May 16, 2011
You can bank on catching bass in suburban Broward County.
Today's angler takes his bass fishing seriously—even if that means taking it wherever he can get it. Yet while the majority of experts argue that the best is confined to locations with unpronounceable names or passport requirements, at least one Broward County resident enjoys great action a lot closer to home.
Forget fairway views. Backyard bassing may be latest buzzwords in condo sales.
Bob Mossie makes decisions. In fact, he does it for a living at a Miami-based insurance company where he enjoys all the perks, as well as the headaches, of a typical corporate executive. Having tasted that bitter pill myself, I realize that his is a job that adds to, as well as utilizes, mortality statistics. Yet risk factors aside, Bob has managed to survive 30 years of management changes, office closures and assorted hypertensive shenanigans by steadfastly adhering to a single, time-honored ethic. Essentially, he decided long ago that, “When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing.”
For Bob, executive relaxation doesn't require bio-feedback or weekend getaways. Instead, he decompresses with fishing rod in hand near his West Broward home. If this sounds too good to be true, keep in mind that most residential subdivisions contain fishable waters. What anglers aren't aware of, however, is how and when to fish them.
Parkland is tucked into the northwestern corner of Broward County's concrete sprawl. Located well away from the Gold Coast proper, the city represents real estate's final frontier. Homes hereabouts have actual yards, large enough ones in fact that outsiders refer to the area as horse country.
Here and in the adjacent communities of Coral Springs and Tamarac, waterways divide the sprawling acreage like veins on a seagrape leaf. If the carriage-trade ambience suggests something a bit loftier than bass fishing, it's amid these trappings of quiet affluence that the well-dressed angler can find space to unwind. In our hero's own words:
“I moved to Parkland five years ago to escape the rat race. It worked.”
I might add that I've known Bob for more than a quarter century. At one time, we worked together at a Fort Lauderdale life and health insurance firm. When it came to selling policies, I lacked interest and dedication. However, Bob and I had one thing in common.
Fishing is, and always has been, a great leveler of mankind. Perhaps that's why world leaders and derelicts pursue it with equal avidity. As it turned out, Bob and I both liked bass fishing, which in South Florida peaks during springtime when Everglades water levels drop.
That part hasn't changed. Every year, the familiar cycle of stellar fishing followed by summer doldrums repeats itself with predictable regularity. Neither Bob nor I had a boat at the time, which meant we'd have to make the 40-mile trek from the office to the Everglades in order to be able to cast from the bank.
While we enjoyed some memorable fishing, these outings took time.
Actually, it was the kind of time that only young men with lots of it on their hands could afford to spare. In addition, everything was dependent on water levels, which meant that fishing could vary from day to day. What we needed then, and still do, is something more reliable that's closer to home.
Of course, that was years ago. But somewhere between those days of youthful abandon and the onset of corporate responsibility comes the realization that “going fishing” just isn't as easy as it used to be. Life supposedly gets better. But you can't always find the time to enjoy it. Of course, you acquire plenty of stuff along the way. Yet the one thing you can't buy enough of is time.
Over the years, Mossie bought a bass boat and plenty of new tackle. Yet he seldom took advantage of either. There were occasional forays to Holiday Park or Lake Okeechobee, but after settling into the typical executive routine, Bob's recreational spotlight steadily dimmed. It was off to work early and home just before dark. Only after noticing one of his neighborhood's nondescript canals did he make the decision to throw a rod in the car and give it a try.
The rest is history. By the time Bob moved from his old house in Tamarac, he was catching bass with regularity. Although he currently lives nearly 10 miles farther north, he's continuing the tradition with a vengeance.
From its walkable banks to thraty hookups, Sarah Botto enjoys Parkland's bigmouth draw.
Look at a map of Broward County and try to envision a line running from Powerline Road in Pompano Beach to Sawgrass Park and the eastern edge of the Everglades. Rotate the line in a north-south direction and you'll create a rectangle that stretches from Commercial Boulevard at its southern edge to Hillsboro Boulevard in Deerfield Beach. That, roughly, is where Bob fishes.
Don't put the map away yet. In fact, take a closer look at the inhabited portion of northwest Broward. Once you've located Parkland, Tamarac and Coral Springs, you'll see the waterways. Bob often bragged about the big bass he caught there. Unfortunately, I didn't give it much thought before recently learning he'd released a 5-pounder on a popping bug. The real kicker was that he'd caught several big fish in his own neighborhood. As he described it:
“I was fishing with my grandson who I'd rigged up with a spinning rod. My fish hit right off the bat. Naturally, I was concerned that he couldn't flycast and would lose interest. I solved the problem, casting for him and hooking the fish. He reeled them in, which at his age, was plenty.”
Big fish normally get my attention. But when I asked Bob about numbers, he didn't skip a beat:
“Just the other day, I caught 17 in a little over an hour. I was fishing in Parkland at the time. However, a week or two earlier I Ianded 13 in the same length of time in Tamarac.”
I asked if he fished public water: “Sure. Although some of my spots are located in gated communities, there's an easement. Besides, you can always use a boat or canoe.”
That reminded me how Bob currently owns a well-equipped bass boat. He seldom uses it though, preferring instead to fish from the bank. Like he says: “Why should I? Bank fishing's a lot easier and just as productive.”
Keep in mind that in most instances, Florida's freshwater fish belong to the public. Nevertheless, neither Bob nor I would encourage anyone to trespass on private property. I might add that I've noticed the refreshing lack of posted warnings. But if you prefer to fish from a boat, Bob has a few suggestions:
“I used to launch in the C-14 canal at the intersection of Southgate Boulevard and Rock Island Road. Once you know the area, you can go all the way from Palm Aire [an immense condo project just west of Powerline] to the Sawgrass Expressway, and north from C-14 to the [North District] hospital.”
