Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Fishing at the Rickenbacker/Key Biscayne Bridge

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Davis, Jacob, and I decided to head back to Bill Baggs for some fishing, given the day off we had because of Winter break. The weather was perfect again, and we wanted to capitalize on the conditions. Also, it was the day before Jacob's birthdayHowever, we left a little late (arrived at Bill Baggs at around 2) after getting bait, and saw that Bill Baggs was closed because of the visitor limit being reached. We knew that this normally happens at around 1, so we were not very surprised. Unwilling to head home, we decided to hit up the Rickenbacker Causeway. Parallel to the main bridge that connects Downtown Miami to Key Biscayne is an old bridge for which funding ran out during construction. It only spans about halfway across the bay. It's right in the middle, so the views of the bay and the Miami skyline are pretty cool.  Today, it is a top fishing spot in downtown Miami, although a bit overfished. We decided to check it out anyways.

There was very little parking, so while Davis waited in the car, Jacob and I set up closer to the base of the pier and dropped down some shrimp. We did not have very heavy sinkers, which didn't help, especially because the bridge was pretty windy. However, as we later learned, too much weight was not good. Only a few ounces, enough to take it to the bottom and keep the line taught, are necessary.

The first hit was by a small Mangrove Snapper. We reeled it up, took pictures, and released it. It wasn't a big fish, but we weren't skunked. Right after that catch, Davis met with Jacob and me at the pier and we moved further down. That's when we found the school.

    Right away, Jacob and Davis started to feel nibbles. Soon enough, they started to pull up fish left and right. I was trying with the heavy gear, but nothing was getting hooked on that one. I was also helping Jacob rebait his hook. Meanwhile, Jacob and Davis were catching lots of Yellowtail and some Mangrove Snappers. The Yellowtails Jacob caught were his first of that species. The totals were 1 Mangrove for me, one Mangrove and one Yellowtail each for Davis, and Jacob with a whopping 3 Yellowtails and 3 Mangrove Snappers. He was happy with his birthday haul. 

Overall, it was a great day on the water at a new location. We only spent a good 2 or 3 hours there before the bait ran out, but we were satisfied with the fish and the day.


Saturday, January 2, 2021

For the first fishing trip of 2021, the three of us decided to head back to Rickenbacker. We were excited after the last trip, and went back to see what else we could find. As much as the pier was crowded before, it was even more so on this weekend. Again, Jacob and I got out of the car to find a spot and fish. The fishing was much slower today, but we were still able to catch fish. The first two catches of the day were a Yellowtail and a Mangrove Snapper by Jacob. As time went on, I was able to bring up a Bluestriped Grunt and a Tomtate while Jacob brought in two more Mangroves. The fish were nibbling almost all day, but they just didn't get hooked. It was alright though, as we still brought up a few and had a good time back at the bridge. It's always great to be out on the water, especially in the great "winter" weather Miami is experiencing and after staying inside due to COVID.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Catching Sharks and More at Bill Baggs

 Friday, September 25

Today I went fishing with my friend Davis at Bill Baggs State Park. It was a really special trip. We had been planning to fish there for a while, but plans kept on getting cancelled for one reason or another. Finally, we found a date and head out. When I had arrived at his house to set off to the state park in Key Biscayne (one of the best fishing spots in Miami), he had already bought shrimp and 2 very large mullet for bait. We brought about four or five rods altogether, and a cast net. One of the rods that Davis brought was particularly heavy. We would use that with bigger bait.

When we got to Bill Baggs, it was quite cloudy and rainy, and the clouds themselves were pretty dark. We also saw rain in the distance. Our hopes were brought up, however, when we saw a huge school of mullet blowing up all around the entrance to No Name Harbor and around the "dock" where we set up. We used the cast net and brought in about 4 on the first throw. The wind made it tough to fish, but it soon died down. We always had a nice breeze, but not the gusts that would make fishing with lighter gear impossible. Anyways, we started by throwing a big chunk of mullet on the heavy rod farther out, and we used frozen shrimp on a smaller line to catch snapper and such near the dock. I caught a small Mangrove Snapper, and a nice sized Tomtate. Nothing too special, but we were glad to at least not be skunked.

We were obviously optimistic about the heavy rod, but we weren't necessarily EXPECTING something to bite it, as is the case when going for big fish, especially from shore. You've got to try it, because you can't catch the fish without throwing any bait out, but there is always a decent chance that you may not catch something on it. Especially with the weather. However, after about 20 minutes at the dock, the heavy rod bent over and line was peeling off the reel. We took the rod out of the rod holder, and Davis started the fight. I reminding him to let the fish have its runs, and Davis fought the fish very well. I took the rod and brought it up closer to the dock and around to the side. We'd caught it! A shark! It was a nice fish of about 3 or 4 feet. We think it was a juvenile Lemon Shark. This was my first ever shark, and I was able to cross it off of my bucket list. We took some pictures and released it, not before it almost took the rod when we were careless. It was a really great catch, that, only 20 minutes into the trip, made it a complete success. 

