Destinations - Everglades E-mail
Saturday, 24 October 2009 10:09

 


This series started off as an idea Joey had for an article he was going to call ‘The 5 Places you have to Kayak Fish before you Die’.  He was having difficulty narrowing down the list, understandably so.  He forwarded it over to me and asked if I could do something with it.  I thought the best way to attack it was to expand the list and rather than mention a handful of places and share a bit about them in one article, to do a thorough job sharing what’s available at each location.

While there are some who are happy to stalk fish from a kayak in familiar surroundings and never venture far from home. There are many who thirst for the opportunity to explore new fishing grounds that present fresh challenges and species. When venturing afar there are often challenges that need to be overcome.  Sometimes its logistics, like getting your stuff there or renting gear, it could be in your physically getting there.  Each locale has its idiosyncrasies.  The good news is that with the help of some kayak guides, outfitters and select shops you can make a kayak fishing trip happen. For those who are happy to just strap the kayak on their vehicle and go, these trips are doable. The DIY (do it yourself) crowd will benefit from picking the brains of the local kayak fishing sharpies and with the various regional kayak forums - this is a breeze.  In fact locals are sometimes much more willing to share info with a visitor than a local thinking that you will only fish the area a couple times and be gone. For those who want to have the complete trip mapped out by a professional, local kayak guides are and/or outfitters are the answer. Our intention with this series is to provide you with a lot of information on a particular destination.  So whether you decide to fish with a guide or go it alone you’ll have a good foothold on gathering the necessary information to stack the odds in your favor of having a successful trip.

So how do we decide what places to share.  There’s a bunch of criteria that goes into a selection.  Obviously the availability of fish is important but also the environment.  For example our first locale, the Everglades, doesn’t necessarily have the best fishing in Florida, but it is one of the grandest places on this planet and the experience is always memorable.  The majority of the region isn’t developed.  You won’t see buildings and evidence of man much.  It offers a true wilderness experience.

Florida Everglades

Overview map of Everglades The Everglades are a special place. It has the distinction of containing the largest mangrove forest in existence. It encompasses a huge expanse in southern Florida with a wide array of wildlife and sport fish. I had always wanted to see the area, even if I didn’t fish there, but being able to do both from a kayak is better. I first fished the area via a mother ship trip in 2004 and then spent a couple months there in the winter of 2007. I had such a good time I returned the following November and stayed until early June. All totaled I’ve spent 9 months there and easily fished it 150 days.  While I got to learn the area I only scratched the surface. As I started putting together this article I realized there’s probably more different ways to fish the Everglades from a kayak than any other place I know. So I’ll break it down into several categories. I’m going to refrain from listing prices as there are too many variables. It’s best for you to contact the guides and outfitters and discuss what you want so they can give you a true cost.

Area I consider the Everglades Being that it’s such a vast area it includes several environments from pure freshwater to the salt waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The region is huge and contains one of the largest National Parks but the park is just part of this massive area that also includes Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades Wildlife Management Area and a lot of land south of Lake Okeechobee. The Everglades is essentially a 60 mile wide river that flows from the lake for 100 miles until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. In its upper portions there is the sawgrass marsh and sloughs area that’s been nicknamed the ‘Sea of Grass’. This is purely a freshwater environment. Interspersed in this area are the pinelands. This is the solid land of the Everglades. You’ll find sloughs and canals and some lakes. There’s the cypress swamps and they’re generally west of the overview map of Everglades region pinelands and prairies. As the water moves towards the Gulf it transitions into the tropical hardwood hammock zone. Hammocks are slightly raised dry land areas and are found amongst the pinelands, prairies and our next zone, the mangrove and coastal prairie. The mangroves are around and in the water and the prairie is between them. So if you see trees when looking across fields you know where the water is. The best example of this is the area west of Highway 29 and south of Highway 41. This is a brackish world with a number of lake and river systems that work their way to the Gulf. Most of this environment is south of Highway 41. When it reaches the Gulf it’s salt but not as salty as the Atlantic or further up the Gulf coast. The northern part of the Gulf zone is comprised of the Ten Thousand Islands. They start over at Marco Island and Goodland and end just a bit south of Chokoloskee. As one goes south of here you enter river country. Here significant rivers work their way to the Gulf. As one rounds Cape Sable we enter Florida Bay. The terrain is similar near shore but the actual bay is a shallow flats world that is triangularly shaped.  It is bordered by the Gulf to the west, mainland to the north and the Keys comprise the rest of the border.  Florida Bay is full of islands but in this part of the world they are called keys. Each environment is fascinating and it’s easy to find solitude throughout and great angling. I don’t know of anywhere that offers so much diversity and ways to access the fishing then the Everglades.

