ROPE-A-DOPE ON THE COCHETOPE??

For some of my earlier outings on Cochetopa Creek, see:

https://hooknfly.com/2015/10/05/three-perfect-days-on-cochetopa-creek/

Mid-June 2022

As I finished cleaning the last window on my place near Salida, Colorado, I figured I had earned a fishing trip.  I had driven in from Florida, my winter getaway, on the heels of a big late May snowstorm in Colorado and whiled away a week tidying the cabin till the cold weather lifted. 

Now that domestic duties were successfully completed without serious injury and the dust had literally settled, I was ready to feel the tug on my fly line.  But now that rascally young girl La Nina was giving all of us anglers fits just like she had done back in Florida.  For months the wind howled down there in the Everglades, keeping my buddies and me off the water days at a time.  The same scene was being repeated here in Colorado.  Fly casting into 15-30 mph winds is not exactly a relaxing interlude. 

Fortunately–and after another week holed up in my cabin writing and reading–the forecast is for the wind to die down in a couple of days, at least for a few hours in the morning.  But now I’m hit with a double hex—the nearby Arkansas River, my home water, and neighboring creeks are too high because of runoff from late snow on the Collegiate Peaks.  Plus, most streams over the pass in the drought-plagued San Luis Valley/Rio Grande watershed are just a trickle already.  So, I decide to treat myself to fishing some private water on one of my favorites off Highway 114 near Gunnison—Cochetopa Creek.  The Gunnison watershed got decent snow over the winter, and according to the state water gauge near Parlin, Cochetopa Creeks is running at 30 cfs, a bit low but based on my experience should still be eminently fishable.

I’m up early at 5:30 a.m. and on the road over Monarch Pass by 7:00, the plan being to start chasing trout by 8:30.  The traffic is light, and I’m suiting up on schedule.  I’m carrying two rigs.  The first is a new 8 ½-foot 4# TFO BVK lightweight wand with surprising backbone.  Based on many days experience sampling the waters of Cochetopa, I’m using a #16 Royal Trude dry to imitate small hoppers or caddis flies I’m likely to see on the water teamed with a #18 Tung Teaser to emulate the small mayfly nymphs I expect will be scurrying around under the streambed rocks.  The second outfit is a 9-foot 5# Sage rod with a double-nymph offering—a #18 Two-Bit Hooker up top trailed by a #18 bead-head sparkle caddis nymph.

The Fab Four (clockwise from top): Royal Trude, Tongue Teaser, Sparkle BH Caddis, Two-Bit Hooker

I walk 10 minutes downstream from a turnout on 114, staying back from the water so as not to spook any fish.  The pasture is carpeted with golden pea, feathery purple Rocky Mountain iris, and the appropriately named meadow foxtail. 

It’s so good to be back in nature, surrounded by all this beautiful, delicate flora.  I see a nice-looking stretch of water and sidle up to the creek.  It’s lower than I expected, running around 20 cfs, probably due to upstream irrigation diversion—it’s that time of year. 

Cochetopa Creek

The water is also very clear with lots of wispy green tendrils of aquatic vegetation waving in the current and covering the bottom in shallow stretches.  I shake my head–that should make things interesting!  Nothing like a little green goo on a nymph to elicit expletives.  I slip carefully into the water and check under some rocks to see what’s on the menu.  I turn one over and I spy some small mayflies fleeing for cover and some crusty caddis cases that reveal their green denizens with a gentle squeeze.  At least the expected trout victuals are here.

I walk slowly upstream in the shallow water and don’t see any fish.  I get to a slightly deeper run where the current plunges over some bigger rocks, but come up empty after a half dozen casts, except for the green slime on my nymph as it bumps on the bottom.  Ten minutes later I am still looking in vain for anything with a fin.  I’m starting to grumble to myself—this was reputed to be lightly-fished private water with lots of eager fish.  I don’t smell the stench of a skunk yet, but my ebullience is waning.  Has someone played Rope-A-Dope with me and my checkbook??

Before long I come to a big bend in the creek, which on Cochetopa usually means deeper water.  Above me, the current rushes along the bank, creating an eddy, and then turns the corner and plunges headlong down the shoreline.  I can’t see the bottom, a good sign.  I loft a cast upstream above the bend and watch as the dry bounces jauntily over a riffle and then plunges into the deeper stretch.  Just as it hits the bend, the fly disappears!  With the patented quick reflexes of a septuagnarian, I set the hook.  My rod bends double, the weight of the fish and heavy current combining to put a major strain on it.  Fortunately the new rod has plenty of spine, and I’m able to ease the trout out into calmer water.  He’s not done yet, but after some slashing back and forth, I’m landing a fat, feisty brown trout who poses for a quick photo. 

