Thursday, October 15, 2015
It’s a beautiful morning just before sunrise as we make our way through a mangrove tunnel on a shallow tidal creek ( thinking if the water gets any lower we will have to get out and drag the boats through). The guys struggle behind me as I lead them through in our kayaks and clear out the spider webs as best I can for them. The creek’s mostly to narrow to actually paddle and is very overgrown so you basically have to pull yourself through using the mangrove branches and roots. I tell everyone make sure it’s actually a branch and not something else that you are grabbing. One of the guys asks if there are any gators back in here and I tell him “Welcome to The Everglades”.
With a dramatic sunrise we exit the creek onto a small lake that's glass calm. Many of these lakes in this area of the Everglades are tidal waters and also brackish but at first glance it could be any small lake found most anywhere in the country. The sound of silence is broken by a distinctive clapping sound of a snook feeding on something somewhere under the mangrove lined shoreline. Sometimes it’s more of a crashing sound of a larger snook feeding. Of course most of these lakes can hold a variety of different fish including juvenile tarpon, redfish, maybe largemouth bass and different exotics but our target fish today is snook. We rig up gurglers on the fly rods and Zara Spook topwater plugs for the spinning rods and we then begin our hunt.
The Common Snook (Centropumis Undecimalis) is the most abundant and grow the largest out of the four varieties of snook in Florida. After a devastating fish kill from a major cold front that came through in 2010 they are now on the rebound with more larger fish now being caught again. They are a subtropical species living mostly in the southern half of the Florida peninsula in the US and south throughout much of the Caribbean and Central America. They can be found in just about all bodies of water including freshwater lakes and rivers, estuaries and all other saltwater habitats and can grow quite large to upwards of thirty pounds or more. For many including myself this game fish is right at the top of the list to catch here. In the quiet backwater places where I prefer to spend my time and fish for them usually is a very big challenge to actually boat some of these mighty fish, especially when in tight quarters and from the kayak or canoe. There are many nicknames for these powerful fish but I like to call them “bass on steroids”. Along with some vicious headshakes and sometimes spectacular jumps to throw your hook some of the fish are powerful enough to drag you and your anchored kayak into the mangroves followed by breaking you off. It can be somewhat of a comedy act watching people hook up and try to deal with catching some of these larger fish. When someone does manage to boat a big snook is always a time for “high fives” and a celebration, of course that’s after the shakes stop and they regain their composure.
I have been exploring and fishing this western area of The Everglades for many years now and fell in love with the area after moving south in the 90’s from Vermont. Other than Everglades City and Chokoloskee this very southwest area of Florida is mostly void of any development unlike much of the state and is still very wild thanks to it being part of and surrounded by Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve along with other parks and preserves. Hopefully it will stay this way for eternity. There are over two million acres at any ones disposal to explore and fish for the infamous snook and other game fish but getting to many of the places may be a different story. It’s common for flats boats and other skiffs to get to some of the more remote places in the park(s) but getting into many of the backwater places where it can be a very hard access with it being very shallow and overgrown can be near impossible. Most use canoes and kayaks to access many of these areas. Some will paddle and do multi-day camping trips to get to these places but more and more people are transporting their kayaks and canoes by motor boat. The main kayak that I have preferred to use to access many of these areas has been Native Watercraft’s Ultimate series of kayaks, a sort of hybrid of a canoe and a kayak where you can easily stow your gear and fishing equipment along with having a great fishing platform being able to comfortably stand and fish out of.
For those that have had a chance to kayak fish with me in The Everglades know what a great experience it is and if you haven’t this is for sure a place to add to your bucket list of places to visit, kayak and explore and maybe catch one of these larger snook for yourself.