Dateline: September 7, 2013 – Miami, Florida
Sports Illustrated will tell you that Miami’s “big three” are basketball players – Bosh, Wade, and LeCramp. But these people have never heard of the REAL big three in that town – Salvin’s Cichlid, the Green Severum, and the true star of the bunch, the Striped Mojarra. And unlike the basketball players, these stars will stay in Miami*.
To be truthful, I didn’t expect to do much fishing in Miami. I was there because the Arosteguis had generously invited me to join them for a few days in the Bahamas, and I wanted to give United Airlines plenty of time to find my luggage. But Martini always has something fishy up his sleeve, or his underpants, and it usually involves incredibly detailed research on obscure species.
In this case, two of the species were old friends of the family. But one of them – Salvin’s cichlid – took Martini hours rooting through the shadowy world of online fishing chat rooms, until he found a site – Roughfish.com – that is both reputable and filled with species-hunting kindred spirits. The first time I pulled up the site, the first four posts were for fish I have never caught, from people who get just as excited as I do about creatures that will never be on an LL Bean catalog cover. This is awesome.
In between getting the big boat ready for the trip across to Bimini, we had a free morning to run out and chase these critters. Marty, Martini, and I got into the car and headed north, up to a park somewhere south of Orlando, armed with some light rods, worms, and a bag of Publix enriched white bread. As we arrived, Martini got out his notes and directed us to a very specific 25 feet of shoreline. We cast out some small float rigs, and immediately, we got bites and pulled up some attractive cichlids – Salvin’s cichlids, according to the books. I have no idea who Salvin was or why he cavorted with cichlids, but I was grateful for the species. Thank you Roughfish.com!
It is possible that Martini’s tongue is bigger than my fish, but a species is a species.
They are a good-looking thing.
With that task accomplished, we drove back down to Coral Gables and picked up the Arostegui’s small boat. We launched in one of the many canals that criss-cross the area, and again, headed to a very specific corner of a back channel where they had seen green severum. I set up a light float and bread and waited while Marty and Martini looked for the fish. After a few moments, Marty pointed and said “There he is.”
I cast where I thought Marty had pointed, and asked “There?” Marty looked at me patiently and said “You only missed by about 10 feet.” We were 10 feet from the bank. Once I hit the correct spot, the float went down, but whether it was adrenaline or a lack of caffeine, I missed the bite completely. Then I missed the cast again. The Arosteguis looked at me patiently, as they always do. Finally, I got one. The green severum, another cichlid that has made its way into the canals from some foreign land via the aquarium trade, had joined my species list.
The green severum.
On the way back to the ramp, we cast for some peacock bass, and Marty, unassuming though he may be, but just because he really is that good, landed a seven pound largemouth.
It took me a long time to catch a largemouth this big.
We had one more species to go after, and Marty had dreamed up this one. The saltwater canals in the area have a number of mojarra species, and I have not gotten a particular one – the striped mojarra. Marty recalled that he had seem some of these in the University of Miami campus canals when he was a student there. This is no mean feat – he graduated many years ago, when their football program was actually honest. We gave it a try, as students streamed by us, crazed with joy over the day’s defeat of rival Florida. We got quite a few small fish – mojarras, tilapia, and others, but we did not find the striped creature we pursued. So we packed it in and went home to prepare for Bimini and enjoy a nice dinner.
After dinner, the canal behind the boathouse called to me. “Steve, Steve.” it called. I knew there would be a few mosquitoes, but I have caught several new species in this canal, and I thought I would give it a try. Martini was watching some TV with his family, but he told me to call if I got anything good and he would be there quickly with a net. I had no idea how quickly.
I set up right by the boathouse and was soon catching solid mangrove snappers and even one of my favorite fish of all time – the lookdown. The evening went on, cooling , pleasant, very few mosquitoes, plenty of fish, no alligators.
The Atlantic lookdown. They’re cool.
I had a very light rod – four pound line – out with a #18 hook in case one of the striped mojarras happened by. I viewed these as a micro – something along the lines of the boathouse goby and other smallish creatures. At around 10pm, something that was not a micro got a taste for very small bits of shrimp and took off, peeling line off the reel and heading for the pilings. There is a lot of structure in the area, and I gave myself a Spellman’s chance of landing it, but the fish, which I presumed to be a decent snapper, shot perfectly back between the posts and the rocky wall, and after a few tense minutes, it surfaced.
It was a huge striped mojarra – about a pound and a half. I didn’t know they got that big, and I certainly couldn’t lift it up on the lawn with the gear I had. Holding my rod out as far as possible, I edged over to the cleaning table, and at full extension, I could just reach my phone. I texted Martini a single word – “Net.”
It is approximately 200 feet to go from the house to the garage for the net and then out to where I was fishing. If the speed net grab was an Olympic event, Martini would be the gold medalist. In what seemed like seven seconds, I heard rapid footsteps, and then Martini burst through the bushes at the top of the retaining wall, soared down five feet onto the grass, and scooped up my fish.
Who knew they got this big? Next time, I won’t use a #18 hook and one pound – that’s right – one pound leader.
I had added three unanticipated species in a single day. I know there won’t always be one available when I wander through Miami, but I know the Arosteguis will always give it their best shot, and that’s as good a chance as anyone could have.
1000Fish Reader Update –
Congratulations to Jim Tolonen, long-time 1000fish reader and fishing buddy, on his first IGFA world record. On August 21, 2013, Jim captured this beast of a sand sole off Santa Cruz, California and put his name in the book.
Maybe Jim will stop reminding me that he has caught a 40 pound white seabass.
* Obviously, the delay between the trip and publishing dates gave me some additional insight, but I always thought LeCramp would go back to Cleveland – the first person since 1932 to move there voluntarily without being part of the Federal Witness Protection Program.