One of the things I was hoping to do on this trip was fishing out on Florida Bay. And I wanted to go with a guide.
However, I thought the going rate was about $400 for an all-day fishing trip. Turns out it is between $550 and $650.
Oh what the heck. We've been doing well the last three years. In the prior, leaner seven years, it just wasn't in the budget or bank account. Now, it's still not really in the budget, but it is in the bank account. :)
Before we arrived, I looked through several guide websites that came up in my Google search, and then I went to the Florida Guides Association website. In the directory under Everglades, Flamingo, I started going through the list and checking out websites to see who might be the best fit.
Many of the guides that will come to Flamingo are actually based out of the Keys, and some require you to meet at their place. I eliminated those and sent emails to three guides to see which ones had availability this week.
All three responded, but one, Capt. David Accursio of Draggin' It Out Charters was the first to email back and he went the extra step and called me. I appreciated his thoughtful questions, and the next day we booked a trip for Friday (today).
We got up at 6:00 a.m. and Linda made her coffee and packed us a lunch. We then bundled up in several layers as high speed boat rides in 50 degree weather are quite cold. We packed a bag with sunscreen, towels, hats, sunglasses, and basic stuff we thought we might need.
It took five minutes to get to the marina where Capt. David was launching his boat, and 18-foot fishing skiff, when we arrived at 7:00. We introduced ourselves, gathered our gear and waited for David to park his trailer after docking the boat.
It only took a few minutes to get loaded up and soon we were on our way. We went past the Visitors Center and old lodge where I've been watching the sunrise each morning.
But this morning, we were going to watch the sunrise from the water.
The tide was out, so we stayed in the channel and headed east of Flamingo. Soon we came upon some dolphins. David already knew we were wildlife watchers, so he was prepared to stop at anytime.
We watched the dolphins ....
and the sunrise.
And then we watched more dolphins.
This one, in particular, was especially frisky.
Of course, dolphins aren't very good for the fishing, but we didn't care.
Also, the low tide meant that the mud flats were exposed, so all the birds we usually see at Eco Pond were out here - thousands of them.
Eventually, we let Capt. David get to work. He anchored us out in the channel where the water was flowing. He handed us light tackle spinning rods, gave us instructions, and showed us how he hooks the live shrimp we would be using today, not that it mattered to us - he baited our hooks all day, every time.
Linda took a picture of me on my perch with my four shirts and two pairs of pants.
I had already removed my gloves and ear cover. Let me tell you, the bundling up in multiple layers was a good call. :)
David had called me the night before to discuss today's fishing. He specializes in "sight-fishing" but said the recent "cold" spell and unusually murky water would cause us to change tactics. Today, we would be bottom fishing with live shrimp, and he wanted to make sure we were okay with that. We didn't care. We just wanted to catch fish, and the bait fishing was probably more suitable for Linda.
While we fished that spot, some manatees came up for air nearby. Two huge ones swam under the edge of the boat. Nice.
The fishing wasn't great at that first stop. I caught a catfish, and we each caught a pinfish which David kept for bait for later. Linda also caught a Lizardfish and a crab. Not what we were looking for.
So, we headed out into the bay and went west of Flamingo. On the way, we encountered another pod of dolphins, so we stopped and enjoyed them briefly.
Then it was on to the mouth of a creek where we anchored to fish in the incoming tide.
We were up against the mangroves and the bugs were pretty bad, especially the no-see-ums. But after we got on some bug spray, we settled in.
Soon, Linda had our first "keeper" of the day, a small Black Drum.
You've probably heard of the dish "blackened redfish" which was all the rage several years ago. Well a redfish is a Red Drum, a close cousin to the Black Drum. Many people say there is very little, if any, difference in the taste of the meat. So, we were quite happy to have some Black Drum to take home.
Soon, I caught one, and Linda caught a larger one.
I think we put four or five in the live well at that spot, so we were set for dinner.
We also caught some Lane Snapper and Mangrove Snapper but they were all too small to keep. Linda caught a couple of Sheepshead, but David doesn't like to clean them and we released them since we already had the Black Drums.
