Barron River Kayak Fishing Trifecta Near Everglades City, FL

img_9827What do modern product marketing, Collier County, Florida, and the Barron River here in the Everglades have in common??  They all owe it to Barron Collier, a wealthy Yankee who made a gigantic fortune back at the turn of the 19th Century with his
modest little brainchild:  img_9828Putting ads in New York street cars to woo a captive audience.  He was only 19 years old when he started his business!!

His namesake Barron River sidles alongside of Everglades City, providing a deep channel into the Ten Thousand Islands of the Gulf of Mexico.  Upstream, it provides access to some untrammeled wilderness and good fishing for the adventurous kayak angler.

Back around the late 1880s, the Everglades were a true backwater—the few hearty locals made a living through agriculture (grapefruits, tomatoes), hunting, fishing, and skullduggery.  The nearest sheriff being several days away by boat in Key West, it was home to outlaws, n’er do wells, and other assorted misfits as documented in Peter Matthiessen’s fascinating epic, Killing Mr. Watson.  An early account proclaimed seven unwritten rules of that wild country:

  1.   Suspect every man.
  2.   Ask no questions.
  3.   Settle your own quarrels.
  4.   Never steal from an Islander.
  5.   Stick by him, even if you do not know him.
  6. Shoot quick, when your secret is in danger.
  7.   Cover your kill.

The area’s bountiful sunshine and fish and game were discovered by wealthy northerners seeking to escape frigid winters and sportsmen, beginning the transition to a tourist destination.  Collier came visiting the area at the invitation of one of his rich buddies, and like many Yankees to follow, he got “sand in his shoes.”  Soon he had purchased almost a million acres stretching south from Fort Myers, including most of the land in a little village called Everglade, which he promptly renamed Everglades.  The river that served Everglades was originally

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Dredging The Everglades For The Tamiami Trail

called Potato Creek for the potatoes planted there by the Seminole Indians.  It had been renamed the Allen River after a local pioneering settler.  It was promptly renamed the Barron River.  Collier started promoting agriculture and development in the area, promising the state legislature he would help finish construction of the Tamiami Trail highway from Tampa to Miam–IF they would slice off a big chunk of Lee County (Ft. Myers) and create Collier County with Everglades as the new county seat.  DEAL!!

He delivered on his promise to speed up work on the road that would finally link the west and east coasts of Florida–a startling engineering and construction feat using giant dredges to plow through the swampy Everglades muck and then blasting through hard limestone with 2.5 million sticks of dynamite.  The official opening day was April 26th, 1928.img_9818  As he financed building of the highway, Collier also turned Everglades City, the nerve center for construction, into a model corporate town complete with wide boulevards, traffic circles, and a full array of handsome community buildings like a bank, cleaners, grocery store, barbershop, church, school, and hotel.  Everglades City had its own electric streetcar, the only one south of Tampa.  He was way ahead of his time in many ways.

Today, the two-lane Tamiami Trail has ceded its importance to Interstate 75 twenty miles to the north, known as Alligator Alley.  Everglades City has faded into a shadow of its former glory, losing its status as county seat to Naples thanks to Hurricane Donna in 1960 that flooded the town to a depth of eight feet, inundated the county courthouse, wiped out hundreds of houses, and damaged over a thousand more.  The town now sports a modest permanent population of about 500 people.  But the good news is the fishing is still terrific for anglers who descend on the area, especially on weekends.  Even better, most of them overlook the Barron River, right on the town’s doorstep, where feisty tarpon, snook, and redfish abound.  Better yet, a substantial amount of the river, especially what I call the North Fork, is accessible only by kayak.  Three of my favorite trips on the Barron River—the North Fork, the Main Stem, and the South Branch—follow.