a nice backcountry largemouth - pic submitted by DC There are a lot of fish that call this vast region home. In freshwater it’s the native largemouth bass and sunfishes, but there’s a great many aquarium escapees that are doing extremely well too. Most are cichlids, which are Central and South America’s versions of our pan fishes. The big difference is these fish are turbocharged and offer terrific sport. In the Everglades, zones don’t have distinct transitions and waters tend to blend. As you work towards the salt you can be fishing for largemouth and cichlids and all of a sudden a tarpon rolls. As the water becomes brackish there are times when you might catch bass, redfish, tarpon and snook all in the same spot and a bull shark or alligator might try to take them away! As the water becomes salty the quarry are snook, redfish, trout, jacks, permit, sharks, grouper, tarpon, and mackerel to name just some of the available species.

A Mayan - pic submitted by DC Pure freshwater is either way up in the northern part of the region or in lakes. The lakes I fished were quarries where the excavators hit springs and they filled with water. The water is incredibly clear. I found in the quarry lakes I only got small fish using artificials. When I switched to using sunfish and Mayan Cichlids for bait I did much better. I didn’t start doing this fishing until very late in my stay in the Everglades and now I wished I had spent more time at it. In one day I got 5 largemouth bass that totaled 36 pounds! Each lake had at least one large gator that called it home. The fish I encountered in the fresh were largemouth bass, cichlids, sunfishes and gar. The cichlids are amazing fighters and when matched with appropriate tackle offer fantastic sport. I’ve seen Mayan’s as large as a few pounds in the Gordon River.

peacock - pic by DC Most visiting anglers don’t usually consider the freshwater fishing. That’s too bad as it’s easily the most consistent. You can certainly do it on your own but if you get a group together and hook up with a guide you’ll keep the cost way down and you’ll learn a lot and catch a bunch of fish. DC, Steve Gibson or Harry Hall would be good guides to hook up with. The latter two specialize in fly fishing. In fact Steve developed a fly, the Myakka Minnow, for the cichlids there.

The brackish zone is where the fresh and salt meet. It has a tidal influence. I found all of the freshwater fishes except sunfishes. In addition I’d find tarpon, bull sharks and most angler’s main quarry, snook. Snook are a subtropical species and have the smallest range of any of the fishes you’ll catch in Florida. Their range is supposedly up to South Carolina. Basically they’re found up to the middle of Florida and in extreme southern Texas. Snook are a terrific sport fish. They are most similar to the basses in that they eat a wide array of prey and can be found in all sorts of environments.  You’ll find them offshore in the Gulf all the way up to the deepest parts of the backcountry. They’re terrific fighters and delicious table fare. Mayan cichlids are in the zone and the other major player in this zone is the tarpon. I found them to be fewer places but when I found them there often was a bunch of them.

redfish - pic by DC In the salt is where the list becomes extensive. In winter there are large schools of Spanish mackerel. Mixed with them are often jacks, ladyfish and small bluefish. There’s also snook, redfish and trout. Trout are very common in the winter and are in large schools and are often accompanied with ladyfish. The fall is the best time for redfish and summer is generally the best fishing. That’s when snook are in the bays and there’s enough tarpon around to seriously target them. The jacks get a lot bigger in the summer too and provide terrific sport. Same with the sharks, targeting them is a May through November fishery. They provide ready access to big fish and plenty of sleigh rides.

When considering how to best enjoy the Everglades angling the choices are overwhelming.  There are too many choices. The area is vast and there are so many different ways you can fish it. You can’t do it all in one trip and it comes down to what works best for you.

Mother Ship – This is how I fished the Glades the first time. It is a term used to explain when a boat is used to transport kayaks to the fishing grounds. The advantage is a boat can take you much farther than you can paddle on your own. This way it allows you to access some great places you’d never be able to reach otherwise.

