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Micro Fishing = Maximum Fun

See how tiny hooks and tiny baits can produce surprisingly grand results. 

Micro Fishing = Maximum Fun

Bluespotted sunfish. (Photo by David Parker)

One of my favorite children’s books was Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who, in which the title character discovers a thriving community on a speck of dust—call it a complex microcosm of his larger world. The more I think about it, the more that story fairly nutshells the appeal of micro fishing—the pursuit of tiny species often overlooked by anglers en route to larger targets.

By now, most Floridians, as well as visiting anglers, are well aware of the diverse non-native fish populations thriving in the state’s southern inland waters. Dozens of cichlids, snakeheads, clown knifefish and other oddballs regularly delight anglers fishing everything from roadside canals to ponds and proper lakes.

David Parker has done plenty of that, but recent years have found his interests expanding, while his tackle has shrunk nearly to Whoville size. In his view, achievement is measured in diversity, not dimensions.

fisherman at creek
Obscure waterways can yield picture-worthy catches for devoted micro-fishers like David Parker, at work here. (Photo by David Parker)

“Micro fishing probably appeals to me because it’s kinda like bird watching, where people that like to collect things, like to make lists; they get into the science of it,” Parker said. “It’s cool to go and discover all of these species you normally don’t think about.

“There’s normally 5 to 10 of them swimming around our feet at any moment we’re in the water wading or throwing lures to bass. Just getting into that world of all those different species, opens up another branch of fishing.”

Having grown up in Port Orange and Sarasota, Parker now lives in Atlanta, but spends much of his time in Florida waters. While he often catches juveniles of larger-growing species, Parker said the micro-angler community generally considers any fish that tops out at 8 inches a micro. His freshwater favorites—most of which fall into the 2- to 4-inch range—include non-natives like jewel fish, along with flagfin and sailfin shiners, various sleepers, and miniature sunfish like the bluespotted and black banded types. Other common targets include topminnows, mosquitofish, silversides, killifish, and dollar sunfish.

fishing hook and penny
Photo by David Parker

On the coasts, several gobies, blennies, damselfish, and the multitude of colorful wrasses (black ear, puddingwife, bluehead, etc.) are common catches along Southeast Florida jetties and seawalls. Parker’s more memorable catches have included such unsual fish as a southern stargazer (similar to a flounder) and a venomous scorpionfish.

Gear Up…or Down

Micro anglers typically are less concerned with the mini rod challenge as they are with accessing skittish little targets. Reach can be advantageous, especially around jetties, low bridges, and small pools protected by vegetation or wooded areas; but go light or you’ll never feel the bite.

An ultralight 6-foot spinning outfit with 2- to 4-pound line works, but Parker said devout freshwater micro anglers might opt to maximize the experience by going old school with a few feet of line tied to a cane pole tip or a twig. The collapsible tenkara poles (like a flyrod minus the reel) are also good options. You’re better off with a suitable spinning outfit in saltwater, because you never know when a decent snapper, parrotfish, or hostile grunt is gonna grab your little hook.

While a small sabiki rig (possibly tipped with tiny pieces of shrimp or squid) does the trick in salt water, freshwater micro fishing typically employs truly tiny hooks. Parker directs DIY types to local fly shops for hooks in the size 22-33 range.

If you have a vice and magnifying glass, have at it, but sites like www.tenkarabum.com offer snelled micro hooks with long leaders. Parker uses a tippet connector to link the tiny leader to his mainline.

fishing rod, reel and net
Very light spinning rod is a start, but a simple pole with gossamer-thin monofilament tied to the tip is the ticket when fishing the smallest streams. (Photo by David Parker)

Other helpful items include light floats like the Trout Magnet E-Z Trout Floats, tiny splitshots or tungsten putty (mold the appropriate size/shape onto your line), and high-vis strike indicators. Brands like Owner make task-specific “markers” that attach to your line to show the slightest downward or lateral movement, but craft store yarn works.

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Remember, there’s no “fighting” these micros and, while some, like those invasive cichlids can display impressive aggression, the real challenge is dulling the hook-set instinct and simply lifting. Much of this game is visual, so between those markers and your direct observation, it’s simply a matter of timely, measured response.

tiny fish
Dollar sunfish, above, and redface topminnow, below. These and other fish pictured in this story are Florida natives. (Photos by David Parker)

For freshwater micros, it’s hard to beat earthworms, but Berkley Gulp! Maggots offer a convenient option. Those wigglers and nightcrawlers are also effective in salt water, while shrimp, squid, and salted clam also produce. Baiting tiny hooks can be challenging, so Parker suggests cutting a ¼-inch piece, impaling the micro hook through the middle, and then using cuticle scissors to trim off the excess until only the point is covered.

Tiny hooks are tough to tie on, so Parker suggests pre-snelled rigs and a tippet connector. Mashing barbs facilitates release and since you’re typically lifting a micro catch immediately after the bite, there’s little worry of shaking free. Still, a small hook-out tool helps minimize release trauma.

Evan Beall, a Virginia-based micro-fishing expert with detail-rich YouTube content (@EBspeciesfishing) offers this handy tip: Fashion a simple hook-out device by burying the point of a large sewing needle in a piece of cork and snipping off the tip of the eye. This leaves a forked end that’s handy for gripping the hook bend and pushing it out of the fish’s mouth.

Starting Points

Salt or fresh, your micro-fishing opportunities are limited only by your own sense of adventure. Truly, any creek, canal, ditch, drain, or spillway is fair game, but consider Parker’s perspective: Areas with lots of larger fish won’t hold many micros. (Think: food chain).

American Flagfish
Photo by David Parker

Dig into this world and you’ll quickly realize that, while micro species abundance is truly amazing, it’s often difficult to identify tiny specimens. Parker suggests researching details through scientific papers and fish ID books like Peterson’s Field Guide to Freshwater Species, or Fishes in the Fresh Waters of Florida (University of Florida Press). For saltwater ID, Smithsonian Institution offers helpful resources, as does Florent’s Reef Guide (www.reefguide.org)

Flamefish
Photo by David Parker

“Learn their habitat and preferences,” Parker said. “It’s a lot off trial and error, but that’s the appeal. It brings me to a lot of cool places I may not normally go. You want to find structure (Google Earth) and access. Look for rocks and vegetation. Shrink everything and then follow the general fishing rules.”

Proximity to your target habitat makes this a visual game where you’re often watching fish approach and bite your bait. If they balk, the sight fishing element offers immediate adjustment ability (similar to the realtime images of live sonar that crappie and bass anglers use in deeper, more distant scenarios).

Micro fishing is of course a great option for kids and novices. Benefits include low entry point, no long boat rides or questionable hikes needed, nearly immediate action.

Additionally, many of the micro species you’ll encounter in fresh and salt water boast striking colors and intriguing forms that make nice aquarium residents. Keep an aerated tank handy and reference www.myfwc.com for regulations before keeping any micro fish.

On the coast, Parker offers a cool twist—snorkel fishing. Ideal for shallow rocks, docks, seawalls, and a jetty’s shoreward end, it’s usually more of a crouching walk than actual swimming, but the subsurface clarity improves species targeting.

Sheepshead Minnow
Photo by David Parker

“I may hold the rod above the surface or just below, but this helps me know what I’m targeting,” Parker said. “I might say, ‘Here are all the wrasses, there’s a scorpion fish— don’t mess with him.’”

For more insight, species and tackle suggestions, check out www.artofmicrofishing.com. See also Parker’s micro-fishing content at www.youtube.com, @keepinitreel4306 or on Instagram (@keepin_it_reel_official).





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