The North Fork

Route Overview :  img_9822The North Fork is the Barron River few know, despite my favored launch site being less than three minutes from downtown Everglades City.  It is a true wilderness just a short paddle away from Highway 29 that links the town to the Tamiami Trail.  It can be accessed two ways.  The first is from the informal launch on the east side of the bridge at the entrance to Everglades City.  You will have to dodge motor and air boats for a bit after you put in before getting into the quiet country to the north, but it provides a relatively easy loop route up through the North Fork then back down the canal paralleling Highway 29, with only a couple of mangrove tunnels to navigate.  For those that want a more wilderness experience that ventures into the pristine upcountry where I have never run into another soul, the better jump off point is a primitive launch about two-tenths of a mile north of a roadside turnout on Highway 29, ­­­­­­­­barely one mile north of the Everglades City bridge.

I usually choose the primitive launch to avoid the power and air boat traffic on the Main Branch of the Barron and the lower part of the North Fork.  You will need to be very careful dropping off your kayak and gear at the access point, which is really nothing more than an opening in the mangrove forest along the canal on the east side of Highway 29.  The shoulder of the road here is very narrow, and traffic whizzes by at 50 mph.  Put your hazard lights on.  After unloading, your vehicle can be parked back down the highway at the roadside turnout on the west side of Highway 29 where there is plenty of room.

Trip Notes (November):  I start casting immediately after launching, into the deep hole that is created as the river floods out of the backcountry into the canal.  The tide here is about two hours behind that for Everglades City.  On my second cast, I feel a good tug, set the hook, and amOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA treated to a decent 22-inch snook erupting on the surface.  He makes a run for the waiting mangroves, but my 6 ½ light/ medium spinning rod is stout enough to turn him.  He’s fallen for my old standby four inch white curlytail Gulp swimming mullet mounted on a red 1/8th ounce jig head.  I use a 30# fluorocarbon leader, just in case I meet up with a big snook or tarpon.  Two more snook, a bit smaller, quickly follow, and have me smiling at the good start.  Then it’s on to the upcountry!

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Orb Weaver Spider Webs

The short mangrove tunnel is directly in front of me, and I can see the orb weaver spider webs glistening in the early morning dew.  Good sign—nobody has been in here for quite awhile.  I am in my pedal kayak, which makes navigating these mangrove tunnels so much easier, especially when there is a good tidal flow.  With one hand, I hoist up my compact paddle and extend it in front of my face to ward off the spider webs.  If I use my fishing rod to knock them down, I will wrap up the spider webs on the pole, and they are almost impossible to clean from the line without snipping off the lure and stripping the balled up webs by hand.  I rarely catch anything in the tunnel, but have seen fish here.  Just too tough to cast.  However, I am ready when I emerge from the tunnel, because just to the right along the bank as it curves to the north in the little bay I have caught some small snook took in the past.  But now the tide is very low, and the snook are AWOL.

I follow the shoreline to the north through the channel and into a big lake.  I lure a couple more little snook and a snapper from under the mangroves along the shore, then see something—likely a big snook– blasting bait at the far end of the lake.  I head that way, approach the shoreline quietly, and loft a cast to the edge of the mangroves near a downed tree.  My rod is nearly jerked out of my hands by a jolting strike.  Then a nice ladyfish rockets high in the air, does a double gainer and shoots off.  Well, not the snook I wanted, but got to love these little cousins of the tarpon.   I execute a long-distance release soon thereafter as the ladyfish shakes, rattles, and rolls across the surface.

Working back up the shoreline east towards the next channel, I connect with several more decent snook and even a little redfish with more ladies thrown in.  Most are on the Gulp curlytail, but several fish opt for the white Yozuri 3D minnow, which darts crazily a few feet under the surface and has become one of my favorite upcountry lures.  I try a Spook Jr. surface lure and get a couple of strikes as I cast parallel to the shoreline of the channel, but no connections.

img_9830The channel Ts into another channel at the far end, and I have a choice to make.  If I go left, I will be on the route to the wilderness.  To the right, I will wend my way south through a series of mangrove tunnels, ponds, and lakes to the Main Stem of the Barron River.  Because it’s early—the sun is just peeking over the  trees—I decide to head south because I want to fish those lakes and the lower North Fork before someone in a power boat beats me there.  Then if all goes according to plan, I’ll circle back and fish the upcountry lakes after lunch.