There were a few times when we had to pack our gear and everything and put it under cover for fear of rain, and sometimes lightning. There was one time in which we saw rain coming over to the island, and it even hit the park, but missed us. Other times, the sun shone through a little patch of sky in the clouds. The weather in Miami is something else...

While waiting for another bite on the heavy rod, I caught a few more fish on the shrimp: 2 9 inch Mangoves (1 inch short of being a keeper), 2 Tomtates, 2 smaller Mangroves, and even a Sergeant Major. After catching the Sergeant Major, especially after catching the Shark, I decided to put away the rod. Towards the end of the day, we heard thunder but had a few bites on mullet on the shark rod. We decided to stay until we caught whatever it was. After a few strikes and misses, I finally hooked up and reeled in the fish. It was a Nurse Shark, my second shark of the day. It was slightly larger than the Lemon. A cool catch to top of a great day. As we released it, we heard a loud thunderclap and immediately packed up and left.

(11 fish altogether)

Saturday, October 3

Davis and I went fishing again 8 days later, since we had a great day before. This time we also brought Ballyhoo, along with the Mullet. Again, it was cloudy and a little rainy. This time there wasn't any wind, which made things easier to fish. Although, as always at Bill Baggs, there was a strong current going to the north. It was a generally slow day. Nothing bit on the heavy rod. On the lighter rods, we hauled in a Tomtate on a tipped sabiki rig and a Yellowtail Snapper, which I believe is a new species. Although it was a relatively slow day of fishing, I was somewhat satisfied with the Snapper seeing as how I have always regarded a Yellowtail Snapper as a cool catch, being one of South Florida's staple reef fish. The bright colors are unmistakeable. We also learned that silversides may be a bait to try at Bill Baggs too. Fishermen next to us were catching a good amount of fish on them, including a Barracuda and an unknown fish that ran with the bait and eventually broke off (drag was too loose). It was nice to be on the water, especially in good company.

Friday, October 30

With the weather in Miami finally starting to cool down to its perfect fall and winter temperatures, Davis and I decided to spend the day fishing back in Bill Baggs State Park. This time, not only was the weather cooler, at around 82 degrees, but it was very clear and sunny. This time, it was even possible to see Stiltsville, a unique set of wooden shacks on stilts in the middle of Biscayne Bay and an icon of Biscayne National Park. Jacob came with us because he was eager to try for his first shark. Merritt, Davis' brother, also joined us. Jacob broke the ice with a two small Mangrove Snappers, and then a pesky Houndfish. Houndfish are notorious here in south Florida for being a fish that, because of the danger and hassle that unhooking it presents, is often avoided. Still, a catch is a catch. My first fish was a 9.5 inch Snapper, which was followed by a Snapper by Jacob and 2 more by Merritt. By then, it was time for Jacob to hook up. Davis spotted a Nurse Shark next to the rocks, and repeatedly dropped a hooked chunk of mullet next to it.  After getting bit but losing the fish multiple times, Davis finally hooked up and gave the rod to Jacob. Jakes reeled in and caught his first shark with a wide grin. He felt the skin, which he had heard was rough like sandpaper and had always wanted to feel, and it was released. Having accomplished what we sent out to do, we started to relax while Jacob finished off the day with 3 more Mangrove Snapper. All in all, it was a great day to be out on the water and to get Jacob his first shark.

Sunday, December 20

Now that it is winter break, Davis and I decided to go back to Bill Baggs to try our luck at some new species. We went this time with Davis' brother Brady and his friend. We went early - arriving at around 9:45 - because of the fact that the park generally closes to new visitors at around midday on weekends due to the park max of visitors being reached, to try to avoid crowds in the park and claim an open dock, and because of football in the afternoon. Unfortunately, we got to the park a bit too late to take an open dock; every dock was occupied and most close to the parking lot were too full to even share. We walked down the walkway with all of our gear farther than we had been before in search of an available dock. We finally found a dock that had enough space for us to share with the fishermen already there (I was able to practice my Spanish in asking for permission to use the dock). We set up and started. The weather was nice, partly cloudy and in the 70s. We started off casting around the dock with live shrimp. I caught two Mangrove Snappers and a Blustriped Grunt to start off, and Brady and Lukie soon followed that up with some more. As the day went on and it got hotter closer to noon, the fishing started to slow down. We were throwing shrimp out by the rocks, but the fish weren't biting as much as they were earlier. Meanwhile, of course, we had a chunk of mullet throw out in hopes of something bigger. That setup didn't catch anything today, but our last catch of the day was quite interesting. I was throwing a live shrimp around the rocks at around 11:45 when out of nowhere a small Black Grouper came out of a hole and ate it. It didn't put up a great fight, but it was a new species, and another type of Grouper. Black Groupers are a nice reef game fish down in south Florida, and it was cool to finally bring one up. They are known for their unique pattern and deep black color, especially as juveniles (which are more common, especially inshore). After snapping a few pictures, we sent the fish back. Satisfied with the new species, we left at around 12:15 because the fishing was slow and football was going to start soon. All in all, it was a fun way to spend a Sunday morning, and we came away with a nice catch, too.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Fishing at the Channel 5 Bridge

