It’s been a rewarding year writing my blog, and as of September 1st the number of views and visitors just surpassed all of 2017! 50,000 views and 20,000 visitors are in sight for 2018. As well as providing an admitted excuse to go fishing and explore remote places, my main goal is to help reinforce and build the constituency to preserve and protect these wild and wonderful places. An added and very satisfying benefit has been connecting with people and making new friends around the USA and the world—readers from over 50 countries. One example—a fellow from Australia is planning to come over and kayak fish with me next year!! But I think most gratifying and unexpected have been the heartwarming stories from readers like the young college student who wrote to say she had been searching for the name and location of the lake where her grandfather, who had recently passed away, took her fishing as a young girl. She wanted to revisit that special place as a tribute to him. She couldn’t find it until she happened to read my article on Island Lake in Colorado, and when she saw my photos knew that was the place. Brought tears to my eyes as I thought of the fishing trips I’ve been taking with my little granddaughter Aly and her Daddy this summer. Other readers shared happy memories of having fished, in their younger days, the creeks and lakes featured in my blog. In doing so they have enriched my life and made me determined to share more stories of special places in the coming year, knees willing and the creeks don’t rise!
Go West, young man, Go West–Horace Greeley
Westward Ho! I am heading to Colorado for the summer, making tracks from the Everglades
to the Rockies to beat the heat and the rainy season. You know when it’s time to leave Florida when you step outside and your eyelids start sweating!! I’ve packed up my mobile fish camp and will be on the road for two weeks, taking the northern route this year through Georgia and Tennessee then west. I’ll be doing some piscatorial research along the way as sampling local cuisine and culture in two states I haven’t had the pleasure of driving the back roads.
My first stop will be Cape Canaveral and the Banana River Lagoon, near my old stomping grounds where I lived for
the past 6 years before moving to the Everglades in May. I’ll be revisiting some of my old favorite angling spots in honor of my good friend and best fishing buddy, Tris Miles, who passed away last year after a tough battle with lung cancer. We spent many good days together kayak fishing the Banana River No-Motor-Zone flanking the Kennedy Space Center.
The five-hour drive up from the Everglades goes smoothly, and I get set up quickly in a retro RV park called Carver’s Cove. Despite being in the heart of bustling Cape Canaveral, it has dirt roads and big old shade trees, not to mention some frontage on the Banana River. Then with some trepidation I walk down the narrow road to the dock to check the water conditions. I’ve been reading about the algae blooms, growing pollution, and intracoastal waterway fish kills here in the Banana and Indian Rivers. The water isn’t as clear as usual–more like a watery pea soup–but on my third cast I get a jolting strike….and after a brief tussle reel in a nice baby tarpon!! What a surprise. Before the sun sets, I have caught a few small sea trout, everything on a red jig head with a root beer-colored grub with a chartreuse curly tail that seems to glow in the cloudy water. It seems to be the ticket! So, with visions dancing in my head of high-jumping snook shaking their booty and voluptuous sea trout, I head back to an early lights out. The alarm is going off at 4:00 a.m!!
Barracuda: A kind of fierce tropical fish that has strong jaws and sharp teeth
For Day 3 trip see:
I’m headed out early again way before first light, creeping slowly out of the RV park in the dark, lights dimmed. I hoping to avoid waking my sometime fishing and drinking buddies in their nearby trailers, an august assembly of accomplished tarpon and permit fishing mavens. I’d have to explain how I could eschew those iconic game fish, instead pursuing a holy quest for as many barracuda as I can catch (and release) in one day. They already turn their noses up and make sport of me as the Kayak Cuda Buddha for my unfailing devotion to these toothy torpedoes! My destination for this quest is the colorfully named Toptree Hammock Key. The launch point is at the end of Niles Road on Summerland Key.
I’m on the water at first light, but even though the tide has just peaked, I am having to paddle rather than pedal in the shallow water as I head north. I can hear the fins below the boat scraping on the hard corals that dot this hard-bottom flat. Which is a good sign usually because barracuda tend to prowl these areas. Finally I make it to the old bridge that links Summerland to a series of smaller keys. It was apparently blown out partially by the last big hurricane, so a span is missing, and the trail to it from the ramp is getting overgrown. I’m continually amazed at all of the abandoned and storm-wrecked structures that abound in the Keys, testimony to the hardy and fool-hardy souls who actually lived on them, farmed them, and raised families before being driven off by hurricanes, bugs, disease, or the heat. Most are overgrown and wild again, part of the Florida National Marine Sanctuary. Maybe a harbinger of things to come as sea levels continue to rise down here. But I’m not about to let dark thoughts of climate change deter me from my barracuda quest! Those thoughts are better contemplated over a margarita.
As I creep closer, I see the falling tide is flowing hard around the bridge abutments, so I figure there must be some barracuda hiding there, picking off forage fish washing by. My first cast with the trusty Mirrolure MR18 is greeted with a solid hit, and a nice 20″ barracuda comes to the boat after some strong runs. A good start. But the bubble is soon burst as my kayak runs aground on a grassy shoal near the bridge, and I discover the water is only a few inches deep under the span and far out into the Niles Channel to the east. My hopes of joining the Century Club–catching over 100 fish–are starting to fade! So somewhat dejectedly, I head further north towards Wahoo Key, where I find another expansive, beautiful hard-bottom flat. I bail out of the kayak and begin wading in the beautiful clear water as the sun starts to light things up so I can see anything that moves. I spot a couple of long darker forms near the shore that seem to be moving and loft a cast that way. One of the shadows darts towards the sinking lure and before I can even crank the reel once, KERBLAM!!
In the Keys, we salt margaritas, not sidewalks…..Anon.
For Day 2 trip see:
I’m heading to Big Pine Key, not far from Key West, on my annual Florida Keys fishing expedition. As I trundle down the Overseas Highway pulling my mobile fish camp behind, I am amazed at all the festively colored kayaks–red, yellow, orange, blue–stacked outside of marinas, dive shops, and even convenience stores. Like everywhere, kayaking is booming in popularity in the Keys. I’m wondering if I’ll have to fight my way through flotillas of paddlers and ecotour groups wending their way along the mangrove islands to find my quarry.
I’ve left my power boat at home and opted for chasing fish in my yak in the Lower Keys, bucking conventional wisdom that you need a motor to get a permit, tarpon, redfish, sharks, or giant barracuda. At the very least in the bargain, I know I’ll see some great wildlife that abound down here in these pristine tropical waters.
I am staying at the Big Pine Key Fishing Lodge that has some sweet RV trailer spots right on the Gulf. It’s a great place with views of the long Overseas Highway Bridge as it curves away into a sunrise. Did I mention the happy hour a couple of times a week on the pool deck where the mango margarita machine works overtime ? After setting up, my first stop is venerable Jigs Bait and Tackle down the road in Big Pine Key to get the skinny from James Milsap (Ronnie’s cousin) on what’s biting and where. I’ve been kayak fishing down here for the past three years, so know my way around, but it always helps to pick a local fishing guru’s brain. Then it’s back to camp to rig up my rods, get the trusty Hobie Outback pedal kayak ready to rumble, and knock off a little wine before hitting the hay. The alarm’s set at 4:30 a.m!! Day One of Four Perfect Days coming up!!
“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.