It turns out to be a good choice.  I work the shoreline with a gold spoon on the way to the mangrove tunnel and am quickly onto a big fish.  It bores deep and strong, arcing back and forth in front of my kayak.  Feels and acts like a jack crevalle, and so it is. It goes 3-4 pounds, a hefty one for back here.  Then a few casts later, I get another hard strike, this time on a local favorite called Mr. Whiffle, a white curlytail lure with holes in the tail to supposedly create a sonic effect.  Maybe it’s puffery, but they work.  The result:  A muscular 24” redfish!!

Now I am scooting down the mangrove tunnel.  It is narrow, so I break out my six-foot spinning rod which, because it is shorter, allows me to cast ahead in the tight quarters into deeper holes and bends where fish could be lurking as on past trips.  This time I get shutout, being distracted repeatedly by having to fight off the orb weaver webs.  Thankfully the little critters don’t bite and seem very gentle.  I emerge into a little pond that wends to the west, creating a nice hole at the bend, and sure enough, I coax a good strike with the Mr. Whiffle.  A nice snook launches into the air then makes a beeline for the mangrove roots.  I bend the rod to the breaking point and winch him away back into the deeper water.  He fights hard, and earns his freedom near the boat.

img_6892Another long, beautiful mangrove tunnel follows, where a lovely little green heron provides some entertainment by playing hide and seek along the route.  I see a couple of snook in the tunnel where I have hooked a few in the past at some deep bends, but the casting is difficult, and I draw a goose egg.  Then as I emerge into a big lake and skirt a sandbar to my left, something grabs my first cast, and I am quickly onto another ladyfish.  Fun!  The outlet to the lake, marked by some downed mangroves, comes through for me as it has on past trips, adding another three 18-22” snook and more ladies to the tally, all on the white Mr. Whiffle/jig head combo. I next work the deep hole on the north side of the outlet, and BAM, something big nails Mr. Whiffle.  An acrobatic baby tarpon, maybe three feet long and pushing 10 pounds, blasts off into the air and tears around in front of me.  I pitch the anchor overboard so he doesn’t drag me into the mangroves, then settle in for a good battle.  A few minutes later, I have the tarpon within reach, but he executes a cartwheel right near the boat and off he goes.  I laugh…gallows humor.

After my nerves settle, I continue on down towards the Main Stem as the North Fork widens.  At the first big bend where the current swirls into a nice pool, I start to connect with more small snook.  I caught a 22-inch snook here on an earlier trip on the 3D minnow, but this time the call is for Mr. Whiffle.  I glide a little further down the channel, casting a white Gulp curlytail, and something BIG nails it.  Feels like a good redfish, as it bores deep.  I haul back and turn the fish, which then heads for the mangroves.  I make a fatal mistake, not throwing my anchor to stop the boat, so go crashing bow first into the mangroves.  The fish tears out back towards the other shore, then reverses and heads

image
Gafftopsail Catfish

directly under the kayak.  I try to pull him back the other way, but my efforts are greeted with a loud “CRACK” as my new rod breaks into two pieces.  Uttering some choice epithets, I lunge for the line, determined to haul the critter out…and I do.  AARRGGHH! It’s not a prized redfish, but a big gafftopsail catfish, almost 20-inches long!  While they are good fighters, sail cats are tough to get off the hook, sporting long poisonous barbed dorsal and pectoral fins and a predeliction to spin wildly as you try to subdue them.  For good measure, they leave a foot or so of white snotty slime on your line.  I grew up fishing for channel catfish in Kansas, so know how to handle the brute relatively safely.  He grunts at me as I use my pliers to remove the hook, assiduously avoiding the nasty sharp fins—the crook of my left hand behind the tall dorsal fin and my little finger and thumb on the backside of the pectoral fins.  I take catching a catfish as a sign to reverse course and head to the upcountry, with a lunch stop along the way.  I know if I continue down the river as it widens and the flow slacks,  I will soon meet up with a flotilla of tour boats and other power craft.  Not my cup of tea.

