Imagine, if you will, a meandering clear water stream, slightly tannin stained, flowing over a white sand and clamshell bottom. Along the banks grow cypress trees, huge deep green ferns, sabal palms, lush low growth carpet, and palmettos. In places, hulking dinosaurs sun themselves up on the banks, and in the water swim all manner of turtles, some bulky and slow, some look like fast moving aquatic pancakes with limbs and a head. Also swimming in the water are fish. A stunning variety of fish. Giant green largemouth bass. Huge schools of striped mojarra. Stunningly colorful cichlids and tilapia. Not one snook species, but four! Gar, sleeper, armored catfish, sunfish, sheepshead, snapper, oscar... the amount and diversity of fish swimming below was stunning, though not completely natural.
I had never fished a place like this before. And catching strange new species out of it was not just expected but a near guarantee. Noah and I paddled through deep holes, portaged over log jams, and waded through shallow runs, trying to see and catch as many new species as we possibly could in this bizarre prehistoric looking realm.
|Spotted sunfish (Lepomis punctatus) of the massive variety.|
|Mayan cichlid (Cichlasoma urophthalmus) that robbed me of a shot at a pair of bigmouth sleeper basking on adjacent submerged branches.|
|Spotted tilapia (Pelmatolapia mariae)|
The very next cast I caught another new species, a little mangrove snapper. Though widely though of as a saltwater fish, many snapper species are tolerant of water with a very low salinity, and indeed this mangrove snapper and his buddies were perfectly happy in this freshwater jungle river, swimming right alongside bass and sunfish. Though there were a lot of them around they were actually quite difficult to dupe with an artificial fly. Most just stared it down and never took. I got two takes in all.
|Mangrove snapper or grey snapper (Lutjanus griseus)|
|Florida gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus)|
We were seeing a fair amount of snook and mojarra as we paddled, but not catching any. I did get one hookup with a striped mojarra and regretfully broke it off. But as we went downstream we found more gators, more difficult passage, and still no snook that wanted to come out and slam a fly or lure. Going back upstream we hit spots we had seen fish in on the way down. Some produced, some didn't but we got nothing new until we got nearly all the way back to the start. In one fairly small stretch Noah got his lifer Mayan cichlid. Then I got a huge bluegill. Then a nice Mayan.
Then I caught something really special. One of the big reasons we had chosen to fish this particular stream is that my good friend Alec told me we would have a fair chance of running into more than one species of snook. Some don't realize that snook doesn't refer to one species, but the genus Centropomus which includes at least a dozen different species. In this strange jungle small stream, I caught a swordspine snook with a Sexy Walt's Worm nymph. The smallest of the snooks, a swordspine's may only grow to 16 inches long. An elongated anal fin spine that extends just a hair beyond the start of their tail fin differentiates them from other small snooks. My 4th new species of the day was almost as cool as the bigmouth sleeper.
|The line formed by the right side of my pinky marks the start of the caudal fin.|
|Swordspine snook (Centropomus ensiferus)|
A short time later a strange looking dark creature hammered my fly. It was an oscar! We had not seen any at all and it was a real surprise to catch one right at the end.
|Tiger oscar (Astronotus ocellatus)|
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Thanks for joining the adventure, and tight lines.