Tag Archives: Florida

Post Season Bacon

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Depending on where you are in the country, hunting season has just about wrapped up. Deer season was months ago, and turkey season has pretty much come to an end. If you’re anything like me, you’re already counting down until opening day in fall. But don’t be so quick to put away the camos just yet. There’s one animal in particular that still offers hunting opportunity far later in the year, and year round in some cases: The feral pig.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

By this point in time, if you’ve never heard of the feral pig or wild pigs, you’ve probably been living under a rock. They’re extremely invasive and have spread themselves throughout almost all of the Southeastern United States. The pigs were originally brought in by the Spanish, and in conjunction with a series of farm escapes throughout the years, they’ve spread like wildfire.

Pigs pose a major problem to agriculture. They cause millions of dollars in damage to crops every year because of the way they feed. Pigs naturally root up the ground to dig for tubers and roots. Areas that’ve had a group of pigs come through honestly look like someone came in and dragged a tractor disk across the ground. They rip up everything, and when you add in their extremely fast reproductive rates, they’ve gotten out of hand.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

Over the past few years, states have begun to recognize the wild pig issue. All states that have feral pigs present have incorporated harvesting them into regular hunting seasons, but many have actually taken it a step further. States like Florida have unique laws. On specific Wildlife Management Areas, there are extra wild pig seasons that are open during various times over the summer. This not only allows the public access to many of these WMA’s during non-standard hunting times, but it also allows them the opportunity to hunt outside of the regular hunting season.

And let’s not forget private land. Depending on what part of the state you’re in, many counties allow for wild pigs to be harvested with the use of spotlight, night vision, or even the help of dogs. Hunting on private land for pigs also lasts year round; there’s no defined season. This has been put in place to try and help curb not only their spread, but also the amount of damage they can do to private land owners.

As with any outdoor activity (but especially hunting), be sure to check up and familiarize yourself with the local laws and regulations regarding pigs as each state is different. Hunters should also be well-prepared as far as gear goes to hunt pigs. Many public land areas forbid the use of center-fire rifles during pig seasons. This means a hunter is restricted to either archery hunting or shotguns. Using a bow for pigs can be very effective, but it’s important to ensure a clean shot as they are extremely tough animals. With shotguns, I would avoid buckshots entirely and just stick to slugs.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

On private land, you’re usually welcome to use whatever you’d like. My personal favorites are either a 7.62×39 or a 30-06 when chasing pigs. There are obviously about a hundred different options for cartridges that will work for wild pigs, but that’s a discussion for another day. Just be sure to pick something that has a decent amount of knockdown power. Even a fairly small pig can be somewhat dangerous if cornered and wounded. If you’re planning on hunting at night, be sure to outfit your firearm properly. High-powered scopes are often difficult to wield when using spotlights, and finding your target in the crosshairs can be just as challenging.

Image: Alex Vail

Image: Alex Vail

So if you’ve found yourself down in the dumps because hunting season is over, consider taking a look at wild pigs. Harvesting them isn’t just for hunting’s sake, it’s actually good for our natural environments and agricultural productivity. And let’s be honest, there are few things better than waking up on a warm summer’s day and cooking up some bacon for breakfast.

The Style of David E. Petzal

By Jack Kredell

Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” reveals a profane yet common reversal in which the father is led by the son. In the post-apocalyptic future of “The Road,” the father is a heartsick refugee while the son, who was an infant when the event occurred, is at home. While the father continues to serve as his son’s guardian, he is no longer his authority. It’s simply not his world. As brutal as the present is for the father, it’s the memory of the former world that destroys him.

I mention the predicament of “The Road’s” nameless father because it seemed like an apt metaphor for the duality of David E. Petzal’s output over the last couple of years. Petzal, who is one half of Field and Stream’s “The Gun Nuts” blog, is a case study in how not to get Zumbo’ed despite an obvious distaste for the tactical development of today’s gun and hunting markets. Without a doubt, he is writing about today’s world; what I find odd is how he seems to loathe every aspect of it without having the courage to say so. I find that disingenuous.

For the most part, Petzal writes with a kind of gentle armchair pomposity about all things gun and hunting related. His hunting and firearm experience is vast, and he is humble. But there is something contrived about his style, the hallmarks of which are sentences that strain towards aphorism; solemn references to Shakespeare or classic writers who might be considered outside the purview of his audience; boilerplate tough guy bwana hunting narratives; easy and obligatory swipes at Hilary Clinton…etc, the overall effect of which is that brand of smug and pandering we’ve come to know so well during this election cycle.

