Friday, December 13, 2013

Oscar are sipping flies and bending rods in the Florida Everglades

Vinny Caruso of Bradenton, Fla., battles a feisty Everglades oscar on fly rod.

The trip was no different than any others: oscar and Mayan cichlid sipping flies like construction workers at happy hour.

The action was THAT good.

This oscar took a copper Myakka Minnow.
It usually is in the Florida Everglades where exotic species --  along with native species -- are plentiful and ever so willing to provide fishing fun.

That trip took place on Dec. 17, 2009.

A month later came the day the fishing died. The freeze of 2010 was so severe it killed several hundred thousand fish (or more) across the state. Snook, which were severely impacted, got the headlines. The exotics virtually were ignored.

I understand why. Oscar, Mayan cichlid and other exotics aren't native to Florida. Fisheries biologists think the first exotics were unceremoniously dumped into south Florida waterways as far back as 1954. They theorize a frazzled aquarium owner chose to dump the fish rather than transport them on a move north. Or perhaps they simply got tired of taking care of the critters.
Paul Drewry of Michigan holds a whopper oscar.

Whatever the reason, the exotics are here to stay.

I don't mind that at all. In fact, I rather enjoy catching them on light fly rods.

But that hasn't been too easy over the past four years. In fact, my treks to the Everglades yielded little more than largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcracker, stumpknocker and speckled perch during that span. For the first three years after the freeze, I caught no oscar and less than a half dozen Mayan cichlid.

Things began to change last spring when Patrick O'Conner of Rotonda and I made the 2 1/2-hour drive south. We didn't exactly tear the exotics up, but we did pretty well. We combined to catch 30 oscar amount out bounty of other species.

So, when Vinny Caruso of Bradenton drove to the 'Glades  on Dec. 10, we had great expectations.

Myakka Minnows are the ticket to Everglades' success.
We weren't disappointed.

I'm happy to say, the oscar are back!

We caught at least 125 oscar -- and maybe more.

Let the good times roll!

I figured the exotic species would rebound. Severe freezes occur in Florida from time to time. So, fish kills are somewhat common. The exotics are tropical fish and cannot tolerate water temperatures much below 60.
But you have to figure that no matter how severe the freeze, every exotic is not going to be killed. As long as one male and one female survive, there's a chance to sustain the species. It took four years, but the oscar appear to have rebounded.

We only caught one Mayan cichlid, but that doesn't mean too much. I caught several Mayans post freeze in other locations. In fact, a buddy of mine, Dave Robinson of Sarasota said he and a couple of others caught all they wanted last year just south of Marco Island.

Could have been there just weren't that many Mayan cichlid where we fished.

What's the attraction?

It's threefold: 1. They're plentiful; 2. They're aggressive; 3. They fight better than any fish for their size.
I target the exotics only with fly rod. Most often I employ a 3- or 4-weight fly rod (I used Temple Fork Outfitters Finesse series) with floating line and 7 1/2-foot leader. While tiny tippets are the rule when fly fishing for panfish, you'll have to beef up when you target exotics. They like to hang out around structure and their first move is back into that structure. So, rather than the usual 5X (4-pound test) tippet, you'll need at least 4X or even 3X.

When you hook an oscar or Mayan, they'll make a strong, quick lunge back into the structure. It's you job to keep them out. If you fail, you'll most likely lose the fish and your fly.

It was Caruso's first time fishing for exotics. He was impressed. He couldn't believe that small fish could actually tow his kayak during the fight.

"i lost quite a few flies," he said. "It took me a while to get used to their strength. They're a lot stronger than other fish their size."

The average oscar weighs about 3/4 of a pound. A really large one will push 1 1/2 pounds.

But don't let their size fool you. Tie an oscar tail to tail with a bass, and the oscar will pull the bass inside out!

The International Game Fish Association all-tackle world record oscar weight 3 pounds, 8 ounces. It was caught by Jay Wright Jr., from Pasadena Lakes (Florida) in 1999. A friend of mine, Marty Arostegui of Coral Gables, holds several tippet class world records for oscar.

The biggest oscar I've even taken weighed an estimated 3 pounds. I caught that fish on a popping bug in a Picayune Strand State Forest waterway in 2006.

We usually start out fishing with No. 10 popping bugs. I like chartreuse (I use Boogle Bugs), but I'm not certain color makes too much difference.

When the topwater bite ends -- it usually doesn't a  couple of hours after sunrise -- I switch to my Myakka Minnow, a fly that has produced thousands of fish for me over the years.

One Myakka Minnow will last the whole outing, providing you don't break off.

For information on that great fly, just "google" Myakka Minnow. Or you can drop me an email:

We didn't experience one of those great days in the 'Glades, but it was good enough. In addition to oscar, we totaled 80 largemouth bass (mostly small), 30 bluegill, 25 stumpknocker and a few shellcracker.

I don't know much about using spinning gear in the 'Glades, but I would imagine ultralight tackle would work just fine. Couple that with 6=pound line and you're in business. Beetle Spins (1/32-ounce), small jigs and tiny topwaters should produce all the action you want.

I fish the 'Glades from my kayak and offer kayak trips. For fly fishing, I've found my Jackson Kilroy (  to be a superb boat. It's roomy, stable and uncluttered -- perfect for fly fishing.It's the best kayak for fly fishing that I've ever used.

I limit my Everglades outings. I usually begin in December and will fish through April. That's when the water level is at its lowest. Low water concentrates the fish.

I avoid the rainy season. Not only are the fish able to spread out over millions of acres, but the heat, daily thunderstorms and mosquitoes aren't fun.

Though I offer Everglades charters, I hesitated over the last four years. That's a long way to go for less than stellar action.

But it appears that the exotics have recovered. So, I'm happy to say I'm looking forward to the long drives once again.