Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Florida: An Ode to a Particular Roadside Ditch

If you have fished Florida freshwater, you probably know that ditches and canals often provide some of the best action. Not every one is loaded. But with a little looking, you might just find some good honey holes. And just a few miles from our base camp, Noah and I found a real gem of a roadside ditch. On our way to our camp the first night, as we flew by at 65 mph, I managed to glimpse some fish rolling in a spot where a culvert connected shallow marshland on both sides of the road and created a deep pool. We payed it a visit on our way back from the jungle the net evening and it did not take long to realize it wouldn't be our last time. It took no time at all for me to notice a whole pile of walking catfish on the bottom of the pool in front of on of the culvert openings. They were unwilling to eat at the time, so we would have to come back for them with less light in the sky. Warmouth though? Yeah, they were all fired up.

Lepomis gulosus

The next morning we got to the ditch before the sun was up. I dropped a fly down in the spot where I had seen all the walking catfish the evening before, and sure enough, one took. I brought a bizarre looking, very slippery, and well armed catfish up onto the bank, where it really did decide it had better places to be and started walking off. Walking catfish are native to southeast asia. The are an air breathing fish and capable of locomotion on land. During wet periods they are sometimes seen wandering around on land to find more suitable habitat. This behavior has made them a very successful invasive in Florida and their range is now very extensive. They were most likely introduced by escaping from aquaculture facilities because they are a valued food fish in some cultures. That knowledge and their abundance in this spot planted the seed for us to fry some up later in the trip.

Walking catfish (Clarias batrachus)
After I caught that one the school was spooked enough not to take artificials again, so I started to target the sunfish, bass, and these odd little fish that we suspended in the water columns all over both sides of the road. We couldn't figure out what they were for the longest time and I was having a very hard time getting them to react to a fly. Eventually curiosity got the best of me, so I snagged one to get a closer look. A quick examination at hand still did not give me enough data on which to identify this little carp like fish. I had never seen anything like it in person before. Later that night, Noah found the real identity: lake chubsucker. From that point on I had to figure out how to catch one. But on this morning I still had no clue what I was dealing with. The other small species were much more willing. I caught a bunch of small bass and sunfish, including a new hybrid. 

Lepomis punctatus x Lepomis gulosus

On our way back from a new species smack-down in Boca Raton on the same day we returned. Noah had seen a brown hoplo the previous morning, another exotic catfish species, and we were determined to get one. From the beginning things seemed to be a little bit different. The first fish I caught was a Mayan cichlid, which we had seen no signs of until that point. 

Cichlasoma urophthalmus

Gar rolling.

 I continued catching the odd Mayan mixed in with the other species we had already caught there. The gar, bowfin, and big bass that were in there remained tough customers.

Micropterus floridanus

Redear sunfsh (Lepomis microlophus)
Before it got dark, Noah managed to get a little yellow bullhead. We decided shortly thereafter that it would be a good idea to go get dinner, then some sort of live bait, then come back. 

Ameiurus natalis

We bough burgers for us and nightcrawlers for the fish, which we hoped would give Noah a far better shot at a walking cat or a brown hoplo. Sure enough, after just minutes, he had not only landed one walking cat but three.

I, in the meantime, wasn't catching much on my flies. When Noah managed to get a brown hoplo I doubled down, trying to spotlight one for myself. I got takes, I even had one hooked. But I could not get the job done. Seeing Noah's was almost enough though. What a wild looking fish! They hail from South America, as many Florida invasives do. There isn't a significant hook and line fishery for them here, but oddly enough there is a fair cast-netting fishery. Like walking catfish they are a prized food fish to some. Swimming around in our headlamp beams, they basically looked like the lake chubsuckers but with a broader head and whiskers. Their fin structuring was practically identical.

Hoplosternum littorale
We also saw some weird, pale catfish swimming around down there. Seeing these, me filing to get a hoplo, and Noah still not having a redear, and neither of use getting a lake chubsucker... we were not done with this place yet. There are more weird catches to come, both from this ditch and some very different locations. 

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Thanks for joining the adventure, and tight lines.


  1. Amazing catfish. I had no idea there were walking cat's in FL!

    1. There are an awful lot of fish down there that shouldn't be. Walking cats remind me of a miniature wels catfish.

  2. Another great post. Thanks for sharing and inspiring!