Florida Wintertime Canal
Lauderdale’s C-11, the Tamiami, Gators and
strip, another strip, another. A
shroud of surrealistic out of body fog
envelops me as midday heat and stagnant air
stirred by passing cars swirls by.
Another cast, a strip, a pause... Why
the feeling? Good friend Stan Lupo and
I just traveled 19 hours from Pennsylvania
where a fresh veil of snow blanketed the
state the day before. Now I stand
wearing shorts and a guide shirt, cars
passing by filled with gawking onlookers
starring at the man skipping work, casting a
long rod with orange line. Not an
unusual site on the fabled Rt. 41 Tamiami
Canal, but this is the C-11 and just west of
and I both had vacation days stashed away
for just such a trip. It didn’t take
much convincing on his part before I was
packing my 5, 7 and 10 weight rods.
Our trip spanned January 30th to February
3rd and replayed earlier trips Stan experienced with once guide,
now writer Steve Kantner, a.k.a. The Land
Captain. Our new home for these five days would be just outside of Ft. Lauderdale and our launching pad to the C-11, the Tamiami
and Rt. 29 canals.
Oscar caught on the C-11
29 canal gar
The true bonus to fishing Florida canals is the diversity that can be caught.
Species include tarpon, snook, peacock bass, largemouth bass, carp, Mayan cichlids, bowfin, gar,
pompano, jacks, oscars, mullet and panfish. Even with this diversity, the majority of fish weigh
less than 6 pounds. However, at any time there’s a real chance of connecting with something
much larger, particularly with tarpon, snook, peacocks or largemouths. 10 weight rods have
their place, but a 6 or 7 weight rod will cover 80% of the fishing conditions.
Those that frequent these waters often test their skills with 3 weights.
with his bass
Florida Canal Flies:
Although large predatory fish swim these canals most anglers will find success fishing a
simple size 8 weighted sparsely tied grey-blue or brown-gold 1¾” Enrico Puglisi minnow
imitation. Use strong hooks since these fish can be sizable.
Plan to tie four flies for each day you'll
fish. You'll find sunken sod, tree
stumps and far-bank branches like these
as much as the fish do.
Good for nearly all that swims the canals:
• Size 8 – 10, 1” – 2.5” Small EP style weighted minnows in brown,
olive, or slate blue.
• Size 10 and 12 Purple Woolly buggers
Thread: Fine clear Uni-Mono
Hook: Size 8 Gamakatsu SL11-3H or Tiemco 800S
Weight: Lead wraps
Over-body: EP Fibers or similar
Under-body: EP Sparkle Pearl Magic or similar
Hair mixed-in, optional
Adjust body color as needed
Eye: Silver tape eyes
Softex to cover eyes and form gill plate
Buy materials now
A Florida fly
Although bowfins are aggressive fish they sometimes need a large brightly colored fly to
coax them from cover. Keep in mind when selecting flies that although bowfin have very wide
bucket type mouths, their mouth depth is relatively short.
Selecting flies that account for this anatomical feature will increase your catch rate.
Bunny flies are excellent choices as the bunny tail provides
length but is supple enough to collapse completely in the
bowfin’s mouth. Other flies that work but are sometimes inhibited by their stiffer
materials include Clouser minnows, Deceivers and Half and Halfs.
Fish your bunny fly slow and just off the bottom.
Retrieve it in a manner that makes the tail undulate or swim.
Size 8 – 10, 4” – 5” Dougherty’s Paddler in orange/green
Hook: Size 8 Gamakatsu SL11-3H or Tiemco 800S
Head: Orange Estaz
Tail: 4” - 5” Olive barred chartreuse bunny
Eye: Extra large Pearl Metz Presentation dumbbell
pod of gars
Wintertime Canal Conditions:
Typical wintertime canal conditions mean low water.
Therefore, fishing these canals at this time isn’t much different than fishing your favorite trout stream during the dog days of
summer. The fish tend to be more concentrated and spook easily.
Approaching the water with caution becomes extremely important.
The concentration of fish is very interesting and
probably thesis material for a Fisheries master student.
Stan and I repeatedly noticed large concentrations of the same species at different
intervals along each canal.
We saw 20 largemouth bass in a small confined area then traveled two miles down the road to find pods
of gar, traveled further and saw clusters of cichlids.
Additionally, we noticed gar nearly motionless in random arrays.
This random schooling behavior provided excellent
camouflage as the gar appeared nearly identical to sunken tree roots.
Water clarity is excellent but tea-stained, great for sight casting to fish in shallows.
Deep water is another story lending itself to blind casting.
Weather is another aspect to keep in
mind. Fish will be sluggish to take
flies if there's a streak of cold weather
prior to your trip. Another cold
weather indicator is the gator
activity. If the gators are slow, the
fish will be too. When this happens,
fish your flies slow and deep, but make sure
to provide plenty of twitching action during
Key Canal Tactics:
• Drive and stop!
Stop often and evaluate the canals for good fishing
• While driving watch for birds in the trees as they congregate near
areas with bait.
• Fish areas of moving water, these will often be more productive.
• Fish the locks as these places have deeper water.
