Everglades Solo Paddle Fishing Report

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    Bj Dellinger
    Keymaster

    Everglades Solo Paddle Fishing Report

    Thank you for reading this Everglades Solo Paddle Fishing Report . It’s gonna read like a full length magazine article so you might want to save it for when you’re at work.

    Launched the kayak at the Everglades City Ranger Station about 11 am Sunday morning. I hoped to catch the last of the outgoing tide out to the Gulf, but I hit the nose of the incoming tide and had to paddle against it for a way. It hadn’t started running hard yet. The weather was amazing.

    My plan was to camp two or three nights at Rabbit Key and two or three nights at Jewell Key, fish, watch stars, and be alone with my thoughts for a few days. It was a great plan.

    On the way I dragged a plastic shad behind the boat. Something hit it. A few minutes later I was surprised by a large Spanish mackerel, beautiful fish. Wasn’t going to attempt to one-hand it for a photo!

    Hit a young snook off a root wad, another that was banging bait. Reached Rabbit Key without further incident. The old campsite wasn’t there, a hurricane victim. I found quite a lovely alternate.

    One of the best things about kayak camping is I can afford the finest of unspoiled waterfront properties, if only for a few days. Hit a small jack from my front porch.

    I watched the sun set and darkness fall. Watching darkness fall is the best thing you can do while it happens, every single day. None of us do it enough. I spotted two satellites while admiring the Milky Way. Tired from a long day of travel, I then turned in.

    It took me a while to get going in the morning. I headed to Rabbit Key Grasses, wondering if there was still grass (none I found). The path I intended to take was unavailable to me as it was lacking water, it being low tide. A small tidal stream drained a huge, dry flat with lots of birds on it. I thought the stream should be a fish bowl but, no bites. I saw a few black drum. Some big sharks swam in water that didn’t cover them, the sunlight glinting off their back and dorsal fins. They are so supple, so beautiful.

    Once the water started rising I found myself standing and more or less poling in skinny water. Happily surprising me, a redfish cruised. I tossed the shad in front of it. A very satisfying eat happened. Wished I had the fly rod ready but was certainly happy the way things turned out.

    Saw a few other reds but no shots. Hit a few small trout on the way back.

    Watched and savored darkness falling again. I was able to stay up for a while this evening. Saw three more satellites. Distant lightning dotted the horizon. Incoming clouds finally broke up the sky show.

    I woke up at 5 AM and started packing, not without enjoying a different sky. Orion was on the western horizon. A meteor fell out of Gemini and looked like it might hit me. The third-quarter moon was in Leo. It was so nice. Getting to see things like this is one of the main draws of making these trips. The fish are a bonus, man!

    By 630, everything packed and breakfast eaten, I was off to Jewell Key, dragging the shad again. As the sun breached the horizon a trout nailed the shad. The fish was only about 18 inches long but was the best one I would get.

    A short while later a serious tarpon rolled, only 30 feet away. Fortunately, he did not eat the shad.

    Soon after this a bluefish whacked the shad. I had another specie.

    The wind came up to about 12 mph. It was not an impediment to my progress.

    I stopped on a long bar. The current flowed strongly, out towards the Gulf. I thought there should be some hungry fish there. There were, but only hockey-puck-sized jacks and some blue runners. Got some of each on an olive Clouser minnow. A shark threatened a couple as I played them, but it failed to commit.

    When I got to Jewell Key there was a young guy there who had paddled out for the day. I introduced myself. He said to me, “My parents were hippies. They named me Orion.” I told him I liked the name, and had admired his namesake constellation that very morning. I told him they could have chosen worse, like Zeus or Odin. Then again, I don’t have to deal with Orion.

    A canoe with three young guys paddled up. Three guys with camping gear in a 17 foot canoe was quite a feat of packing, methinks. Now I had neighbors. Hardly saw them, they were awesome.

    I set up my camp and went fishing, Gulf-side on Jewell Key. Between the wind, current, and waves I could only fish by wading. It was too rough and windy to fly cast so I flung a shad, on a light jig head, over and over again, out into the Gulf. It was a manly thing to do.