That's at least 30 miles of waterways. What makes it worthwhile is that all offer reliable fishing.
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Everglades biologist John Fury sees Northwest Broward as a diamond in the rough: “Motorists who drive by these waterways have no idea of the excellent bass fishing. For the most part, these are box-cut canals that offer none of the characteristic littoral habitat that largemouths prefer. The species, however, is adaptable, which also means that if there's a die-off in one part of the system, it doesn't take long for the fishing to recover.”
When I quizzed John about seasonal water fluctuations, he reassured me in no uncertain terms:
“Changes in water levels aren't as significant here as they are in the Everglades. That means rain or drought don't affect the fishing nearly as much.”
John Fury may be a largemouth expert. However, it was Bob who reminded me that bass aren't the only gamefish that inhabit these waters.
“I've caught peacocks in Tamarac and Margate, especially where the side canals enter the C-14. Actually, at one time I had some pretty good fishing there.”
Readers should note that the past several winters have been colder than usual, seriously affecting Broward's peacock populations. In addition to largemouths, peacocks and the occasional oscar, Bob encounters other interlopers.
Steep banks with irregular vegitation or other natural cover often hold fish.
“I know there's snook and tarpon at Palm Aire. In fact, I once landed a tarpon there on a black skimmer jig.”
I can comment on the C-14's tarpon with some authority. We might add that in addition to jigs, these fish willingly strike flies. Incidentally, we've always had our best luck on black or yellow marabou muddlers tied on No. 6 freshwater streamer hooks.
With the recent controversy over exotics, I was curious if Bob ever encountered the infamous Asian snakehead. As it turned out, his answer was an emphatic “no.”
While he's always willing to tackle the unusual, Bob's happy enough catching largemouths. He explained that the farther he travels from the main arteries like the C-14 and Hillsboro canals, the better bass fishing gets. Around here there's lots of water, so take your cue from the map.
Several weeks ago, Bob called to say he'd released another 5-pounder. By then, my curiosity was getting the better of me. According to the message, he was “still wearing a shirt and tie” when he stopped near Lox Road in Parkland. He quickly added: “It was 7:30 and getting dark, but I managed to catch that fish on my second cast.”
Bob's methods are far from arbitarary. He later explained that in addition to working lures along the near shoreline, he often casts them onto the opposite bank and pulls them into the water.
“I'm not sure why. But it works.”
Incidentally, when it comes to artificials, Bob's favorites include salt-impregnated worms rigged Texas-style and stickbaits. He added that the classic Zara Spook in clear finish is another all-time favorite.
“I catch a lot of fish beneath the surface. However, I'll make the switch to topwater whenever I see bass chasing bait.”
I knew Bob was onto something. It goes without saying I had to see it for myself.
Sarah and Wayne Botto live near Bob. I've known Sarah since she managed a local photo-processing lab. We still stay in touch; in fact, when she asked about my recent fishing escapades, I was surprised to hear that she wanted to try bass fishing. Although she hadn't fished since childhood, I figured this would be the perfect opportunity.
We met Bob in the parking lot of a strip mall. While busy State Road 7 seemed an unlikely place to launch a fishing expedition, after exchanging pleasantries, we loaded our gear and headed toward residential Parkland. At Bob's direction, we entered a posh subdivision and eventually stopped alongside a tranquil canal.
Actually, I don't know if you'd call it a canal or a lake, but the entire area is laced with similar waterways. A few minutes later, we were walking the grassy banks and casting plastics of one type or another. I'll admit to being skeptical. But after watching a nice bass gulp a mouthful of baitfish, I quickly changed my tune.
The fishing started slow but steady. Every ten minutes or so, one of us either caught a fish or got a strike. Joggers and dog-walkers passed us on several occasions, but their major reaction was to wave. I was surprised no one objected to our presence. Yet according to Sarah: “We didn't exactly look like felons.”
Women are usually right about these matters. To underscore the point, she promptly hooked a nice bass which she landed and released with a minimum of assistance. Frankly, I was impressed.
As the day wore on, we ended up fishing our way from Parkland back toward Tamarac where our journey had begun. The bass obliged at every stop and while some fell prey to worms and shads, a few boldly crashed topwater plugs.
I noticed we mostly fished where culverts passed underneath roads, an observation that Bob was happy to elaborate on:
“There's a million of these places. They offer spectacular fishing after a heavy rain when the bass stack up on the downstream side.”
I have to add that since I saw Bob last, he'd become a regular fishing machine. I mean, I couldn't get the guy to quit. I'm sure it goes along with the executive relaxation thing, but the later it got, the more the fish turned on. Finally, it was getting too late for pictures.
Just about the time Sarah reminded me that enough was enough, I noticed Bob fighting something more substantial. I suspected a mudfish, but when he lifted his victim onto the grass, we both got a big surprise:
“It's one of those damn snakeheads.”
The fish certainly resembled a mudfish. However, a telltale spot near its tail gave away the exotic's identity. A few days later, the folks at Florida's Non-Native Lab in Boca Raton informed me that snakeheads make great tablefare. At the time, however, the look on Sarah's face suggested otherwise.
The snakehead was the only “monster” we caught that day. Nevertheless, we enjoyed several hours of non-stop action. While Bob claimed we hadn't scratched the surface, I'd seen enough to recognize the area's potential.