The Bountiful Blackwater River (Collier-Seminole State Park, Florida)

Early April 2023

For my earlier exploratory trip on the Blackwater River, see

After months of drought, with nary a drop of rain in January in Everglades City and not much more in February and March, the forecast is for the rainy season to begin in earnest later this week–rain every day along with winds gusting to 25 mph. I figure I’d better get out soon before I hunker down, and tomorrow the rain is supposed to hold off till 5 p.m. I have my sights set on the Blackwater River in Collier-Seminole State Park outside Naples. I haven’t fished the river for almost three years, courtesy of Covid followed last fall by Hurrican Ian which blasted the park and shut it down till recently. My last trip the fish were cooperative, so it’s time for some serious ichthylogical investigation to see how the finned creatures have fared.

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Lady’s Man Bares Intimate Secrets On Barron River

Early January 2023

For my earlier outings on the Barron River, see:

It’s my first fishing trip of the new year, and I am launching my kayak at the Barron River bridge on the edge of Everglades City. 

The fishing has reportedly been spotty this past week due to a big cold front in late December that pushed temperatures down into the lower 40s, frigid for these parts.  There have even been a few reports of fish kills here and there in the Everglades backcountry.  The snook, my favorite saltwater fish and quarry for the day, can’t take much cold.  Water in the 50s can be deadly to snook.  But temperatures are warming and hope springs eternal. 

The launch is tricky with a strong rising tidal flow pushing hard upstream under the bridge.  I lug the yak to the narrow, rocky put-in spot and find I have to anchor the boat to the shoreline to keep it from being swept away while I load. 

Before long I am pedaling up the Barron River, being pushed along by the current. Timing the tides is especially important on the Barron River so you can ride the rising tide out to the backcountry and the falling tide back in rather than fighting them both ways, an exhausting proposition.  I have three rods at the ready, the one with the trusty DOA gold curlytail grub on an 1/8 ounce red jig head at the ready to cast.  As I glide along, I drop my water thermometer overboard and am surprised to find it registers around 70 degrees—not optimal for snook and tarpon, but much better than last week.

My destination for this trip is what I have dubbed Samurai Lake for its uncanny resemblance on Google Maps to an ancient Samurai warrior, top-knot and all.

Samurai Lake

I’ve had good luck there for snook, tarpon, and even redfish. Soon I round a point and hear a loud beating of wings ahead at the entrance to a small tidal feeder stream that I have coined Vulture Creek, being a favorite roosting area for big turkey and black-headed vultures.

True to its name, a half-dozen vultures crash through the surrounding mangrove forest to escape the intruder.  There’s a nice current flowing into the creek as the tide rises, things looking good for my first fish of the year.  But it’s not to be.  After a couple of dozen casts as I coast upstream, resulting in one half-hearted strike, I finally throw in the towel and hustle back to the main river.

Continuing upstream for another 15 minutes, I throw casts around a couple of small mangrove islands and into some shoreline nooks and crannies where I have fooled snook and redfish on previous trips.  But it’s no dice.  Suddenly the smell of skunk is wafting in the wind that is starting to pick up.  I keep my hopes up, knowing that one of my favorite hotspots is just ahead off the next point of a big island that splits the river. But before I know it, the strong tidal flow has me zipping past the point, right over the spot where the fish usually stack up to feed.  Aarrgghh!  I slam the pedals into reverse to slow my momentum, but the damage is already done, probably scaring any fish into the next county.  With a stiff upper lip, I pedal forward and turn the kayak so I can work the channel that opens up into a lagoon in the island where I have scored before. 

And no sooner does the curlytail hit the water than something smacks it hard.  I see a flash of silver and think “SNOOK.”  The fight is on, my rod bending double.  The fish makes a hard run then erupts above the water in a spectacular jump.  It’s not a snook, but a high-stepping ladyfish!!  Now many of my angler friends would be bummed out by this turn of events, but not me.  I am a confirmed lady’s man!!

What’s not to like about these sleek beauties? For starters, they are close cousins to one of the most revered gamefish, the much larger tarpon known as silver kings, that can grow to five feet in these waters.

