February 19, 2019

Saguenay Ice Fishing Adventure - 2019

The last two trips down to southern tropical regions had really messed with my cold resistance and I had very little motivation to go out ice fishing for nearly two months this winter. That all changed when my girlfriend finally convinced me to plan our annual trip out to the Saguenay Fjord, I knew that I would regret missing out on that. So, I grudgingly found a cabin to rent and started prepping our gear for the 700' depths of the fjord. Rigging 2 setups with a "paternoster" or "palier" rig was no small task; it's a popular rig that allows you to cover a good section of the water column, with lures spaced every 10-30' along the line. I have not been able to find an English name but the Norwegians call it "paternoster" and we call it "à palier" here in Quebec.

The drive down to the Saguenay region is always beautiful, as it's quite mountainous and the snow-covered trees make for a lovely setting. As always, snow was piled up quite high along the shoulders of the highway, often covering road signs!

We started the trip with a mandatory stop at "Accomodation des 21" in the town of La Baie, a small tackle shop that sells the specialty gear needed to fish at such depths through the ice. Here you can buy heavy ice rods, 6oz jigging spoons, "palier" lures, etc. Leaving the shop, I planned to start the fishing in relatively shallow water, hoping to pull up some Greenland Cod. We explored from 30-200' without any luck and decided to switch spots after about two hours. Though unsuccessful, it did give us a chance to admire our surroundings.

The next spot was in a bit deeper water, around the 500' mark. We spent the rest of the day there and didn't have much luck, but Alex managed to pull up her lifer Deepwater Redfish! Confirmed by the presence of 8 or more soft anal fin rays.

As the sun went down, we brought up our rigs (all 500' with intermittent lures clipped on), and headed into town to have dinner at a cantine. Of course, poutine was in order! We then drove down to another section of the fjord where I had reserved the cabin to spend the night. This area is called Anse St-Jean, I often reserve our cabin there because its village is much smaller than other ones in the region.

Anse St-Jean
There aren't really any legit companies renting out cabins on the fjord, so usually I just find someone willing to rent on Facebook and go from there. This particular cabin was nicely outfitted with an oil heater and the owner provided bait for the night. He let us know that the prior clients had caught many small Redfish, known locally as Sébaste, throughout the day. We quickly baited up and dropped our rigs down to about 230'. The bites came quick and soon we were landing fish quite consistently! Unfortunately, they were all Deepwater Redfish, but we didn't mind too much because this was the most action we had ever had on the fjord.

After many more Sébaste, I had something hit hard as my lure was dropping down through the column. I knew it had to be something different; the bite was more aggressive and the fish was fighting more erratically than any of the Redfish. Pulling it up through the hole, I saw that I finally had my lifer Greenland Cod!

Most of the night essentially consisted of Redfish, and pulling up the rigs and clipping/unclipping all the lures was getting exhausting. I had pretty much given up on catching anything new and left one fish biting while I helped Alex unhook a decent Sébaste. Little did I know, the fish biting was a very special one indeed... perhaps the fish I wanted to catch most from Saguenay :o Anyway, I finished up photographing her catch, and proceeded to bring up the biting fish. To my surprise and joy, it was a Sea Tadpole!! A gelatinous fish known locally as "Jello Fish" with little to no endearing qualities, but one I had wanted to catch for a long time.

Elsa plate because we thought it was funny and because they are rumoured to be poisonous, any truth to that?

We pretty much ended the night at 3AM and passed out straight away. The next morning, we rose at 7AM, cleaned up the cabin, and packed our gear. One of the common fish we had yet to catch was the Greenland Halibut, or Turbot. Thus, we headed to a nearby spot my friend had recommended and set up my pop-up shelter. Unfortunately, the Turbot was not to be and we had very little action at that spot.

Before calling the weekend and heading home, we walked out to a deeper spot in 700' of water and decided to make one last effort. I didn't get many bites at all, but finally, as I was jigging, the rig suddenly felt heavier. I then proceeded to complete the process of reeling up all the line and unclipping all of the lures, of course the fish had to be on the bottom jig :p After all of that work, the lure seemed to get caught on the edge on the ice and the fish disappeared. But, upon closer investigation, it was actually some sort of ray that could not fit through the hole! And so ensued a lengthy process of attempting to drill a second hole with my hand auger, nearly breaking my girlfriend's arm in the process (I fell on her). Finally, the fish pulled through and I was holding a crazy-looking and very spiky fish, aptly named the Thorny Skate :)

That fish pretty much ended the trip as Alex's arm was in pain and my hands were getting dangerously close to the frostbite zone after having brought up the rig and held the fish for photos. All in all, we were super stoked with our successes and felt accomplished to have finally pulled up something worthwhile from the Saguenay Fjord!