Let The Fun Begin!

Another brownie follows a few casts later.  That’s more like it.

I continue upstream and start to see a few smaller fish fleeing here and there.  Then I come to another tempting looking bend in the creek. 

Rainbow Liar

Again I cast above the pool and let the fly scoot along next to some driftwood.  Nothing doing!  I start to lift the fly as it starts to slide underneath the overhanging branches of a tree, but suddenly something erupts on the surface and smacks the fly.  This one is bigger, and when I see a silver flash, I know it’s a nice rainbow.  The fish dives deep and when I move him, jets upstream with me in hot pursuit.   I catch up with the fish and stop the run. He doesn’t give up easily, rocketing away whenever I get him close to the net.  Finally, after several more frantic runs, the fish submits–a colorful, healthy 13” bow!

Rainbows Join The Hit Parade

Now the bite becomes steadier although not yet exceptional.  Soon I see why the water is so low—a sizeable irrigation diversion dam across the creek is sucking out about half the flow!  The good news is the dam has created a nice pocket of fast water that gives up two more rainbows, one on the dry and one on the Tongue Teaser nymph.  Today most of the bows are where you might expect–spots with more flow, sometimes in shallower runs.

Mounting the dam with the grace of a mountain goat, I continue upstream and find a long stretch of three-foot deep, slow-moving water.  It looks inviting, so I work it carefully, staying low and throwing long casts.  But I see no fish and get no action.  Then out of the corner of my eye I see a showy rise a hundred feet upstream close against the opposite bank where the current looks stronger.  As I creep carefully into casting position, I notice some yellow mayflies flitting in the air, then some yellow caddis.  More fish rise, feasting on the tasty morsels. 

The Honey Hole

I kneel and throw a cast up and across stream.  It lands in the short grass just above the water, and when I twitch it onto the surface, a good fish explodes and gulps the Trude, his golden body reflecting in the morning sun.  It’s a fat, sassy brown trout.  Now the fun really begins.  On my next cast, something tries to gulp down the dry, but misses.  Not to worry.  The flies continue to slide down against the bank, and suddenly the dry unceremoniously gets dunked as a substantial fish grabs the nymph.  The trout zooms downstream past me as I try to put the brakes on. It’s nip and tuck, and I fully expect the leader to snap.  But somehow I manage to ease the critter, a good rainbow, out of the current and into some slack water where I can wrestle him to the net.  He’s a respectable 14-inch fish, that will be the biggest of the day.  Not bad for a small creek!

As more and more mayflies and caddis flies pop to the surface and flutter about in the air, the fishing gets really hot—the proverbial angler’s nirvana.  I pick up another half dozen from the same stretch, half on the dry and half on the nymph.  The best approach is to cast into the grass and then slowly coax the flies into the water.  When the action slows momentarily, I switch to the double nymph rig and fool a couple of 12-inch brownies who can’t resist the allure of the Two-Bit Hooker! 

After 30-minutes of action, I move upstream where the lies are trickier.  The only deep holding water is at the bends, each of which seems to be guarded by overhanging branches that promise to claw at and snag anything passing by on the surface.  At the first good hole, after sizing things up, I cast 15-feet upstream of the bend, and watch as the dry glides past the curve in the creek and towards the beckoning branches.  I crane my neck to keep an eye on the fly, and just before it is snatched by the snag, it disappears.  Throwing caution to the wind, I sweep my rod sideways and set the hook, fully expecting the fly to be embedded deeply in woody tendrils.  There’s a short pause, then the line moves!  It’s a nice brown trout who makes a fatal mistake of leaving his protected haunt for open water.  After a good battle, I ease him into the net.  On the next cast, his sister can’t resist.

Now the mayfly and caddis hatch is turning into a mini-blizzard.  I decide I should get a closer look at the bugs so that I can appropriately identify them by their Latin names to impress my more serious angling brethren.  I forego using the little extendable bug net in my vest to capture one of the dainty insects, instead opting to relive my former illustrious, glory days in the Chicago lawyers’ basketball league where we players made up for our lack of skill with truculence on the court.  With a leap into the stratosphere that gave me my nickname—Juris Dr. CJ.  (Remember Julies Irving??), I soar at least an inch above the water’s surface and…manage to come down empty handed.

Dr. J Doing His Juris Dr. CJ Imitation

After several more valiant but unsuccessful attempts to snatch one in flight, I opt to crawl into the tall grass and find a succulent stonefly that manages somehow to elude my grasp.

