Glutton for Punishment
My buddy John and I have talked about fishing the Everglades for big snook for years. Both of us have caught our fair share of Texas Linesiders (see photos below), but the primitive snook and tarpon-laden backcountry of southernmost tip of Florida has always peaked our interest.
When I envisioned fishing The Everglades I pictured behemoth snook and laid-up poon terrorizing flies with reckless abandonment. When I finally made it to the Glades a few weeks ago what I got was a stern ass-whopping, and this is my story.
Cue the Rolling Stones melody “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as the soundtrack to the rest of my dialogue.
When analyzing fishing’s role in my life and why my fixation has developed into a borderline obsession that rivals adolescent girls fascination with the teen heartthrob, Justin Bieber, I have reached two conclusions; the draw of fishing is about two pursuits: happiness and knowledge. I fish to have fun away from the confines and expectations of the material world. I fish to learn more about the environment, the creatures which inhabit that environment and how I coexist with the two.
Exploring new places has always been my favorite microcosm within fishing. I often find myself bored of fishing familiar waters. There is some innate desire within me that yearns for adventure and to explore the unknown. Whether I figure it out or fail miserably, I always learn something new because I’m forced to move outside my comfort zone. The opportunity to explore the diversity that the Everglades National Park encompasses had me foaming at the mouth.
Early in the planning stages John and I decided on 9 day trip, with two days reserved for travel, was enough to get the complete Everglades experience. We picked some dates that worked for both of us and then threw out an invite to several friends. We made it known this wasn’t going to be a trip for the feeble. We had two takers, but one person backed out a couple of months out. Jaime was the only person who was able to commit. We had our solid group that could withstand anything the Glades could throw our way or so we thought.
The week before the trip we scrambled to come up with a game plan and get our gear together for 7 days in the wilderness. We had a quasi plan, but we wanted to be flexible and let the conditions dictate where we fished. This wouldn’t be the first time any of us had roughed or winged it.
There was 1300 miles of pavement between us and our destination. We wanted to drive straight there and back to maximize our time on the water. We left late Thursday night. We drove through the night and most of the next day. We took turns driving while one person rested up.
After picking up some last minute supplies we arrived at the park after dark the following day. We setup camp at the park the first night and waited until the next morning so we could sign in and reserve our campsites for the next seven days.
After getting everything squared away with the park office we loaded our boats and hit the water around noon.
The plan was to fish our way to our campsite, offload our supplies and then fish that evening around camp. I made it to camp around 5 that afternoon. I spotted a few reds on the flats along the way, but strong winds made making a presentation tough. I was moving too fast.
It was getting late and I hadn’t heard or seen Jaime and John since we launched. I decided to backtrack and look for them. I ran to nearly where we started with no sign of either of them. The sun was fading, so I decided to head back to camp to see if they had shown up. They hadn’t. I turned on my phone and checked my messages. Nothing.
The sun fell. I sat down and relaxed hoping I’d hear from them soon. About 11:00 that night I finally got a message on my phone from Jaime telling me their situation. Making it to camp was tougher than they expected. They had to paddle into a strong current and headwind. To make matters worse they ran out of water on the flat they paddling over, so they had to drag their kayaks for miles through mud before reaching deeper water.
We communicated via VHF radio and discovered they were only two miles northwest of camp. I turned on my headlamp and scanned the horizon in their direction. They spotted it and started making their way to camp. They arrived a little after midnight exhausted, hungry and covered in mud.
After unloading their boats, setting up camp and cooking a quick meal we crashed following a long day. Finally some much needed rest. A few hours later we woke to the sound of flapping nylon and pellets crashing into the walls of our tents. The downpour only lasted a few hours but it left the wind behind. Our tents were rocking well into the morning.
We fished close to camp because of the wind and a late start. We spooked a few reds but no takers. We were scheduled to be at another campsite that evening but it was further than we cared to travel that afternoon after the events of the day before.
We called the park office about changing our reservation to a closer chickee. We were told there was availability. They changed our reservation. We packed up camp and we were on our way. This time I towed Jaime and John because we wanted to make it to our destination before dark
After a far run we made it to the next chickee right at dark.
We arrived to four guys who had already setup tents on both chickees. We told them our situation and asked nicely if they could make room for us to sleep for the night. After all, one of the chickees was rightfully ours. All we heard was excuses (“impeding on their space”/”they had plans”/”there was no room”/etc) as why they didn’t want us there. They wouldn’t budge after we wasted an hour trying to reason with them. They told us we needed to figure out what we were going to do.