I hustle back upstream, retracing my route through the second lake and the T-intersection then north to another smaller lake with big sandbar at the entry to the narrow mangrove tunnel that leads into the wild country.  I breathe a sigh of relief to find that someone has been here since last spring and has done some bushwhacking to keep the tunnel open.  The tide is coming in strong now, so I zoom through the tunnel without making any casts, although in the past on a slower falling tide I have caught some small snook at the bends and have seen some good ones hiding in the deeper holes.  But I am ready to cast when I emerge from the tunnel, knowing there is a deep hole where snook and reds like to lie in wait for bait being flushed out of the tunnel.  And bingo, right on time, something smacks the Gulp curlytail and bores deep.  I bail out of the kayak on the little sandbar to my right, and the fight is on.  Feels like nice red, but thoughts of catfish start dancing in my head.  I smile when I see a strapping red about 22-inches long hit the surface.  After releasing the red, I turn and notice the sawgrass behind me is matted down in a large swath.  Clear signs a big gator has been here recently….so beware!   There’s lots of freshwater being pumped out of Lake Okeechobee and into the Everglades this year due to a rainy summer and a big tropical storm this fall, so the gators are moving down closer to the Gulf and saltwater.  I’ll keep an eye out the rest of the day and my big diving knife within reach.

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Roseate Spoonbills

The channel widens and gets shallower as I glide further upstream.  At low tide, you may have to pull your boat over the sandbar around the next bend.  But if it is shallow, you are likely to be treated to a close-up view of a flock of beautiful roseate spoonbills and other wading birds, the only native pink bird in the USA, that frequent this area.  Soon I emerge into a large, shallow lake with a large mangrove island.  If you bear right, the channel will eventually carry you to what I call Snoopy Lake (given its uncanny resemblance on the GPS map to the cartoon pooch) which connects to the Main Stem of the Barron River.  I have caught a few ladyfish and snook on this route before, but it can be very tough going unless the tide is high. I img_9831usually float a couple of hundred yards downstream to where the river makes a sharp bend around a deadfall and enters a narrow mangrove tunnel.  Snook and ladyfish like this spot, both above and below the mid-stream snag.

My preferred route is to hug the north shoreline of this island lake, exiting at the far east side where the river enters a magical world of twisting channels threading around small mangrove islands and interspersed with beautiful ponds and lakes abundant with wildlife.  Did I mention some nice snook?  As a harbinger, a 20-incher slams the curlytail at the northwest corner of the lake just before I get to the main channel!

From here, the river extends far into the backcountry more than a mile with many alluring side channels and lakes to explore—you can easily spend a full day back here.  I thread my way through the narrow channel until it emerges into a large lake with a finger that juts to the south.  As soon as the channel widens, I hook and land a small snook on the curlytail, then connect with a bigger snook where the channel bends to the right and deepens.  I continue to work the channel, finding the fish seeming to prefer stretches where there is a

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Cichlid–An Exotic Invader

noticeable flow.  I have a field day with chunky cichlids (p. siklid), a lovely exotic fish that prefers freshwater and looks and fights like a big bluegill.  Then I see a disturbance on a side cut that my GPS reveals leads into a pond filled with mangrove islets.  I throw a cast that way and immediately a nice snook nails the curlytail.  After landing the fish, I approach the cut, and find it has a decent flow, which explains why the snook was in ambush mode there.  The pond is very shallow with lots of mullet jetting about, but I don’t see any snook or reds.  I make a mental note to come back here when the weather is colder—game fish will likely use these shallows to warm up.