Cagey Caddis Eludes Capture

Well, hell, the trout are feasting on yellow ones today.  That will have to do for the aspiring entomologists!

Feeling a mite less cocky, I decide to proceed upstream where the action continues with a succession of 11-13” browns, oddly most favoring the nymph despite the hatch.  Around noon, I come to the upper end of the property signified by a menacing looking barbed-wire fence.  I want another fish or two before calling it quits for lunch, but that last pool looks like double trouble.  Not only will I have to use a tricky sidearm cast to sneak the flies under the overhanging branches but will then have to perform some gymnastics with the line to keep the flies in the foam/feeding lane near the shoreline. 

Got To Be Fish In There!!

The first two efforts fail abjectly, although I escape getting snagged.  However, the third time is the charm, and as the Trude sidles up against the bank in the foam, it is jerked under.  Success!  After a worthy tussle, another brownie comes in for a quick pic and release.  Another two quickly follow with nary an errant cast.

Success! Ok, Maybe A Little Luck.

Feeling somewhat smug and with the wind kicking up on schedule and my stomach starting to growl, I decide to call it a day.  I clamber across the creek and into a wide meadow.  In the distance a rugged bluff towers over my SUV. 

As I soak in the scene, I come to a boggy-looking area that is covered with a raft of lovely little yellow wildflowers, a variety I have never seen before. 

I am intrigued, so wade carefully into the marsh and pull out my cell phone app called “PictureThis” that is remarkably good at identifying wildflowers.  I snap a shot, run it through the app and violà, the plant is identified as Gmelin’s buttercup.  Here’s what the app has to say about this wildflower, quite a surprise: “Gmelin’s buttercup is a perennial flowering plant that can be found in wetlands and other wet habitats.  In some cases, it can be completely aquatic, floating on water.  The species is relatively rare in the wild and it is considered endangered in Wisconsin.  All parts of this buttercup are toxic to animals including livestock.”

Who would have thought the high point of this excellent day of fishing, catching and releasing upwards of two dozen handsome trout under a beautiful blue mountain sky, would be a rare wildflower? That’s why so many of us love to fish the small out of the way creeks, close to nature, with solitude…expecting to discover the unexpected.

Taking A Hike In The Everglades…And Stumbling On A Hidden Bass Lake

April 2022

I’ve been hard at it the past two days writing a fishing article for Florida Sportsman and decided to come up for some fresh air. It’s sunny outside so looks like a good day for a little hike in the Everglades near Everglades City. I’ve had my eye on nearby Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, the largest in Florida and one that protects thousands of acres of uplands that are prime habitat for the endangered Florida panther. But who hikes in the Everglades??

When I first moved to the Glades about seven years ago, I had no idea you could hike anywhere around here–just too darn wet I thought. In the summer torrential rains cover the Everglades with several feet of water. But I have since learned that during the winter and spring months, the Glades get very little rain. That’s when the marshes dry up, and saltwater from the Gulf pushes far inland via tidal creeks. When I first hiked a trail in the Fakahatchee Strand several years ago, I was struck how similar the landscape was to the prairies of Kansas where I grew up–wildflowers among the tall grass, grasshoppers everywhere, birds hiding in the cover, and hawks soaring overhead. So off I go!!

I arrive at the unmarked trailhead around 9 a.m. as the sun starts to heat things up. High 80s is the forecast. I don my kayak water boots knowing that it’s likely I will encounter pools of water and spongy ground here and there. Then it’s into the wilds. I have the whole place to myself!

Everglades Prairie

The terrain is dry, spongy and a little wet in places, but eminently navigable.

I don’t have to walk far before a giant grasshopper takes flight a few feet in front of me. I scurry after the big guy and using my patented grasshopper hunting technique (one hand in front of the hopper to distract him, then snatch him from behind with my other hand) am soon admiring his outrageously beautiful, distinctive colors. He’s over two inches long, an Eastern Lubber Grasshopper.

As I look him over more closely, the hopper starts to foam. I’ll later read that this dark-colored secretion, resembling tobacco juice, is noxious to birds, not to mention odious to humans. Such is the life of a big-game hunter!

A bit later another grasshoppers whirs away from me, but with my quick and nimble septuagenarian moves, I corner him. Turns out it’s a juvenile Easter Lubber Grasshopper who is sporting different, but equally impressive colors.

Juvenile Eastern Lubber Grasshopper

I also start to notice the petite wildflowers hiding among the tall grass and reeds. I admire the delicate pink Rose of Plymouth, a salt-tolerant marsh flower that is threatened or endangered in some parts of the U.S.

