Micro Fishing in Southern Florida

written by Miciah McNelius

This past December I had the opportunity to fish in southern Florida.  On my previous trip to Florida I was short on time and could not pursue many of the micros in the Keys and Everglades.  This time I unfortunately forgot my most important piece micro tackle; a 16 foot stiff extendible crappie pole so I had make do my 6 foot bass rod.  This was a big disadvantage since Florida is full of wading birds and many of the micros were very skittish when I approached the water.

Female Green Swordtail caught using micro fishing tactics

Female Green Swordtail (Xiphophorus hellerii) caught downtown Ruskins Florida

Fortunately, I did remember to bring my Tiemco long shank, barbed size 28 hooks that I bought from an online fly shop, and some 8x fly tippet so I had the right terminal tackle. The longer shank allows easy catch and release and the barb assures the fish stays on the hook and is not lost in streamside vegetation.

Scaled Herring caught using micro fishing tactics

Scaled Herring (Harengula jaguana) caught in Everglades City Florida

 It is important to purchase all your gear before going to southern Florida because there is very little freshwater fishing tackle at the Wal-marts, Bass Pro Shops, and other tackle shops, and almost nothing for fly fishing, so your only option will be to dismantle small sabiki rigs if you plan on catching micros.

Longnose Killifish and Gulf Killifish caught using micro fishing tactics

These guys are too small to bite sabiki rigs, but are popular Snook bait

Besides tackle, good bait is also hard to find in southern Florida.  Most of the fishing shops did not carry worms or minnows this time of year so micro fishing was extremely useful in acquiring bait to catch larger fish.

Oscar Cichlid caught in Florida

Oscar Cichlid caught on a Mosquitofish in the Tamiami Canal

Gulf Toadfish caught in Florida

Gulf Toadfish caught using a juvenile Spotfin Mojarra

The best part of using local bait is you avoid introducing new species and it is what the fish are used to eating.  A good knowledge of what you catch can help avoid killing rare or endangered species. I like to use Jewel Cichlids and Mosquitofish because they are overabundant and compete heavily with less common native species such as the Golden Topminnow and the Dollar Sunfish.

Mosquitofish (Gambusia holbrooki) caught using micro fishing tactics

‘Super male’ Mosquitofish caught near Northport Florida

Another useful tool for micro fishing is a photo tank. Underwater photography of fish is extremely helpful in identifying many species.

Jewel cichlid caught using micro fishing tactics

The photo tank shows why Jewel Cichlid were introduced into florida as aquarium fish

Marsh Killifish caught using micro fishing tactics

The photos I had of this fish in my hand didn’t show the dorsal fin spot and I initially misidentified this Marsh Killifish as a Gulf Killifish

Lined Topminnow caught using micro fishing tactics

The colors of this male Lined Topminnow showed up well with the photo tank

One of the best things about southern Florida is most fish bite year round, especially below the frost line, which is anything from Lake Ocheechobee south. During colder months in Florida some of the non-native fish stop or slow down biting such as the Jaguar Cichlid and Black Acara, which makes it easier to target native species.

Brook Silverside caught using micro fishing tactics

Brook Silverside surface feed in all but extremely cold weather

Dollar Sunfish caught using micro fishing tactics

Dollar Sunfish caught near Fifty-Mile Bend on the Tamiami Canal

Sheepshead Minnow caught using micro fishing tactics

This Sheephead Minnow was caught in a freshwater outlet in Northport Florida

Golden Topminnow caught using micro fishing tactics

This spring fed lake in Oscar Sherer State Park has beautiful reddish Golden Topminnows that stand out from the Mosquitofish when site fishing. (above: male Golden Topminnow)

If the shallow bays are warm enough and not windy there are many unique species you can find in this habitat;

Goldspotted Killifish caught using micro fishing tactics

These Goldspotted Killifish inhabit the same shallow areas as Sheepshead minnow and look very similar

Crested Goby caught using micro fishing tactics

Crested Goby are common and aggressive around Everglades City, Florida

The Florida Keys have some of the best salt fishing opportunities and sometimes you don’t have to use micro tackle to catch amazing species.  By just downsizing to size 10 to 14 hooks I caught beautiful fish like these small mouthed Cowfish and Wrasses that are almost impossible to hook on conventional salt tackle.

Puddingwife Wrasse caught using micro fishing tactics

Puddingwife Wrasse caught near Seven Mile Key Florida

Scrawled Cowfish caught while micro fishing

Scrawled Cowfish caught on a sliver of squid

The same is true for freshwater, here are two species I was only able to catch on very small hooks.

Walking Catfish caught using a small hook and worm

Unlike bullheads, these catfish are very finicky biters and will spit the hook quickly if it is too big

Brown Hoplo Catfish caught using micro fishing tactics

Brown Hoplo Catfish caught near Myakka State Park

Finally, if you only have time to fish only one place in southern Florida, I recommend the Tamiami Canal, which runs all across the southern half of the state, ending in Miami. The canal is especially clear in Big Cypress Preserve and if you enjoy watching fish like I do, there are quite few places you can get this close to them, just watch out for the alligators.

Tamiami Canal in Big Cypress Preserve

Tamiami Canal in Big Cypress Preserve

Author with a Peacock Bass caught on a small Jewel Cichlid

Author with a Peacock Bass caught on a small Jewel Cichlid


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