February 07, 2019

Florida Fishing Road Trip - Northward Bound

This final leg of the trip starts just north of the Keys and ends back at home in Canada. We started off back at the ditch where we caught the Mozambique Tilapia in part one. Having already fished the spot, I wasn't expecting much but ended up catching a 2 new species! A Black Acara and an awesome Jaguar Guapote! Now Casey wasn't the only one to land one ;)

Jaguar Guapote
Black Acara
After the ditch spot, we split up with Gerry and slowly made our way north. It was a very action-packed day, we hit 7 spots and fished from 6AM to 10PM. I never managed to catch my much-wanted Peacock Bass, but did manage a good number of new exotics including: Redhead Cichlid, Eastern Happy Cichlid, Great Snakehead, and Salvini Cichlid.

Redhead Cichlid
Eastern Happy Cichlid
Great Snakehead
Salvini Cichlid
I also finally caught a Dollar Sunfish as well as a few other natives that came out to play. Most of our targets were exotic aquarium releases, but it was nice to see that there were still some natives left in the state lol.

Dollar Sunfish
Seminole Killifish
Crested Goby
Coastal Shiner
The last planned spot for the day was in the everglades for Brown Hoplos. Unfortunately, they were nowhere to be found because the Walking Catfish seemed to have pushed them out. The spot was still worth the drive because I did catch my lifer Yellow Bullhead (finally!).

Disappointed at having been unable to land my lifer Brown Hoplo, we decided to make a last ditch effort 2 hours away at a spot Gerry had found. Little did we know, the park closed at 10PM, and we only arrived at 9:23. By the time we found the spot, it was already 9:40 and we wanted to be back in the car at 9:45 in order to have time to leave before the automatic gate closed. And so, I had 5 minutes to catch the fish... Five minutes later, 0 bites and I gave up and started picking up my rods :( To my surprise, a small Hoplo was on the end of one of the lines!!

The Hoplo marked the end of a pretty intense day, we only made it to Ken's friend's house at 2AM the next morning. We decided to sleep in until 8:00 before heading to Orlando. There, I caught my first lifers of 2019! A quiet suburban park yielded both a Convict Cichlid and a Variable Platy, more aquarium releases.

Convict Cichlid
Variable Platy
The next spot was only 10 minutes away and was essentially a puddle on the side of the road. There were supposedly some American Flagfish there but all we could see were thousands of Mosquitofish. After weeding through what felt like hundreds, I finally pulled up something different! A Golden Topminnow, another unexpected lifer :) After enough searching, we found the Flagfish and each managed to catch one as well.

Golden Topminnow
American Flagfish
Those were my final lifers of the trip, and what an epic trip it was! I caught  total of 51 new species, which also made for over 100 in 2018. Combined, our group caught over 80 different fish species, pretty impressive for under 10 days of fishing. I'll leave you with our group picture; from left to right: Ken, me, Tim, Casey, and Gerry.

January 29, 2019

Florida Fishing Road Trip - The Keys

This next part of the road trip all happened in one area: the Florida Keys. As I have less of a connection to saltwater species, this will mainly be a sort of "photo essay" rather than a full report. Most of the fish were caught at the renown Channel 5 bridge, but we did hit a few other spots as well. The following photos are just some of the more interesting or colourful fish we caught, not necessarily every lifer obtained (there were way too many lol).

We arrived at night and started fishing for sharks right away. Gerry showed up out of the darkness and introduced himself to us, he was ready for the fishing to begin! No sharks were caught that night, but I did catch this super cool Green Moray on a handline; it would make great bait for later on.

Waking up on the beach was a pretty cool experience, a little groggy and salty, but I still felt very lucky to be in such a beautiful area :)

The first spot of the day was the aforementioned Channel 5 bridge, where the lifers really started rolling in. I don't remember how many fish were caught, but the bites were constant and everything I pulled up seemed to be something new. Here are a few of the cool ones:

Slippery Dick
Yellowtail Snapper
French Grunt
Yes, I finally caught the infamous Slippery Dick! Please visit "www.slipperydickpics.com" should you feel the need to see more pics haha.

After we seemed to have exhausted many of the more easily obtained lifers, we switched up spots and tried another bridge over shallower and weedier. Here we caught a different variety of fish, more pics below:

Horse-eye Jack
Sand Perch
Bandtail Puffer
Planehead Filefish
That was it for the day, over 20 new species in the books and the night hadn't begun yet. The rest of the group went in to sleep, but Ken and I decided to brave the windy weather and put another few hours in for sharks. The conditions were rough and the action wasn't hot, but I did manage my first shark ever! A Nurse Shark:

The following day was more of the same; trying a few new spots and trying to catch any new species we could find. A few of my highlights, including my first-ever Pupfish, are pictured below:

Buffalo Trunkfish
Scrawled Cowfish
Goldspotted Killifish
Hardhead Silverside
That pretty much sums up the Keys portion of the adventure. I learned a lot more about saltwater fishing from Ken and started seeing why some anglers like these tropical areas so much. I won't say I'm converted from freshwater, but I can appreciate the variety and colours of these fish.