Rose of Plymouth Wildflower

Then there is the aptly named Sweetscent–an herb with small flowers and a pleasant camphor-like aroma. It’s another wetland flower, one that is often used in dried flower arrangements.

Sweetscent Herb And Flower

A few minutes later a giant Marsh Marigold catches my eye, another salt-water tolerant perennial plant that sports its big flowers on six-foot vines.

Marsh Marigold

The dry, spongy ground suddenly dips into a little creek that appears to be flowing somewhere, so I follow it. I crash through a tangle of brush, reeds, and tall grass and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a hidden crystal-clear lake that just happens to have some fish finning in the shallows. An angler’s dream.

Hidden Lake

Another oddity of the lower Everglades just north of Everglades City where saltwater normally rules, is the existence of a number of freshwater lakes like this one. The crust below the marsh in many areas is limestone, and in some places freshwater springs have created these lakes that harbor freshwater fish like Largemouth Bass, Long-nose Gar, and Bluegill. In others, the lakes are the result of mining limestone gravel for highways in the area like the Tamiami Trail and Alligator Alley (Interstate 75).

I wade into the clear, cool water and immediately spook a big largemouth bass then a school of smaller fish–maybe bluegill or Mayan Cichlids, a freshwater invader from South America.

Angler’s Dream

Suddenly something erupts in the cove, a big gar performing some acrobatics while chasing prey. I start to see gar spawning on the edge of the limestone shelf along the shoreline.

Feeding Gar
Spawning Long-Nose Gar

It’s almost noon now, and the sun is beating down hard. After ogling the fish and scenery between bites on an apple, I begin to saunter back to my SUV. On the way, I come across a stand of Bald Cypress.

Bald Cypress Sporting New Needles

Being follicly-challenged, I have a special affinity for this odd tree. It is what the botanists call a “deciduous conifer.” It’s unique–the only conifer to shed its lacy needles every fall, becoming “bald” for the winter, then regrowing them in the spring. Oh that I be so lucky! Bald Cypress flourish in marshy areas, its wood highly valued for water resistance.

I next stumble across the only sign someone has been here before me–a small flip-flop sandal. I wonder what the story is behind that? Who left it? Why only one?

The Flip-Flop Mystery

In my head, I also start to hatch my fishing trip for tomorrow. I’ll be back early in my kayak to see if I can score a rare Everglades fishing freshwater slam–catch a bass, gar, and bluegill in a single day.

Deep In Thought

Then it hits me. Maybe I can start a new fishing fad and organization–call it BassGar! Could be a huge dollar deal!! I start dreaming about big fishing tournaments where the kayaks are plastered with sponsors’ ads and the contestants are wearing jumpsuits dressed up with emblems of their wealthy corporate patrons and backers. Just like Nascar! I can almost hear the boys in the yaks yelling “booyah” when they hook a big one.

But just then I catch sight of my favorite Everglades bird, the graceful swallow-tail kite. He soars overhead surveying the scene.

The Graceful Swallow-Tail Kite

As I admire his elegance, my nutty BassGar scheme quickly fades away. Who could possibly want to disturb this remarkable country, this solitude? We need to protect more, not fewer, of these special places! A walk in the wilds for everyone would do this country a world of good right now.

On The Angling Road Again

Late March 2022

Last month I enjoyed a week-long visit with my old college roommate and buddy, Morris Douglas Martin, at my place on Chokoloskee Island in Florida. Morris flew in from Kansas where we both grew up, and we proceeded to chase snook in my motor boat a couple of days during his stay. We got some nice fish, but I think the highlight was the afternoon we decided to relax and do some road fishing along the historic Loop Road in the Everglades. Our quarry was anything that would bite, except gators, of which we saw quite a few. We had a blast catching lilliputian Oscars and Atomic Sunfish (aka Mayan Cichlids) and just being goofy. We capped the trip at a Red Sox spring training game featuring $10 beer!! Morris hasn’t changed much over the years–he’s remains a fun-loving, amiable guy with a twinkle in his eye and still is handsome….just ask him! In one short week we proved conclusively we’ve grown old, but not up. Here’s a tribute to my old friend and all the good times we had together over the years.

A Father-Son Fishing Adventure In The Everglades Backcountry (near Everglades City, FL)

March 2022

What a treat this past week to be able to celebrate my son Matthew’s 33rd birthday with a fishing trip into the Everglades backcountry! He was in from Denver for a few days of R&R. Early one morning we pushed off from Chokoloskee in my Gheenoe and were met with eerie fog-enshrouded water that conjured up visions of ghosts who had called this land home hundreds of years before our presence. The fog slipped away quietly, stealthily as the sun rose up, giving way to a beautiful sunny day. We probed deep into the wilds, and the fish cooperated on que. My young lad exhibited some excellent casting skills and caught a smorgasbord of fish including a poor man’s slam–snook, sea trout, jack, and ladyfish. Even Pops fooled a few. Did I mention the sail cats?!? What fun! Nothing like a father-son fishing trip to boost the spirits of an old codger! And to top it off my little sweetheart granddaughter Aly washed off the boat for us!

