Like every other invasive species found in Florida’s Wilderness, their presence is no coincidence. Since the 60’s, Florida citizens have been turning their pets loose on the Everglades. Be it Alligators, Snakes, birds, bugs, plants, or fish – nothing can compare to the never ending war that takes place beneath the surface of the lakes in most South Florida back yards.
It’s no secret that desperate times call for desperate measures. Often times in Florida, desperate times are brought on by Mother Nature. Weather it’s Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Flash Floods, Brush Fries, etc; Whenever the power goes out, it has become common practice for the locals to release their snakes or dump their aquariums. One tank may not be enough to bring on a mass population of invasive species, but two tanks is enough to infest a body of water. Although in Florida, nearly all bodies of water are connected, and Florida holds more than two irresponsible tank or pet owners. Before we knew it, Florida was home to some of the most exotic fish on the planet, and the list of invasives’ grows longer and longer every year.
Why is this such a monumental issue? With no natural predators within the Florida Ecosystem to regulate the population, it doesn’t take long for the invasive species to find themselves more at home than any residents along the waterways. It is also especially difficult to deal with when popular aquarium fish are often aggressive species. Members of the Cichlid family are commonly found in home aquariums, have dozens of species within their genus, most of which are aggressive. Members of the Cichlid family include the Mayan, Jack Dempesy, the Jaguar Guapote, the Midas, The Oscar, Tilapia, and many more.
Keep in mind, this is not the only species of fish that Florida waters are having problems with. Other invasive species include the Armored Pleco, Snakeheads, the Clown Knife Fish, the Walking Catfish, the Red Tail Catfish, the Arowana, and so many others. Also keep in mind this is only freshwater fish; this does not include salt water, this does not include birds, this does not include reptiles, and this is only what we’re aware of. Despite endless research efforts, many experts believe we will never truly know what lurks beneath the surface, even in our own back yards.
We don’t often realize this, but fish swim on a constant basis; and need to feed nearly around the clock. Members of the Cichlid family feed on ghost shrimp, minnows, snail eggs, tadpoles, bass eggs, and bass fry (hatch-lings), and just about anything they can wrap their mouths around. Some breeds of the Cichlid will even attack other fish out of territorial instinct, weather they plan on eating them or not. Many of them are also too small to eat, which deters them from being targeted by even people. It’s no wonder they became such a significant threat to our ecosystem in such a short amount of time.
This problem got so out of control, that in 1984 the FWC joined forces with state legislatures to enact habitual control policies to help regulate our ecosystem. Over the last 30+ years, countless “nonnative” species have been introduced, awareness has been raised, and a multi million dollar exotic fishing industry has been established in South Florida. When scientists began the introduction of the Peacock Bass (also a member of the Cichlid family), it was believed that they would weed out the population of many of these aggressive invasives’ and many will go as far as saying that the progress is significant. However, after nearly four decades of battling it out, anglers and scientists alike will tell you that rather than decimating their population, they have created balance. Also keep in mind that there’s a difference between invasive species, and non native species. Simply put, the only difference between the classification of invasives and non natives, is how they were introduced, and if they upset the habitat. Peacock Bass are considered non native.
We met up with SA Company Pro Staff Member, Adam Rizzi to show us how the water ways work- just thirty minutes south of our own headquarters. Typically, South Florida is a sunny, hot, humid, tropical climate where only three miles separates the ocean from the swamps. However, we’ve been experiencing weeks of nonstop overcast and rain. The often fires up species such as Snook,Tarpon, carp, many species of catfish. The Snook and Tarpon are more easily caught during and after storms because of the functionalities of our spillways.
Spillways are where salt water meets fresh water and becomes brackish water. When South Florida experiences significant rains, the everglades begins to flood. So we have pump stations to regulate the amount of water in our fresh water system. When the pump stations open the locks, fresh water is spilled into salt water creating an oxygenation effect while also dumping small fish from one body of water into another. This is where these ambush predators wait to strike.
Adam begins by pitching a custom Gill Reaper Lure from his favorite tackle shop, Competition Tackle. Once he sees mullet running scared near the bank, he throws his cast net, hooks up his mullet to a circle hook, and drifts it into the oncoming tide. This slower method of fishing gave us the opportunity to talk to some other locals; this is where we met M.C. Coffee Jr. We saw he had five medium tackle rods lined up across the bank and a net waiting behind him. On the end of his line was raw chicken; no hooks, no leader, no weight, no bobber. It appeared as though he was Alligator fishing (the wrong way), but upon further discussion, we learned that he was fishing for Blue Crab. M.C. Tells us that the crab crawl up to his bait, and grab hold with their claws. At which point, he slowly reels up with one hand, slides a net under the crab and the chicken, and walks them right over to his bucket. As odd as this sounds, M.C. Coffee Jr. was able to bag his limit of Blue Crab despite the rain and open levies.
Upon discovering that the levies have only been open for an hour, Adam decides it’s time to make a move. We went a few streets down into the lake and canal systems to fish irrigation pipes. Our second stop held about a dozen Peacock Bass ranging between 1lb-3lb; the average size for this area. While talking with Adam, we learn that the Peacock Bass spawn nearly year round; taking only three weeks off at a time. Many of the fish we caught that day were “post spawn”- Meaning they had recently finished their last mating and birthing cycle, and are preparing for the next one. Adam also goes on to tell us that their South American Heritage encourages along with their ambush style feeding tactics make them isolated targets. This means that they’re likely to be in warm waters, under rocks, on sea walls, in weeds, or anywhere they can wait in warmth for their next meal.
We tried several other spots throughout the day. We fished some neighborhood lakes stocked with exotics where we found Midas Cichlid, Tilapia, and a Jaguar Guapote. In the six hours spent on the banks, we caught nearly thirty fish, but only one Large Mouth Bass. This speaks volumes about the invasives’ impact on our ecosystem. Regardless, Adam Rizzi showed the SA Team a truly productive morning in Broward County. We caught a vast variety of species, and stayed busy reeling nearly the entire duration of the adventure.
Like anything else, the impact of invasives’ in our ecosystem is arguable among outdoor enthusiasts. While some leave them for dead on the banks, others release them right back to where they were caught in hopes that they reproduce. People from all over the world visit South Florida to catch these exotic species of fish rather than visit South or Central America. It goes without saying that their presence here has created a multi million dollar industry. For starters, traveling south of the border is expensive, time consuming, and come with a list of health hazards and precautions prior to even boarding your flight. Not only that, but once you’re there, many anglers will experience a language barrier, hospitality issues, and safety concerns. Finally, finding a guide to take you into the amazon river is by no means an inexpensive excursion or a small task (Often starting at $4,200.00 US). The amazon river is also a huge, rushing body of water that hosts a wide variety of far more dangerous species such as Bull Sharks, Piranha, leeches, Anacondas, the Nile Crocodile, the Goliath Tiger Fish, the Electric Eel, the Giant Stingray, the Vampire Fish, and many more. Needless to say, we would recommend an outdoor adventure with Adam over the Amazon Rain Forest any day.