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!!
“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!
“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.