Dark doesn't really begin to describe Everglades City as I rolled into town on Sunday night. A wicked thunderstorm, that provided an excellent light show driving across Alligator Alley, had knocked out all the power in the tiny southwest Florida City; giving the quite city on the edge of the Ten Thousand Islands an almost erie feeling. Creeping along the dark empty road I spotted what looked to be a couple camp lanterns...I'd found what I was looking for. Steven and his
dad Tom were camped out in the front of a small dark powerless hotel; steaks on the grill, cooler and chairs set-up, and drinks in hand. Any erie feelings I had slipped away in an instant as I pulled into the parking spot in front of the room and promptly joined the party. Sitting in the cool night air with a breeze blowing just enough to keep the bugs away (and...well two thermacells on high), a slim trickle of moonlight trying to poke out from behind the clouds, and stories of past 'glades trip gave the night an instant feel of a camping trip twenty something miles in the backcountry. Luckily, we had a nice cool room to crash in; if the power ever came back on!
After a good round of BSing we crashed in the warm room, hoping the power would come back on and get the A/C going. At some point during a semi-sleep I heard the power click on, and smiled with the thought of electric juice flowing to the nearly depleted trolling motor batteries in Steve's boat...and the A/C. With the battery charges rolling, it was easy to fall asleep. And yeah I guess that A/C did help too!
Monday morning came with clear skies and almost no breeze. After a semi-restful night of sleep, it wasn't exactly a crack of dawn start. Steve and I loaded up a few things in the boat, checked the cooler, and rigged up a few rods. I tied on a 3.5" Vudu Mullet (a decision more than a few fish probably regretted later), while Steve went with some old Everglades faithfuls. A few gallons of gas, a quick gas station breakfast, and it was off to the boat ramp. We pulled up to Outdoor Resort (also known as "Kenny's Place" to Everglades regulars much like some people refer to Juno Bait as "Todd's place") to find only a handful of boat trailers in the parking lot. A quick splash and we were in the water.
Leaving Outdoor Resort I couldn't help but sing Jimmy Buffett's "That's what living is to me" in my head. The song seemed to fit the situation. The lines based on a Mark Twain quote,"Be good and you will be lonesome. Be lonesome and you will be free", seemed to fit the situation as we departed semi-civilization; unsure of wether we would see anybody else for the rest of the day. Feelings of extreme loneliness and complete freedom are both possible on any given day in the "backcountry".
The ride into the backcountry from Chokoloskee is one that every angler who enjoys inshore fishing should get to experience at some point in their angling career. The run is combination of visual beauty; and at the same time a white knuckle thrill ride through mangrove rivers, over shallow sandbars, across wide open bays, and around lower unit destroying oyster bars that requires local knowledge or years of experience. Luckily for me; Steve and his dad can make the run in the dark (something I can also personally attest to), so I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride.
The "No Wake" sign at Gopher is one of the last man made things we would see as we headed further back into the backcountry (and at the same time closer to the Gulf of Mexico). The ride through Gopher has tightened over the years, and I was certain at times we were going to crunch Steve's poling platform a time or two. Our insistence on trolling lures through the tightest spots (a tactic that continues to produce bites from some of the biggest snook) doesn't help keep the scratches off Steve's hull. After sneaking through Gopher, we jumped a few bays, passed the ONLY boat we would see all day, and got down to some serious fishing.
The Vudu Mullet was an instant hit, with numerous snook jumping all over it. The action on the Vudu is fantastic, and I found it great as a "cast and wind" or twitch bait that the snook jumped all over.
Steve did an awesome job of poling us into some great spots, and used the height advantage to get a couple great looks at a few nice snook early. The Vudu Mullet caught a lot of fish for me, but a white Gulp Jerkbait still gets an awful lot of bites!.
This was one of the nicer snook that couldn't help but jump all over the Vudu Mullet. The morning bite was pretty good, and we were lucky to catch a decent number of snook and put a small tarpon or two in the air. As the morning wore on the heat set in, and the fishing began to slow.
We pushed further back as the day wore on. The trolling motor got a MAJOR workout this day. We asked a lot out of it, but it did all we could have asked for...and then some! You do a lot of looking, pushing, and working to get into the best spots.
Luckily the monsters started biting around mid-day!
The true "lonesome" feeling settled in as a massive storm built over us while we tried to get to some fish in the back of a very remote bay. While hiding from the thunderstorm, we decided that someone up above was looking out for the big snook on that bank we had worked so hard to get to. Each crack of thunder reminded us it was much better to just let that snook be.
We thought the fish would fire up after the storm, but they remained bait spooky. I was trying to snap a cool picture of the Vudu and Daiwa Ballistic, when the lone redfish of the trip popped up. Steve worked hard to get a shot at (and I worked hard to get a shot of) the tailing red. His cast was great, and my camera work was fair, but it wasn't meant to be as the tailing red spooked off (if you look close in the above picture you an see the redfish spook off the bait).
We worked hard, but not nearly as hard as the trolling motor, to get out of the back bay and make our way back to the "ditch". The falling tide made it tough, but we sneaked out of the shallowest spots and made our way into some fishy looking spots.
This gator didn't like us in his stretch of canal. After snapping a few pics we let him be and continued on. The afternoon wore on and the fish started to fire up.
As we fished a productive stretch of bank I was overwhelmed with thoughts of just how great of fishery the Everglades backcountry really is. I think at one point I said to Steve "There are a lot of places that I haven't been, and a lot of places I'd like to go and fish. But, I really can't imagine anywhere else in the world better than this." Not long after making that statement, a juvenile tarpon rolled in front of me and a well placed cast quickly had him all over my lure. A beautiful strike and hook set had the tarpon in the air, and in my head I was already planning where to a ask Steve to go and look for a trout and redfish to finish the slam after we took the pics, But, as tarpon do so well after a few jumps the Vudu mullet came back towards us with no tail and the tarpon went freely on his way.
As the day started to slip away we trolled back through Gopher, headed back to check a spot or two before heading out. The mouth of Gopher, we were greeted with a wide variety of life; snook popping minnows, rolling tarpon, lazy gator, feeding ladyfish, playful dolphin, and even a cruising shark.
Steve put the finishing touches on a good day of fishing with this chunky snook. Despite our best efforts to coax the tarpon into biting, they chose not to play. The snooklets were in their usual spots on the backside of Alligator Creek, but the with the sun starting to sink low in the western sky we called it a day.
The ride back to Chokoloskee was beautiful as the sun sank in the west and the thunderstorms pushed their way offshore. No better place to be, and in my head...
"The stories from my favorite books
Still take on many different looks
And I'm gone again, home again
The time has come the walrus said
And little oysters hide their head
My twain of thought is loosely bound
I guess it's time to mark this down"
Thanks For Reading,