Hitting the Trail

It’s easy to get caught up in the same type of fishing when you do it all the time. For me, it’s inshore saltwater flats fishing. I like to take the occasional forays into other types of fishing, but I sometimes forget how much fun I am missing.

Sunrise on the Tamiami Trail.

My longtime fishing buddy Will Mallett (FS Member Jetorex) reminded me of this recently when he called me and said “Let’s go hit the canals.” He meant the C-4 Tamiami Canal on U.S. 41 near Miami. We had been there several times, usually on the way to the Keys or to Miami for peacock bass. My son, Eric, and I loaded up the kayaks and picked up Will on the way.

The portion of the C-4 Canal that we usually fish is from the 40-mile bend to Krome Ave. We utilize the gravel road on the north side of the canal by using the access near the Miccosukee Casino. Just across 41 is Cooperstown, a small group of buildings where live shiners are available to those who want them. From there, it’s roughly 10 miles west to the 40-mile bend area and the other access to U.S. 41. This stretch of the canal averages 100 feet wide and 8 feet deep. There are two flood control devices along this stretch that have nice fishable ponds on the north side of them. Target species in this canal include largemouth bass, snook, tarpon, several species of panfish, and exotics like oscars, mayan cichlids and peacock bass.

We left Bonita Springs early enough that we watched the sun rise over the Everglades on the trip over. What an incredible sight watching the first ribbons of light cast themselves across the vast river of grass. We arrived at the eastern access road just in time to see the last of the tarpon rolling in the canal. For most of the length of the canal we fish from the shoreline on foot, staying in one area for 15 to 20 minutes, then driving along the canal and stopping to fish again. I bring the kayak for the small lakes located behind the water control structures.

We began fishing right away using both live shiners and soft plastics. It didn’t take long for Eric to hook the first fish of the day, a sizable bowfin (a.k.a. mudfish or dogfish) that didn’t want to give up easily. Bowfin and gar usually hang in low oxygen waters, but sometimes that’s where juvenile tarpon congregate too! It seemed that bowfin and gar were the species of the day in that spot, so we moved on.

We arrived at the first water control device and I unlatched the kayak from the truck. I launched from the bottom of the hill leading to the pond into the clear water. I paddled to the far side where the vegetation lines the shore and caught a nice largemouth bass. There were also a lot of cichlids hitting the bait. The first alligator didn’t bother me a lot and kept his distance, it was the second and third one that compelled me to make my way back to the launch.

We stayed around the structure for a while. This is where we usually come up with some really nice fish. We caught a few bass—and more gar and bowfin than we thought possible. We eventually ended up at the 40-mile bend near the Value Jet memorial. Water was flowing pretty well here and we were confident there would be some fish. There were lots of fish, big bowfin and they were hungry!

By this time we were fishing live minnows under floats and almost as soon as we cast out our lines, the floats would violently disappear. These were all good healthy fish and exciting to catch. We spent the rest of the sunny summer afternoon there before heading back home.

By the end of the trip, we had caught a few bass, lots of gar and bowfin. There were no snook or tarpon that day, but sometimes that happens. This canal has been responsible for producing some quality fish. In the summer, the daily thunderstorms cause the water level to rise and the fish are able to swim back into the Everglades. During the winter months, the level recedes and the fish are forced back into the canal resulting in better fishing. Regardless of the season, there is always good fishing. Whenever you go, be prepared. Bring lots of water and bug spray.

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