• Fish the bridges, but also 50 or more yards to either side.
places receive less pressure.
• Use a GPS. You’ll spend more time fishing and less time hunting for
yesterday’s hot spots.
• Approach the water slowly so as not to scare fish.
• Make some-what long 45-degree angled casts to further reduce
• Target snook by fishing small areas of isolated mangroves.
• Fish early, late or on overcast days.
Fishing bright clear sunny days
is less desirable.
• Avoid stepping on anthills.
If you do, you’ll know why it’s listed here.
canal structure and gator
to the left, gator to the right
Appropriate Florida fishing license
• 5 – 10 weight rods, 6 or 7 weight is preferred
• Floating or Intermediate line, personal preference
• Fluorocarbon tippet 5 – 20 pounds, 12 pound is used most often
• Casting bucket to keep line out of grass
• Polarized sunglasses
• Long sleeve guide shirt and long pants
• Sunscreen and water
• Boots and Raingear
Fort Lauderdale’s C-11 – We traveled and fished the Griffin Road/Orange Drive (C-11) Canal
from Route 441 west approximately 15 miles towards Everglade’s Holiday Park (Air Boat Park).
Access to the canal is possible by two roads and several cross roads.
The more northern Orange Drive best accesses a majority of the C-11 canal, particularly the eastern portion
towards Route 441. The more southern Griffin Road best accesses the western portion of the
canal and enters Holiday Park. Fishing occurs at any point.
The section between Route 441 and the Florida Turnpike has a green area with walking trail.
This makes for a great area to cast without worries of snagging moving vehicles, just watch the pedestrians.
Parking is across the way in a small strip mall.
We spied tarpon estimated to 70 pounds and 5 feet in
length rolling on the surface in this area.
Smaller tarpon and mullet were mixed in, but
nothing was hitting. Traveling west, access to the canal is most successful by Orange
Drive. A park spans a large portion of this section and parking is as simple as driving
onto the grass and parking. Here I experienced largemouth and peacocks estimated to 9
pounds trailing my fly. I only caught their kids though.
Most fish were caught along the edges as cover for fish here is limited. C-11’s best fished for peacocks, largemouths and
fishing a feeder canal to the C-11
boat park at the end of the C-11
Everglades Rt. 29 Canal – We traveled west on Rt. 75 (Alligator Alley) to the Jerome exit
then followed Rt. 29 south. The canal parallels the entire length of Rt. 29 from Rt. 75 to
where it meets the Tamiami Canal near the Gator Express #2, one of the only gas stations in
the area. Locks punctuate the canal separating moderately deep water of 3 – 5 feet from
truly deep water that’s 10 – 15 feet deep.
Unlike the C-11, the fish here have plenty of
places to hide, from vast lily pad cover to sunken tree roots.
Here, Stan and I found large concentrations of largemouth bass ready to take flies.
These bass however had an interesting feeding behavior.
They would lie dormant for minutes waiting for inch-long bait
to school then in a coordinated effort several bass would crash the school snatching up
small minnows. This is where I encountered bowfin too.
Lock 3264 was a bowfin hotspot and the heavily weighted slowly fished Dougherty’s Paddler proved effective.
Stan and I practiced early-in, early-out when fishing both the Rt. 29 and Tamiami Canals.
This part of the Everglades is remote and is best suited fished during daylight hours.
During the day there’s enough traffic you can flag someone down in the event you need help, but nighttime
is another story. Gators and anthills abound so keep your eyes peeled.
If you’re like us you’ll be intrigued by the “Panther Crossing” signs posted along the highway.
Another reason to go home early. Rt. 29 is best fished for largemouths, bowfin, and cichlids.
Rt. 29 fishing cover
Rt. 29 lock
Everglades Rt. 41 Tamiami Canal – Here’s a canal that comes with history.
Lefty Kreh and other fly fishing greats fished this canal before it
Now this canal is synonymous with catching cars just as often as catching fish.
The proximity of Rt. 41 to the canal makes for
interesting fishing as cars wiz by at 70 mph.
If you’re not careful you’ll hear your fly tink off the guardrail or worse, a moving truck.
Here timing your cast is critical and fishing from bridges prohibited.
However, this is where Stan and I consistently
saw large fish. We both hooked and
lost nice snook, approximately 10 - 15
pounds and I lost a tarpon equal in
size. The lagoon-like area located off
Sea Grape Drive provided the most
success. Here snook to 15 pounds and
tarpon to 25 pounds were mixed-in with small
jacks and mullet and were found cruising the
shoreline. Most fish were
lock-jawed and the few hits we did receive
only came after flogging the water for
days. This is a nice place to take a break and watch
resident manatees, there's plenty
of parking and fishing access points too. Another Tamiami
destination just down the road is the HP
Williams Picnic Area near Turner
River Road. Here
tourists watch gators, in relative safety,
from platforms. If your fishing, the section just south
of the bridge is of interests as it holds good
populations of largemouths and
cichlids. Tamiami Canal is best fished for tarpon, snook and cichlids.
For more Tamiami history or fishing tips
read Steve Kantner's article “Buggy Whip Ditch
Revisited”, January/February issue of Fly Fishing in Saltwater.