Visit Mark King's
Please visit my Great
Bounty in the Everglades
Rest of dry season
advantageous time to fish river of grass
• Getting there: Access to the Everglades Water
Conservation Areas is excellent, with more than a dozen
concrete ramps maintained by state and local
governments. Ramps are available along Alligator Alley
(I-75), the Okeechobee Road (U.S. 27), the Tamiami Trail
(U.S. 41), and Miami-Dade County Road 997.
• Sawgrass Recreation Area: Two miles north of
Interstate 75 on U.S. 27. Boat ramp, johnboat rentals,
full bait and tackle, food. (954) 389-0202.
• Holiday Park Recreation Area: Six miles south
of Interstate 75 on U.S. 27. Boat ramp, rowboats,
johnboats, bait, tackle, food. (954) 434-8111.
• License: A freshwater fishing license is
required to fish in most cases. Exemptions include
anglers younger than 16 and Florida residents 65 or
older. Check with county tax collectors for other
exemptions. For an instant license by charge card ($3.95
surcharge) call 888-FISH-FLORIDA (888) 347-4356).
• Fishing regulations: South of State Road 80,
the daily bag limit on bass is five, with one fish
longer than 14 inches. The limit on peacock bass is two,
with only one longer than 17 inches. The limit on
bluegill and other native panfish is 50, all species
combined. There is no limit on oscars, Mayan cichlids or
other exotic species.
• Health advisory: There are mercury health
advisories against eating bass and other fish from the
water conservation areas. For more information go online
to the Florida Department of Health (www.doh.state.fl.us).
The Gambler Ace worm — red metalflake glinting
within its 5-inch body of watermelon-rind-colored plastic — was
intended for bass. But nobody told that to the fierce little
red-eyed warmouth that mistook the wobbling lure for the meal of a
What ensued wasn't much of a battle, but it was the first of many in
Everglades Water Conservation Area 2 — known as the Sawgrass
Recreation Area — where Clewiston Capt. Mark King and his dad, Dave,
renewed old times Monday morning. Besides the chunky warmouth, the
day's catch also included the intended bass, plus bluegill,
stumpknockers, gar, and more than a few brawny bowfin, or mudfish as
the toothy brawlers are not-so-fondly called.
Farther south, in WCA 3, anglers find much the same cast of
characters, if they can get through the Mayan cichlids and oscars.
Asked how the exotic panfish were biting down in the L67A canal,
Holiday Park Recreation Area employee Kelly Sims said, "Only in the
From now through the rest of the dry season, well
into May or possibly June, that's the way it will be in the
Everglades. As the spring sun and winds dry out the shallow river of
grass, fish normally spread out over thousands of square miles of
marsh are annually forced into the relatively tight confines of the
Bass are forced out of the vast
Everglades marshes by falling water. They sit out the dry
season in the canals, where access is excellent along the
Alligators grow fat and anglers grow tired in the resulting bounty
of fishing, which just doesn't get any better.
For the Kings, the fun started when they took their
first Everglades trip several years ago. Dave treated Mark, who was then
driving a tractor-trailer rig between Ohio steel mills and Chicago, to a
trip with retired guide Bobby Livers.
"We caught more than 40 bass over 4 pounds. Forty-one, I think," Dave
"That's what made me decide I wanted to be a fishing guide," said Mark,
who now works out of Scott Martin's Anglers Marina in Clewiston, mostly
on Lake Okeechobee. But for anglers who want lots of action, he
frequently trails his boat to the Sawgrass Recreation Area, where he
often starts fishing without ever having to start the big engine on his
20-foot bass boat.
The four-year fishing guide notes that first catch
of big bass was unusual for the size of the fish, but not the
numbers. How well the largemouths bite depends on fishing factors
including the gravitational effects of the sun and the moon (see The
News-Press Fishing Forecaster), ultraviolet exposure (bass hate
cloudless skies), and moods even the fish can't explain.
Overall, however, it doesn't get any better in Florida, at least
According to Everglades fisheries biologist Barron
Moody, on average the WCAs produce bass at more than twice the rate
of Florida's next-best lakes (Okeechobee and the Stick Marsh). The
bass catch rate peaked last year in April and May at 3.92 bass per
hour of fishing effort.
Catch rates soar from there for the combination of oscars and Mayan
cichlids. Last year during the peak four weeks, April 6 through May
3, panfish anglers averaged 13.45 fish per hour.