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Killa's Vacation: the IFGA Museum, Lake Okeechobee, and Peacock Bass in Miami Canals

From left: Jerry, Josh (holding Peacock bass), and Jon Alberson (holding the "bird").

Editor's note: A few yearsa ago, I watched Roland Martin wading the grass flats Lake Okeechobee, catching huge bass on topwater lures. Shortly after that, I watched the first of dozens of shows in which various television anglers pursued the beautiful and vicious peacock bass. I mentally added those two trips to my long list of places and species I hoped to see some day. Josh Alberson (aka Fordkilla454 on the GRF Message Board) from Albany took a vacation last July that we all only dream about and was nice enough to write up this little article for GRF. I hate to ruin Josh's reputation, but he is one of the nicest folks anyone could ever hope to spend a day on the river with, and is a fantastic fisherman. If any of you are looking for a great vacation idea, read on...

    The family decided to head out for a family vacation and it indeed was a trip to remember.  We traveled to Fort Lauderdale for some great fishing and fun in the sun.  It included my mom Jan, my dad Jerry, my brother Jon, and myself (fordkilla454).  The trip included days at the International Fish and Game Museum, Lake Okeechobee, and the peacock canals in Miami.  Anyhow, on with the fishing stories...

                                                                        IFGA Museum 

          The IFGA museum was an unexpected addition to our trip.  The first fishing day was a washout due to rain.  Instead we headed down to the Fort Lauderdale Bass Pro Shops…yall know how much I love them.  Anyhow we noticed the museum next door and decided to have a look.  The museum certainly held some interesting articles included reproduced record mounts of all the game fish the IFGA recognizes in one room, various reels and rods used by fisherman through the ages, interactive fishing games that are surprisingly realistic, and an outdoor swamp containing alligators, peacock bass and such.  It was an unexpected surprise for a day that looked to be a washout.


                                                                        Lake Okeechobee

                                                              

                     Josh with a braggin'-size Okeechobee largemouth. Guide Todd Kersey is in the background.

            Lake Okeechobee was an adventure on a lake unlike any in Georgia.  Some background on the lake is needed first.  In the mid-1900s, two years in a row, hurricanes created a tidal wave on the lake that destroyed two towns killing approximately 1200 and 800 people respectively.  To prevent this, a 30 foot high damn was constructed around the lakes 111-mile circumference.  This created a 25 to 30 ft trench encircling the lake.  It is also an engineering marvel for those early times.  In addition, locks on each side of the lake and a deep canal in the middle allow boats up to 120 ft to pass from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico. 

            When we took off from the ramp I was astounded.  The whole lake looks fishy.  It is full of cattails and grass from one side to the other.  Like the ocean, the opposite side of the lake is invisible over the horizon.  I was lost within a minute of leaving the loading ramp.  Somehow our guide, Todd Kersey, was able to put us on the fish.  We took some early on with top water and then reverted to my old favorite, a Texas rigged lizard.  Todd realized that we were able to fish this lure better than any other, and put us where we could work this to our advantage.  We worked across shallow flats, which is kinda odd in this lake since it usually only gets anywhere from 5 to 8 ft deep. Oddly, Okeechobee is totally devoid of stumps, which I asked about as we wisked across the lake at 65 miles per hour.  Later in the day we were able pull up on schooling fish and take them quickly with Rattletraps and Senkos, including a double hookup by Todd.

    Throughout the day we got used to hearing the sounds of gators grunting as we moved from one group of cattails to another.  We only saw one because there were plenty of hiding spots for them, but their presence was obvious.  While watching for gators, eating lunch, and running my mouth to the guide…who good naturedly responded, as Troy (shoalieman on the GRF Message Board) likes to do, I hooked the big bass of the day.  It was an approximately five and a half pound bucketmouth that I winched through the weeds.  Not exactly big for an Okeechobee bass, as proved by Todd’s pictures, but it pulled harder than any northern strain largemouth I ever fought, using the weeds to its advantage. We ended the day with about 25 or 30 bass for me, and 10 or so apiece for my dad and brother.  This was fairly good after the front the week before had inundated Florida with 10 inches of rain the previous week.  On a side note, if you fish Okeechobee bring plenty of sunscreen…..my country @#* got fried.

 

                                                                   Miami Canals

     
                                       Jerry Alberson with a nice Peacock bass. Josh is to the right, undoubtedly spitting.                                          


            The canals of Miami were our ultimate goal.  Fishing Okeechobee proved to only be an appetizer.  After years of seeing peacocks slam stick baits on television in Brazil, I yearned to reel in a peacock.  Since the trip to Brazil is about $2000 dollars, the canals of Miami were a happy alternative.  Some background on peacocks is in order.  Originating in Brazil they were introduced into the canals of Miami to control taipai, a tropical fish itself that feeds on bluegill and bass eggs, released from cargo ship bilges and peoples' aquariums.  Like the largemouth they are not really a member of the bass family, but are actually a member of the chichlid family. The peacocks are truly a warm water fish and cannot exist much further north of the Dade county line, where water can fall under 65° F. 

