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Fishing the Salmon River

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Articles:                                                          Read other articles

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Florida Wintertime Canal Fishing

Fort Lauderdale’s C-11, the Tamiami, Gators and Bowfin?

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.Fly fishing Tamiami Trail

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A 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 Fort Lauderdale.

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Stan 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.

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Oscar

Florida gar

An Oscar caught on the C-11 Rt. 29 canal gar

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The Fish:

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.

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Everglade bass Florida bass
Typical canal largemouth Stan with his bass

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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 flies just as much as the fish do.

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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

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EP Glades Minnow

EP Minnow

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

Flash: Angel Hair mixed-in, optional

Markers: Adjust body color as needed

Eye: Silver tape eyes

Adhesive: Softex to cover eyes and form gill plate

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  Buy materials now

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Fly fishing for bowfin

A Florida fly caught bowfin

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Bowfin Flies:

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.

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Size 8 – 10, 4” – 5” Dougherty’s Paddler in orange/green

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Bowfin flies

Dougherty’s Paddler

Thread: White

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

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Everglade canal Everglade gar
Rt. 29 canal A pod of gars

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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 the retrieve.

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Key Canal Tactics:

Drive and stop!  Stop often and evaluate the canals for good fishing

   spots.

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.  These

   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

   scaring fish.

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.

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Florida gator Everglade's turtle
Typical canal structure and gator Turtle to the left, gator to the right

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Important Equipment:

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

GPS

Long sleeve guide shirt and long pants

Sunscreen and water

Boots and Raingear

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The Canals:

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 tarpon.

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Everglade canal fishing Florida airboats
Stan fishing a feeder canal to the C-11 Air boat park at the end of the C-11

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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.

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Everglade canals Florida canals
Typical Rt. 29 fishing cover A Rt. 29 lock

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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 became popular.  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.

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