Kayaks are booming in popularity among anglers with good reason. They’re light, and easy to steer. They’re super-stealthy for sneaking up on fish. And they’re easy to transport. Best of all, many kayak companies are tricking out boats with special features specifically for fishing, like rod holders, electronics, pedal-propulsion, and stabilizers that allow you to stand up and fish.
There’s also just something about the connection you feel with the water when you fish from a kayak. Maybe that’s why one of my favorite trips ever was a five-day camping and paddling Florida fishing adventure in the Everglades with my friend Al Keller.
We went out of Chokoloskee, near Everglades City, where we rented kayaks from Captain Charles Wright. The first step in an adventure like this is to make a camping plan—you either choose a central base camp, or you paddle along the entire length of the 10,000 Islands, which can take a week or more. Depending on the season, you can choose to paddle along the outside where small keys and mangrove-lined channels meet the open Gulf of Mexico, or in the backcountry, where you camp on “chickee” platforms. The important thing is to register and reserve your campsite with the Everglades National Park office.
We chose to camp on one island on the outside, and had Captain Wright drop us off, along with our kayaks, tents, cooler and other gear. Once we’d unloaded, it was “see you at the end of the week,” and we were literally on our own. So we got right into the fishing, and found snook cruising up a little channel within a stone’s throw of our campsite. It only took Al a few casts with a fly rod to hook a small snook on a white Clouser Minnow fly. After that, we found redfish. Then we went into the creeks and caught baby tarpon. Every day was a completely different adventure.
Thing is, when you’re out in a pristine place like that, you lose yourself to your surroundings. Half the time, I didn’t know whether to cast or just watch what was going on. Flocks of ibis… raccoons digging oyster shells from the muck… further inside, alligators lurking in the root wads… As we paddled across one bay, I counted no fewer than 25 sharks cruising along, a few of which actually brushed up against my boat. But I was never afraid. Just awe struck.
If ever you want a challenging backcountry adventure, this is a great one to consider. Of course, you need to be smart out there. Know how to deal with bugs, and heat. (Choosing the right season is key). Have a reliable GPS, plenty of water, and a good first aid kit. And be wary that falling tides can leave you and your boat stuck in the mud for hours.
But the rewards are remarkable, and you’ll see and experience things you can’t find without fishing far off the beaten path.
Kirk Deeter is an editor-at-large with Field & Stream magazine, and the editor-in-chief of Angling Trade. He is the co-author of four books, most recently the Little Red Book of Fly Fishing. He also blogs at Takemefishing.org.
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