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An Aussie in Florida!

Including: Lake Okeechobee, Kissimmee Chain, Stick Marsh/Farm 13, etc.

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An Aussie in Florida!

Postby Fishcairns » Sat Jul 21, 2007 2:54 am

8) Dear Fishing Friends,

US Bound:

On 20th May I boarded a Qantas flight bound for Florida, US of A! I had to pinch myself to see if this was really happening to me but after seeing the sun set twice on the same day (crossing the International Date Line) I knew it was real. It’s a bloody long way from Cairns (Australia) to Sydney, LA, Charlotte and Fort Myers, South West Florida.

Fast forward to Florida:
I stayed on Sanibel Island, approx. 40 minutes from Fort Myers International Airport………from the beach we could see the high rise of Naples (not the Italian one). It’s a holiday island full of condo’s………no high rise which is great. Only about 40 houses on the 8 km long island and they are all on canals, most with their own private wharf area. The house I stayed at with friends (John & Jennifer Oatley) was a lovely 4 story home and I had my own private ensuite.

The highlight of the trip was the bass fishing…….it is very similar to our barra fishing but in non tidal waters. We had planned to fish Lake Okeechobee but it was too low, Florida was in drought when I was there. So we ended up fishing the channel country. These massive channels were dug / blasted in the 30’s to help drain the Everglades. Realizing this was a huge mistake, the relative authorities have installed levee banks and weirs to control these canals and they now offer unbelievable bass fishing. Tearing along a narrow channel, 5 metres wide and only 5 – 12 ft deep, doing over 100ks an hour in a bass boat dodging alligators is a real buzz! Better than a ride at Disneyland our guide mused.

The first day saw us concentrate out efforts in some small channels near power line access points that ran at right angles to the main highway. Skinny water bas fishing is not for everybody but I can assure you I had a ball. Using a light spinning outfit we cast rubber grub and eel imitations to deeper pools and weed covered gutters. Just let it slowly sing said my guide, and when you feel the tension just give it a bit before sinking the hook with an almighty strike. It was a bit strange at first, it’s a totally different to my barra catching methods, but I was a keen learner and soon had a handle on this new technique.

It sure was effective though and I soon had my score of bass mounting……….my first ever American large mouth bass was landed after about 5 minutes fishing. I whooped and hollered around like I had just won the lottery. Well, I might as well have! I had dreamt of catching one of these “iconic” fish for over twenty years and thanks to my very dear friend, John Oatley from Sanibel Island, I had achieved it at last. Boy was I excited, I had read heaps of magazines, watched countless video’s and spoken to numerous American clients who had all talked fondly about their bass. And now I could hold my head up high and say to them, Yep!........I’ve done that.

Now I would be the first to add that, even though I class myself as a pretty good angler and know how to cast a lure, if it had not been for my expert guide Mark Shepard of Bass Online, I would not have had such outstanding results. Techniques required to fish for these channel bass were subtly different to that used back home in or tidal rivers and estuaries. His soft plastic rigging and hook placement was all new to me but nothing had prepared me for the next offering from Mark.

After landing about 20 or so bass each (that’s my mate John, guide and myself) Mark decided that we were “good enough” to go to the tiger country and fish the larger bass in the trees. Yes, I said IN THE TREES, and that’s exactly what we did. We cast weed-less, heavy craw dad patters right amongst the green overhanging branches and has bass crash them on impact with the water. Sometimes we had to leave the baitcaster in free spool and jig the lures down through the branches to the water level. But the results were the same……crash, bang, “I’m on someone would yell”. Then it was tug of war between and angry bass, green flexible branches, 60 lb brain and a heavy action rod………usually we won and the catch rates soared again. This was demanding fishing but the enjoyment factor was high I must add.

On my first ever bas fishing outing in the States I landed 44 bass to 7lb………I was stoked. How’s that for a beginner.

