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Spoons Sad, Species Glad
by Alan Luecke
(Kansas City, MO)
I just returned from a great week in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Even though a front produced a couple of chilly days by local standards, 69 with high winds. Having left KC with a minus 18 wind chill, it was fine.
The fly spoon project did not work out. In the tide pools and rocks the spoons where just too light to deal with high winds and fast water. I did fish them in a very promising area of seagrass flats and mangroves on the lee side of the island, but nothing was biting on anything. While working on fish IDs I came across several references to species that feed on grass flats--at night. I'll get up earlier next time.
The tide pools and rocks were solid fun once again. I found an excellent new hole with easy access. I don't know if I missed it in the past or if had been full of sand and is recently excavated. The rocks don't move but everything else is never quite the same.
The rods have become very basic, not too long and kind of stiff. Most of the time I used the Kiyotaki 18 with 5 feet of #3 level line, 5X tippet, a size 12 wide eye hook and a BB shot (sometimes two, don't tell). When I wanted a little more length I went to the Daiwa Kyose 33SF (replaced by Keiryu-X 33). The current was often so strong that only a heavy rig would get to the fish, which were only 2-3 feet down. The bait of choice was once again the large PowerIsome sand worms threaded length wise onto the hook. I clipped the bait off short at the end of the hook. These fish are aggressive nibblers. They don't inhale the bait like a bass. A long tail gives them too much time to think about what they're eating.
One fish that didn't give a second though to what it was eating was a large Pudding Wife parrot fish that had a permanent residence in my fishy new hole. It was at least 20 inches long and incredibly beautiful, think blue and green carp with wire cutters for a mouth. It ate my entire rig, weights and all, three times.
For the week I caught six species of fish which is about par for tide pool only fishing. Slippery Dicks were once again reliably aggressive. Tomtate, Barred and Sailor's Choice Grunts were plentiful and a pretty Sargent Major and two Yellow Seachubs provided some variety.
The big news this trip was not so much in the fishing as in my improved understanding of fish identification. After four trips to Mexico and two to Florida I'm starting to understand what I'm seeing in the saltwater. Two big helps have been the The Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's - Fishes: Greater Caribbean app and my friend Vern B in Dallas. Vern is an experienced birder and crushes this ID stuff.
When I started, besides not knowing what I was looking at, I was too focused on color. It's important but can lead you astray. When I caught a fish with a big round eye with a heavy yellow ridge above it I assumed that something so distinctive had to be unique. Whenever I saw that eye I assumed I was looking a variation of the same thing. Not so, four of my six species have that eye. Instead, looking closely at the shape of the body, mouth and fins will get you in the ballpark. Then color can narrow in down.
The Seachub, Barred Grunt and Sailor's Choice Grunt are all newly identified additions to my life list, but after reviewing photos from previous trips it turns out I have caught them all before. The first day I fished with the Isome in 2015 I caught nine species of fish I'd never seen before. It's nice to be knowledgeable, but it's hard to beat being totally overwhelmed by an amazing new experience.
We're going back to Passa Grille, Florida in April. Bags are free on Southwest, I'm taking the Kyogi.
“The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten” – Benjamin Franklin
"Be sure in casting, that your fly fall first into the water, for if the line fall first, it scares or frightens the fish..." Col. Robert Venables 1662
As age slows my pace, I will become more like the heron.
The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.
Beware of the Dogma