    Generally it was pretty slow but there were two flurries that produced fast action for about 15 minutes each. Redfish, trout, jacks, and ladyfish fell for my deception. A mangrove snapper was fooled too. He got in the rocks and damaged my leader before I could work him out. I stupidly did not retie the leader. Yes, I absolutely should know better.

    Shortly afterwards a large snook took the bait in plain view. I hardly felt the leader break, it happened so fast. Completely deserved it.

    Late in the afternoon the water got too deep for comfort. Back at camp there was a new neighbor, a solo paddler who may have been around my age. Quite a nice guy with an “American normal” kind of name, Paul. We chatted a bit, then I made my dinner and enjoyed it.

    I spotted a fleet in the distance. After a few minutes it was clear they were headed our way. The sun was close to horizon- would they make it to land before it set?

    Nine or ten tired, hungry paddlers from the University of Tennessee joined us that evening. Setting up camp, cooking, eating, and cleaning up were higher on their agenda than watching night fall. Woe is me- their flashlights disturbed my views. I managed to survive. Lightning flashed on the horizon. I even saw a satellite and a meteor before Orion rose, at which time I turned in.

    Pounding rain and winds woke me later. It was like a fire hose blasting at my tent! I pulled my fly shut, fairly astonished how heavy and loud the rain was. The wind pulled out the stake that was holding down the fly. Water began joining me in the tent. Somehow my bedding stayed dry. After at least an hour the rain subsided to a gentle mist. I slept until daylight.

    I got up, ate breakfast, and went fishing. A ladyfish school ran into me. That was entertaining.

    Got a nice red, even more entertaining. Several trout and another red followed.

    By now it was time to go back to camp and clean up the mess. The sun was even poking out a bit.

    The canoeists and solo paddler were gone. The Volunteers were just launching. If no one else came I’d have the place to myself. I had already decided to go home the next morning.

    Getting everything dry and tide took a couple hours. For my afternoon fishing shift the winds were light. It would be fly casting only.

    I started with a pink Clouser minnow, flinging it as far as I could into the Gulf. No sight-fishing here!

    It took 30 minutes, but finally a bite. A solid redfish, about four pounds. Smile on John’s face!

    Minutes later, a bite. Little feller snook!

    If I catch a trout I’ll have some kind of slam. Trout, where are you?

    Another bite. Hockey-puck jack.

    I switched flies, putting on the only Hootchie fly I still had. It fooled a variety of fish species- redfish, ladyfish, snapper, baby jewfish, and some solid jacks. On my last cast, as I was reeling up the line, a fish crushed the fly and ran into my backing for the first time on the trip. It was a jack of five pounds or so.

    On the way back to camp I realized the wind had increased in intensity. I’d been fishing on the protected side of the island.

    That evening solid overcast prevented stargazing, so I made a small fire, and of course watched darkness fall. My tent rattled and shook all night long. I was glad I had weighted the stakes down with chunks of wormrock. I did not sleep well, and got up when it got light.

    I planned on leaving. Doing so would have been foolhardy. I don’t need NOAA to recognize a small craft advisory. Until the wind died back some I was stuck. I packed what I could and went on standby.

    Around noon I realized the tent wasn’t shaking as bad. My intended route did not look like a wedding cake any more. Paddling into the wind that was left would be hard, but it was no longer dangerous. I packed up.

    I thought the tide was about dead low when I left. It wasn’t. I kept hoping the nose of the incoming would catch up to me. It didn’t. It was fight wind and tide the entire way. Even when it started raining I still loved every stroke.

    Trips like this make me realize what an insignificant mote I am in the grand design. It’s one of the reasons I need to keep making them.

    When I got to the ramp, its end was 10 or 15 feet from the water. Wading through knee-deep black ooze, I was able to drag my vessel to terra firma. Loading up, cleaning up, and driving got me home about 10 PM.

    Spent most of Friday catching up, cleaning up, and getting my gear ready for the next trip. I wonder where it will be? It will have a tough act to follow after this one, which was deeply fulfilling, one of my best.

    Thanks for making it through the Everglades Solo Paddle Fishing Report!

    Life is great and I love my work!

    Every day is a blessing. Don’t waste it- Go Fishing!

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