Birds and Bull Sharks in the Florida Everglades

Written by: Leigh Perkins, Chairman of the Board, Orvis


LHP in the Everglades

The author and his wife with a redfish for dinner.

photo courtesy Leigh Perkins

In late 2009, my wife Anne and I fished the Everglades with Capt. Rick Ruoff and Capt. Peter Freeza, as well as RomiJo owners Capt. Rick and JoAnn Cappelletti. It was a wonderful trip, and we learned a great deal about the bird and fish life from Pete Freeza, an avian biologist working in the Everglades for Audubon. We started from Flamingo, aboard the RomiJo, traveling up to Cape Sable, through Lake Ingram, to a canal that took us into the canoe area. Here there is a special sandbar, which we refer to as “Rosie’s Bar” because it is a rookery for Roseate Spoonbills.

This trip was just before the early January 2010 freeze that killed millions of fish, and one of our main objectives was large snook sighted in very shallow water. When a snook attacks a baitfish or a streamer, it is a marvelous thing!

LHP in the Everglades

Roseate Spoonbills help to locate snook, since they eat the same baitfish.

photo courtesy Leigh Perkins

Pete explained to us that the main baitfish for snook is the gambusia—also known as the mosquitofish—a small (1- to 1.5-inch) species that is the main food fish for both the Roseate Spoonbill and the Wood Stork. These highly visible wading birds helped us locate the snook. On a falling tide, the Roseate Spoonbills would wade the sand flats, scooping up the gambusia with their broad bills, and as the tide swept the bait into the main canal, the snook, redfish and speckled sea trout would devour them. This made flyfishing for snook, redfish, and trout very productive. That is, until a large bull shark joined the action and took every fish we caught – one time within three feet of the boat, breaking a fly rod while he was at it! We did salvage enough redfish and trout for a meal.

Our favorite wildlife area, the Everglades is the second largest National Park in the U.S. and is underused. We often went two days without seeing another boat and rarely saw more than three boats a day. With marine biologist Rick Ruoff to explain what was going on underwater and Pete Freeza to explain what was going on above the surface in this marvelous wildlife area, the fishing was almost secondary.

Although he retired as CEO of The Orvis Company in 1992, Leigh Perkins is still chairman of the board and one of our best field testers. Listen to Tom Rosenbauer’s interview with Leigh Perkins in a recent podcast here.

LHP in the Everglades

Sight-fishing for big snook in shallow water is the name of the game.

photo courtesy Leigh Perkins

LHP in the Everglades

Capt. Rick Ruoff poles the boat in evening light.

photo courtesy Leigh Perkins

LHP in the Everglades

Anne Perkins with a fine fly-rod snook.

photo courtesy Leigh Perkins

LHP in the Everglades

The Everglads are truly wild, and there is lots to see, hear, and experience.

photo courtesy Leigh Perkins

LHP in the Everglades

A snook coughs up some mosquitofish, their main forage.

photo courtesy Leigh Perkins

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