David E. Petzal.

Image: http://www.fieldandstream.com/

But what sticks out most about Petzal’s language is the quaintness of it. It’s full of nostalgia. It insists on trying to describe and define the present according to various laws of history. It’s classical without being excessive and perverse—it’s Disney classical.

David E. Petzal is indeed a guardian of a certain kind of world, which may or may not exist. When he tries to relate to this world, which is the world of Black Lives Matter and black rifles, he no longer feels like an authority. He simply comes across as a crank with a quaint prose style.

Winter Camping in the Everglades

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

When you think of camping and boating, generally an image of warm summer days and swimming come to mind. But let’s be honest—chances are that if you look out of your window right now, it’s far from a warm summer day outside. There is, however, a place in the U.S. where winter is the best time of the year to camp: The Florida Everglades are calling your name.

Sunset

Image: Alex Vail

Unlike the rest of the country right now, the Florida Everglades are actually comfortable outside, and winter is the best time of the year to go out there and camp. Generally temperatures range anywhere from the high 40s to the upper 70s from the months of November through March, which is perfect weather for camping. A large majority of the mosquitoes have also died off, so you can pitch a tent and not worry about severe blood loss. It isn’t, however, as simple as driving out there and pitching a tent. There are a few things to prepare for and keep in mind before venturing out into the ‘Glades.

Before You Go

Unpacking a tent.

Image: Alex Vail

Only about 1/8 of the available campsites in the Everglades can actually be reached by foot. Another advantage of it being winter is that water levels are down so actually walking to campsites in areas like Everglades National Park or Big Cypress National Preserve is a pretty dry trek. Try doing this in summer or fall, and you’re guaranteed to be wading through knee-deep water. The other 7/8? Those campsites have to be reached by kayak or boat. Almost all of the campsites along the coast, like the Ten Thousand Islands and the southern point of Everglades National Park, must be reached by water, either by power boat or paddle craft. Be sure to be wary of shallow water if you’re bringing a boat. Most of the water out in the ‘Glades is only about three or four feet deep. It’s entirely possible to get stuck for upwards of six hours thanks to extreme tides.

Preparation

You’re going to want to bring all of your usual camping equipment. If you’re going by paddle craft or hiking, however, weight is going to be of a big concern so cut down wherever you can. If you’ve also decided to camp within the Ten Thousand Islands, you’re going to have to bring all the water you need with you. Sun protection is still very important, even this time of the year, so sunscreen and long sleeves/face protection are an absolute must. Weather is still just as unpredictable as ever, so rain gear as well as rope to tie down the tent are a good idea, too. As far as navigation goes, you should always carry two different ways of navigation at all times. I prefer a map with a compass for standard navigation, and I carry a GPS as a backup. The last thing in the world you want is to get lost out there. Finally, even though the mosquitoes have died off quite a bit, they’re still a very real thing. Heavy applications of Deet and Thermacell are a good idea.

On Arrival 

One of the big kickers with camping in the Everglades is that campsites are limited to a certain amount of campers per site. This means they need to be reserved. However, you cannot reserve campsites beyond 24 hours in advance of your trip, which really translates into reserving them when you check into the ranger station. There are stations located in Flamingo as well as Everglades City, and they have maps and information inside that can be pretty helpful as well. The ranger will want to know where you plan to camp each night of your trip, and you’ll have to reserve one for each night you plan to stay. This is obviously for safety, but also for the simple fact that some campsites only fit so many people.

In the ‘Glades

It’s wild out there—be sure to consistently check your bearings and location to avoid getting turned around. There are generally three different types of campsites out there: ground sites, beach sites, and chickees. Ground sites are simple campsites on some of the sparse dry ground in the backcountry. These sites have picnic tables, a porta-john, and that’s about it. Since these are usually tucked back into the mangroves, the mosquitoes can be horrendous. You also can’t have fires at these sites, so keep that in mind when considering how you’re going to cook food.

Tent camping.

Image: Alex Vail

Beach sites are exactly like they sound: a campsite on a beach. But they aren’t really a sandy beach with coconut palm trees on them. The beaches are made up almost entirely of crushed shell and mangroves that are within just a few yards of some of the sites. There are no tables at these (they’d get washed away), and there aren’t usually any porta-johns (some have them, though). You’re welcome to build a fire at these using the abundant driftwood that washes up.

