When the bass fishing gets good in Everglades canals, Capt. Alan Zaremba says that there’s no such thing as a bad cast.
Just get your lure somewhere on the water and chances are excellent that you’ll get a bite.
Canal fishing is good now and will only get better over the coming weeks. The reason is that water levels are dropping in the marshy interior of the Everglades, forcing bass and other species into the canals that crisscross the River of Grass.
“You can catch bass here year-round, but this is the time of year when you can catch a lot of bass. They’re concentrated, coming out of the marsh areas,” says Zaremba, of Hollywood, who specializes in guiding anglers for peacock bass in urban canals from Homestead to Lake Worth, but focuses on the Everglades this time of year.
“This happens every year, and this year’s going to be a longer time to have good fishing. A few years ago we had only like two weeks where it was really good, then the rain started early. The rainy season began in April.
“This year we’ve got optimal conditions. So depending on when the rainy season kicks in, which I figure is usually the third or fourth week in May, get out now while you can and enjoy it.”
Since water levels have dropped, Zaremba has already had two anglers catch and release 300 largemouth bass in an eight-hour trip. In addition, his charters catch peacock bass, bluegills, spotted sunfish, shellcrackers, speckled perch, chain pickerel, mudfish and non-native species such as oscars, Mayan cichlids and jaguar guapotes.
On a recent two-hour trip late in the afternoon, Zaremba and I caught about 40 largemouth and peacock bass, as well as some Mayans and oscars, using a 5-inch Bagley Minnow B floating jerkbait on 6- to 7-foot medium action spinning rods with 15-pound braided line and 20-pound monofilament leaders.
Sometimes the bites would come as soon as the lure landed on the water. Other times, bass would hit after we’d reeled back the lure almost to Zaremba’s flats boat. And several times we got bites when the lures were simply sitting on the surface while we were deep into conversations about fishing, family or current events.
“Anybody can throw it and catch fish,” said Zaremba of his favorite lure, which he sells on his website. “It will catch all different species, so they don’t have to be a Joe Pro, and I think that’s important. You can drag it out the back of the boat and something’s going to hit it. You could be talking to your partner and something comes up and hits it. Sometimes we catch two bass at a time on those lures.”
Other lures that Zaremba likes when Everglades water levels are low include topwater plugs such as Chug Bugs and Pop-Rs, and his fly-fishing customers have great success throwing poppers and woolly buggers. Zaremba also likes seven-inch Gambler ribbontail worms, which can be reeled on the surface through the lily pads, hyacinths and other vegetation that lines most canals to imitate a small snake.
Zaremba said live worms such as nightcrawlers will catch oscars, Mayan cichlids, spotted sunfish and bluegills. He added that live shiners are not necessary or as effective as lures.
“You’ll catch more fish on the artificials right now than you will on live bait,” Zaremba says. “And how many dozen live baits would you have to bring out here to catch 200 bass? You’re going to need a lot of shiners.”
The other attraction of the Bagley Minnow B is that it can be fished a variety of ways and it holds up well even after catching hundreds of fish in the Everglades, which run from Tamiami Trail to the Broward-Palm Beach county line west of U.S. Highway 27 and from Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge to Sawgrass Recreation Park east of 27.
“They last a long time,” says Zaremba of the jerkbaits, which he upgrades with Daiichi blood-red treble hooks. “The factory hooks are pretty good to start with, but they will wear out fast [because he catches so many fish], especially right now.
“And I can use it twitching on the surface. I can use it as a jerkbait down below. And I can troll with it. Anytime you can work something a bunch of ways, you can target different things. If you find the bass are out on a deeper ledge, and there seem to be so many in there right now, they’ll come up and hit that jerkbait, which might be going down only three feet. But it’s giving off enough flash and it also has a rattle in it, so it makes a little more noise.”
Right now, Zaremba said the best fishing has been in the western parts of the canals along Interstate 75, which is more commonly known as Alligator Alley. Lots of smaller bass are biting in the finger canals north of the Alley on the west side of U.S 27. As water levels continue to drop, the fishing will only get better everywhere, including the canals at Sawgrass and at Everglades Holiday Park, which is west of 27 at Griffin Road.
That makes this a great time to introduce youngsters to fishing. Growing up in Miami, Zaremba said he and neighborhood kids would fish in local canals. Given the residential and commercial development in South Florida over the past few decades, kids no longer have that type of access to fishing. Bringing them out to the Everglades for a few hours of catching fish can hook them on the sport.
It helps to use what Zaremba calls his three-stop rule for kids:
“Stop and fish for a while and when they start getting antsy, you go for a little boat ride.
Start fishing again. They start getting antsy, go for a little boat ride. That gets them back in the groove again. Start fishing again and when they get antsy for the third time, it’s time to go to the house, whether that’s two hours, three hours, four hours, five hours. Every kid’s different.”
But they’ll all love catching lots of fish.