February 16, 2016
Hope Is Such A Bait, It Covers Any Hook–Oliver Goldsmith
One of the most odious words in the lexicon of anglers is “SKUNKED!” It means you fished all day and didn’t catch, let alone release, anything. I have had several of those near-death experiences this past few weeks as the torrent of freshwater from the Everglades–due to rains of near-biblical proportions in January–have pushed my saltwater quarry out of the backcountry and into the Gulf. And even there they have been tough to find. While snook will tolerate freshwater somewhat, redfish, sea trout, jacks, tarpon, and others don’t fancy the taste.
This past Friday was a perfect example. We have had sunny, dry weather for over a week. I thought by chance the freshwater flows might be subsiding, and the snook and reds would be heading for the warmer water in the backcountry. Hope springing eternal, I put in on my favorite Halfway Creek in the Big Cypress Preserve at 6:30 a.m. and was greeted by a family of manatees rolling and feeding at first light, a couple of young ones boldly swimming right under the kayak as I held my breath they wouldn’t flip me.
“I, I wish you could swim…Like the dolphins….Like the dolphins swim
We can be heroes just for one day…We can be us just for one day”
The heavy rain continues in the Everglades in January, courtesy of El Niño. Winter is usually the dry season here, when at times the Everglades actually burn just like a prairie. And with the rain, comes a slug of freshwater pouring out of The Swamp, chasing the snook, redfish, tarpon and other of my favorite quarry–that seek refuge in the upcountry from cold temperatures–back into the Gulf and its saltwater. So, I readjusted my sights and headed out into the Ten Thousand Islands, just offshore of my new home in Chokoloskee, to see if I can change my luck. And boy, did I!
“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” –Thoreau
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be on the water at dawn on New
Year’s Day to see the first sunrise of the year…and so I am. I peddle out from the launch point at 6:45 a.m. in my trusty Hobie Outback kayak and head towards the oyster beds just south of Chokoloskee Island, my new home. The oyster beds are happy feeding grounds for fish, birds, and other critters. I am not disappointed. What a peaceful and hopeful feeling I have as the sun peeks over the clouds and welcomes in 2016.
Two backcountry kayak fishing trips in December led me to settle on a New Year’s Resolution: I will seek a balance in all things between exploring the new and cherishing the old and familiar in my life.
There is little that excites me as much as exploring new waters, especially in remote pristine wild areas. What’s around that next bend in the lake or what is lurking in that alluring dark hole in the mangrove tunnel at the S-curve in the creek? The lightly traveled Fakahatchee River that springs from the Everglades near the Tamiami Trail then wends its way to the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect example. The put-in point is just across the road from a popular tourist site—a recreated Seminole Village with thatched roof huts. It is one of the few backcountry creeks I haven’t paddled. Indeed, I have never seen a vehicle or boats at the clearing in the mangroves where you can launch a kayak. Why? The answer seems to be captured in Jeff Ripple’s Kayaking Guide to the Everglades in which he warns this is the toughest, most challenging route in his excellent book.
Yesterday I was out in the Everglades backcountry on my annual pre-Thanksgiving anticipatory calorie reduction kayak trip. It was a beautiful day—sunny sky, and the wind hadn’t kicked up yet. I was gliding over the crystal clear, copper-tinged water with a smile on my face. But like every fishing/kayak trip this past week, something was gnawing at me. It didn’t feel right to be enjoying myself so much and soaking in the wonderful gifts of nature all around me when there seemed to be so much hurt, so much evil in the world around us. In France, in Mali, in Lebanon common folk like me were suffering terrible pain at the hands of misguided zealots from ISIS and other fanatics.