Kayak packed with camp gear.

Image: Alex Vail

Finally there are the chickees. These are essentially raised up dock platforms that are located randomly right on the surface of the water in many of the bays and estuaries. There’s a single roof on these, no walls, and enough room for your tent, a little gear, and a porta-john. That’s it. This is where the rope comes in handy to tie your tent to the dock since you can’t place stakes. You obviously cannot have fires on these either, unless you really feel like having an adventure and burning the whole platform down with you on top. The mosquitoes can be relatively bad at these, but my big thing is just comfort. Bring a sleeping pad for your tent as the dock platform isn’t the most comfortable thing in the world to sleep on.

Tent on a deck.

Image: Alex Vail

So if you’ve got cabin fever and are walled-in behind endless amounts of that white nightmare called snow, consider coming down to give the Everglades a try this winter. Keep these tips in mind, and you’re sure to have a great experience in the ‘Glades. Just don’t forget the bug spray.

Fall Surf Fishing

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

It’s getting to be that time of the year again—the dog days of summer are beginning to wane (even here in Florida), and there’s a cool breeze in the air. Pretty soon the water temperatures will begin to drop, and that means different fish species start to pop up on the radar for fall. If you’re lucky enough to live near the coast, you may find yourself in the perfect position to do one of my favorite types of fall fishing: surf fishing.

Man fishing on the beach.

Image Credit: Alex Vail

I’m asked fairly regularly by friends of mine to take them fishing when they haven’t actually been before. When it comes to taking someone fishing for their first time, it’s generally best to pick something low-key. I’m not exactly about to go pole the tarpon flats with the fly rod with someone who has never even caught a fish before. So when I introduce someone to fishing for the first time, it’s almost always surf fishing.

Surf fishing combines two of the greatest things around: fishing and sitting on the beach. And honestly, it’s generally fairly action-packed. But before you go running off to cast some lines out into the water, take the time to plan properly to maximize your enjoyment and success.

Tackle

Generally speaking, the name of the game with surf fishing is long distance casting—you want to be able to get the bait out past the breakers and into deeper water. At least one long surf casting rod is a must with line and leader weight depending on the species you’re targeting. For species like pompano and whiting, I generally stick with 10-12 lb test. With other species, like redfish, it might be wise to step up the game a little. Fall (particularly down here in Florida) is when the big bull reds come in to spawn. It wouldn’t be surprising in the least to hook a 40+ inch fish from the beach, so plan accordingly.

Fish in a cooler.

Image Credit: Alex Vail

When it comes to leaders and bait, I almost always use a double or triple dropper rig with a pyramid weight. The pyramid weight will help keep the bait from rolling around in the surf, and the multiple hooks allow for more bait. And everyone knows there’s no such thing as too much bait.

Equipment

Rod holders (a.k.a Sand Spikes)! These are pretty much a requirement. No one really wants to hold onto their rod the entire time as sometimes it takes a while for the bite to pick up. Bury the sand spike into the sand, and make sure it’s secure before putting a baited line in it. The simple fact that you don’t have to hold onto your rod now opens you up to use multiple rods, which increases the amount of bait out in the water (yes, lots of bait is important). This also means you can cover more water, which is important because sometimes fish aren’t always present in every part of a hole.

A fishing rod perched in the sand.

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Coolers and carts are also fairly important in my book. Coolers for the obvious reasons of keeping fish and drinks cold, but the cart for its simple ease factor. Drop the cooler in a cart, put the rods inside of it, and suddenly you’re only making one trip from the truck instead of five. I’m also a HUGE fan of using folding chairs once I’m set up on the beach. I generally place the chair right in the middle of my setup so that I’m equidistant from my two rods farthest away from me, and then I sit back and enjoy a cold drink without sitting in the sand. Don’t get too comfortable, though; it’s not uncommon for three or four of your rods to get strikes at once, so you might not be doing too much sitting.

Tactics

The final and probably most important part of surf fishing are the actual tactics involved. They aren’t particularly complex, but you must always remember that not all parts of the beach are created equal. There are good spots and bad spots; holes that produce fish, and holes that just waste time. Look for areas of deeper water where the breakers aren’t, well, breaking. Deeper water closer to shore tends to hold fish. Also keep track of which direction your current is moving parallel to the beach. I like to set up on the down current side of certain holes to catch anything that may be chasing bait as it’s pushed along by the current.