Top Ten Kayak Fishing And Gear Tips For The Everglades And Ten Thousand Island

March 2022

Recently, several friends and readers who are planning to travel to the Everglades City area to fish out of their kayaks have asked me for advice on fishing techniques and gear. Based on my experience, there is no doubt that kayak fishing in the Everglades and adjacent Ten Thousand Islands area of Florida can be challenging. Conditions here differ markedly from kayak fishing in the rest of the country and even from those encountered in most of the Sunshine State. From overgrown mangrove tunnels to tidal creeks with heavy flows to a confusing waterscape dotted with thousands of islands and a maze of waterways, the going ain’t easy for sure. Did I mention alligators, crocodiles, and now pythons?!?

Into The Everglades Wilds: Be Ready!!

So I figured with gale force winds blowing today, making kayak fishing dicey at best, I would share my top ten tips for kayak fishing techniques and gear in the East Coast’s biggest watery wilderness area, most gleaned from the school of hard knocks over the past decade.  I’d welcome any additions readers might have.  Here we go….

#1:  First and foremost, print your own maps—I learned early on that most commercially available maps for the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands are often inaccurate and don’t contain enough topographic detail.  The same is certainly true of maps on GPS systems.  Using them is a recipe for getting lost and missing the best fishing spots. 

Every year I run across kayakers or canoeists that are lost in the maze. The one that sticks in my mind is an older couple who haled me down as I headed back to home on Chokoloskee Island as the sunset at the end of a long day fishing the Ten Thousand Islands. The were headed the opposite direction out Chokoloskee Pass to the west and open sea. As I approached, they asked me which way to Everglades City where they had hotel reservations. My eyes must have bulged, because the elderly gent asked if something was the matter. I gently told them they were headed in the opposite direction and could follow me in. The wife looked at her husband with daggers in her eyes, shook her head, and said, “I told you we should have taken a map.”

Here’s how to make your own. First, download a good map program like Google Earth. Identify the area that you are going to paddle and print out the screen in color at a full 8 1/2 x 11 size. Then use a self-sealing laminating pouch made by Scotch or something similar.

If you don’t laminate, you can rest assured your will get wet in this waterworld and become impossible to read.  Laminating also allows you to mark the map with notes in red permanent ink about fishing spots and other invaluable information for future trips. Folders in my desk full of all my maps are highly coveted by my fishing buddies who ask that I remember them in my will.

#2.  Don’t leave home without an emergency satellite phone or similar device.  This is true whether you are kayaking in the Ten Thousand Islands or the Everglades backcountry.  Even close in, the cell phone coverage is spotty at best and non-existent as you paddle down tidal creeks like the Faka Union River or deep into the Everglades Wilderness Waterway.  If you get injured or lost it could be days before anyone finds you in the maze.  I use a small Garmin InReach satellite phone that allows me to text messages to my family and also send an SOS alert to Garmin at the touch of a button. 

Garmin InReach Emergency Phone–Don’t Leave Home Without It!

Garmin then gets in contact with the local emergency service. At the time of this writing, they go for about $450 plus a monthly connection fee of about $12—not cheap but far less expensive than satellite phones with the capability to call and talk or a funeral. I finally bit the bullet after one trip down a remote tidal creek. I had beached the kayak and was wade fishing when I caught a gaff-topsail catfish. As I tried to remove the hook from the gyrating fish, he drove his nasty dorsal fin spike deep into the palm of my hand. After giving him a piece of my mind, I pulled out my pliers and yanked out the hook. After that ordeal, not to mention having to remove all the gelatinous snot the cattie left on my line, I decided to take a snack break and found a shady spot under a tree. In a few minutes, my head begin to spin, and I couldn’t walk. I had forgot to tell my son where I was fishing and started wondering if the alligators I’d seen sunning themselves along the creek would find me during the night. Fortunately, the dizziness subsided after half hour or so. I later learned that this saltwater cat has a nasty toxin in its spike that you don’t want to mess with. I had my new Garmin phone purchased before my next trip.

