Sheel Creek oscar

WaterLine photo by Capt. Ralph Allen

This oscar caught in Shell Creek made Capt. Ralph eat crow.

Sometimes I can be pretty hardheaded. If you doubt this, you should talk to Mrs. Capt. Ralph. She will be happy to confirm that I am so stubborn that old mules could take lessons from me on how to be a complete ass.

Among other things, my stubborn streak makes me ornery enough to doubt the tales told by some anglers who claim that they’ve caught some particular fish if I’ve never been able to do it myself. For example, some years ago there was an angler who swore that he landed a mahi at El Jobean.

I’ve never landed a mahi at El Jobean, nor have I ever even seen one anywhere around Charlotte Harbor. About the nearest to Charlotte Harbor that I’ve encountered mahi is seven or eight miles out in the Gulf, but they are rare so close to the coast since they are primarily an offshore species. So in my mind, that El Jobean mahi catch never happened, because I’ve never personally seen such a thing.

However, like most other fish, mahi are equipped with tails. It’s certainly possible that a misguided mahi somehow could have swum up the harbor into the Myakka River and gotten caught there by a lucky angler. But my inclination is to pooh-pooh the possibility of the landing of a mahi by someone else because it’s outside my own experience.

However, I’m sometimes forced to admit that I’ve been wrong in my mule-headed insistence that something is not possible. For example, I recently was surprised to catch an oscar in Shell Creek.

In recent years, I have heard a smattering of fish stories regarding oscars taken from Charlotte County waters. Some of these tales were accompanied by photos — but in every one of those instances, the photos that I was shown depicted Mayan cichlids, not oscars. And since I’ve never seen an oscar here myself (even though I often fish in places and using methods that would be good for taking oscars), I have steadfastly insisted that they have not yet appeared in Charlotte County.

Then a few weeks ago I found myself landing that ego-bruising fish that proved that I was wrong.

Oscars are not native to Florida. They probably became established in the Sunshine State via specimens that were imported from their native range in South America and sold to fresh water aquarists in Florida. Like so many other non-native transplants (including plenty of humans), oscars have become well-established in South Florida and will most likely be a permanent part of the state’s ecosystems.

I’ve caught a lot of oscars in the last few decades, but they’ve mostly come from the Everglades or eastern Collier County. They are so fun to catch on light tackle or on fly that I have made numerous trips to the Everglades just to target them.

If you’re looking for a place to catch oscars, I’d recommend Everglades Holiday Park in the winter or spring during times of low water. The canals over there are just full of oscars, though if you go you’ll probably find yourself being distracted by catching Mayan cichlids, bluegill and bass too. Such a burden to bear.

I will have to make a bit of a confession here: I really do enjoy catching oscars. Even though they’re a nonnative species and don’t belong here, if they became abundant in local waters I would happily fish for them. That is what happened with the aforementioned Mayan cichlids, another nonnative species which was transplanted here from Central America and which now exists in Charlotte County in great numbers.

Please don’t interpret the above sentences to mean that I think we should be importing non-native critters to Florida. Non-natives have the potential to disrupt our ecosystems. Once these animals do become established here then there is generally no way to get rid of them.

Now they’ve arrived, Florida will probably be home to pythons, walking catfish, Mayan cichlids, oscars, cane toads and Michiganders forever. I wonder what new species will be the next one to prove me wrong?

Let’s go fishing!

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

Capt. Ralph Allen runs the King Fisher Fleet of sightseeing and fishing charter boats located at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and photographer, and is a past president of the Florida Outdoor Writers Association. Contact him at 941-639-2628 or Captain@KingFisherFleet.com.

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