The pond narrows and curves back towards the main channel, but is so shallow I have to break out my paddle as the propulsion fins on my pedal kayak hang up on the bottom.  I’m making a lot of noise as I struggle back into the main channel, and spook a nice snook up against some sawgrass.  As he swims off, I make a desperation case towards him and as the lure arcs through the air, there is a tremendous explosion to the side of the boat and something big rockets out from the shoreline…and promptly snags itself on my lure.  It’s a four-foot gator, that immediately submerges and starts to tow me downstream against the current.  He circles back and submarines under the shoreline mangrove roots as I try to decide what the heck to do.  By this time the kayak is almost on top of him.  I try to break the line, but it won’t give as my tugs lifts the gator off the bottom.  YIKES!!  Then providence intervenes, the hook pulls loose, and the gator shoots off leaving a mighty swirl behind.  Close encounters with gators are a bit nerve-wracking!!

By now it’s 4 p.m., and it will take a good hour to get back to the put-in if I do any fishing along the way.  So reluctantly I turn the kayak and head downstream, leaving lots of territory to explore on my next trip.  I get a decent snook and a couple of ladies on the way back, rounding out a surprise-filled expedition courtesy of the Barron.

The Main Stem/South Branch

Route Overview: The key to fishing the Main Stem and the South Branch is to set out early before the power and air boat traffic churns up the water,

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particularly in the lower section.  Better yet, go on a weekday.  The launch point is an informal put-in on the east side of Route 29 at the north end of the Everglades City Bridge.  There is plenty of room for parking, but be sure to lock your vehicle as the site gets lots of visitors.  Once on the water,  I stick to the south shore out of the boat channel as it heads southeast, past the mouth of the

Launch Point And Wild Woman Lake
Launch Point And Wild Woman Lake With South Branch At Bottom

North Fork and into what I have dubbed Wild Woman Lake (which to me from a satellite map view looks like a crazy woman beating a chicken).  There I veer to the right, continuing to follow the south shoreline where power boats rarely tread.  The fishing can be good at the points, around the islands, and in the channels leading to bays and side ponds.  The southern route eventually turns back to the north and rejoins the main channel which has more boat traffic.  The river turns southeast, but soon bends back to the north, and emerges into a wide lake, presenting an option.  To the west, past a red marker #5, the river opens up into another large shallow body of water I call Samurai Lake for its uncanny resemblance in aerial view to a Samurai warrior with a hair topknot.  It holds reds and snook.  At its east end, the lake narrows and the river eventually wends its way to Halfway Creek.  The northern route out of the junction lake, which passes marker #7 on the

Samurai and Snoopy Lakes
Samurai and Snoopy Lakes

Halfway Creek trail loop (See the Halfway Creek Loop trip description), passes over a very shallow, wide sandbar and then narrows, snaking its way into Snoopy Lake (at the top of the map), which contains some sizeable snook.  Either the Snoopy or Samurai lake options are long (5-6 miles roundtrip from the putin), full-day endeavors if fished thoroughly.

Another option is to continue north past the Snoopy Lake turnoff and follow the Main Stem of the Barron River to its headwaters via a loop that intersects with Halfway Creek about two miles to the northeast.  However, I find this route far too long to be fished seriously in one day.  A better option is to explore the upper Barron is via the Seagrape Canal and Halfway Creek in the Big Cypress Preserve (See my article on Halfway Creek).

On the return, the kayaker can retrace the route described above from either Snoopy or Samurai Lake or by exploring the scenic South Branch, which divides off the Main Stem about a mile west of Marker #5 at the junction with Samurai Lake.  It flows east and emerges at the edge of Everglades City where it follows Collier Boulevard back to the put in at the Everglades City Bridge.  The South Branch is about ¾ miles long, with another mile or so from there to the put in.

