I‘ve lived on a tidal canal on the outskirts of Punta Gorda for the past decade. While it’s true that there are lots of fish in Charlotte Harbor, it’s also true that there are good places to fish, and there are not-so-good places to fish. Ten years of very limited success convinced me that my backyard belongs on the list of not-so-good places to fish. Thousands of casts from my dock and seawall had produced only a smattering of fish: One nice snook, a few mangrove snapper, some Mayan cichlids and a scattering of sheepshead and sand bream. One summer a dozen tiny tarpon took up residence in the canal, but I was never able to land any of the several that struck my flies. In subsequent years, the juvenile silver kings have not returned for a rematch. My miserable residential fishing fortunes changed one evening a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, I stumbled onto some good fishing. In a week’s time, I caught more fish from my dock than I’d landed in the previous ten years, though my success came with a species that’s not targeted by many local anglers.
My newfound fishing began one evening after supper as I was standing on my dock with elbows propped on the handrail staring absently at the water. My late-day reverie was interrupted when I noticed that there was quite a bit of fishy activity on the water’s surface behind my neighbor’s house. At first, I thought the swirls and splashes were being made by the many mullet which inhabit the canal, but something about the action seemed un-mulletlike, almost as if it was a school of surface-feeding fish. My neighbor’s backyard is home to a towering ficus tree which is so massive that the leafy canopy extends more than halfway across the canal, and all the activity was occurring directly beneath the overhanging branches of this mighty tree. I noticed that the evening breezes were gently rustling the foliage, resulting in a steady fall of ripe ficus berries into the canal. The pea-sized fruits floated, but most didn’t float for long because something was eating them. Sometimes when a berry would plunk into the water, three or four wakes would race to the spot and the fruit would disappear in a frothy swirl of competing mouths. Other times, the fruits would bob at the surface for a while, then quietly disappear when a fish would rise and gently sip them from the surface. It was tough to see the fish in the murky waters of the canal, but I was finally able to deduce that a school of tilapia had taken up residence under that ficus, having been chummed up by the steady supply of ripe berries.
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