Remember how I mentioned a longer rod is nice to have? Well it isn’t just nice because you can cast further. It’s important to try and place your sand spike as high as you can above the water line, because once you’ve cast out, the line is now at a downward slope toward the water. The longer the rod, the higher that point of entry is into the water, and the line doesn’t drag in the water as much. This is important because incoming waves tend to pull on the line, and it’s often easy to mistake a wave as a fish strike.

Fish.

Image Credit: Alex Vail

So if you find yourself with the chance to hit the beach this fall, consider giving surf fishing a try. If you’re also ever looking to take someone fishing for the first time, always give this type of fishing a go. It’s extremely low-key with easy clean up and is often times quite action-packed. Worst case scenario, their first time fishing includes siting on the beach and catching a good tan all morning, and that’s still pretty hard to beat. The only thing to make it better is a cooler full of pompano.

Gearing Up for Archery Season

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Fall archery season is right around the corner, and in some places, like my home state of Florida, it’s already under way in a few areas. Now is the time to start preparing and thinking about how you’re going to turn this season into a successful one. But before you go racing off into the stand, there are a few things to keep in mind that can not only help make your season more successful, but also a little safer.

A view from the bow looking over a river.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

Gear, Gear…And More Gear

Let’s be honest, most of us haven’t really looked at our hunting pack since last season. It’s beyond time to go through it and make sure you have everything you need and that those items are in good working condition. Things like plenty of reflective tacks/tape, batteries for your flashlight, first aid kit, etc. There’s nothing worse than getting out into the field only to discover you’ve forgotten something vital at the house because you haven’t updated your pack.

A camo-colored backpack.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

And we shouldn’t forget about probably the most important piece of gear for archery season: The bow itself. It’s vital to make sure that your bow is functioning just as it should. Ensure that each arrow you’re carrying with you hasn’t (somehow) received some damage over the course of the year and that all the fletching is in good condition. All of this, however, should be taken care of LONG before it’s time to hunt because it’s past time for practicing. It doesn’t really matter how well you’ve got your gear together when you’re out of practice in the actual shooting process.

A bow and arrows with a target.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

Water, Water Everywhere

Depending on what part of the country you’re hunting, archery season can be anything from pretty warm to downright hellish. Here in Florida, it’s the latter. It’s practically still summer here, and scouting/trudging around in the woods looking for deer isn’t the coolest activity one can do in 90+ degree weather. Always make sure to carry more water than you plan on drinking. And don’t stop drinking. As a good rule of thumb in the heat, if you stop sweating then you’re already dehydrated.

Speaking of water, this time of the year still brings plenty of rain. Many roads will be flooded thanks to high water levels. Remember to never drive into water when you don’t know how deep it is. It seems like common sense, but I’m shocked every year at the amount of flooded trucks I see from people who’ve done just that. And it isn’t just roads that get flooded. In many instances, the woods will be too. If you’re hunting any low lying area, just be sure to have footwear that can get wet. Just because the area was dry during scouting season doesn’t mean it’ll be dry on opening day.

A view from the bow looking into the woods.

[Image credit: Alex Vail]

Naturally with rain comes thunderstorms, and with thunderstorms comes lightning. This time of the year, afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence. If you’re lucky enough to have cell signal from your stand, be sure to have some sort of radar app downloaded and check it often. If not, don’t be a dummy and sit in a tall tree during a lightning storm. Seek cover immediately.

The Deer Themselves 

You can, of course, do everything right and still not see deer. This time of the year is rather unique. The deer have been unpressured for the past nine months so they won’t be exhibiting those highly pressured deer patterns. They won’t, for the most part, be completely nocturnal. However, it is still very hot out. Just like us, animals don’t want to get too hot. This time of the year, they will lay low and ride out the heat of the day in order to come out in the late evening and early morning. Don’t kill yourself by being in the stand for too long in the morning or too early in the afternoon. The bucks also haven’t really begun showing signs of rutting activity yet. You can expect to find a few rubs here and there, but rarely any scrapes. Bucks will often still be cruising around in bachelor groups this time of the year, so try and take that into account when picking a stand. It’s hard to pattern a single animal during early archery season.

So if you find yourself, like many of us, chomping at the bit to get out in the stand with a bow, just take all of these things into account before you leave. Make sure your gear is in proper working order and you’ve got everything you need. Feel confident with your shooting abilities, and always keep an eye on that weather. With any luck, you may very well be staring at a bachelor group of bucks in the near future—there are few ways to better start off a season than with a successful hunt.