We went with Everglades Kayak Fishing (EKF). Each day we met our guide and he whisked the six of us off to places it would take us hours or days to paddle to. EKF has two boats that each can transport six kayaks and gear. Generally you pay per person and the number of people doesn’t matter. EKF can take up to six as they’re using Carolina skiffs but most businesses use regular boats and transport two or three. The great thing about this type of fishing is it can get you far from civilization and into some terrific fishing. An hour or so boat ride can put you down at the Broad River or a few slightly closer places like Lostmans Key and Wizard Creek. The beauty of this type of transport is you can hit a few spots in a day. You have all your gear, food, drinks and such in the boat as you go off exploring and fishing.

Notice how dard this snook is - pic by DC Shore Launched Guiding – This is where a guide launches from shore with you and your companions. The places you fish can vary tremendously. It depends on what you want to do and where the fish are at the time. If it’s the dead of winter often the fish are way up the creeks in the backcountry lakes. If the weather has been warm and stable for a while then they’ll be in the bays. It also depends upon your quarry. If you’re after trout they’re in the open. Conversely snook and tarpon are going to be further in.

A guide will generally take one to four people. Each additional person is heavily discounted so it pays get a few anglers together because you’ll significantly reduce the cost of the trip. Even if you like fishing on your own going with a guide for a day or two is a great way to learn the area if you plan on fishing by yourself. A guide is especially helpful if you’re from outside the region.  You’ll learn the environment, what to look for, lure and fly choices, rigging, etc.

Camping – I have to admit I did very little camping while in the Everglades but this is probably one of the neatest experiences you can have. There are so many ways to approach a camping/fishing trip in the Everglades, the most important being the time of year. You want to go late fall, winter and very early spring. The rest of the year it’s too hot and even if you could stand the heat you’ll never survive the bugs. Also the non bug season coincides with the dry season so it’s rare for it to rain. That’s another plus. If you go it alone keep an eye on the forecast. While not common a few times a season a front dips this far south and one winter we had frost in January! It’s rare for the weather to get severe but there were a few times EKF was contacted to rescue groups when the weather turned bad. The easiest way to camp is to work with an outfitter and have them drop you off in a good fishing area and they pick you up a few to several days later. They have all the necessary gear to have a great experience. You can even hire a guide to spend the entire time with you. It’s all up to you. The outfitter can stop by and bring more ice, water or supplies. These same outfitters can supply a shuttle service too. They can drop you off and pick you up and you can use all your own gear, rent everything from the outfitter or a combination of the two, whatever you need. The best part of using a boat to get to your camping area is they can get you farther away from civilization. I found the best fishing to usually be farther away necessitating a boat ride of near an hour or more.

However a boat isn’t necessary to access good camping and fishing. Both can be relatively close and you can embark from a land based launch point and return either to it or somewhere else and either leave a vehicle or arrange for a ride. Keep in mind if it’s in the national park you’ll need a permit. Outside the park you can go whenever you wish. I met a guy one day at the Everglades City Ranger Station. He had a small motor home and a touring kayak. He lives in Utah, working construction in the warm months and when winter comes he takes off for the Everglades.  He spends his winters kayak fishing/camping the region. He would take anywhere from a couple to several day trips and then come back to land to resupply, grab a shower and then he’d be off again to another spot. Trips can be as short as an overnight to a week or more.

Essentially you have two general environments to camp and fish in; inside or outside. On the inside there’s an inland waterway and hut system from Chokoloskee all the way to Flamingo. The outside is comprised of sand beaches on the Gulf. Both have their merits. I personally prefer the latter. I have several friends who have done the entire outside from Flamingo to Everglades City. It’s about 70 miles. If you do the outside the prevailing winds blow northward so it’s best to embark at Flamingo. There’s a group that uses Hobie Adventure Islands (sailing Hobie kayaks) and let the wind provide a great deal of the propulsion. My favorites on the outside are Hog Key, Lostmans Key, Highland Beach, Graveyard Creek and the Cape. Inside my choice is Darwin’s Place but there’s many others, I’m just not familiar with them.

