Leaving Pinellas County heading south you soon find yourself at the apex of a giant bridge supported by a bright fan of yellow cables with the waters of Tampa Bay soon filling your rear view mirror. The flats and mangrove laced islands dotted with anglers and others enjoying the water quickly turn into 3 lanes of tourists, daily commuters, self proclaimed race car drivers, and motorcyclists all trying to get somewhere south of where they were.
With the cruise control pegged at 80 and the stereo shuffling its way through my favorite playlist, I find myself caught up in the same race as everyone else on I-75 south. I now have 170 something miles of straight line cruise controlled highway ahead of me and an iPhone full of music to keep me entertained. Even at 80mph I cant help but to notice the occasional patch of woods id like to hunt, the puddle id like to sling a fly into, truck id like to own or the hot little brunette chick driving it! The exit signs fly by… Venice… Port Charlotte…Fort Myers. You see the sign for Naples and then I-75 bangs a left and shoots straight across what seems to be the bottom of the state. Knowing there’s more Florida south of where I’m at I exit off that concrete race track and continue on south. Soon Highway signs turn back into small residential areas and highway shoulders turn into canals and ponds cut into the limestone. A few miles down the road and I’m making a left at a moderately busy intersection onto US 41.
Welcome to Tamiami Trail…
Two lanes of road that make their way right through the middle of Big Cypress. My mood changes instantly, no longer am I racing trying to beat the person next to me to wherever the hell it is they may be going. The traffic is gone, only staggered patches of travelers enjoying the same two lanes of old Florida that I am. Mangrove lined pockets of black water border both sides of the road, broken up by the occasional dirt road or the long standing cypress heads. Alligators, turtles, snakes, deer, panthers, wild hogs and birds of every shape and size make up the local population that call this piece of land home. With my 5wt riding shotgun, rigged and ready to go I’m now less worried about my final destination and more interested on what puddle of dark tea colored water am I going to drop a fly in? Whats going to take the opportunity to eat my fly first? Largemouth Bass, Cichlids, Gar, Snook, Tarpon, Redfish all lurk these waters and are all a prime opportunity for the angler with the desire to seek out and try new water. Salt and fresh water species all in the same holes leaves a mystery to what your next strip strike is going to turn into?
I couldn’t handle passing any more of what could be that honey hole that every angler dreams of so now im on the hunt. There it is! With a quick U-turn i make my way back to the spot that stood out in my eyes, Ive been cooped up in the Jeep for hours and I wanna fish! With a steel guard rail separating me and 55mph traffic I wait for a gap in the cars long enough to make a cast. My first throw landed 2ft short of a 9 or 10 foot alligator who was soaking up some sun. A few short strips and there was that familiar tension on the line that brings a smile to every anglers face. With a quick fight I bring my first Tamiami representative to the shoreline…. A copper-red Cichlid with a mouth full of pearl schminnow! I snag a few pics and thank him for his time and back to the dark colored sanctuary he goes. Another break in traffic and another cast, this time into a little pocket of cattails and grass. Four or five strips and I’m back into that happy tension! I can tell from its aggressive display of aerials and topwater attempt to remove my fly from its mouth, that its a Largemouth. Ive caught many of Largemouth Bass in my time but this was my first Everglades/ side of the road Bass on the fly. Like with his friend before i get a few pics and away he goes to catch another day. A couple of more throws with a couple of short strikes and rolls I land my schminnow tight against the mangroves. Halfway through my first strip there was a boil and again my line was tight. This fish was determined to get back to that mangrove root fortress that I just convinced him to leave. After a fun fight on my 5wt I landed my first Everglades Snook on the fly! I was sold and I didn’t want to leave, this had to be the best stretch of highway for a backwater enthusiast in the entire country. Looking at the time and remembering that I did have a place to be I got back in the Jeep and made my way down the road. The mangroves transition into cattails and lilly pads and then eventually back into south Florida civilization. A right turn near a casino and Tamiami Trail is in my rear view mirror.