Boatless Angling

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Florida is one of the top fishing destinations in the United States. People flock from all around the country to chase the wide variety of both saltwater and freshwater fish species that our state has to offer, particularly in the summertime. However, upon arrival, a person doesn’t have to look long before they start spotting big offshore fishing boat, flats boats, and bass boats. It’s easy to feel as though there’s no other option for fishing in Florida if you don’t have a boat. However, with the right know-how, a fisherman can easily take advantage of the many boatless angling opportunities here in the Sunshine State this summer.

Wade Fishing

Fish caught on a lure.

This trout was caught on a wade fishing trip. [Image: Alex Vail]

What’s one of the nice things about wade fishing in Florida? You can wear your swimsuit to wade fish almost eight months out of the year. The state has countless opportunities and places for anglers to take a step into the water and immediately begin chasing big fish. Most state parks have easy inshore wade fishing access for places like mangrove creeks and sea grass beds, but obviously not all areas can be wade fished—a combination of oyster bars and chest deep mud usually snuffs that. But even so, there are a wide range of places to choose from (particularly along the Gulf Coast) if you’re looking to get a little wet while you fish. Just remember shoes! Many of the grass beds are home to sea urchins, and that’s the last thing anyone wants buried in their foot.

Beach Fishing

A fishing rod in the sand on the beach with a sunset in the background.

[Image: Alex Vail]

What’s more relaxing than the beach? How about fishing while relaxing at the beach. Beach fishing (or surf fishing) is an extremely easy and fun way to get your fishing fix without ever having to step on a boat. With the exception of the Big Bend and Ten Thousand Islands areas, beach fishing is a perfectly reasonable way to catch a wide variety of fish. Talk to local bait shops and ask what is running in during that time of the year and in that place, and you should be able to get a rough idea of what to expect. Just remember a cooler full of ice and a lawn chair, unless you prefer sitting in the sand.

Pier Fishing 

If you don’t mind fishing alongside other anglers, pier fishing can be an extremely effective method here in Florida. A quick Google search or looking at a satellite image of the coastline will point out the piers—they’re scattered all along our coasts. Do note, however, that just like some state park entrances, getting onto most piers comes with a small entrance fee. Pier fishermen in the Gulf or Atlantic can expect to catch anything from redfish and pompano all the way up to sailfish and tarpon depending on the place and time of the year. Don’t cross off inshore pier fishing, either! Most bridges in the state have been updated in the past few decades and many of their old ancestors have been converted into piers.

Canal/Bank Fishing

A peaceful photo of a canal with trees along the sides.

[Image: Alex Vail]

It’s easy to focus primarily on saltwater fishing when one comes down to Florida. We do, after all, have plenty of it to go around. Freshwater fishing shouldn’t be overlooked, though. In fact, Florida produces some of the biggest largemouth bass in the country. Freshwater fishing without a boat isn’t ideal, but it can definitely be done. Unfortunately in the Northern and Central regions of Florida, freshwater fishing from the shore won’t be too enjoyable. Most lakes or rivers have limited access or small piers. Wade fishing in freshwater isn’t the greatest idea, either, unless you don’t mind getting friendly with our resident alligators. Southern Florida, however, actually does have quite a bit of freshwater fishing access in the form of bank fishing. South Florida is riddled with canal systems that cross the state in almost every direction. Many of these can be accessed right off of the side of the road. Inland canals are home to largemouth, bream, catfish, and even exotic species like cichlids and peacock bass. Canals closer to the coast often get landlocked tarpon and snook as well. It certainly isn’t uncommon to reel in a bass only to catch a snook on the next cast. Just be aware that not all canal levees have public access, but they’re generally well-marked with signage explaining just that. Also note that, however sad it might be, the crime rate in many areas of South Florida is extremely high. When fishing in some of these urban canals, be conscious of your surroundings and be sure to lock your vehicle and hide/remove any valuables from your car while you’re out fishing.

So if you make your way down to hot and sunny Florida this summer and want to fish, don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a boat. There are opportunities everywhere around the state to fish without a vessel. Be it fishing in waist deep water for trout or casting for cobia from a pier, anyone can get down to the Sunshine State and still have a great time on foot.

