch for almost 3 years. To my surprise, my friend Vince found a population of reef finspots in Mission Bay when he was in town for a visit. He found them by fishing at night with a headlamp, which is not something I've tried.

I drove down to Mission Bay after dark, turned on my headlamp, and got to work looking for reef finspot heads poking out from under the rocks. Vince showed up and joined in the search. He spotted the first one and pointed it out for me to catch. In other words, I basically did none of the work for this one!

Reef Finspot (Paraclinus integripinnis) - new hook & line species #704

I was determined to find a reef finspot of my own, and as the tide dropped further I started to see them. In the next hour I caught 3 or 4 more individuals, which greatly helped my self esteem.

The next weekend I took the kayak to La Jolla to give deep dropping another try. There's a list of flatfish in the California fishing regulations that are open year-round and can be caught from any depth, and of course there are always weird fish that don't make it into the fishing regulations. It was a beautiful day with lots of dolphins and birds around.

I'm a big fan of Google Maps satellite view for finding fishing spots, but recently I've been using Google Earth instead. The two websites are very similar, but Google Earth lets you rotate the view to help you see 3D structure, and it shows the ocean depth wherever you move the mouse pointer. I picked out a couple of small humps in the bottom of the canyon. The first was only 2 miles from the launch, so it was a quick paddle. I dropped a rig down 1150 feet with a chum cage filled with chopped up sardines, a green strobe light, and hooks baited with sardine chunks. I let it sit for a while, and then I slowly paddled around so the 16 oz sinker dragged along the bottom. The rod tip bounced lightly a few times, I lifted the rod up, felt a little more weight on the line, and then reeled up 1150 feet without slowing down or taking a break. I did not want that fish coming off! When I got it to the surface I saw that it was not a flatfish and not a rockfish. It was a sablefish, or black cod, the species that motivated Eli and I to give deep dropping a try nearly 6 years ago!

Sablefish (Anoplopoma fimbria) - new hook & line species #705

I fished another small hump in 1100 feet and caught a second sablefish. As exciting as they were, they're currently out of season and have the same depth restrictions as rockfish, so I needed to keep moving spots to try for something else. I moved away from the humps and slowly dragged my rig along the edge of the canyon slope. Flatfish like slopes, right? I got one more bite but wasn't able to set the hook. It felt similar to the sablefish, so I'm guessing that's what it was.

The dolphins stopped by to say hello periodically throughout the day. They thought it was fun to swim under my kayak, and occasionally one would bump my line, which was very exciting for a split second. If you want to see what a dolphin looks like on a fish finder, see below. 

I wanted to add a few extra miles to my day, so I paddled towards Blacks Beach and then turned south to go by the Scripps Pier. I've kayaked La Jolla dozens of times, but this was my first time taking a good look at the pier. A lot of cool research goes on there!

It was an easy day, with low swell and almost no wind. I got to finally see a species that I've been reading about for 6 years, and for that I am very grateful. La Jolla Canyon is still a huge mystery to me, but after today I feel like it's starting to share some of its secrets.

Miles: 6.5
Hours: 6:00
Water Temp: 58 F

It's turning into quite the busy month! I didn't plan to fish again over the 3 day weekend, but I couldn't pass up an easy new species. Chris, Carson, and Brayden were in town, and on their way out I sent them to one of my spots for cheekspot goby and mussel blenny. They fished the spot, but they reported back that all they could catch were staghorn sculpins. I don't have staghorn sculpin on my list, so needless to say I packed the car and headed up there!

The tide was higher than I liked, and the afternoon wind was making it hard to sight fish. I moved down to a corner where there was a small break from the wind. Per Chris's instructions, I dragged a bait around the bottom and made sure to drag the split shot and bait over ghost shrimp burrow mounds. Like magic a sculpin appeared and grabbed my bait.

Pacific Staghorn Sculpin (Leptocottus armatus) - new hook & line species #706

Once I had the technique figured out, it wasn't hard to catch more. I caught 3 more sculpin all around the same size. They do get bigger, probably over a pound, but in this case I'll take what I can get.

After I released them I was able to get an underwater photo of one of them blending in with the bottom. Even though they have excellent camouflage, they actually spend most of their time burrowed under the sand so that they're completely invisible. They're a cool species!

The month still isn't over. Can I get another new one?