January 28, 2019

Florida Fishing Road Trip - Florida/Georgia Line to Miami

The 2018-2019 Christmas break would mark my first ever "long" distance trip with the main purpose of species fishing. I was heading to Florida with fellow lifelister Ken from Toronto, and we would be meeting up with 3 others: Tim and Casey from North Carolina, and Gerry from Illinois. Together we would be fishing our way around the state, and attempting to catch as many species as possible.

Ken and I had a total of 10 days to complete the trip, the first day and a half consisted of uneventful driving and a relatively noisy night at a rest stop on I-75. Thankfully, I made great time driving and we managed to arrive a day before we had planned. We used this extra time in the evening to try for Spotted Bullhead at a spot where Tim had caught several on a previous trip. Unfortunately, the water was very high in the area and the rivers were essentially unfishable. In fact, the water was so high that it completely submerged fences. We found a beautiful free campground at a boat ramp and attempted to catch some Golden Silverside we saw in the shallows, but they would not bite in the dark.

The next day, we were still a good few hours ahead of schedule. While we waited for the tide to go out at our first planned stop, we fished for one of our top targets of the trip: the Suwanee Bass! The water at the spot was beautifully clear; it flowed directly out of one of the springs in northern Florida. It took a few casts, but I was lucky enough to catch my Suwanee pretty quickly on a spinner tipped with a worm. With this fish, I was already very happy with the trip!

Despite seeing many of the desired Bass swimming around in the clear water, Ken was not able to convince one to hit :( That being said, the extra time was not wasted because it allowed me to catch an unexpected lifer: the Redear Sunfish. I did not think I would have time to catch one on this trip, so it was a welcome surprise (little did I know I would catch several in the coming days lol).

We were finally back on schedule, so we headed out to Cedar Key where we planned to catch a number of Killifish species. Two of the four targets never showed up, but we both managed to catch Gulf Killifish and Diamond Killifish. I have to thank Ken for showing me the perseverance required to catch the tiny Diamonds.

The next stop on our way south was in Tampa, where we were meeting up with one of Ken's friends, Ryan, to fish for an exotic Cichlid that he had discovered in the community pond behind his house. It didn't take too much time before I caught it: the Dimerus Cichlid. This was a pretty cool catch because it is only known to be in this location in all of North America! Ken took a little while longer to catch his, but I didn't mind because I was catching massive Coppernose Bluegill and Redear Sunfish in the deeper water off the end of the dock. A big thanks to Ryan for his hospitality and for the opportunity at another lifer!

With the Dimerus checked off the list, we said our goodbyes and continued south into the Everglades. We drove all the way to Monroe Station where we were supposed to meet up with Tim and Casey. They were sleeping by the time we arrived, but I couldn't keep myself away from the nearby canals. I knew they held a good number of Walking Catfish, another exotic species I had yet to catch. It took a bit of searching, but I eventually landed one and got to see them "walk" for the first time. They really do walk quite efficiently on land! I also caught a Florida Gar on 4lb mono for the hell of it.

This next capture was pretty special. While fishing for the Walking Cats, I saw tons of Plecos all around the canal. As many species fishermen know, these fish are notoriously difficult to catch because they will ignore any and all presentations offered to them. After being disappointed by them many times, I noticed a dead Walking Catfish on the bottom. Investigating closer, I saw about 8 Plecos feeding on its slime coating. I knew this would be my chance! It took about 20 minutes of placing a small chunk of worm on the dead fish, but eventually I lifted up a fair-hooked Amazon Sailfin Catfish! What a crazy-looking fish.

After my Pleco, I headed to bed while Ken stayed up to catch his. I believe he caught it about an hour later at 1 in the morning, but I was asleep by then. The following morning we rose with the sun and introduced ourselves to Tim and Casey, who had also woken. We quickly packed up camp and headed east to Miami for some more exotic goodness.

The first (successful) stop of the day was under a bridge in a very urban area of Miami for Hornet Tilapia. The homeless camps set up under the bridge were a little unnerving, but I did catch my first Hornet Tilapia as well as a Spotted Tilapia. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the group to catch these species.

Next, we headed to a peaceful suburban park to try for Midas Cichlids and whatever other exotics would show up. I had no luck with the Midas, but Tim did manage to catch his! Very jealous of that one haha. I did get my lifer Mayan Cichlid and Jewel Cichlid at this spot though.

Mayan Cichlid
African Jewel Cichlid
The final spot of the day was literally a ditch on the side of the road. Tim, Casey, and I quickly caught lifer Pike Killifish :) After that had been accomplished, we began catching tons of Tilapia. As it turns out, they were Mozambiques, another lifer for everyone in the group. Casey also caught a Jaguar Guapote, and consequently made everyone very jealous!

We then continued heading south into the Florida Keys, where the next part of this report will begin ;)