They have big forked tails like the tarpon and with no nasty sharp teeth to bite you when you release them, unlike females of certain other species. Ladyfish are also feisty fighters like tarpon and incredible jumpers as well. I have had them vault clear over my kayak in an incredible aerial display on several occasions! To cap things off, they eagerly eat artificial lures. Just don’t hold them inside your boat when releasing your catch or they may relieve themselves in retribution. While they aren’t much as table fare, all-in-all, ladyfish are so much fun to catch they’ve become known as the poor man’s tarpon.

What about the secrets to catching these spirted, sleek-finned creatures??  Here’s the juicy, insider stuff.  First and foremost, they almost always prefer a fast-moving lure zipping along a few feet below the surface.  Flashy silver and gold artificials like a Yozuri 3-D Minnow, a gold curlytail mounted on a 1/8 ounce red jig head, or a simple silver spoon are three of my favorites.

Ladies Love Those Gold Curlytails

They will also take flies like a Clouser Minnow or a Lightbulb stripped in at light speed. If you get a hit and miss, continue to fish the lure with a herkie jerky stop-and-go action as you can almost be assured that two or three other ravenous ladies have joined the chase. Live shrimp on a jig head or under a popping cork will also attract attention, but you better have lots of bait because that shrimp will inevitably be ejected from the hook when the lady takes to the air.

A prime location to find ladies is hanging out in three-to-four feet of water near drop-offs and anywhere from 10-15 feet from a shoreline with moving water. I only occasionally catch them in shallows against a shoreline or up under overhanging mangrove trees where snook like to hide. They also like to congregate in deeper waters off points or in channels between islands where a rising or falling tide will bring food to them.

Now having revealed these intimate secrets of a confirmed lady’s man, I hasten to add that like females of other species ladyfish can be unpredictable. Today I will find that to be true in spades. The first half dozen ladies to succumb to my alluring techniques are in the deeper channel leading into the aforementioned shallow lagoon. These hungry belles signaling there’s lots of food around, I turn my attention to the shoreline where I have netted snook in the past and have a hunch might be hiding nearby. I start to work the shoreline above the channel, and my lure is immediately blasted not by a snook but by a lady, then another, and another. After landing and releasing a dozen or so, I take a break and pitch my lure the other direction to the south away from the shoreline into a deeper channel. I start to reach for a drink when BAM, my rod is nearly jerked from my hands when a big lady slams the lure and proceeds to tow the kayak towards open water.

Those Insatiable Ladies! An Angler’s Dream

There’s no resting now, as on practically every cast I get several hits.  Things get so wild with fish jumping and thrashing about that a big pelican is attracted by the feeding frenzy.  He lands on a shoreline mangrove, apparently mesmerized by my piscatorial acumen! 

He finally decides to join the action, diving headlong into the honey hole.  I laugh and take that as a sign to move on.  After all, I’m pursuing snook!

As I pedal upriver toward Samurai Lake, I get sporadic action for 15-18” snook along the shoreline.  In the wake of Hurricane Ian back in late September, there are numerous dead mangrove trees that have toppled into the water, providing excellent ambush spots for the snook, but also many snags to intercept my lure. 

As I round the bend into the lake, I’m greeted by a Halfway Creek/Barron River Kayak Loop Marker #4, courtesy of the National Park Service.  It’s after 1 p.m. now so I stop for a quick lunch, then after downing the last of my RC Cola elixir, I continue up the shoreline catching a small snook here and there. 

Loop Marker #4 At Entrance To Samurai Lake

At its southeast corner the lake narrows and the mangroves close in.  Now I can see the current moving again.  I slow and throw a cast under some overhanging mangrove roots at a bend of what is now a tidal creek and let the curlytail sink, then start to crank it back in in the clear water. Out of nowhere from the depths a 30” tarpon intercepts the lure. He turns sideways and starts to swim off nonchalantly as I sit transfixed by his beauty.  Finally, I come to and set the hook, and the tarpon goes berserk.  He makes a short run back towards the mangrove roots then erupts clear of the surface in a spectacular leap, followed by my curlytail zooming back at me, sans fish.  A fairly standard result with tarpon.  Most of us are lucky to net only one out of every four we hook.

When my nerves calm down, I slide the kayak slowly forward towards a bend in the creek and pitch the lure into a small nook in the overhanging mangroves up ahead.  It’s immediately whacked by a nice snook, that performs her own aerial acrobatics before sliding into my net.   