#3. Use a mushroom instead of a fluke anchor. First, make sure you take some sort of anchor. Between the surging tidal flows in creeks and around islands and often present winds, it can be challenging to stay on a fishing spot. When I first started out fishing in the Everglades, I took a handy fluke anchor with me that had worked well in the Indian River near Cocoa Beach to the north. I soon found out that the flukes get hung up easily in downed snags or mangrove roots to the extent I had to cut my anchor line during an early trip in the area. I persisted in using a fluke anchor because they are convenient and fold up so nicely, until I got hung up again in a backcountry creek with a surging tidal flow. As I tried to work the stubborn anchor loose my yak spun around broadside into the current, and I came perilously close to flipping! I again had to cut the anchor line, but this time made a beeline to the local fishing shop the next day and got a mushroom anchor, which while weighing more rarely gets hung up.

Mushroom Anchor On The Right Is Definitely Preferred In The Everglades

I typically attach my anchor to a cleat with a 15-foot length of lightweight cord.  I install the cleat inside the boat a few feet in front of my seat so that it is easily reached and deployed. 

#4.  Grab a collapsible, single-bladed paddle.  Whether you own a pedal or paddle kayak, a single-blade collapsible paddle is de rigueur for the Everglades. 

If you have ever tried navigating in a narrow tidal creek or an overgrown mangrove tunnel with the traditional double-bladed paddle, you know what I mean. Even if you are a pedal kayak aficionado like me, there are many instances where the shorter paddle can assist in turns or other tight maneuvers. If you are going to be covering a lot of distance in a day, a double-bladed paddle may be your choice, but I carry both.

#5.  Three rods/reels are the charm.  With hundreds of different types of rods and reels on the market along with literally thousands of different lures, it’s easy to get lathered up and overload your brain and kayak with tackle.  My advice:  KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Rods are a good example. Two six and one-half or seven-foot light/medium spinning rods will handle 75% of all conditions the Everglades paddling angler needs to be ready for. I add a third, a shorter six-foot rod designed for use in narrow mangrove tunnels and narrow tidal creeks with nice holes, where snook, tarpon, and redfish like to hang out—a common condition in the backcountry creeks like the Faka Union River, Halfway Creek, and the East River. Every inch of rod length counts when angling in the tight quarters featuring overhanging branches and air roots that make casting an adventure—shorter is definitely better. The shorter stick is ever so much easier to handle and to make accurate casts with, particularly the backhand cast that is essential to use in the tunnels. I’ve discovered the shorter rod is also better at handling big fish in constricted spaces.

Two 6 1/-2 Foot And One 6-Foot Rod Will Do The Trick

And they don’t have to be expensive rods or reels costing hundreds of dollars. Indeed, given the distinct possibility of breaking a rod when a big fish dives under your kayak or a pernicious branch snaps off a rod tip in a tight mangrove tunnel, I think it is foolhardy to risk a prized rod in the Everglades. My favorite rods, from the Berkely Shock and Shimano Scimitar series, are well-made and perfectly serviceable at a cost of less than $75. You won’t feel like screaming or slitting a wrist if you break one.

The same is true of reels.  My experience is that in saltwater, no matter how well you clean and maintain them, you will be fortunate to get a couple of years of hard fishing out of one before something gives out or seizes up.  I used to spend $200-$300 plus for my reels, but now find that Series 2500 and 3000 reels made by Pflueger and Okuma are excellent performers for less than $100. 

In addition to my standard three rods described above, I find there are two what I call specialty situations that warrant additional outfits. The first special situation is when there is the possibility of catching a toothy shark in places like the Faka Union River and in the Gulf or an outsize tarpon. Then I carry a medium/heavy seven and one-half foot rod with a 4000 series reel. I ramp up the leader size as discussed below.

The other condition is when you find clear shallow water conducive to sight fishing—then a fly rod can be the ticket. There are good opportunities for sight fishing on several of the Gulf trips as well as the Barron and Faka Union Rivers in the upcountry. A caveat is in order here. While fly casting in a trout stream in the Rocky Mountains during the summer is close to nirvana, using a fly rod while sitting in a kayak is not everyone’s idea of a good time—especially given the size needed to subdue fish in the Everglades. A fairly heavy seven- or eight-weight rod is mandatory versus the three-to-five weight wands I prefer for freshwater trout. Furthermore, standing in a kayak to spot the fish can be a risky business without a special vertical grab bars to help you balance. Unfortunately, these bars are branch magnets when navigating mangrove tunnels in the upcountry. My advice in the upcountry is to keep the fly rod broken down until you get to the lake where sight fishing is the goal. A long fly rod hanging off the back of your boat is a recipe for disaster. Having said that, there are certain instances, especially in the very shallow water of backcountry lakes, where a fly rod with its ability to lay a fly delicately in front of a nice tarpon, snook, or redfish without spooking them will give you a distinct advantage over a spinning rod and weighted lure. Fly rodding for Mayan Cichlids (AKA Atomic Sunfish) is also a blast.