On Your Own – This is how I did most of my fishing. I’d launch somewhere from shore, most often from my backyard. I lived on the water at the tip of Chokoloskee and I’d head out into the Ten Thousand Islands. There was a lot of terrain available leaving from there. I had all those islands and cuts and the Gulf was only a few miles away. However I didn’t always leave from my backyard. For example if I drove to the other side of Chokoloskee I could save almost a mile of paddling/pedaling if I was going up the Turner River. There are a lot of shallow flats between my backyard and the Turner and if I went during low water I often couldn’t pedal my Hobie. When heading to fishing northwest of me if I launched from the Ranger Station I could save a few miles. If I could save a few miles by launching somewhere else I would. I also enjoyed other places too.

Paddling down a canal - pic by DC My favorite fishing was to go inside and launch from one of the highways. There’s a bunch of neat spots off of Highways 29, 41 and 92. Take a look at a satellite map of the area and you’ll be amazed. Along Highway 41 from the Turner River west until you get fairly close to Naples there’s a bunch of systems that all hold fish. What’s great is they’re best in the winter. Snook and baby tarpon head up into these spots because that’s where the water’s the warmest. I spent a lot of time doing this and had some of my best fishing and experiences in these spots. My largest snook total came one December day when I got over 50 along with a few big Mayan Cichlids. It’s best to hit these places the first time with a guide. In the Everglades City over to Marco Island Rich Jones can help you access some great stuff. If you’re venturing further inland and want to hit freshwater definitely give Steve Gibson, DC or Harry Hall a call. Each fishes salt and brackish areas too but the most productive fishing is in the fresh where 50 to 100 fish days are common.

A lot of it comes down to what you want. If you’ve got a real sense of adventure and love exploring this stuff is great. Make sure you have a GPS, cell phone (that’s right this interior area has cell service), and a good satellite map or pictures. I never had to wear bug repellent, amazing as it sounds. I rarely encountered gators as they tend to mostly be north of the highway in winter but you will run into bull sharks. They’ll be small ones, generally less than three feet but still you never know. Keep this in mind as there will be times you’ll be wading in the water. For the most part the bottom is soft and not wade-able but that depends on the system. For example, East Creek doesn’t have anywhere you can stand but the next system west, Faka Union, has a lot of sandy areas and places you can stand. I believe the other side of the Faka Union canal has even more sand. Kayaks that enable you to stand are great for this fishing. They’ll allow you to spot snook along the mangroves which is much better than blind casting. I find a long stakeout pole invaluable.

Outfitters and Guides that Service the Everglades

Bay and Reef Company – A full service charter boat service that also does kayak fishing trips in winter.

Website: www.bayandreef.com

Phone #:     (305)393-0994

Home Base: Islamorada

Area of Operation: Everglades no motor zone near Flamingo.

Services Offered: Guided trips, Mothership, up to 3 anglers, rentals, camping.

Guides: Xavier & Elizabeth Figueredo

Everglades Kayak Fishing – I know these folks the best. As mentioned earlier my first trip was with them in 2004. I also did some guiding for them. This is one of the first operations to offer Mothership fishing. They use 2 Carolina skiffs that can transport up to 6 anglers with kayaks. I know both Charles Wright and Rich Jones well. The operation is based out of Everglades City. They offer all the services available in the area. Mothership and land accessed guiding, camping, drop off and pick up service and rentals. They fish both brackish and saltwater mostly within an hour of Everglades City however they do run some trips near Flamingo in the realm of the saltwater crocodile. They call it Jurassic Park. Tops on my list are Jurassic Park, Wizard Creek and a campout of the outer beaches. They just announced that they'll be running trips out of Goodland. Rich handles all the shore based launch guiding.

Website: www.evergladeskayakfishing.com

Phone #: (239)695-9107

Home Base: Everglades City and Chokoloskee

Area of Operation: Area around Everglades City and waters accessed from there.

Services Offered: Guided trips, Mothership, up to 12 anglers, rentals, camping, drop off service, shuttle service, brackish and saltwater.

Guides: Charles Wright, Rich Jones

 

Florida Kayak Fishing – I wasn’t aware of this operation until I did some snooping around the internet. I gave Harry a call and we had a nice chat. He’s been guiding a few decades and specializes in fly fishing in freshwater and saltwater.

Website: www.sefly.com/kayakfisheverglades.htm

Phone #: (941)875-4329

Home Base: Port Charlotte

Area of Operation: Everglades freshwater and saltwater

Services Offered: Guide trips up to 3 anglers.

