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Hike to 7 Palms 02-06-21

Panorama at 7 Palms

I am almost two weeks behind in posting this entry. Between work, leadership training, and family life, I just did not have a chance to sit down and write. The Facebook group gets the quick updates along the way, and others have since fished 7 Palms with good success, but I did want to add an entry for my own record.

After opening an invitation to join us for a hike to do some shad fishing in both the Shad on the Fly and Orlando Kayak Fishing Club groups, Phil and I managed an early list of a total of six anglers willing to make the walk. Unfortunately, by Friday the weather was looking sketchy, with a strong storm system headed our way, with potential rain off and on throughout the day, and a chance for a late day thunderstorm after 5:00pm. With the gloomy forecast and some house work to do, Philippe decided to call it on Friday.

Rain does not generally sway me in and of itself, although at 7 Palms after a rain the muck can be a challenge. That said, by Saturday morning, the potential for a late day thunderstorm had moved forward to around 3:00pm, and that even had me contemplating calling off the trip. I sent a DM to the event group very early in the morning but did not receive a response. I texted Ron, we spoke briefly, and he decided not to risk a wet, mucky hike in as well. Not being able to contact the others, I decided to just press on, and make whatever we could out of the day. Note to self, next time collect everyone’s phone numbers to help coordinate.

I rolled up to Ray’s house at the agreed upon time and found him happy to oblige. Ray and I have had a few rainy days on the water together over the last couple of years, and have always had fun. Ray is laid back, so am I, and we have a similar outlook on fishing. We like to catch fish (like everyone else,) but it is not a numbers game really. Its about the experience and adventure of it all. We fish when we can fish, and try not to overthink it. Some days are better than others, but every day you are on the water, there is something to observe and learn. This year has been incredible to observe, pick apart, and try to figure out fish that are as selective as trout feeding on a hatch out west. Fish at your feet, behind you, within rod’s length… its fascinating.

We arrived at the Canaveral Marsh Trailhead at 8:00am and I was happy to find Anthony Guarino in the parking lot. We quickly packed our gear and set out on an easy walk along the service road. When we arrived at the pasture, we found that it was still mucky around the slough, but there was plenty of high ground to use to get to the shelter. While your natural inclination is to hug the water line as you make your way to the shelter, you are better served to find the high ground around the tall grass patches. Just be careful of snakes.

After about 45 minutes, we made it to the shelter and I donned my waders (I hate hiking in waders in warm temps.) Similar to prior trips to the area this year, we quickly found fish actively feeding up top, and got to work trying to get them to take a fly.

High Tie Gambusia Fly Pattern
High Tie Gambusia

Following my last two trips to the general area, where it was very clear that the shad were feeding all around us but I could not buy a bite, I had gone back to the vice to tie some very small minnow patterns to try to match the hatch. Looking at the size of the gambusia in the shallows around us, it was clear that even the original gambusia pattern that had worked for me early in the season, was still too big. What I came up with was sort of a hybrid of the Gambusia Hair Wing, the Fry Fly, and the High Tie Minnow which I now refer to as the High Tie Gambusia. I tied the pattern in both grey and brown, with both kip tail and marabou, and on size 10 and 12 sized hooks.

TJ's Aluminum Guppy Fly Pattern
TJ’s Aluminium Guppy

In addition, TJ Bettis (Orlando Outfitters) had posted his Aluminum Guppy pattern (or as a like to call it, the Aluminium Guppy, in a British accent to make it sound fancy) on the Shad on the Fly Facebook Group, which seemed to be a remarkably simple (particularly for the owner of a fly shop) and affective pattern at matching the hatch as well. I whipped up my interpretation (ala silver sparkle braid rather than aluminum foil) and decided to run both in tandem, the High Tie Gambusia up front, and the Aluminium Guppy trailing behind.

The tandem rig was a winning pair, and I caught several bluegill, sunfish, and crappie before hooking and losing my first shad of the day. I hooked another soon after and touched leader, but “quick released” the fish at my feet before I could get a picture. Keeping shad hooked on small size 10 or 12 hooks can definitely be a challenge!

Ray fished the Aluminum Guppy as well and caught many panfish and hooked a couple of shad. Anthony fished multiple patterns and caught several panfish as well. As he fished upstream of me, both of us in the water maybe thigh high, he yelled over to me to make sure I had seen the alligator between the two of us. I had not, mistaking its beady little eyes for floating hyacinth. It was not a big gator, but sometimes those are the ones with something to prove, so I watched it closely as it slowly crept within around 30 feet of me and submerged. I promptly left the water. It is important to keep your wits about you, particularly in temperatures above 70 degrees. Even better, fish with a friend, or two!

Alligator in water near us
Wee Beady Eyes…

Throughout the day I counted around ten or so alligators come and go in our general area. In addition, a very large gator parked itself upstream of the little grass island and never moved the entire day. In front of him, four or five significant sized gators kept watch, and never ventured too far.

We decided to grab some lunch under the shelter, talked tactics and all things fishing. After checking the weather forecast, we decided to play it safe and hike out around 2:30 to beat the the thunderstorm, which gave us around an hour and a half to continue fishing. The first half an hour was slow going, but all of the sudden, the entire straight run in front of the shelter came alive. I managed to hook another shad, but again lost the fish as I grabbed the leader. Ray and Anthony also hooked, jumped, and lost shad. As the time ticked ever closer to our departure, I managed to land one, and Ray was kind enough to snap a pic. Out of the four shad I hooked, two had taken the front fly, and two had taken the trailing fly.

caught a shad on the fly

Its difficult to stop fishing right when you know things are just starting to heat up, but with everyone landing plenty of fish for the day, at least hooking shad, and dark clouds looming on the horizon, we did just that. The walk out was a little slower, but we arrived and packed up our gear in the cars right as the downpour began. In all, it was a good day, I enjoyed the hike and the company, and I am glad we decided to brave the elements.

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