cult of the urban fisherman

Fish downtown with a rod, a lure, and a legion of cool creatures

Those who don’t fish never suspect the potential just around the corner: Tucked away placidly in urban sprawls and cityscapes across the continent, a host of overlooked waterways beckon a certain breed of adventurer. Surrounded by a million souls, it is that small pool of a park pond. It could be a bypass canal in Phoenix or Houston; a city lake surrounded by picnic tables and ‘woggers’ in Los Angeles; a quirky little creek or industrialized river running through Philadelphia, Kansas City, or Milwaukee.

Do you want a strange juxtaposition of elements? Try posing with a striped or smallmouth bass, snakehead or giant blue catfish, all swimming in the Tidal Basin, adjacent to DC’s Jefferson Memorial. Or imagine jumping bass and bass in the maze of cobweb-forming canals on Florida’s I-75, faceless cars zooming past and threatening to snatch away your best fishing hat.

More specifically, as the cult of urban fisherman believes, small, overlooked waters can provide one-on-one fishing in perhaps its purest form. You, a rod, a favorite lure, good walking lures, and the fish. In some waters, you can take a kayak or a small jonboat. But most days, it’s all about hiking and a backpack full of essentials, the exact opposite of maxed out HP and a war room like screen assembly.

Although they may be artificial, often without natural vegetation or wood cover, these small urban waters accumulate profusions of fish around spillways, bridges, culverts or the strange submerged shopping cart; any object creating current and oxygen or cascading down a blanket of shadow. To intercept larger, especially wary fish, accomplished urban anglers prefer to hit the water at dawn, dusk, or long after dark. They do their reconnaissance online (Google Earth dot search) and aren’t afraid to walk a few miles to check out a juicy little sweet spot away from the crowds. And because these waters are mostly shallow, sight fishing and keeping an eye out for “signs” are rewarding.

“Instincts are everything in this style of stealth fishing,” suggests Pat Kohler, a frequent canal snoop who goes after an eclectic collection of game fish in South Florida. Like most of his friends, Kohler has developed a keen interest in conquering some of Florida’s fresh and brackish water new arrivals.

“Over the last two decades, these canals have been illegally planted with a bunch of different exotic species, most of them former aquarium inhabitants native to South America and Southeast Asia,” notes Kohler. The extraordinary clown knifefish, for example, is native to Thailand and Vietnam. Kohler says the number and size of knifefish in several Florida waterways has been slowly expanding. To date, he has caught specimens up to 10 pounds, with larger fish up to 15 possible.

He explains that while largemouth bass previously dominated these flood control channels, exotic species like largemouth bass appear to displace native largemouth bass populations. “These days, if I catch five largemouths, it’s an epic outing. Peacocks are just crazy predators. While largemouths stalk and ambush prey, peacocks may actively ambush and hunt away from cover.

Durable, buoyant and lively, Z-Man Micro Finesse baits attract a variety of fish species.

“These channels also contain a lot of Mayan cichlids, as well as oscars and tilapia, and there are snakeheads everywhere. All of them can easily destroy most soft plastic baits in one bite. That’s why when I’m exploring a channel, I usually catch anything that bites. I usually go on foot, so one rod and one good lure can generate big numbers, especially if the lure is made of ElaZtech®.”

During a recent canal walk, Kohler and Z-Man lure designer Jose Chavez caught an eccentric variety of species, from the aforementioned exotics to more drab creatures like crappies, red-eared sunfish and the black bass. They all ate, but could not destroy (an important distinction), a new kind of METERYocro delicacy™ bait composed entirely of Z-Man ElaZtech material.

“These little durable baits, like Micro TRD™ and Shad FryZ™, attract just about any fish that swims in these canals, or anywhere else,” Chavez observed. “It’s like taking Ned’s mounting system to another level: more subtle and nearly impossible to turn down, even for hard-pressed fish.

“Everyone knows how good Classic Finesse TRD is for largemouth bass and other species, right?” Chavez asks. “Now imagine a little 1-3/4-inch TRD that is just as smooth, buoyant and indestructible as the original. mounted on a Micro Finesse™ ShroomZ jighead, is an absolute fish catching machine. Cichlids, snakeheads, bass, and even clown knives gobble it up, but they can’t dismember it the way they shred traditional soft plastics. Put one together, maybe add a little superglue to the neck of the jig, and you can fish all day on a bait. That’s good news for those of us who like to feel the tug of fish of all species on our rope.”

This solid peacock bass inhaled a Micro Finesse Shad FryZ swimbait.

Chavez adds that while the Micro TRD shines for feeding fish a little less aggressively or near the bottom, he calls his new favorite micro swimbait for covering a little more water. “Put one of the Shad FryZ paddletails on a 1/10 or 1/15 ounce Micro Finesse ShroomZ jig and you can fish it fast, slow or in between. The softness of the material keeps the tail hitting at any speed of recovery. It’s just a slippery little bait that mimics the baby tarpon and yearling panfish that are targeted by every predator in the canal. And again, a bait can go on and on for hours or days. Anytime I can get my team down to a few bait bags and increase the stealth factor, I like it.”

For Kohler, Chavez and their inner circle of poachers, the challenge lies in discovering all the little habits, nuances and feeding tendencies of these exotic species. “Hey, these fish can be considered invasive, but they’re here to stay, so we better catch them,” says Kohler.

Among Kohler’s current favorites, the clown knifefish has garnered a niche following, known as perhaps the hardest channel fish to fool. “They are among the most interesting species I have ever pursued, just an incredibly maneuverable and powerful fish capable of some crazy behaviors like swimming backwards and breathing air.

“When I started fishing for clown knives in Florida a bunch of years ago, no one knew anything about them other than the fact that we couldn’t catch them on artificial bait. That kind of became my mission. But since there was no information available on clown knife fishing, I started frequenting aquarium videos on YouTube.”

He found that clown knives preferred to feed by sticking their food to the bottom. He soon discovered that a slow drag recovery with a jig and micro-sized soft plastic It was an ideal presentation. Adding scent also helped attract bites from these surprisingly wary species. An apparent low-light feeder, Knives can be constantly found under dark bridges and other shady places.

“What’s really crazy is that the entire tail end of this fish is one big fin,” Kohler observes. “And when they bite, it’s a furious beat. (Take a look at the razor teeth on your tongue.) After, Yes you hook one, feel it tossed in reverse before spinning, cutting in all directions, and snapping like tarpon.

“It’s like this whole other galaxy of fish-catching discoveries: strange, often-overlooked waters full of cool fish in strange places. Every time you hit the water, you get all these crazy new experiences. . . just a rod, a bait and endless opportunities to let loose.”

About Z-Man Fishing Products: A dynamic company based in Charleston, South Carolina, Z-Man Fishing Products has been fusing cutting-edge fishing tackle with technology for nearly three decades. Z-Man has long been one of the industry’s largest suppliers of silicone skirt material used in jigs, spinnerbaits, and other lures. Creator of the original ChatterBait®, Z-Man is also the renowned innovator of 10X Tough ElaZtech softba