We decided to leave and let them have their day with karma. We tried making the trek back to park because it was the closest place to camp from where we were at, but it was too rough to safely navigate our way back in the dark. To make matters worse we also had thunderstorms brewing south of us and we couldn’t tell which direction they were moving. We didn’t want to be on the water if they came our way.
Before we left one of the guys at the chickee uttered, “you’re hardcore kayakers…why don’t you sleep in your kayaks in the mangroves?”
I’m not sure what about our kayaks had hardcore written on them, but we decided to look for camp on a nearby island. We circled the entire island looking for promising area to make camp. There wasn’t any good spots, so we tucked under the mangroves on the protected side of the island. We stashed our rods and push our boats as far onshore as we could to prevent them from floating away with the rising tide.
We shifted the supplies around in our boats to give us room to lay down and rest. Sleeping was extremely uncomfortable. As if being wet, cold and on a hard surface with irregular contours that remind why you don’t sleep in kayak more often wasn’t enough, the constant buzzing of bugs and bites of mosquitoes compounded on our already miserable sleeping conditions. Rain could have been the only thing to make matters worse. Thankfully the storms stayed away that night.
We woke before dawn after a terrible nights rest in a humid, mosquito-ridden environment. We made our way to the next closest campsite to regroup. By this point none of us had fishing on our mind. We just wanted to sleep.
We setup camp and tried to sleep. A few storms passed over us and the sun finally came out. We woke an hour later drenched in sweat. We decided to move camp again because we weren’t near any areas we wanted to fish.
We got rained on again the night before. Despite the rain we still got plenty of rest. We woke the next morning excited about the prospect of finally being able to fish. Recount the opening scenes of the film Geofish (if you haven’t watched it yet, what are you waiting for?) when the Motiv Fishing crew first enters Mexico and experiences many tribulations before they get a chance to fish. We could completely relate.
There was one more spot a few miles away that was within range. It was our last resort. John and I decided to go for it. When the we got there the tide low but there was still enough water to fish.
The area looked fishy. We split up to cover more water. We fished for few hours and met back up. The only fish we encountered were sharks cruising the edges of the mangroves. We saw what we needed to see. We decided to head back to camp.
On the way in the middle of a deep channel we saw a few tarpon get airborne blowing up on baitfish. The coolest sight we had seen of the entire trip. The spectacle peaked our excitement enough to stick around and work the area a little longer. The tarpon never showed themselves again, so we headed back to camp.
Back at camp we made the decision to head back to the park. We had seen enough of the water near camp. The area didn’t have the potential we had hope to find.
After getting some info (thanks Dan Decibel) we decided to fish around the park the next morning. We split up again focusing on different areas. The day started off calm, but the wind and clouds quickly rolled in over the area.
The flat I fished was covered with finicky reds. I got plenty of shots and follows, but I couldn’t convince a fish to eat any of my offerings. These redfish aren’t like the redfish back home.
I gave the other guys a call to see how their morning was going. Jaime and John had better luck than I had that morning. They caught a few redfish including a couple they kept for dinner. Jaime also landed his first snook. I decided to head in their direction. On my way to meet up with them more storms rolled in on us. We decided to head in and decide on our next move.
The rain cleared up later that afternoon, so decided to check out a spot in the backcountry Dan told us about. We fished the area for a few hours. We saw juvenile tarpon rolling everywhere, but we couldn’t get them to eat. We were about to give up and head home when John finally hooked a fish just before dark. After a few jumps he landed his first tarpon on fly. .
That fish gave us new hope. We decided to stick around for another day and focus on juvenile snook and tarpon in the backcountry.
John and Jaime went in one direction and I went the other. I didn’t seen much activity in the direction I went, so I met back up with John and asked how he had faired. He had several shots at snook and tarpon, but didn’t get any eats.
Jaime saw some good fish, but he also had trouble getting a bite. We decided to head in and switch locations. While loading our boats a monsoon ensued. It was as if the Everglades were telling us we weren’t welcome.
The rain showed no signs of slowing down. With our clothes drenched we decided it was time to head home. It rained until we made it out of Florida the next day.
Since returning home I’ve gone over every scenario in my head. I learned a great deal from my short visit to the Everglades. I’ve taken my fair share of punches to the chin from nature, but this trip ranks high against some of the toughest conditions I’ve faced on a prolonged trip of this sort.
I’m already planning a return trip. Hopefully some time later this year. I have some unfinished business: snook and tarpon on the fly. In my best Arnold voice, “I’ll be back.”
I’m a glutton for punishment.