4/21/2008 – John Bolivar, aka JB, WebEditor/Photographer
Last week it was colder and rainier than a typical cold and rainy Pacific Northwest spring( snow in Seattle in April is too much to take after a wet rainy winter.) It was time for some tropical therapy so I traded in my drysuit and pogies for sandals and t-shirt and flew to South Florida for some warm weather kayak fishing courtesy of Captain Charles Wright of Chokoloskee Charters based in Everglades City.
It was surprisingly easy to escape winter's clutches, and can be duplicated from almost anywhere in the wet, cold, and slushy north:hop on a plane, fly all day, rent a car, drive 60 minutes on an interstate highway and enter a Florida that is increasingly hard to find. Laid back, uncrowded, and full of fish, wildlife and fantastic paddling. Top that with some phenomenal weather and it was the perfect antidote for a cold rainy PNW spring.
Everglade City (and Chokoloskee Island just south of the city) is smack-dab in the middle of a kayak fisherman’s nirvana-the western edge of Everglades National Park.
Look on a map and you will see literally 10,000 islands surrounded by mangroves, mudflats, oyster bars, sandy beaches, and a rich marine nursery. With its many varieties of fish, vast array of fishable habitat throughout the year, and protected waters in almost any weather, this is one of the best kayak-fishing spots in the world . It is a perfect place to forget about the cold for a few days.
After a leisurely morning of coffee, grits, and warm muggy tropical air I wandered up to the dock and met Rich Jones, local piscatorial wizard and one of Captain Charles’ fishing guides. We would be fishing for snook, redfish, and, if we were really lucky, early spring tarpon (they were expected back in the area any day – they spend the colder months in deep water.)
We met up with John Driscoll and Fred Taber who were fly fishing with us for the day. Being typical fishermen, we talked fishing gear – new , favorites and stuff we would love to get if there were no spousal restrictions holding us back. I am sure there is a ‘gear’ gene attached to the y chromosome because all my fishing (and kayaking buddies for that matter) talk ‘stuff’ when we get together. John’s gear of choice for this trip was his new handmade bamboo rod by Alaskan rod builder Chris Carlin (www.farnorthrodsmiths.com.) It was a hollow bamboo model with a nice blend of classic gorgeous bamboo looks and fine casting qualities. Fred was using his new Edco Solitude 5 reel(www.solitudereels.com) which he proudly had a hand in beta testing for the final version. I think that is probably the ‘gear-heads’ version of heaven – trying out new gear and making suggestions on how it could be improved.
This being "fishing nirvana" we did not have far to go for the fish, at least this day. With Captain Wright's unique 'mother ship' style of kayak fishing he could take us to some great hidden fishing spots, miles away, but since I was fighting a bit of jet lag and did not want to submit my pasty white Seattleized body to a full day of hot Florida sun, we just paddled out from Captain Wright's back deck. The tide was flooding so we rode the muddy looking current back into the mangrove thickets, into an area thick with jumping fish. I grew up fishing and exploring Florida's waters and it's always a delight to be back surrounded with tropical ecology.
Overhead an osprey had caught her breakfast of mullet and was chowing down just 20 feet above me in the mangroves. We saw fork tailed kites flying off in the distance, reddish egrets,little blue herons and white Ibis feeding in the waters around us and every few minutes a mullet or tailing redfish would splash.
The technique for catching fish here is to work the edges of the mangrove shoreline for feeding redfish and snook. It was tricky getting the fly to land right next to the tangle of mangrove roots where the big fish were feeding. Luckily, being in kayaks, we could maneuver right up into the overhanging branches and retrieve any wayward casts (the wind took it…really!). John and Fred were doing a great job getting in among the overhanging branches and hooking a fair number of leaping snook - they love to fight and it is a blast hooking them and watching them run.
Rich and I were using spinning outfits and I have to admit I 'caught' more keepers with my cameras than with my rod (after all - I was working - so the pictures were actually more important than the fish). Rich was killing them though. Until slack tide, when the action eased off, he was catching one every few minutes... mostly smaller snook with an occasional keeper size. And it was mesmerizing watching him expertly place his lure inches from the clutches of the numerous tree branches.
Speaking of gear – Rich was paddling a composite Native Ultimate 12 and we were all impressed with the boat. It was ideal for kayak fishing in these waters – light, comfortable and roomy enough for all your gear. It sits taller in the water like a canoe (it is a cross between a sit-on-top kayak and a canoe) and you sit more upright in it with your feet lower so you can sit in it all day comfortably. The seats are mesh and the air flow felt great in the humid hot air – the seats also detach easily so you can use them in camp or on the beach. He let me paddle it a bit in the afternoon and I was impressed with the boat’s stability (it uses a tunnel hull design making it an ultra-stable 'mini'catamaran) – it was perfect for standing up and casting.
After an afternoon of fishing in the hot Florida sun I felt like a fried conch fritter impersonating a cooked lobster, so we paddled back to the house, fishing all the way.
We stowed and cleaned the gear then headed over to end the day in true Florida fashion at a local seafood cafe, City Seafood. As we sat on picnic tables at the water’s edge we downed an endless supply of cold brews (it’s good for sunburns), fresh local stone crab claws, hush puppies, and cole slaw. With a typically gorgeous Florida sunset as backdrop we swapped fish tales into the wee hours.
A day of kayak fishing in the deep south sure beats dodging cold raindrops in the Emerald City.