Day Two Of Four Perfect Days Kayak Fishing In the Keystroke

Barracuda: A kind of fierce tropical fish that has strong jaws and sharp teeth

…Merriam-Webster Dictionary

I’m headed out early again way before first light, creeping slowly out of the RV park in the dark, lights dimmed.  I hoping to avoid waking my sometime fishing and drinking buddies in their nearby trailers, an august assembly of accomplished tarpon and permit fishing mavens.  I’d have to explain how I could eschew those iconic game fish, instead pursuing a holy quest for as manyimage barracuda as I can catch (and release) in one day.  They already turn their noses up and make sport of me as the Kayak Cuda Buddha for my unfailing devotion to these toothy torpedoes!  My destination for this quest is the colorfully named Toptree Hammock Key.  The launch point is at the end of Niles Road on Summerland Key.

I’m on the water at first light, but even though the tide has just peaked, I am having to paddle rather than pedal in the shallow water as I head north.  I can hear the fins below the boat scraping Summerland Key Bridgeon the hard corals that dot this hard-bottom flat.  Which is a good sign usually because barracuda tend to prowl these areas.  Finally I make it to the old bridge that links Summerland to a series of smaller keys.  It was apparently blown out partially by the last big hurricane, so a span is missing, and the trail to it from the ramp is getting overgrown.  I’m continually amazed at all of the abandoned and storm-wrecked structures that abound in the Keys, testimony to the hardy and fool-hardy souls who actually lived on them, farmed them, and raised families before being driven off by hurricanes, bugs, disease, or the heat.  Most are overgrown and wild again, part of the Florida National Marine Sanctuary.  Maybe a harbinger of things to come as sea levels continue to rise down here.  But I’m not about to let dark thoughts of climate change deter me from my barracuda quest!  Those thoughts are better contemplated over a margarita.

As I creep closer, I see the falling tide is flowing hard around the bridge abutments, so I figure there must be some barracuda hiding there, picking off forage fish washing by.  My first cast with the trusty Mirrolure MR18 is greeted with a solid hit, and a nice 20″ barracuda comes to the boat after some strong runs.  A good start.  But the bubble is soon burst as my kayak runs aground on a grassy shoal near the bridge, and I discover the water is only a few inches deep under the span and far out into the Niles Channel to the east.  My hopes of joining the Century Club–catching over 100 fish–are starting to fade!  So somewhat dejectedly, I head further north towards Wahoo Key, where I find another expansive, beautiful hard-bottom flat.  I bail out of the kayak and begin wading in the beautiful clear water as the sun starts to light things up so I can see anything that moves.  I spot a couple of long darker forms near the shore that seem to be moving and loft a cast that way. One of the shadows darts towards the sinking lure and before I can even crank the reel once,  KERBLAM!!  

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Day One Of Four Perfect Days Kayak Fishing In The Florida Keys

In the Keys, we salt margaritas, not sidewalks…..Anon.

I’m heading to Big Pine Key, not far from Key West, on my annual Florida Keys fishing expedition. As I trundle down the Overseas Highway pulling my mobile fish camp behind, I am amazed at all the festively colored kayaks–red, yellow, orange, blue–stacked outside of marinas, dive shops, and even convenience stores.  Like everywhere, kayaking is booming in popularity in the Keys.  I’m wondering if I’ll have to fight my way through flotillas of paddlers and ecotour groups wending their way along the mangrove islands to find my quarry.

I’ve left my power boat at home and opted for chasing fish in my yak in the Lower Keys, bucking conventional wisdom that you need a motor to get a permit, tarpon, redfish, sharks, or giant barracuda.  At the very least in the bargain, I know I’ll see some great wildlife that abound down here in these pristine tropical waters.

img_7044I am staying at the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge that has some sweet RV trailer spots right on the Gulf.  It’s a great place with views of the long Overseas Highway Bridge as it curves away into a sunrise.  imageDid I mention the happy hour a couple of times a week on the pool deck where the mango margarita machine works overtime ?  After setting up, my first stop is venerable Jigs Bait and Tackle down the road in Big Pine Key to get the skinny from James Milsap (Ronnie’s cousin) on what’s biting and where.  I’ve been kayak fishing down here for the past three years, so know my way around, but it always helps to pick a local fishing guru’s brain.  Then it’s back to camp to rig up my rods, get the trusty Hobie Outback pedal kayak ready to rumble, and knock off a little wine before hitting the hay.  The alarm’s set at 4:30 a.m!!  Day One of Four Perfect Days coming up!!

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