The second day saw us fish another set of channels called “Holiday Park”. These waters were a bit deeper and wider than the “Power Pole” country fished the day before and Mark reckoned we would catch larger specimens here – he was spot on.

We literally went flat our for 30ks (dodging dozens of alligators on the way) and then started fishing ….using the electric to position the boat we fished all day in one straight line – no worries about tides, current, wind etc. We just cast to the lilies, water weeds and backside vegetation. Amazing – back home we have to contend with 3 metres of tide, curving banks with constantly changing depth, and varying bank-side vegetation etc. This day was a real gem! We landed probably 15 bass between 6 – 8lb and saw heaps more larger fish that were just too lazy, or too well fed to show any interest in our offerings. Sometimes we cast to several fish clumped together under the broad lily pads, watch them cruise about totally ignoring our lures and have a more energetic specimen come from several metres away, crashing through the weeds to slam my floating frog lure like it was its last feed.

Sometimes the hooks would not grab, sometimes my timing was a bit astray, sometimes the fish was too cunning………but the catch rate climbed steadily and the day was one I will savor forever. We probably landed about 60 bass for the boat. Thank you Mark for two memorable days of “fishing heaven”.

The essence of my Florida trip was to spend quality time with my mate John Oatley. You see John used to live in Thailand, used to come to Cairns (Australia) quite regularly on recreation leave and as luck would have it, fished with me and his lovely wife Jennifer, on numerous occasions. We had built a rapport, a common understanding, shared a quality of life we enjoy, and of course we both loved out fishing. Now fishing is not only typified by the single minded pursuit of those scaly critters that inhabit waterways, its also about the enjoyment of sharing something we are passionate about with great company. John & Jen are great company and I always looked forward to there frequent visits.

When John retired back to his home on Sanibel Island I jumped at the chance to renew our friendship and to fish in “his own backyard”.

We did spend a couple of days chasing tarpon. I hooked up to a 100lb fish one morning on the sandy flats on the southern side of the Island but lost her right at the boat after a spirited 20 minute fight, five jumps and a 200 metre dash for freedom – all for the hook to fall out right at the boat. Oh well…….at least I had one on. The guide, Pat, tells me that he boated on average 4 tarpon per day shortly after my visit, but that’s fishing.

We spend a couple of days playing among the many mangrove lined bays and estuaries near his home. We tossed DOA’s and plastics for snook out on the flats for red fish, sea trout and lady fish etc but the snook were away spawning somewhere else. The red fish had moved offshore and the rest, well I had some fun on the light spin gear and saw some magic country with heaps of potential. Hell, I had to leave some challenges so that I could come back again. I hope its soon!

Oh by the way, I did manage to spend a few frustrating hours in the Bass Pro Shop at Fort Myers……..man, what a store. Why was I frustrated – well because we only had a couple of hours to shop (John had arranged for us to spend a lovely evening dining with his sister and brother-in-law) back on Sanibel and I was only getting started when John mentioned that we had better get going. The sheer size of this store, the product range and stock variety has to be seen to be believed. Every conceivable lure, plastic, jig, rod, reel and fishing tool, along with a superb range of clothing and fishing accessories was on display – and I only covered about ¼ of the area. I didn’t even get to see other parts of the store to even know what goodies laid on the shelves. Oh! Well……..I’ll be back (sorry Arnie).

Now if anyone wants to go to a boaties paradise, to visit a charming island situated off the balmy Florida coast, to stay in a condo right on the junction of a palm lined navigation channel and the calm open waters of the Florida flats, to fish for giant tarpon, snook and red fish OR get hooked up with one of the best bass fisherman in Florida (Yeah, I’m biased) then drop me a line……….have I got a deal for you.

Catch you on the water?
Regards, Les

The complete anglers guide to Australia's Great Barrier Reef and Tropical north Queensland - from marlin to barra - heavy tackle game, light tackle sport, lure & fly fishing - we cover the lot
Posts: 11
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Location: Cairns, Australia

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