Summertime in Hell

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

Hell’s Bay in the Everglades backcountry of southern Florida is one of the best, and most diverse fisheries in the southeast. With summer right around the corner, the temperature isn’t the only thing that’s beginning to heat up. The fishing is, too. Before you go racing off into the backcountry, keep in mind a few helpful tips that will make your trip safer, more enjoyable, and hopefully more successful.

Boats 

Though I’m a big fan of kayaking and paddle craft, I have to advocate the use of power boats in Hell’s Bay and the surrounding areas. There’s simply too much water to cover. With the closest kayak launch being over 12 miles away at Flamingo, you’d end up spending your whole day paddling. Instead, shallow drafting flats boats, or the ever popular Gheenoes are perfect for this area. You can cover a lot of water much faster and they’re overall safer than a kayak. Why, you may ask?

Sunset over Hell's Bay, Florida [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Summertime storms. South Florida’s rainy season is already underway and when these big thunderstorms boil up in the afternoons, you have to be prepared to dodge them. That’s something that is very difficult to do while paddling a kayak, especially when you’re 10 miles from safety.

Safety

Hell’s Bay and the entire surrounding area is a massive mangrove swamp. Twists and turns, bayous, creeks, and small bays are what make up this place. And it all looks the same. Exactly the same. You absolutely need some form of navigational tool. I will not go out on the boat with at least a nautical map of the area, a compass, and a GPS. Preferably, more than one GPS with spare batteries. Getting turned around out there is a real possibility.

Glimpse of Hell's Bay in Florida on a sunny day [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

In addition to that, sun protection is your next top priority. There’s no shade anywhere, so long pants, long sleeve shirts, and wide hats are a must. During the summer it’s oppressively hot. So sun gloves and sun buffs make that necessity list, too. And with it getting hot, the bugs begin to become a very big issue. Early morning and late evening is obviously the worst time, but simply being out of the wind or in the mangroves can be a one-way ticket to losing gallons of blood from mosquitos. Definitely bring plenty of bug spray.

Fishing

So why suffer through all of this? Well for the fishing of course!

Angler holds a snook at Hell's Bay, Florida [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Snook, tarpon, and redfish all call Hell’s Bay and the backcountry home over the summer. Flipping weedless jerk baits or DOA shrimp alongside the mangroves can be a sure ticket to some of these fish. Just be sure to bring plenty of extra tackle as losing fish in the mangroves is a harsh reality of this place. Also take special note of the tides. These fish need tidal movement to begin feeding and the more movement, the better the bite. Look for drop-offs and creek outflows to land some of the bigger fish. Like most fish, early morning and late evenings are the best time. Just be sure to give yourself enough daylight to navigate back to Flamingo where the only boat ramp is.

So, if you find your way down in sunny south Florida this summer, don’t hesitate to give the backcountry a try. It’s a fantastic fishery that shouldn’t be overlooked at any time of the year, especially not summer. Just be sure to plan ahead, bring plenty of tackle, and maybe just an extra can of bug spray.

Springtime Cichlids

Contributed by Alex Vail of The Flying Kayak

With the weather heating up, and summer right around the corner, now is the best time to fish for some of my favorite fish: Exotic cichlids in South Florida.

Fisherman holds a cichlid in swampy area [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Many of these fish were originally introduced into the canal systems throughout South Florida as far back as the 1960’s. Cichlids are primarily aquarium fish. You know, the kind you might find in your local pet store. Oscars, Mayan Cichlids, Jaguar Guapotes, etc. All these fish are loose and reproducing in the South Florida freshwater canal systems and are there thanks to irresponsible pet owners. Pet releases from home aquariums actually led to the establishment of many of these species.

The good news? They’re an absolute hoot to catch. Many of them fight as aggressively as some saltwater species and to make matters even better, they’re good to eat. And if that wasn’t good enough news, the state of Florida has waived any size or bag limits on them. You can keep as many as you catch.

Cooler full of cichlids [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Cichlids prefer warm waters (hence them being loose in South Florida), but even the winters down in Florida are enough to make them lay low. However, spring is here, and the water temperatures are heating up. That means that the cichlids are out in full force and ready to feed. Small diving lures, flies, and even earthworms are favorite bait for this ferocious species.

There is, however, a little bit of a time limit for these fish. Summer is closing in and that means rain for South Florida. Water levels will soon rise and most of the canals will flood into the surrounding areas. That means that the cichlids (as well as other fish) won’t be restricted to just the canals and will spread themselves out considerably. You can, of course, still catch them during the summer months, but don’t expect to find them in such high volumes during that time of year.

