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.

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