A Fish Tale

First you take a berry. Then you dangle it in the water. Count to ten and reel in your line. Sound simple? It is.

I want to return the favor, so I tell Morello the wild story about catching these aberrant fish on berry baits. He's neither befuddled nor impressed. "Oh, that's just something that's incidental," the biologist says. "We've also found that food in other types of fish. It falls in the water, and just instinctively they eat it."

To us this means we've discovered little more than a nifty outdoor version of a parlor trick. We can impress friends by showing them the giant grass carps, but despite a tale told me by a fishing buddy from up north who swears people smoke carp for consumption, there's not much else to do with our find. Until Family Fun Fishing Day.

As part of its effort to alert people to the fact there's a carefully managed fishing hole in the middle of one of Dade County's most popular public parks, Game and Fish has set aside a Saturday for this event. Free bait and juice and little bags with goodies such as a gamebook for kids are handed out by Game and Fish officers. This has persuaded me to rise at 7:00 a.m., something I do about twice per year, and then only for fishing trips.

Zap and I cruise over to a different part of the park, to another lake, where we catch a couple of dozen baby bream to use as bait. The bream are taken with tiny hooks and pieces of bread, then kept in a bucket of water until we get them back to the controlled lake.

Dozens of kids crowd around the far bend of the lake's horseshoe shape. But we're the pros. We are the masters of this lake. We have a spot. Normally when we wheel into Tropical and make our turn past the stables where Metro-Dade police keep their horses, we wave at the cops and they wave back. This friendliness we attribute to the fact they're horse cops.

But today the area we fish -- hundreds of yards and one large fence away from where everyone else fishes -- is crowded. Also there is an equestrian competition taking place; giant stallions topped by people in skin-tight suits and funny hats prance about the course. We try to not let this distract us.

As we rig up, two uniformed men in a Parks and Recreation truck pull up. They seem surprised we're here, and they tell us we're not allowed to be. "We fish here all the time," Zap protests.

The younger of the two men, the one in the passenger seat, says that normally that's okay, "but you can't fish while they're having the horses. It scares them."

In a last-ditch effort -- and just to have some fun -- I challenge the Parks guy with this: "Is this a Parks and Recreation lake, or a state lake, or a Dade County lake? Or is it, in fact, a private lake?"

"Uh, it's both," he answers. "I mean, it's a county lake, but it's in the park."

"Okay," I say triumphantly, "then it's not a private lake? Okay. So you are illegally keeping triploid grass carp in public waters?"

The man shakes his head as if I'm speaking Greek. "What are you talking about? There's no tarp on this lake."

We leave, set up on the other side, and Zap jets to his house to pick up Chino, who by this time has surely finished breakfast and begun the day's effort to drive his mother crazy. While he's gone, I fish this new spot and become convinced there's nothing to catch here.

Eventually we give in and join the others at the far end of the lake. Though we fish hard, we're not really expecting to catch anything here. Chino seems to be having fun, so I decide to have some, too: "Let's go talk to the Game and Fish guys."

A couple of tented kiosks are set up for registration and such, and there's a big tank holding some of the fish that people are catching in Horse Lake. The Game and Fish officers are gathered in groups in this area. Beneath the shade of one of the tents we spot the Terminator, sitting around chatting, not hassling a soul. We walk over and talk to three other rangers.

Me: "If this isn't a private lake, you really shouldn't have triploid grass carp in there."

Game and Fish Guy 1: "What about a harp?"
Me: "There's grass carp in this lake, but they're only supposed to be kept in private waters. I'd like to know where they came from."

Game and Fish Guy 2 points toward heaven, indicating that the fish were put there by God.

Me: "Then you better issue God a citation."
Game and Fish Guy 1: "You're crazy, there aren't any carp in this lake."
Zap: "Then God made some 30-pound catfish that don't have any whiskers."

After a while of this foolishness, we're told what we already knew but didn't want to admit: Of course Game and Fish can put carp in this lake. They're Game and Fish.

We take the free handouts, a plastic bag with a gamebook, a fishing guide. On the outside of the bag is a Top 10 list called "The Angler's Code of Ethics" -- support conservation, practice catch and release, don't pollute, be safe.... The Code of Ethics is, the bag says, a joint project of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Sportfishing Promotion Council. Seems like simple common sense to Zap and me.

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