She also caught another crab.
They're good, but way too much trouble for the little bit of meat. It went back in the water.
At one point, another boat pulled up and inconsiderately fished right on top of us. We got a little evil satisfaction in the fact they didn't catch anything while watching "a girl" bring in fish after fish. :)
The only thing we did differently was let our bait sit longer as instructed by our guide.
After awhile, it warmed up and we shed a layer. David wanted to take us out into open water where he was sure we could catch some Tripletail, a very tasty species. They float under the crab trap buoys out past the boundary of the national park.
Unfortunately, the wind picked up and the water was very cloudy partially due to some of the crabbers checking their traps this morning. It was almost impossible to see the fish, so we had to abandon that plan. We were going to toss the Black Drum back if we caught Tripletail, so it was a good thing we kept our "back-up" fish.
We moved back in-shore to another creek where we would stay for a couple of hours. We caught some more Black Drum and had six in the live well. We also added a couple of Mangrove Snapper.
I caught a really nice Sheepshead that we released.
And then it happened. Linda hooked into a monster fish. David coached her and pulled up anchor so we could chase it. It took all of Linda's strength and David's coaching, but he finally netted it. He estimated this Black Drum to be between 25 and 30 pounds.
It was easily the biggest fish she had ever caught. She couldn't hold it up for a photo, so David helped get it situated in her lap.
That one was too big to keep. David, and some other fishermen out there, said they are best to eat when they are under 20 pounds. By the way, those other guys caught a half dozen over fifteen pounds with one weighing in at 32 pounds while we were there.
We fished there through slack tide and a little while during the tide going back out before we headed toward the marina. We made a stop at one of David's redfish spots, but there was no action there.
Then we moved to a place where he said he usually sees a couple of crocodiles. Unfortunately, they weren't there today.
The American Crocodile ranges from Central America and Mexico up to here in the Flamingo area, its northernmost range. This is the only place in the world where crocodiles and alligators co-exist. We've seen them at the marina and along the canal north of the marina, but I was hoping to see a big one out in a more natural environment.
While we were there, we fished the fast-moving tide. But we just caught catfish and it was time to go. Our time was up and David wanted to go to his mother's birthday party this evening. Having lost my Mom last month, we certainly didn't want to make him miss it.
We headed in and entered the marina basin.
Linda got our cooler out of the Jeep and I went to get a bag of ice while David loaded his boat. The fish were all still alive, so we tried to flash-freeze them to make them easier to clean.
David is a "catch and release" guy, but he will keep and clean your catch if you arrange it ahead of time. We definitely wanted to have some fresh fish for a couple of nights, so we had made the necessary arrangements.
While we were waiting, I took a picture of the manatees in one of the boat slips.
They are very difficult to photograph unless the water is crystal clear.
We met David at the very nice fish cleaning station. It has multiple cutting boards and hoses and a grinder to grind up all the scraps.
He very carefully fileted our drum and snapper ....
and we left with three or four pounds of fresh fish.
So our day of fishing was quite worth the hefty price. Capt. David was knowledgeable, willing to do whatever we asked (like watch dolphins or birds), and generally a nice, young guy that takes pride in his business. We didn't have to do anything besides catch fish. He gave us instructions, baited our hooks, landed fish, took fish off our hooks, helped us pose with our catch, and even did the casting for Linda when we were in tight spots.
We thanked David, paid our balance, and I gave him a nice cash tip for his efforts. When we come back to the area, we won't hesitate to give him a call for another day of fishing on Florida Bay.
Back home in our rig, we were exhausted from our early morning start and being on the water in the sun all day. It looked like a beautiful sunset, but I couldn't bring myself to make the effort to go watch it. :)
Linda got her shower, and then cooked a few filets of fresh fish on a bed of onions in butter. She sprinkled it with salt, garlic, and lemon pepper.
It was a mild, flaky white fish - very tasty. I still like grouper better, but I'll never complain about fresh fish that was cleaned for me. :)
Next time, we'll have to get some of that Tripletail everyone down here raves about.
Well, that wraps up another great day here in Flamingo. Thanks for coming along. :)