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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Fishing South Florida in December

After having caught a few early ice perch and panfish, I was more than ready for a short 8 day trip to Miami, to visit my daughter and her family, as well as go to a few pre-planned meetings I had scheduled before my trip.

After spending the first few days enjoying much needed time spent with the family, I was ready to head out on Biscayne Bay for a 6 hour fishing trip. Guided by Captain Doug Lillard who runs Miamitarponguide charters. The plan was bring along my son in law Nati, as well as his younger brother Benny, for some multispecies saltwater action.

We got to the Crandon Park boat ramp at Key Biscayne before the crack of dawn, proceeded with our early morning ritual prayers before sunrise, and met up with the Captain just as the sun was rising over the bay.

First order of the day was catching bait. Captain Doug led us to a small reef in 15 foot deep trench in the bay to catch shark bait. The action was fast and furious, I got bit within seconds every time I dropped the line. We kept some sort of grunts for bait, and released the undersized yellowtail snappers and a small grouper.

Before trying for sharks, our Captain suggested we start the day trying to catch bonefish and permit on some weed covered shallow flats. For the most parts, our bait kept getting pecked off by nuisance fish. We didn't manage any bonefish or permit, but both Nati and Benny landed some bonnethead sharks, which are basically a micro version of hammerhead sharks. They don't grow much bigger than about 5 lbs, but put up a decent fight on light tackle.

After a while, Captain Doug suggested we switch it up and target some bigger predators. We switched spots, and then he rigged a bigger rod for sharks, using a grunt cut in a butterfly pattern for maximum efficiency. Drifting the bait about 50 feet behind the boat in less than 2 feet of water, while I stood on the front deck casting a big topwater stickbait to try to catch barracuda.

A decent blacktip shark drew first blood. I big surface splash broke the calm surface, and set the drag screaming. Nati was first up on the big rod, and held on for dear life as the blacktip shark made some screaming runs, as well as big jumps. Not having much experience fighting big game sportfish, the lactic acid buildup soon had him handing over the rod. After a couple runs, I figured I'd let Benny have a shot at it, as he too, had never experienced a big game tussle up until that point.

Despite a bit of coaching and direction both from myself and Captain Doug, Benny tired as well. Gave us each another run on the blacktip, which really put up a remarkable fight on relatively light gear, despite only being in the 50 lbs to 60 lbs range.

I finally subdued the shark boat side, and got a quick pic.

Having the proper release tools ensures that the shark are released in top shape with the need to remove them from the water, nor cut any hooks.

The next spot we fished had big schools of juvenile barracudas swarming and nipping at my topwater lure with nearly every cast. Somehow, none of them managed to hook up. We did get another shark hit, but unfortunately, the braid mainline had somehow tangled around of of the rod guide, and the shark snapped it within seconds of the initial take, even before Captain Doug had a chance to remove the rod from the holder. Unfortunately, that was the last shark hit of the day, and in retrospect, I was very glad we took turns fighting the first shark, so each of us was able experience some big game action.

As both Nati and Benny didn't really have the skill set to make long the long bomb casts and quick / erratic retrieval required for barracudas, I stuck with it for most of the day. Spot after spot didn't produce any takers, until out last spot of the day finally paid off. 

Within less than 5 casts, I got a good topwater hit in about 12 inches of water. While I expected the speed and power of a barracuda, I was amazed by their stamina. Not having much elsewhere to go, the barracuda went airborne 3 or 4 times, before running under our bow for deeper water, as we were fishing the edge of a drop off. I quickly buried the rod under the bow mount trolling motor to avoid getting the line snapped, follow it through, and came out with the fish in deeper water. After a couple more jumps and few blistering runs, Captain Doug grabbed it's tail and flipped it on board.

Measuring close to 38 inches, my first "cuda" was a bit over average size, and having plugged away for hours on a topwater lure, made it all the more satisfying.

That was all for the day, we headed back home about 1/2 hour later.

As my trip to Florida wasn't a dedicated fishing trip, I didn't bring along any gear. Knowing myself, I would not have spent any time with the family of getting anything else done if I had my gear. On a few occasions, I walked along some freshwater canals near my daughter's home in North Miami, spotting some bedding largemouth bass, and tons of iguanas.

Eventually, I travelled further North for some meetings, finding myself in Coral Springs for the first time. I had a considerable amount of time in between both meetings, so I drove around a bit. At some point, I parked near one the the canals, and immediately spotted my first pair of peacock bass protecting a huge school of newly hatched fry. 

If only I had my rod, I likely would have had a new freshwater species to add to my list! One of those moments, but was happy just to spot them.

A mid afternoon meeting in nearby Boca Raton got cancelled at the last minute, so instead of heading back down to Miami right away, I decided to pass by the pier at Pompano beach to see if I was able to get a couple hours of fishing done.

Not having done very well fishing off Florida's piers in the past, I wasn't expecting much, but how else was I able to pass up a sunny afternoon with great weather?

I was super lucky to find a parking spot right in front of the pier, where I found a bait shop that rented rods, providing and tackle and bait as well.

Not having eaten any lunch, I opted for quick liquid version while on the pier, as I only had 2 hours to fish.

Almost immediately, I start noticing schools of decent sized fish under the pier. They turned out to be a mix of very nice snook that wanted nothing to do with my offering of frozen shrimp, and hungry scrawled filefish, (related to triggerfish), that kept pecking my bait off the big hook with their tiny mouths. 

After frustrating 45 minutes or so, I headed back to the tackle shop, asked the for the smallest hooks they had, as well as some frozen squid, which would stay on the hook much longer than soft shrimp.

Again, I kept getting pecked off, but was getting closer to my goal of hooking one of these scrawled filefish, which by now, we schooling up right under me by the dozens every time I dropped some fresh bait.

I finally managed to hook and land my first one within about 15 minutes or so, seemed to be one of the largest ones in the school.

Some crazy colors on these fish, but super flat and all bones. Perfect for catch and release. I managed to hook a few more scrawled filefish, with some coming of as I tried to haul them a good 20 feet up onto the pier, but still managed to land some.

Would have stayed until dark, but as it was my last night in Miami, had to leave a hot bite to spend more time with the family. Was still very happy with the last minute outing and resulting success, and funny enough, I'd probably have landed a ton of these scrawled filefish if I had brought along some of my smaller ice fishing lures. I'll know better next time...

For those of you interested, Captain Doug Lillard and be reached at He's been guiding Biscayne Bay for decades, and is one of the better guides to do it.

As for the Pompano beach pier, they don't seem to have a dedicated web site, so Google is your friend.

Back home now, will eventually post my late fall ice fishing results before the the winter rules kick in on December 20th.


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