I continue on and in a few minutes come Loop Marker #3 at the entrance to a tight mangrove tunnel, a perfect spot for a big mama snook to lie in ambush, letting the current bring food to her in the narrows.  I paddle carefully into casting position and throw a cast that lands a few feet outside the tunnel.  Nothing doing. 

Big Mama Snook Lair In Mangrove Tunnel

I next skip a cast further back into the tunnel underneath the mangroves.  Immediately a big girl inhales the lure, and the battle is on.  She flees for the safety of underwater mangrove roots, but I manage to haul back and stop her run.  Then she heads directly at the kayak and dives under the boat.  I scramble to reach the rod around the front of the boat before it’s snapped in two.  Luck is on my side, and I manage to avoid disaster, finally easing her close to the boat.  The comely lass is definitely the prize of the day, pushing two feet long.  She graciously poses for a couple of quick snapshots and soon is on her way back to the tunnel.

It’s almost 3 p.m. by now and with only a couple of hours remaining before I sunset, I need to start back to the bridge.  I reverse course and pedal back to the lake, but succumb to the allure of the beautiful south shoreline that has produced in the past. 

But this time I get but one hard strike plus a bunch of snags for my efforts. 

Now as the sun begins to dip below the trees, I have to hustle home.  Fortunately, both the tide and wind are with me and I go sailing down the river.  Soon I’m back at the lady fish lunch counter where all the fun started earlier in the day and of course can’t resist making a few casts.  And proving their unrequited love, three ladies take up avidly with the curlytail on three consecutive casts!  What a way to end the day.  These ladies know how to treat a devoted suitor!

One Last Lovely Lady!

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.

Furor On The Faka Union: Tales Of Big Snook, Irma, And Wildfires

It’s barely 50 degrees—frigid for South Florida–as I load up my yak and push off at 8:00 a.m. for a day of snook fishing on the Faka Union River, one of my favorite Everglades upcountry waters.


Riding a falling tide, I glide through a tight mangrove tunnel for 30 minutes and finally emerge into the first shallow lake.  Belying the weatherman’s prediction of calm winds, there’s a stiff breeze blowing out of the north, and my usual honey hole, where I caught a couple of dozen snook only a few weeks ago, fails to produce.  I valiantly try to take a video, but almost get blown off the water.  I pedal on dejectedly.  I manage a few smaller snook in the next lake and connecting creek but it’s beginning to look like an ecotour rather than the epic fishing day I had hoped for.

Then I hit what I call snook flats, a nondescript stretch offshore of a mangrove-studded shoreline further downstream that produced a couple of 25” plus snook back in February.  It may be my last hope.  This trip the snook seemed to be ignoring my usual redoubtable white Gulp curlytail, so I switch to a gold DOA paddletail.  The old veteran anglers down here swear gold is the ticket for big snook.

The Dynamic Duo–White Gulp Curlytail and Gold DOA Paddletail With 1/8th Oz Jig Head

I pitch a long cast out in front of the kayak and start to crank it back.  Something big swirls and my rod nearly jumps from my hands….a big snook erupts from the surface and a furious fight is on.

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The Piscatorial Facts Of The Faka Union River

(Note:  See my April 2018 article for an update on fishing the Faka Union River.)

The Faka Union River, known as the Fiki Uni to some long-time locals, is an important fixture of one of the largest pristine areas in Florida—the Fakahatchee Strand.  It is the retreat of flocks of wading birds, deer, black bears, and the endangered Florida Panther.  You may even see, as I did, an endangered American crocodile in this wilderness that has

Crocodile - Rio Tarcoles

been designated by Florida as an Area of Critical State Concern.  And the chances for a coveted angler’s slam–snook, redfish, and tarpon–are as good here as anywhere in the country.  I’ve scored several over the past few years.  You may even hook a hungry bull or black tip shark to boot.

Although not apparent on the surface, the environment here has been severely altered by get-rich-quick development and drainage schemes over the past 50 years.  Only in the past decade have serious remedial efforts been undertaken.  The Port of the Islands development, the aborted Southern Golden Gates Estate project, and Faka Union Canal just up the road barely a mile from the put-in are poster children for the carnage.

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