Here’s a scenic trip that will give you multiple shots at good-sized snook and high-flying baby tarpon…but only if you’re willing to be on the water before the crack of dawn and then navigate a couple of long, mesmerizing, but snag-filled mangrove tunnels that elicit epithets more freely than they yield fish. As a bonus, you will see huge flocks of birds, flotillas of alligator gars, and plenty of gators.
The put-in is a small, heavily used public park about five miles east of the intersection of the Tamiami Trail and Route 29 in Carnestown near Everglades City. A word to the wise: It is mandatory to be on the water very early to beat the kayak ecotours that descend practically every day on this popular route—and more so on weekends. If you sleep late and tarry, you may not find a parking spot and on the water will have to dodge colorful, careening kayaks often piloted by novices.
January is a good time of year to make this trip, especially if the weather has been dry in November and December or several good cold fronts have blown through. Reduced freshwater flows will mean more saltwater that will lure bait and gamefish up into the lakes, and cooler weather attracts snook and tarpon to the shallower, warmer inland waters. Also, the East River has a strong tidal flow so depth is not usually a problem. Let’s go!!
One of the least-visited, but most productive kayak fishing routes in the region is just a stone’s throw from Port of the Island and the Tamiami Trail–but deep in the heart of the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. I’ve never encountered another angler on this trip, even though I rate it as having the best potential for a big snook or red of any I have sampled hereabouts. It begins inauspiciously in a little road-side lagoon off the Tamiami Trail on what’s marked as Canoe Route #4 by the Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge folk, then follows a narrow, shallow little creek snaking its way south through a tight corridor of sawgrass into a pristine, hidden wilderness.
In stark contrast to the Port of the Islands and its sister Golden Gates Estates developments to the east, poster children for environmentally rapacious Florida-style real estate projects of the 1970s, this route wanders through a beautiful untouched haven for egrets, spoonbills, ducks, and my favorite Florida bird, the graceful swallow-tailed kite. The channels it follows and shallow ponds it flows through are loaded with mullet and other bait fish, attracting snook and reds that grow fat on the bounty. Tarpon, bass, cichlids, jacks, and snapper also are on the menu for anglers who probe the water carefully.