Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Florida peacock bass

Fishing the Florida Canals

I have been VERY remiss about posting lately. Between a family vacation and a lot of work, I haven't been able to get out to do much - if any - fishing. Add in a case of Writer's Block, and the end result is NO BLOG POSTS. But - my job took me to Florida last week and I got a chance to go fishing with an old friend for peacock bass, something that has been on my short list of "things to catch" for a while. (Actually, I caught one small one in a FLA canal about 13 years ago, but wanted a decent representation of the species for my photo collection)

The first thing you should know about Florida peacocks is that, as you would suspect, they are outsiders that have established themselves in the waters of S. FLA. This is the absolute northern part of their range, as they are intolerant of even cool water temps. The best populations are found in extreme south Florida, primarily in Dade County, around Miami. Being tropical fish, they are most active in the hottest part of the day. We fished from 9 AM until 6 PM. The temperature was around 95, with a heat index well over 100. Now, one thing you need to know about me - I HATE hot weather. I would much rather fish in cold rain, and wear the right clothes, than sweat in the heat. Middle aged, overweight, balding, pale skinned guys are NOT meant for the heat of Miami. The only thing that could lure me into this weather is the promise of fishing.

I met up with my guide at 8 in the morning on Saturday. Billy Bob Crosno is, in a word, a character. I've fished with Billy Bob in the past, and he is a very good fisherman, excels at putting you on fish and making good suggestions about how to catch them, and the man is nothing if not entertaining. 8 hours in a boat with Billy Bob flies by. If you are in the south Florida area and are looking for agood guide for either largemouth or peacocks, give Billy Bob a shout. www.fishingwithbillybob.com

We fished the canal system in Dade Co. As you can see from the pictures, you fish literally in peoples back yards when in these canals. We fished hard in the intense heat, but the fish were less than cooperative. For the uninitiated (like me prior to this trip), when you fish for peacocks, you try to get them to bite by basically irritating them into it. They attack baits and lures out of territorial urges rather than feeding. So - you have to work you baits fast and erratic to entice them to hit. This is a LOT of work. And - did I mention it was hot??

A nice peacock bass

End of the day showed a tally of 4 fish landed - 1 very small largemouth, 1 small peacock, and 2 nice peacocks, both around 3-1/2 - 4 pounds. Everything was taken on topwaters - Baby Torpedoes or Zara Spooks. One shook and broke the line while being unhooked (so no picture) but one was gracious enough to allow himself to be photographed. Beautiful colors, great fighters. I also missed about 5 or 6 hits - some missed the lures, others hit it and I missed them. And so it goes.

A litle snook. You never know what you might catch in these S. FLA waters

Whenever I'm in a new area, I love to observe the nuances of the local wildlife. Much the same as the peacock bass is an exotic that has taken root and now occurs naturally, the south Florida area is absolutely loaded with iguanas. Originating from released or escaped pets, they are now naturally reproducing. Some of them are HUGE - 5 feet and longer! They're very cool and don't run away too much when they're having their pictures taken. I was intrigued by them the whole time.

A male iguana showing off his orange-ish colors

A green female in a backyard.

On Sunday we got out for a couple hours to see if we could find any schooling jacks, bass, or peacocks. I got one small snook on a jerkbait, and missed a decent hit from a small-ish tarpon - around 15 pounds. We saw a lot of tarpon that morning but they were mostly dis-interested in what I threw at them.

All-in-all, a nice trip. All fishing experiences are nice, though. It's too hot down there for my taste. I guess I could get used to it if I had to, but I still prefer the moderate temps up North.

Did I mention it was hot????

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

WAY out of the normal realm of posts

Ok - this one is so far into left field that I hope I don't alienate my readers (I don't think I will). It's not about fishing at all - it's about FOOD.

I recently returned from our summer vacation. My wife and I both grew up in the SE Penn. city of Lebanon, adjacent to PA Dutch country. We haven't gotten back there very often though, and wanted to be sure we made time for our son to spend time with his grandparents and other relatives. In short - the trip was great. Even with NO fishing. What we really like on trips like this is the LOCAL FOOD. You know - the stuff you can't get when you move away.

As I said, we grew up in PA and stayed there until I was 30. Then, we moved to Syracuse NY for a 10 year stint. the summers are fabulous in upstate NY, but the 10 month long winters wore me out (and I LOVE winter!) The 10 months of winter might be an exaggeration, but it doesn't seem like much of one. Anyway, we moved onto the midwest 10 years ago and now live in the western 'burbs of Chicago.

When we return to visit PA, our first stop is usually Pete's Pizza in Lebanon. It was our favorite growing up and is still the best we've ever had. We always get cheesesteaks - no, they're not authentic Phillie steaks like Pat's or Geno's, but they're pretty good - miles ahead of the garbage passed off as Phila. Cheesesteaks elsewhere. Then there's the good stuff - Lebanon Bologna, chips, pretzels, and Tastykakes. I know some of you must be thinking "Bologna? We have bologna - no big deal" The typical tan colored, yucky bologna is barely even recognizable as meat, let alone a meat that makes your mouth water. It really needs to be experienced to be appreciated. My picture will have to take the place of a taste.

Seltzer's Old Fahioned Double Smoked Swet Bologna - food of the gods!

Chips? The Lebanon / Lancaster / Reading / York areas may be home to more small potato chip producers than anywhere. I don't know that for a fact, but I've never been anywhere else where a grocery store has an entire aisle loaded with up to 15 different makers of chips. The best of these (IMHO) have 3 simple ingredients: potato, salt, and lard. Perhaps not the top of the list of healthiest snacks, but they are delicious. Dieffenbach's, Good's, Ray and Kay's, Grandma Utz, Groff's, Bickell's - all great. Comparing these chips to the national fare like Lay's is akin to comparing prime aged angus beef to roadkill.

Pretzels? the Julius Sturgis pretzel factory in Lititz is famous for their wonderful pretzels and you can get fresh soft pretzels at the factory. But my favorite pretzel is from a tiny producer in Lebanon - Shuey's Pretzels. They are sold only in the local Farmers Market or directly from the baker. Saturday is soft pretzel day - get there early or you'll be out of luck. Great pretzels.

Tastykakes are made in Philadelphia and found only in the PA / MD / Jersey area - until recently. We now get a FEW varieties out in the midwest. They are pies, sweets, baked goods going by names like Krimpets (with their butterscotch icing) and Kandy Kakes. When you grow up eating these treats, you miss them when you can't get them.

Our attachment to NY foods isn't as deeply rooted, but there are a few key things we miss. First and foremost are spiedies. Spiedies are actually from Binghamton, but we enjoyed them in Syracuse , too, and are staples at the NY State Fair. Simply put, the y are chicken strips soaked in a vinegar and herb marinade and grilled, usually on a kabob. the key, of course, is the marinade. I brought back 8 bottles of marinade from our trip! (There are spiedies marinating in our frig right now) Beef on weck - a Buffalo specialty with thin sliced roast beef on a salted kummelweck roll - wasn't on the agenda this trip, but I WILL get one sooner or later!

So - what are the local foods you can't live without? If you've never moved, you might not even know! We never realized that potato chips were lousy in other parts of the world until we couldn't get our favorites.

My motto - if I can't be fishing, I might as well eat!!! Hope I didn't alienate too many people.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Back from Vacation

Been gone for a week and a half - no fishing, no computer. Just visiting friends and family (with my family), and recharging the batteries.

Look for new posts coming soon - tomorrow, hopefully.