            Now on to the fishing.  We launched out of a city park on Blue Lagoon in Little Havana where we were the only English speakers in the area.  I met 8 year olds who did not know one lick of English.  This completely blew my mind like many other facts I would learn that day.  We immediately started fishing here with my dad and brother pitching shiners and me throwing a Tiny Torpedo.  I was the first to hookup and what do you know I catch a largemouth!  Ole bucketmouth and the peacocks are able to coexist happily feeding on different fish.  As we moved down the bank my dad hooked into his first peacock.  It was caught 10 yards from the Miami turnpike and 50 yards from the fence for Miami International Airport.

    After his hookup we continued along the bank and fishing out of the back my dad somehow hooked into several more.  Before too long my brother joined into the action and caught his first.  His landmark, the biggest Burger King there is, the national headquarters, was 20 yards away! After releasing this one we continued down a seawall with Jon and Dad picking them off left and right.  As you can guess, I’m desperate to get in on the action, and Todd suggests switching to shiners.  Being the hardheaded person I am and my aversion to spinning reels, I state I want my first one on a top water plug.  He smiles and needles me as Dad continues to pull them in, giving me the heck I doled out the day before.  My luck was not to change though in Blue Lagoon.  My only attempt to hookup there came while casting to jack crevalle as we idled into the true canals of Miami.

    As we entered the canals proper we were astounded by the view.  Todd raced his boat down the canals as if I was Crockett and he was Rico.  He sure would have made them a good stunt driver as he drove the Team Skeeter boat under bridges we had to duck under at 70 mph.  At one point we were running in a canal not 20 yards from the turnpike passing people in the left hand lane.  I simply waved and smiled.  As the canal retuned to the residential areas, my dad, brother, and I were astounded.  People used the canals simply as a dumping area for yard trash.  While it made good structure it sure was ugly.  Stolen cars were simply stripped and run into the canals.  At one point my brother caught a peacock off the rear seat of a former white suede Cadillac.  In this structure were also some interesting animals.  We saw iguanas that weighed at least 40 pounds and could have gnawed off Uga's head in 5 seconds flat.  At random times they would come flying out of oak trees from 30 ft up landing with a splat in the canals as if they were Georgia moccasins.  Troy dream about them now!!  Gecko were also well represented with geckos running all over the place on their two hind legs.  Unfortunately they were too fast for me to catch a picture with my camera. Finally as we idled down and got back to fishing I hooked up with my first peacock on a Tiny Torpedo.  As fate would have it, I should have let this one shake off.  IT WAS THE SMALLEST FISH OF THE DAY!

Little brother strikes back!! Jon gets a Peacock. Check out the high-rise in the background!!

    I was happy to be on the board though as my dad now had me down 7 to 1 at this point.  I went to work though trying to erase this deficit.  As we trolled along in this canal into another small lake I went back and forth between the Tiny Torpedo, a Yozuri jerkbait, and a Rapala Shad Rap.  If I didn’t get hit in the first 20 seconds of the cast I reeled in quickly and threw again.  Casts had to be well aimed because the peacocks were right on the banks in the sun getting warm.  As we moved through this lake I narrowed the margin and overtook my brother in the fish catching count as he swapped to artificials.  Dad was still putting them in the boat and made catching up hard.  Finally, as we exited the canal, a shiner we had been trolling behind us began to click off line on the Abu.  Being the closest my brother grabbed the rod, reeled up the slack, and slammed the hook into a feeding tarpon.  The tarpon quickly stripped line but as my brother went for the backup hook set the tarpon threw the hook ended our exciting moment.  The chance at a bonus fish was missed again quickly when a 12 to 15 pound snook narrowly missed my teeny torpedo at our feet.

    With the day getting along we decided to circle the lake one last time.  It was time for my revenge.  Tossing the Yozuri I hooked into a nice fish and managed to bring a nice 3 and a half-pound peacock in the boat.  I don’t care what Troy says, this thing could have out pulled two West Virginia citation smallmouths like they were standing still.

    After reeling that bad boy in, the peacock is now my favorite “bass”.  Looking to cool down we headed out looking for bigger peacocks.  We found one sitting on the bed ready to be caught.  Unlike the largemouth, peacocks will aggressively attack anything near their nest.  Todd held us 6 ft off the bed as dad and I flipped shiners onto the bed, which the peacock would quickly bite, then spit out as fast as the shiner hit the water.  I counted 20 hits by the same peacock before I quit counting.  Finally I hooked her, released her, and she went back to the same bed, ready to fight again. 

    As the day wound down we found some deeper water.  I had narrowed the count on dad but wasn’t catching up quick enough.  Luckily he was running out of shiners so I still held an outside chance on him.  As we fished along passing time I hooked a couple more fish.  Jon and I then teamed up for a double on what was to be our last fish!  Unfortunately we forgot to snap a picture.  We were all starting to tire and talk about heading in.  Dad pitched out his last shiner and to add salt to the wound landed a nice 5 and a half-pound peacock.  I’m still hearing about that.  Final tally: Dad- 15 to Josh-9.  Jon ended with 6. 

    Lastly I would like to say thank you to Capt. Todd Kersey.  I didn’t realize how much guides work and know.  I finally had to tell him to quit tying my knots for me cause I was quite capable of it myself.  He worked hard, put us on plenty of fish in very adverse water conditions, and his tackle was better than I have ever thrown (I want some G-Loomis rods now!!).  Lastly he put up with and verbally sparred with me with great humor both days and y'all know how I can talk.  He can be reached at www.hawghunters.net  and guides the Everglades in addition to Okeechobee and the Miami canals. 

 

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