FROM the time white men replaced the Indian in south Florida, fishing has been an important occupation. At first it was purely an individual enterprise, a means of securing food for the family larder. Later, fishing became a commercialized industry and then a recognized sport.
As sport it ranks among the most popular, and is suited to every pocketbook. The bamboo pole fisherman reaps as much pleasure and satisfaction from landing a black bass from the Tamiami Canal as does the Gulf Stream angler who wins a battle with a sailfish from the cockpit of an expensive cabin cruiser.
The philosophy of Izaak Walton is fostered in Miami by the Rod and Reel Club which has a limited membership of four hundred plus a long waiting list. The club includes men from many walks of life, every one of them versed in the time-honored recreation of angling. The tourist has a wide latitude in his choice of fishing oppor tunities. He can acquire an outfit, including bait, for less than a dollar, and fish from any of a dozen bridges, bulkheads, or piers. From this modest start there is practically no limit upward. Some comparatively simple kits, especially those designed far deep-sea fishing, cost as much as a medium priced car.
Deep-sea fishing, however, may be enjoyed without the expense of a permanent investment in equipment. On charter boats, avail able at a wide variety of prices, a day s sport costs as little as two dollars with everything furnished except lunch and liquid refresh ments. Charter cabin cruisers making the Gulf Stream are owned and operated by captains who hold certificates and licenses, and are expert guides and seamen. During the years the fleet has been operating, not a life has been lost at sea. The captain advises and helps the beginner catch whatever fish may be running.
At Baker s Haulover, about ten miles north of Miami, the tide on ebb or flow is a mill race, spanned by a high bridge. From the bridge and a concrete jetty extending into the ocean, fishermen have made excellent records. Fishing is free but transportation must be arranged since there is no public conveyance. Bait can be purchased at a tackle shop. A restaurant features fish and local delicacies. The i,ooo-foot pier at Sunny Isles, just north of Baker s Haulover, affords an opportunity for deep-sea fishing without a boat.
Tackle and bait can be secured at the pier. Visitors who do not care to fish are admitted for 15 cents; otherwise the charge is 40 cents. The clubhouse and casino provide an excellent menu. Along the ocean shore from Miami northward, surf fishing is to be had by day or night when the tide is favorable. The catch is usually limited to such swift surface fish as blue runners, bluefish, mackerel, and pompano.
Bridges connecting the keys 50 to 75 miles south of Miami are outlying fishing grounds. From these spans, anglers catch almost all kinds of fish that frequent the inland waters. Tackle, bait, and refreshments are sold at nearby-by stands.
Of the many varieties of fish to be found in Florida waters only a few are known as gamefish and therefore entitled to consideration by the sportsman. Of these, none is more popular than the sailfish, named from the purplish-blue, web-like dorsal fin that extends from its head almost to its tail. This fin, sometimes 2 feet high can be folded at will into a deep, narrow groove along the top of its back.
The popularity of the sailfish lies in its elusiveness, its fighting qualities, and the thrills and excitement experienced in bringing one to gaff. The upper portion of its head, over the lower jaw, projects forward to form a beak or spear with which the sailfish usually taps the lure before striking. Sometimes, its great sail proudly displayed, a sailfish may follow the trolled bait for miles, but aggravatingly refuse to come near it. Extreme patience is needed at first, and, when the fish takes the bait, expert skill. Its weight varies from 35 to 50 pounds.
Next to the sailfish, many anglers who like the "big ones," prefer the tarpon that range from sixty to two hundred pounds. One weighing 352 pounds was landed by a commercial fisherman near Indian River Inlet in 1912.
The tarpon, or Silver King, is a massive fish, with a heavy head and a bulky body. But it is also possessed of great strength and endurance and, when hooked, never fails to put up a long and fierce struggle for freedom. Landing a tarpon involves a contest against brute strength. Its aerial gymnastics and desperate lunges last long enough to try the muscles and skill of any fisherman. In midwinter the tarpon are usually found about the coasts and inlets of Central America. They migrate in spring, traveling northward in great schools, loafing in the Caribbean until March. They then move into waters around the Florida Keys and by mid summer may be found along the entire east coast and coastal waters of the Gulf. During the spring and summer months they are particulariy plentiful in the inner channels among the thousands of little islands clustered about the southern tip of the penisula. Another great game fish, whose tough, wiry fighting qualities have been likened to those of a bucking bronco, is the marlin. These are the superlatives in the rod and reel class. World records include one weighing 1,040 pounds caught by Zane Grey, off Vairoa, Tahiti. Marlin are known as blue, black, silver, striped, or white according as their hide is marked. Along the east coast the white marlin, averaging one hundred pounds in weight, are more common while the blue marlin, running from two to six hundred pounds are found on the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream in the vicinity of Bimini.
Marlin reach such great size and are such terrific fighters that tackle must be made to order. A great reel costing six hundred dollars and up, big enough to hold almost a mile of heavy line is the first essential. Two hundred fifty yards of 1 8 -thread line an swers for the average game fish but the minimum requirement for blue marlin is nine hundred yards of 36- to 5 4- thread line. Some sportsmen use up to forty-five hundred feet of line while others, depending on sheer strength, use heavier ji-thread lines. To manipu late such tackle it is necessary for the angler to wear a "harness," a leather vest, provided with a socket and cables to support the outfit. In southern waters only one fish is comparable to the marlin the tuna a bullet-shaped parcel of chained lightning. It may take several hours to land a i5O-pounder while all-day battles with larger specimens are not infrequent.
