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.