#6. With line and leader, go heavy. When I moved to the Everglades from the Indian River area on Florida’s east coast, I routinely used 15-pound test line and leader. I could get away with something that light because the water there is fairly open water to play a fish in with few snags. Not so the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands. Mangrove branches and roots, sharp oyster bars, downed trees and limbs….the list goes on. Fortunately, I rarely find the fish to be leader shy. I currently use 30-pound test line and fluorocarbon leader and am almost ready to switch to 40-pound on advice of local guides who know what it takes to handle that 40-inch snook or high-flying tarpon you are likely to tangle with.

#7.  Everglades fishing fab four lures.  Every angler has his or her own go-to lures.  Here are mine based on a decade of experience and advice from locals and guides. 

At the head of the list is a white or gold curlytail or paddle tail plastic mounted on a 1/8 ounce red jig head.  Mr Wiffel and DOA Lures are my two favorite brands, with a nod to Mr. Wiffel because they are made locally.  Curlytails seem to imitate a wide variety of baitfish from glass minnows to bigger fare, they are effective in a wide variety of situations from deep holes to skipping under mangrove branches, and are tough and inexpensive to boot.  What’s not to like.  The will even fool very selective blue crabs!

Even Persnickety Blue Crabs Can’t
Resist The Curlytail!

Close behind are floater/diver lipped stickbaits that mimic finned baits. Rapala and Yozuri make a variety of sizes and colors. I like the white Rapala and Yozuri 3d Crystal. For skipping a lube way back under overhanging mangrove branches and roots where snook, tarpon, and many other fish like to hideout, a fluke mounted on a weedless, weighted hook is tough to beat. A reliable color is, oddly enough, a green/white baby bass. Finally, if you want some real fun, be sure to take along a loud surface plug like the Heddon Spook. Walk that baby like a dog across the top of the water and get ready for an explosion. Of course, there are a variety of other lures that round out the well-tempered Everglades tackle box. A good plastic crab imitation such as those made by RageTail can be deadly when redfish and snook are prowling the oyster beds. If you are a fly angler, a white/green Clouser or an orange lightbulb are hard to beat.

The Lightbulb Fly Is A Local Favorite

#8. Practice those specialty casts. If you are going to fish the numerous tidal and backcountry creeks and mangrove tunnels in the Everglades, it’s well-worth the time and effort to learn three what I call specialty casts—backhand, pendulum, and skip casts. They all have a place. The backhand cast comes in handy in tight mangrove tunnels where there is no room overhead or to one side of you to cast normally. I push to the right side of the tunnel or narrow creek, then reach across my body using a short rod to flip the lure backhand at my target area. Reaching across the body gives you those several extra feet of space that make casting even possible in many situations. Because many anglers fear to cast in these difficult conditions, the fish see fewer lures, and I find them particularly aggressive. The pendulum cast is another approach that is valuable in tight spots in tunnels and creeks to thread a cast into a small space in brush or overhanging branches or roots. You start out by letting your lure hang 2-3 feet below your rod tip then start swinging it slowly like a pendulum, releasing it when there is sufficient momentum to reach that tiny spot you are targeting. Obviously, practice will make perfect with this unusual cast, but it is incredible how many snook I have seen caught in mangrove tunnels or in a small nook in a shoreline from only a few feet away with the pendulum cast. The skip cast is one more anglers will be familiar with, especially bass anglers who use it to skip surface baits into openings in lily pads. We use it in the Everglades and the Ten Thousand Islands when trying to reach snook or tarpon that are holed up or feeding way back up under overhanging branches or roots and an overhead or sidearm casts would end up snagged. The cast is started low, parallel to and almost touching the water, with the aim being for the lure to hit the water five feet or more in front of the mangroves then skip like a stone underneath the branches or roots. A good skinny, light-weight fluke bait as discussed above is a good candidate for skipping. Videos of the backhand and skip specialty casts can be found on-line. Practice makes perfect. With all the Olympic “sports” like curling, I am prepping for an appearance in 2026 when skip casting assumes its rightful place at the Games.

