“So we bought a pack of cigarettes and Mrs. Wagner pies
And walked off to look for America.”
America…Simon and Garfunkel
It’s time for my annual migration to Florida and warmer climes. The late fall and early winter weather in the Colorado mountains has been positively pleasing, allowing extra sunny days to explore remote canyons and chase wild trout. But now the cold is seeping in, so I get ready to hightail it to the subtropics.
I like to take the back roads when pulling my travel trailer (aka mobile fish camp) on the long 2,000+ mile journey, avoiding the big trucks roaring by on the interstates with their big backwash that sets my rig to swerving back and forth on the hitch. Anyway, it’s lots more fun, relaxing, and enlightening to get off the straight-as-an arrow highways and see the real America. Back in the 60’s the Simon and Garfunkel tune “America” was my generation’s anthem….they’ve all gone to look for America. I continue to do so. More and more it seems like a country and place I don’t always understand. When I served as a city councilman in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in the 80s I always felt that if citizens got the facts they would eventually make the right common-sense decisions in the country’s and fellow American’s best interests. Now I am not so sure. But each year I come away from my peregrinations around the country feeling hopeful, optimistic. So here we go…
“The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than an oyster.” –David Hume
I’m always looking for a new kayak fishing day trip that doesn’t require a Herculean paddling effort, one that I can feature in the Everglades kayak fishing guide I’m working on. So sitting comfortably on the lounge chair on my sun deck on late afternoon, margarita in hand, I conducted a virtual tour on my cell phone GPS app and spotted an intriguing area I had never explored. Just northwest of the national park headquarters in Everglades City lies a broken jumble of mangrove islands and oyster beds in Chokoloskee Bay that looked promising and whetted my appetite.
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!
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.