Trip Notes (December):  I am launching my kayak at first light, intent on beating all the air boat racket that will descend on the water punctually at 9 a.m.  The put-in is challenging, the shore lined with hull eating rocks and

shells.  The mosquitos are fierce, calling for liberal pre-application of Deet.  But any frustration melts when I spy several good-sized tarpon surfacing in the deep hole below the bridge, their silvery backs glinting in the fading moonlight.  I try one of my favorite tarpon lures, a six-inch gold glitter Zipper Dipper paddletail, but to no avail although the tarpon are active.  I chastise myself for not bringing some live crabs or shrimp as the sun starts to light up the sky and the fish disappear.  I see one of the air boat captains at his dock downstream, a signal to high-tail it out of there.

North Fork Mouth
North Fork Mouth

The tide is rolling in now, so I sweep quickly past the mouth of the North Fork and around the big river bend into Wild Woman Lake.  I cast sporadically, but nothing is interested in the white Mr. Wiffle mounted on a 1/8th ounce jig.  I switch to a white Gulp curly tail as I peddle up the south shoreline and into a narrow creek that branches off to the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsoutheast.  The creek is deeper than I expected, and soon I’m onto a good-sized lady fish, then another.  The creek widens into a succession of shallow lakes that are loaded with bait, but I come up empty.  They may hold some snook and reds when the weather gets colder—they are sheltered from the wind and get plenty of sun.  I paddle back into the main channel and continue east around a big point into a small unnamed lake that has produced in the past.  At the big finger point something slams the curly tail—it’s a baby red who puts up a stout fight.  He was lying in a hole just off the main current.  I circle back and toss into the hole again, this time with a white Yozuri 3-D Crystal Minnow, and a nice ladyfish chases and nails the lure near the boat.  Then another.  A nice start.  I continue up the shoreline of the lake to a mushroom-shaped bay with an island in the middle.  The bay is loaded with bait.  Last trip in April I nailed a slot red and baby snook just outside the channel into the bay, but today I only get a couple of ladies around the island, although I spook something big.  I thoroughly fish the wide neck leading back into the Main Stem where I have hooked a bunch of ladyfish in the past, but they are absent.  I can see a crab boat speeding by in the main channel, but it is the only other craft I will see all day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe tide has started to turn, so I cross over to the far eastern shore of the Main Branch and proceed up the shoreline, flipping the curly tail into likely spots under the mangroves and in some deadfalls.  And old sunken boat is usually a hot spot, but today nothing doing. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Further up the shoreline, just below the next big point I come to, off to the side of the main current, I get a hard strike,  and the fish bores deep.  I’m thinking red, maybe a jack, but it turns out to be a big, toothy mangrove snapper.  Looks like it’s going to be a smorgasbord day.  Around the bend, I explore the bay and creek which are hopping with bait, but I get zero.

The islands back across the river to the west lure me that way, and I work theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA hole below a giant crescent-shaped sandbar that’s just starting to emerge as the tide goes out.  Immediately the curly tail gets slammed by something weighty that takes off on a sizzling run, making my reel scream I as I try to loosen the drag.  Feels like a big red.  The fish goes hither and yon, reversing course twice and darting under the kayak, threatening to break my rod.  Finally, after a good battle a beautiful….gafftopsail catfish comes to the boat.  I can only shake my head and smile.  He did put up quite a tussle.

I continue around the island and spook a good red that was lying near the shoreline.  But the heartbreak is eased just around the bend on the south side OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAof the island.  Again, something big nails the lure and streaks off.   This has to be a red…and it is.  A good one that drags the kayak this way and that, spinning me in a big circle then diving under the boat.  Fortunately, he doesn’t hang the line up on my pedals, and I am able to ease him back away from the mangroves.  I finally get a look, but when the red spies me he’s off to the races again.  Aafter a nearly five-minute battle, he comes in reluctantly for a quick photo and release.  He measures 24-inches, one of the biggest of the season for me.  Then as I continue to explore the islands, channels, and shallow bays to the west and south, it’s mostly lady fish in the deeper areas, particularly the channels leading into the shallow bays.  I do get one baby snook at the mouth of one of the bays, and while the bays themselves are jumping with mullet and other bait fish, they are very shallow , and I draw a goose egg there.

