What a difference a couple of weeks can make here in Florida! We went from considering hanging it up at Hatbill because the water was so low (last post,) to a time warp back to early January water levels in a flash. With the gage height back to around 5 feet at SR 50 and water temps back down into the 60’s due to torrential rain and multiple cold fronts, I fished out of Tosohatchee last Thursday and had the whole place to myself… well, almost.
Due to Spring Break, there was an increase in large tour airboats running a regular circuit, with at least 4-6 out at any given time for most of the day, but the pattern they were running tended to stay well downstream, only venturing close as they ran across Mud Lake. Outside of that I only saw 2-3 other airboats all day, and not another soul fishing, at least with a fishing pole.
I took my time getting to the water as it was a weekday and when I arrived at 10:30am at the river at the end of the almost 6-mile-long dirt Powerline Road, there were two cars with trailers, one parked and one pulling in, both looked to be commercial cast net fishermen. Tosohatchee does not allow trailered boats to launch here, as there is not a ramp and parking is already limited, but I proceeded to watch a gentlemen unhitch his trailer, walk it with the boat (maybe a 12-footer similar to a Carolina Skiff with a 25hp) still attached down to the water’s edge, and leverage a downed telephone pole width post to roll his boat in to the water from the steep highbank. It looked difficult enough to get in the water, I am not real sure how they planned to get it out, but I loaded up my boat and minded my own business. They went one way, and I went another.
Running solo, I quickly made my way downstream of 7 Palms to a turn I had not fished before (the turn that had the dead cow on it a year or two ago,) but that had significant surface activity. Along the way I saw dozens of large alligators on the bank, and when I arrived at this turn, found four that slipped into the water, but never yielded the spot. They stuck close, popping their heads up for a look periodically as I began to fish the pool with the ultralight. I quickly caught a shad that did not put up much of a fight but looked fresh (albeit thin) when I got it to the net. I moved to the switch rod and pulled another from the same bend that did make a run on me though.
Being content with even finding fish this late, I decided to move on and see if there were fish in all of the normal suspects. There were, and I was pleased to pull a fish or two (and there were plenty more to be had) from every place I stopped before moving to the next. I wanted to continue all the way to Paw Paw Mound, but as I ventured further, the alligators grew larger, and bolder in the warm weather. As I made my way past Mud Lake towards the next big pool, I counted 17 large alligators as they slipped from the bank into the water. There were a few more that stayed parked where they were, and likely several that were skittish enough to move before I saw them. Add to that the fact that the airboats were stopping along the run upstream of Paw Paw as part of their circuit, and I decided to turn back. They were stopping there each time for a reason, and I did not want to ride the wake of these big boats in the canoe. Biomass if what the Spring Breakers came to see after all, and I did not want to end up in the water there.
As I returned upstream, I stopped at a spot I have marked as “Crazy Gator Bank,” as it often has around a dozen alligators on it. It is high and dry and has a slough that feeds into it, and regularly has surface activity. Ray and I have stopped to fish it before without luck, as the river is wider here, and the activity is just out of reach of even the switch rods while fishing from bank. Based on its namesake, wading is not really a good idea here, particularly this late in the season. Instead, I anchored up the Sportspal using the anchor trolley just upstream of the slough and proceeded to catch several small warmouth before bringing a shad to hand.
It was an impressive day of fishing for this late in the season, and I would say we likely have a few more weeks left based on the numbers of fish still in the system, more heavy rains coming, and even another cold front. I plan to keep at it a while longer.