    Eager to go fishing at a new location after spending pretty much an entire summer at home and taking classes, I convinced my family, who also desperately wanted to leave the house, to head down to the Keys, a fisherman's paradise, where I could go fishing with my brother. We headed to the Channel 5 bridge, a location I had heard much about and had wanted to fish for quite a while. On the way I stopped at two different bait shops. At the first, I had planned to get live shrimp and maybe some ballyhoo as a backup plan. I entered the store with my bait bucket and aerator, but upon seeing the bucket, the woman at the cash register immediately told me that they unfortunately did not have any live shrimp, seeing as how in the summer months it is harder to acquire them. I settled for frozen ballyhoo and chum, which happened to be all I needed. She kindly instructed me to check out the marina behind the Bass Pro Shops a bit further south and closer to the bridge to see if they had any shrimp, but they only had mostly small dead ones. Nevertheless, I self picked as many adequate shrimps that I could and payed less that $4 for the "dozen." I had a pack of 6 ballyhoo, a block of chum, and some shrimp, and I was ready to go fishing.

    The bridges on the way, from the southern tip of the Florida peninsula to Islamorada and on, were awesome. The blue water and the multi-colored reefs were always, of course, quite the sight. I'm very glad to be able to live in an area so close to such pristine nature and fishing grounds. We arrived at the pier next to the bridge and started fishing We arrived as the tide was reaching it's lowest point. Seeing as the channel marks a passage in between Florida Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, it is not surprising that the current was very strong and that single egg and split shot sinkers did not suffice to keep the bait on the bottom. I had to put on extra sinkers to keep the bait on the bottom. Soon after we started, Jacob hooked up and reeled in a small Porkfish that took his shrimp. The colors of the fish matched the colors of the water and the nearby reefs. It truly was a great spot to fish, what with the sights and fishing quality. We were glad to start off the day with a catch, albeit small. We waited for the sun to defrost the chum, and we used the knife to cut up the block and toss out pieces. After fishing on the bridge in direct exposure from the sun and heavy current that made the chum less effective as we had hoped without a chub bag, we decided to pack up and he'd to another spot on the channel that was under the bridge, closer to the base. There was ample space both on the bridge and under it at the second spot to which we had moved to maintain social distancing and negate the need for a mask.

Under the bridge and in the shade, it was very calm and nice. Being so close to the water really helped, too. We could get away with less weight and the chum was more fictive. We got into the bites soon after we settled. At first my brother and I switched off with the shrimp and the ballyhoo. The ballyhoo wasn't being taken very much at first, but the shrimp did catch fish. My first fish of the day, on shrimp, was a small French Grunt. Also on shrimp, Jacob and I started off with a few small Mangrove Snappers, which were there in abundance. He caught 2 and I caught 1. But then I decided to target the bigger fish and switched to the cut bait, while Jacob was satisfied trying to catch fish on the tried and true shrimp to which he was accustomed. He caught another Porkfish. While we were happy he caught something, I suggested he switched to the ballyhoo. I was using it, and it was working well because of how thick and sturdy it was, so it was much harder for fish, specifically the smaller ones, to take it off the hook. He ended up switching, which proved to be the right move. I baited his hook with his first piece of Ballyhoo, and he immediately hooked up with a nice fish. It was taking line off the reel and Jacob struggled to hold the rod still and reel in. I helped him land the fish by grabbing the line and pulling it over the ledge, and it was in; Jacob's PB Mangrove Snapper, a keeper of 10.5 inches. While this wasn't the biggest Snapper I'd seen, we were both ecstatic to have brought in Jacob's best Mangrove Snapper. While we stuck with the cut bait, we both kept on reeling in keepers. We outfished the others under the bridge by far. Since we didn't have a cooler and had no intention of keeping the fish, even if they were legal, we gave the legal ones to the other people fishing near us. After reeling in some more quality fish, we ended with a 12 inch Mangrove Snapper, our biggest of the day. It was around 3 o'clock when we left, which means that we had been fishing for around 4 hours.

    All in all, it was a great day. I caught 2 French Grunts on the shrimp and 3 Mangrove Snappers on the cut ballyhoo (2 of which were keepers) while Jacob ended with a French Grunt and 2 Porkfish on shrimp and 6 Mangrove Snappers, some on shrimp and some on ballyhoo, 3 of which were legal to keep. Truthfully, fishing in the keys feels like a rite of passage, a necessary pilgrimage for fisherman, both land based and from boats. It's an incredible area, and especially in the region around Islamorada, very fishing oriented. The towns and waters seem like they were made for fishing and diving. The Keys truly are a fisherman's paradise. It was great to get out of the house and experience this magnificent environment once again, catching some quality fish in the process.