A ruddy-colored cichlid [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Image Credit: Alex Vail

It’s important to note, however, that the small cichlids aren’t the only thing to target this time of the year. Their predator is, too. The smaller cichlids pose a big problem to some of our native fish species. They out compete many of Florida’s species, like Largemouth bass, bluegill, shellcrackers, etc. Realizing that the cichlids were an issue in the South Florida canal systems, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission purposefully introduced a predator of the non-native cichlids: the Butterfly Peacock bass.

Reaching sizes of up to 5lbs, these fish are just as ferocious as the small cichlids, but pack an even bigger punch. With their prey out in force this time of year, they’re actively hunting and feeding. On top of that, they’re beginning to bed as well. Anglers can catch them on live minnows, diving lures, and even flies. Since they’re spawning right now, look for them to be guarding their beds in the shallow waters lining the edges of the canals.

Butterfly Peacock Bass [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

Butterfly Peacock Bass [Image Credit: Alex Vail]

The rules and regulations for Peacock bass differ from their cichlid counterparts, though. They do have a size and bag limit set in place. The reason behind this? They were purposefully brought in to help control the cichlid problem. If they start to get over-fished, the already present issue of too many cichlids will become much more serious.

So if you find yourself in southern Florida this time of year, be sure to bring a rod. There is almost no roadway around the area that doesn’t have a canal nearby. And there is almost no canal that doesn’t have these aggressive and fun fighting fish in them. Just don’t forget the cooler!

Wintertime Pigs

Contributed by Alex Vail, The Flying Kayak

When it comes to colder weather and hunting, most people immediately turn almost all of their attention to deer. And while deer season certainly is a big deal, it’s important to remember that in many parts of the country, it’s still legal to harvest wild pigs during the deer season. This is nice not only because you can still have a chance to fill the freezer if you don’t harvest a deer, but also because it can help keep the invasive pig issue somewhat under control. It’s important, however, to remember that hunting pigs during winter differs slightly than hunting them during the warmer months. Take the following tips into consideration when hunting pigs during the colder months, and you might just walk away with some bacon.

Man holding gun next to a wild pig

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Staying cool

It’s no surprise to anyone that pigs like to wallow in the mud. But one must remember that pigs wallow primarily to stay cool. When it’s already cold outside, the need to lay down in a mud hole and stay cool diminishes greatly. Though areas where pigs wallow are always a great place to check out, I personally wouldn’t spend nearly as much time in these areas as I would in the summer. The pigs simply don’t need it as badly.

Finding Food

As always, pig are… well… pigs. They need to eat, and they eat a lot. Unfortunately, they’re extremely difficult to pattern. Winter doesn’t make this task any easier as they’ll roam far and wide to not only find food, but to stay warm. If you have access to food plots or feeders, these are probably going to be your best options. Look for pigs to stay out more during daylight hours, too. Depending on the temperature, their need to stay warm will actually outweigh the need to stay cool.

Hunting rifle on top of spotted wild pig

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Increase range

Imagine a swamp in the deep south and how thick the foliage and cover can be during the summer. That cover, however, is a little different during the winter. Yes, there will always be places that are thick as can be, but generally a lot of foliage dies off during the winter months. Use this to your advantage and try taking something different than the slug gun. I personally like to break out the 30-06 with a 3×9 scope for pigs during the winter. On low power, I have easy target acquisition and I can take advantage of the newfound distance I can see in the woods.

Technology

Wintertime is an awesome chance to use new gadgets and technology when hunting pigs. Thermal imaging such as FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) and Nightvision can really step up your pig hunting game to the next level. As stated before, winter means slightly less foliage, so it’s easier to see a long distance with the Nightvision without all the brush in the way.

Two hunters as seen through night vision goggles

Image Credit: Alex Vail

Similarly, it’s easier to spot hot spots with thermal imaging because inanimate objects (stumps, logs, etc) don’t heat up as much during the day. They stay cooler, and help eliminate the chances of mistaking a stump for a boar. Just remember to check your local and state laws regarding such equipment.

Wild hog as seen through night vision scope

Image Credit: Alex Vail

So, the next time you get ready to take a trip to the woods, remember these tips while you’re bundling up in the morning. Just because it’s cold out, doesn’t mean a summertime favorite activity is done for. Afterall, bacon and eggs is hard to beat on a cool, crisp morning.