Friday, April 19, 2013

Exotic panfish are making a comeback in The 'Glades after the 2010 freeze

Oscar, an exotic tropical fish, are making a comeback in The Florida Everglades.

I'm not going to say things have rebounded totally in The Everglades, but the fishing isn't bad.

Mayan cichlid are exciting on fly rod.
Prior to the freeze in February 2010, exotics were plentiful in The 'Glades. A typical day would produce upwards of 200 fish per person, a majority of which would be husky oscar and feisty Mayan cichlid. The freeze, however, sent a large number of the tropical exotics to their premature deaths.

Exotics in The 'Glades have been around for years. Some reports date back to the early 1950s when a disgruntled aquarium owner dumped his or her fish population into a backyard canal or pond.

The rest is history.

The Myakka Minnow is deadly on oscar and Mayans.
Oscar and Mayan cichlids took to The 'Glades and surrounding water systems like rednecks to a Southeastern Conference football game.

State fisheries biologist aren't exactly enamored by exotics, but they're here to stay. So, why not take advantage of great sport?

Oscar are unlike any freshwater fish you might have hooked on a fly rod. They don't get very large (a 3-pounder is a big one), but what they lack in size they more than make up for in strength and determination. They're the bulldogs of fresh water. They're very strong and will convince you that you have a much larger fish on the end of your line.

Patrick O'Connor shows off his first Mayan.
While Mayans aren't as strong, they're very fast. The make short, quick runs and are a treat on light fly rods or spinning tackle.

Patrick O'Connor, a Boca Grande firefighter, joined my for an outing to The Everglades recently. We met at 4:30 a.m. and made the 2-hour drive south. We launched the kayaks at dawn and immediately began fishing -- and catching!

Both of us started the day casting popping bugs. I switched to my trusty Myakka Minnow after about 10 minutes. Didn't take long to hook a Mayan cichlid. In addition, I caught largemouth bass, bluegill, stumpknocker and shellcracker. We later added several nice speckled perch (black crappie). We estimated than we landed more than 200 fish on the day.

Patrick hooked the first oscar, a small one that weight a little less than a pound.

On the day, we caught and released 14 oscar and 15 Mayan cichlid.

Those aren't great numbers, but that's easily the best I've done since the 2010 freeze. I hadn't seen an oscar since December 2009.

I had caught a few Mayans in that span, but not in any appreciable numbers.

I'm thinking the exotic population will be back to "normal" in a year or two. Meanwhile, it will be a smorgasbord of action on freshwater species.

For this fishing, we use 4- and  5-weight fly rods, floating lines and 7 1/2- to 9-foot monofilament leaders. I'll rig one rod with a No. 8 popper, one with a black Myakka Minnow and a third with a No. 10 nymph under a strike indicator.

When the action slowed after mid-morning, we switch to nymphs and began catching quite a few fish.

Best times of year to fish The 'Glades are December through April. Once the rainy season begins in June, the water level rises and fish spread out over millions of acres. When the water down, fish are concentrated.

I have fished the area in June, but thunderstorms, high water and bugs are par for the course.

On occasion, I have caught peacock bass, but not since the freeze. The particular area I fish is little north of the peacock bass's northern Florida range.

But I'm not really after peacock bass. I'm after oscar and Mayan cichlid.

I missed them for a few years. It now appears as if they're making a comeback!


  1. Thats good news! Those Oscars are STRONG FIGHTERS!!

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