Last month I took a busman’s holiday – a holiday or vacation during which one does something similar to what one does at work. I went fishing in the Florida Keys, and as usual, I fished with captains Rick Rodriquez and John Gargan in Islamorada, Fla. “The Sport Fishing Capital of the World” lived up to its reputation by yielding a mixed bag of tarpon, snook, barracuda, snapper and even a juvenile goliath grouper. On day one we glided across Florida Bay in Capt. John’s flats boat at daylight. The crossing to Cape Sable, 30-plus miles to the southernmost point in Everglades National Park, was awesome. The water is so shallow in places that the boat must run on plane to keep the propeller from stirring up the turtle grass covering the bottom.
Along the way are countless mangrove islands, each of which provides habitat for a host of rare birds, including osprey, eagles, brown pelicans, flamingos and roseate spoon bills.Once there, we pitched live pin fish and shrimp under the mangroves in hopes of hooking tarpon and snook. We landed and released a half dozen snook and jumped off a 100-pound tarpon, which is not unusual when fishing in Everglades National Park. At the end of the day, we had hooked, landed and released a 40-pound tarpon that leaped completely out of the water five or six times.
The second day, Capt. Rick and I trailered his Hewes flats boat north on U.S. 1 to the Aerojet Canal, the southernmost freshwater canal in Florida. Our goal was to catch peacock and largemouth bass, which we did with a variety of jerk baits. The long, slender artificial lures move erratically, like butterflies, under water when twitched and jerked. The butterfly peacock bass were small – none over 3 pounds – but they fought three times harder than Lake Norman’s spotted bass. We also landed several largemouth bass on Rapala lures. The last day we opted to fish Everglades National Park again, this time with artificial lures. The first mangrove island we fished was loaded with barracuda. These toothy, hard-fighting predators will test your skill and the quality of your tackle. Like snook and tarpon, barracuda are noted for long runs and high leaps out of the water. The dozens we caught didn’t disappoint us.Moving from island to island, we hooked snook, grouper and snapper by using curly-tailed jigs and gold weedless spoons.
Our last stop was to fill up with gas at the Everglades National Park visitors center in Flamingo, Fla. As we motored into the boat basin, we were teased by dozens of tarpon rolling on the surface. But before I could make a cast, Capt. Rick pointed to a sign on shore that read, “No fishing in marina during daylight hours.” Some might say that’s a bummer, but the memory of seeing so many tarpon will stay with me until I return next year.