It’s almost six hours now since I set out, and I start looking for some shade where I can have lunch and maybe even some hard bottom where I can stretch my legs.  I keep casting among the deadfalls that litter the south shoreline, alternating between the curly  tail/jig that hangs up more and a baby bass fluke on a weedless butt-dragger hook.  As I enter Junction Lake, I cast across the point, just outside some downed timber, and a decent 18-inch snook slams OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe curly tail, jumps high, and I execute a long-distance release.  The very next cast up the shoreline around the point, the scene is repeated, but this time a 20-inch snook comes to the boat.  A good way to end the first half the day!!  Fortuitously, I spy a big downed, weathered mangrove tree just up the shoreline that makes for a perfect lunch spot where I can get out of the kayak and sit in the shade.  A real treat in this backcountry where the shorelines are muddy and usually crowded with mangroves.

After lunch, I head north on Junction Lake and turn east into the channel to Samurai Lake, past the red trail marker #5.  My destination is the east shoreline where I have jumped some nice reds in the past.

Samurai Lake Shoreline
Samurai Lake Shoreline

I work from south to north to avoid looking into the afternoon sun.  The tide still going out and the water along the shoreline shallow.  I work the downed timber carefully, but no strikes, and then toss a Zara Spook on the surface without any luck.  Switching back to the old reliable curlytail, I throw a long cast parallel to the shoreline about 20 feet out, and watch as something big sitting in less than a foot of water pushes a  big wake from the bank right at my lure which is now only a few feet from the boat.  A large snook—maybe 30 inches—jets right up to the curly tail and bumps it with his nose a couple of times, then OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAsees me and bolts.  Aarrghh!  Another hundred feet up the shoreline, I spook another snook laying in the sun right against the bank in the shallows.  So I start to concentrate there instead of in the deadfall and soon am rewarded with a nice two-foot snook who nails the curly tail in a couple feet of water about 10 feet from the shoreline.  A smaller one falls using the same tactic, both on the Gulp curlytail.  Further up the shoreline, there’s lots of bait, and I manage a couple of fat cichlids, but no snook or reds.  The return trip down the west shore of the lake back to the entry channel comes up empty as has been the case on earlier trips, despite the shoreline being loaded with bait and looking mighty fishy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost 3:30 now and a good hour back to the put-in, so I start to retrace my route, a big osprey chastising me severely for my intrusion into his bailiwick.  From marker #5 it’s about ¾ mile to the outlet into the South Branch, which is tucked behind the sprinkling of islands where I caught my big red earlier in the day.  The tide is just turning, so I have to paddle through some skinny water to get to the South Fork.  I’m careful as I approach the channel, knowing there is a nice hole with some deep water where ladyfish and jacks

South Branch Entry
Entrance to South Fork

hangout.  Sure enough, a couple of good-sized lady fish blast the curlytail.  Now the tide is running strong out to the Gulf as I float down the South Fork.  It’s a

Scenic South Fori
Scenic South Fork

gorgeous, scenic section with lots of downed timber and deep holes where fish like to hang out.  The entire way is shaded, but wide enough for easy casting.  I pick up a couple more high-stepping ladyfish and several feisty little jacks as I follow the squiggly South Fork that goes east for about ¼ mile, then south for another ¼ mile, then bends to the east and in another quarter of a mile flows past a marooned boat before emptying

Derelict Boat On South Fork
Derelict Boat On South Fork

into Lake Placid in Everglades City.  The mouth of the South Fork at Lake Placid is definitely worth exploring, having produced ladyfish and a couple of 24-inch snook in the past.  This time I hook over a half dozen ladyfish and adroitly execute some long-distance releases, which saves me the trouble of having to unhook the frisky critters.

As the sun sets, I make my way the last mile across Lake Placid and down the canal that parallels Collier Boulevard and a line of homes back to the launch at the Everglades City Bridge.  In a few minutes, I’ll be savoring another fine day with the Barron at the Camellia Street Grill in Everglades City.

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