It is often difficult to land one of the larger game fish whole. Sharks swarm to the scene of battle and tear great chunks from the side and belly of the hooked and helpless marlin or tuna. On the edges of the Gulf Stream and on shallow flats around wrecks, buoys, and piling, and inside waters, anglers are annoyed by barracuda, the "tiger of the sea." Ranging from 3 to 6 feet in length these ferocious cannibals attack anything, not alone because of hunger but from the sheer lust for blood. Even the shark cannot equal them in speed, cruelty, or blind reckless courage. Moise N. Kaplan, authority on Florida game fish, relates that an irate angler carved up a barracuda and tossed it back into the water. He baited his hook with the flesh thus obtained and a minute later, this bar racuda fiercely struck and was caught again on the bait from its own body.
The foregoing are the large fish of the Miami area, although, strictly speaking, the shark and barracuda are considered as trouble makers rather than game fish. Among the smaller game fish are the amberjack, bonito, channel bass, grouper, kingfish, mackerel, snook, bonefish, and wahoo. The latter is a member of the mackerel family found in tropical waters about Florida and the West Indies. It is a terrific fighter, good eating, but not plentiful. The bonefish weighing from two to five pounds, are among the smallest of the game fish and only the lightest tackle is used for taking them. The attraction lies in the knowledge, finesse, and skill the sportman must develop in landing them.
On an incoming tide, bonefish are sometimes seen in quiet, shallow water on banks or bottoms, their tails up, as they "root" for food in the sand or mud. Locating these feeding places is difficult and often requires time. In addition, the bonefisherman must have the patience of Job. A ripple on the waters, a fleeting shadow, or a mere whisper is often sufficient to frighten away the timid creatures.
Miami's fishing opportunities are not limited wholly to salt water. The canal and its branches along the Tamiami Trail have an abundance of small tarpon, redfish, snook, bream, and black bass, the latter probably America s sportiest fresh-water fish. So great an asset is this fish to Florida s outdoor life, that the State legislature in 1935 passed an act making illegal the sale of black bass or its transportation for sale out of the State.
Along the Tamiami Trail, black bass are taken by bait or fly casting and by still fishing. The gear is simple and inexpensive. A 4/4- to 6-foot steel rod, a cane pole or a fly rod, used with a 16- to 1 8 -pound test line are all used successfully. Natural bait, live min nows, frogs, worms, crawfish, or artificial lures, spoons and spinners, are all employed. When the sky is overcast and the fish refuse surface lures, underwater pork-rind lures may be effective. The fly fisherman finds that bass lures often get the fish. When casting, plugs should be reeled in slowly and halted frequently to simulate a wounded minnow attempting to escape an enemy.
For fresh-water fishing a license secured from the office of the county judge, is required. A non-resident fresh-water permit costs $1.75. The bag is limited to 12; possession to two days limit. Commercial fishing fleets operated in conjunction with local fish markets together with boats operated by individual owners put out to sea in the early morning hours each day to return with food fish for local consumption and northern markets. During the kingfish season, from November to March, approximately two hundred boats sail into Biscayne Bay and out through Baker s Haulover and the Government Cut, and thousands of pounds of mackerel and kingfish are brought in each evening.
The season for Florida lobster or crawfish and the stone crab, a rare delicacy little known north of Miami, is from July to January. Many local fishermen, from Pompano to Homestead, use homemade traps for lobster fishing. Crawfish, brought in from the Bahamas the entire year, are iced and shipped to northern cities.
The Annual Metropolitan Miami Fishing Tournament, sponsored by all the communities in the Greater Miami area, is held from Janu ary to April. Contestants averaging 1,250 daily from all the states and many foreign countries participate in this tournament each year. Daily certificates of award are provided for each of the 99 days of fishing. Prizes totaling $10,000 are offered for 27 varieties of fish and the tournament includes such special features as the picturesque parade of the fishing flotilla and ladies day for which separate prizes are provided. Weekly prizes are awarded to charter-boat captains participating in the tournament. Entries for prizes are measured and weighed and recorded on blanks provided by the committee which has its headquarters in the Rod and Reel Club on Hibiscus Island.
Many anglers have their prize catches mounted for display in their homes or clubs. The charges range from $10 to $20 per foot for the larger kind such as sailfish, marlin, tarpon, dolphin, or bar racuda. For smaller fish, like the brilliantly colored parrot or angelfish, the cost is from $10 to $20 depending on the amount of color ing required.
Measured in terms of money, fishing ranks high in Miami s list of recreations. It is estimated that in more than one hundred days of fishing, $500,000 is expended for boat hire alone, a computation based on a charge of $25 per boat day for two hundred craft. Tackle dealers agree that about one million dollars is paid yearly for equipment and supplies.
In, the interests of the sport and conservation of fish, the true angler and sportsman returns to the water such fish as he does not intend to have mounted, enter for tournament prizes, or use for food.