Guide: Harry Hall

 

Fin Hunter Charters – Captain Paul uses his charter boat to transport one kayak to the no motor zones of the Everglades. He has found it best to take one angler in a tandem Native Ultimate and control the kayak so the fisherman can fish without having to be concerned with paddling technique.

Website: www.finhuntercharters.com/canoe.htm

Phone #: (305)393-2495

Home Base: Islamorada

Area of Operation: Everglades no motor zone near Flamingo and out to Cape Sable and the backcountry there.

Services Offered: Guide trip for 1 angler. Guide paddles the kayak and you fish.

Guide: Paul Hunt

 

Hook N Line Charters – A charter boat that also offers Mothership fishing.

Website: www.evergladescityfishingcharters.com/

Phone #: (239)348-9733

Home Base: Everglades City

Area of Operation: Everglades City, Ten Thousand Islands, Marco Island and Naples.

Services Offered: Guide trips up to 2 anglers.

Guide: Brandon Acosta

 

Ivey House – Is a hotel in Everglades City. They offer a variety of services and if you’re staying at the hotel they offer discounts. It’s a good place to base out of for day trips.

Website: www.evergladesadventures.com/

Phone #: (239)695-3299

Home Base: Everglades City

Area of Operation: Everglades City area

Services Offered: Hotel lodging, shuttle service and rentals.

 

Saltwater Sports – Is a kayak shop located on the east side of Naples along Highway 41. They have a number of rental locations around the area and all these spots have good fishing. They also offer guided trips. Being that they’re a full shop they have equipment available for sale as well.

Website: www.saltwatersportsflorida.com

Phone #: (239)262-6149

Home Base: Naples

Area of Operation: Naples top Marco Island over the Everglades City.

Services Offered: Kayak rentals at 5 on water locations and the shop, guided trips up to several anglers in saltwater and brackish, also camping.

 

Southern Drawl – Steve has contributed reports to KFM for a while. I didn’t realize that he also ran Everglades’s trips until I read his most recent report. In it he said their Everglades trips would be starting soon. So I gave him a call and we talked about what he offers. Steve specializes in fly fishing and even developed a fly for this fishing called the Myakka minnow.

Website: www.kayakfishingsarasota.com

Phone #: (941)284-3406

Home Base: Sarasota

Area of Operation: Everglades freshwater and central west coast saltwater.

Services Offered: Guide trips up to 3 anglers in freshwater.

Guide: Steve Gibson

 

Sun Coast Kayak Sport Fishing – I’ve known DC a number of years. I’ve yet to fish with him but one thing I do know is he knows his stuff. Check out his guide reports here at KFM. They are always extensive and informative. No other operation offers so many choices within the Everglades. When I asked DC to define the area he fishes he simply said ‘My range extends from the Ocala National Forest to Key West’. All the pictures used in this article were supplied by Suncoast.

Website: www.suncoastkayaksportfishing.com

Phone #: (941)809-2703

Home Base: Sarasota

Area of Operation: Ocala National forest to Key West

Services Offered: Guided trips up to 5 anglers, camping, freshwater, brackish and saltwater.

Guide: DC Bienvenu

Shops

Angler’s Answer – is a full service bait and tackle shop in Naples. www.anglersanswer.com/

Everglades City Hardware – has the best selection of tackle in Everglades City. It’s a great hardware store as well.

Outdoor World – two locations, Fort Myers and Islamorada.

Saltwater Sports – full service kayak shop based in Naples (see above).

Campgrounds

There’s a variety of camping options in the region but most are geared towards snowbirds with motor homes. I’m not going to list them as I don’t expect most readers are looking for this. The same is true of cabins and motels. You can do a search and come up with lots of options depending on what you’re looking for. I’ve listed a few that I’m familiar with.

Chokoloskee Island Park - http://www.chokoloskee.com/, offers RV and tent camping along with efficiency rentals. It’s the only full service campground in the Chokoloskee/Everglades City area.

Collier Seminole State Park - http://www.floridastateparks.org/Collier-Seminole/ Great spot to camp if you’re in fishing the area along highways 41 and 92.

Everglades National Park, Flamingo – RV and tent camping right in the park. http://www.nps.gov/ever/planyourvisit/flamcamp.htm

No matter how to you decide to fish the region, the Everglades are a special place and well worth your attention.

 

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