#9. Take some water shoes you can wade in. These days lots of attention is paid to what the well-appointed angler should wear. God forbid being caught by your buddies wearing a shirt or pants that aren’t at least 50 spf or fishing without hand coverings. Oddly, I don’t hear much talk about the best footwear for kayaking. I see lots of tennis shoes which are ok, but long ago I started wearing flats fishing boots with neoprene gaiters. Why? First, I like to wade. It’s a good way to stalk fish quietly, and I love the cooling, calming effect of being in the water. On a recent trip my decision to beach my kayak and stealthily approach a deep pool paid off with an immediate strike by a two-foot snook that put up a wild fight among the downed trees and branches.

Just as important is the fact that in the Everglades or out among those Ten Thousand Islands you will inevitably have to jump out of your yak to pull it over a sandbar, over or around a downed tree in a mangrove tunnel, or around the edge of an oyster bed bristling with sharp shells that has suddenly appeared and blocked your route. Then you want a boot that has a tough sole and something to keep the mud and other detritus out. My choice is Simms flats wading boots tied down tight at the top with neoprene gaiters like those used for fly fishing waders and boots.

These Wading Boots Won’t Win Any Fashion Shows But They Work!!

Bass Pro and NRS also make similar  footwear.  I may not win any fashion contests, but don’t hesitate when I have to hop out of my kayak to wade when the situation calls for it…unless I see a gator or gator skid nearby.

#10.  Don’t forget the essential little gear.  Like most kayakers, I keep a list of gear that I check through every time as I pack up my SUV for an outing.  Of course it includes major items like paddles, kayak seat, fishing rods, etc.  I’ve learned over time that there are some little items that are also important that I often overlooked in the past and now consider essential.  The first one is a hook hone

A Small Hook Hone Is One Of The Most Valuable Tools You Can Carry

I learned this trick years ago at a seminar put on by the famous Lefty Kreh, one of the first to write about saltwater fly fishing.  He guaranteed that checking that hook for sharpness several times a day was one of the most important things an angler could do.  He was right.  In the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands there are oyster bars, barnacles, and other assorted snags that can dull a hook in no time, not to mention the tough mouths of snook, tarpon, snapper, and other assorted fish.  I check frequently during the day and after every fish.  You can test your took by running it against your thumbnail at a slight angle.  If it bites, the hook is ready to go.

Another important item is a short six-foot tow rope for your kayak. 

Kayak Tow Rope And Fish Lipper/Gripper Are Handy Items

I use mine on almost every trip for a variety of tasks such as tying off the front end of the boat to a mangrove tree for shade while anchoring for lunch thereby keeping it from drifting into the sun.  I also like to wade fish, especially in hard-bottomed creeks or along islands with sandy beaches, and the rope allows me to tow the kayak behind me keeping net and other gear nearby.  I attach brass snaps to each end for easy handling.

Another very useful small item is a fish lipper/gripper.  I like the plastic ones that clamp on the fish’s lower lip so I have better control of it while removing a hook or taking a photo.  The gripper also helps avoid having to handle the fish that can remove its important protective mucous covering and allows the fish to revive before release.

Because water temperature is a critical factor for fish such as snook and tarpon, having a water thermometer can help you decide if it’s worthwhile to go out or to pinpoint areas that might hold these favorite quarries.  I am continually surprised how temperatures can vary by 5-10 degrees in different areas of a lake or stretch of a creek.

A Water Thermometer Can Help You Find Those Hot Spots

Another essential item I learned to use through the school of hard knocks is tube rod holders that fit in the rod holders built into the hull of my kayak. These plastic tubes elevate the rods making them easier to reach behind me and hold them more securely than the shallower hull rod holders.

I learned the hard way when standing and paddling one day when I apparently accidentally caught the reel tucked in the shallow hull holder with my paddle and flipped it overboard. I soon realized what I had done but could not find the rod and reel anywhere despite searching for a half hour. I hustled down to the local fishing shop the next day and purchased a couple of rod holders and have never had a problem since. The only downside of the holders is that because they stick up a foot or so above the hull, they sometimes catch on branches when I am navigating a tight mangrove tunnel. Of course, I don’t leave my rods in the holders in those situations and sometimes remove the holders if the going is particularly tough. Another option used by some yak anglers is to affix a series of rod holders to the plastic gear box they carry in the storage area behind their seats.

Finally, don’t forget to take along a gallon bottle of water for variety non-drinking purposes such as washing out a reel that gets an unwanted dunking in salt water (which just happened on my latest trip), pouring over a head gaiter to cool it and your noggin off on those sunny, hot days on the water, or washing out a wound.  Of course, it can also serve as an emergency drinking water supply if you get stranded or run out of other drinks which has also happened to me when I accidentally knocked by Hydroflask water bottle overboard and lost it. 

That’s my top ten. Hope they get you into more fish and keep you safe! Let me know if you have any additions.