Sunday, December 21, 2008

Heading to Camp Lonesome in my solo canoe.

This trip will be an experiment for me. I have sold my kayak and will now use my Hemlock Kestrel for all my Everglades trips. Last week Dan of Cookes Custom Sewing sent me a custom spray deck that attaches with snaps to the hull. It has many options for use and will keep my gear dry and clean. I had to drill about 30 holes to attach the brass snaps to the hull. It was not fun, but the cover will make my trips more comfortable in rain, spray and wind.

I had to really calculate packing weight for this trip. It is the longest trip I have done in terms of days not mileage. We intend to stay at Camp Lonesome two nights and come into Darwins early in the morning so I can do some fishing at Gopher Creek. Total trip will be 8 nights and 9 days. That means overloading the canoe beyond it's rated maximum capacity of 300lb to 310lbs.

The Hemlock Kestrel is a 14' - 9" long with a waterline width of 25.5" and a center depth of 11.5". It is not a roomy canoe so I have to really think about it as a kayak without hatches. In the pictures you will notice it is set up for kneeling and has a footbrace for sitting.

The pictures don't show the seat or spray cover it is just a planning tool for packing. Notice the snaps where the cover attaches to. I had Dan make the cover with snaps spaced at 12" on center instead of his usual 8" on center. Personally, I hate to cover a canoe and the less snaps the better.


January, 2009

On our evening of the trip December 31st, we sat at the Lopez Campsite enjoying the river view and sitting comfortably in our collapsible camp chairs. A group of 5 kayakers had arrived and were exhausted from a 6 mile paddle in no wind. We greeted them and went on with our reading and relaxation. They asked where we had come from and Fred told them we had just paddled 106 miles so far. Today we completed 12 of those and had an enjoyable paddle in calm winds. They went about their camp setup and we overheard when one of the girls remarked to the group leader that she noticed we had chairs, a cooler and large water containers. How did we get those here? The leader told her that we were in canoes and that since they were in kayaks they could not bring such bulky stuff. Since canoes were only used in "protected areas" such as we had supposedly just traveled, they were inappropriate for their use in the ten thousand islands.

At this point we all just looked at each other and laughed just thinking about what we had been through this past week. How we too were guilty of thinking that canoes were inappropriate for large bay crossings and inshore coastal cruising. I am now convinced that selling the touring kayak was not as painful as I had imagined.


We left from Outdoor Resorts in the morning of December 24th, 2008. The weather forecasts from NOAA were 10-15 knots from the SE but strangely, the Weather Channel had a different forecast at 15-25 knots from the SE. Through the years I have been relying more on the Weather Channel than on NOAA for more accurate forecasts in December. Every time I trip in December the forecasts from NOAA are off at least 5 – 10 knots from what is broadcasted (most often they underestimate!). Is it that they are on vacation for the holidays and just leave a weather forecast recording?


It was nice to see my friends Connie, Fred and Michaleen at Outdoor Resorts. We were excited to get on with our trip, the longest so far to date. Last year we swore we would never again go on a trip lasting longer than 7 nights. Isn't it interesting how quickly one forgets the negative aspects of traveling in the Everglades? This trip was an 8 night, 9 day affair that would take us to the middle rivers section for a bit of exploration. We would not loop through the outside gulf islands as we traditionally like to do. This trip would loop back via some new routes we wanted to explore near the wilderness waterway.
I was also excited because this was my longest trip ever using my solo canoe. It has taken me a few years to get comfortable enough in rough water with this boat to seriously consider using it for such a trip. Being a kayaker for many years and experiencing the Everglades in its many foul moods I have questioned the seaworthiness of an open deck boat for these waters. This canoe is rated for a maximum capacity of 300 lbs with efficient handling in a maximum of 250 lb. I have gone a good 20 lbs over that 300 lb max.
This is why I have ordered a Cookes Custom Spray Deck for this trip. I don't particularly like a spray deck on my canoe as it makes getting at gear difficult and the snaps are a hassle to connect while the bugs are trying to eat you alive during the morning departures. This spray deck is very well made and I ordered it with a paddle pocket up front and a Velcro access hatch for my rod holder. In bad weather I could close this hatch and put my fishing gear away. There is also a section in the middle that has a spray skirt you can cinch around your waist in cold and rain. When the conditions are good you can reef this whole section, leaving only the bow and stern covered with the middle exposed.

Another test I conducted was to determine whether the kayak paddle would be useful in strong headwinds or not. I brought two sizes, a 220 and a 230 for the test. The 240 was left at home as it had already been tested. I found the 240 useful using a low angle stroke but I did not like the way the bow wagged side to side. Preferring a high angle stroke close to the hull, I chose the shorter paddles with narrower blades for the test. Now that I have a spray skirt I would not get that annoying drip of water inside the boat from using the kayak paddles this way. My main paddle is a ZRE medium bent shaft. The straight paddle is a Cricket Hemlock Cruiser straight shaft.

By 8:30 am we were ready to shove off the beach hoping our boats would float high and dry. Mine was a bit low in the water but I had a good 6 inches left of freeboard.I was glad for the cover. Connie's Wenonah Vagabond looked good and she probably did not need the cover since her boat was floating much higher than mine. I was also carrying 30lbs more than she was. Her Kevlar Wenonah Vagabond did very well on this trip and she loved how it handled in wind. She was also able to maintain a really good speed to match the kayakers in the group even with a loaded boat. Fred had got his plugs in the scuppers and was armed with a sponge. Michaleen was sitting pretty low in the water as well with her Impex kayak.
Crossing Chokoloskee Bay it becomes obvious that getting up to my usual 3.5 mph cruising speed was going to take some effort. So, I accepted my 3 mph speed in moderate conditions with this heavy gear load. Halfway through our trip storm clouds with rain delivered some higher wind speeds as we powered through into the Lopez River through rain and wind.

The winds were now in the constant 15 knot range and my mind was on what the big bay coming up will look like in gusts. We stopped at Lopez for a break and wait for Michaleen to catch up before crossing Sunday Bay. It is so nice to be out in the Everglades away from the news of bail outs, corruption, recession and war. Now the only sound we will hear is the wind and our paddles pushing through the water as we get closer to our destinations.
Leaving Lopez River we meander through Crooked Creek to get to Sunday Bay. We get a glimpse of the large bay and notice the wind was now pushing whitecaps our way. I cinched up the spray skirt and grabbed my first test kayak paddle, the 220 cm. Heading out I am making good speed at 3 mph until the gusts hit at 20-25 knots and my speed decreases to 2 mph but I still can get a good paddle plant with a high angle and torso rotation. I am kneeling to get more control of the hull. After the halfway point I change to my ZRE paddle and notice same speed with less effort. So I continue to use the ZRE until we get past this bay. Rest stop and lunch before crossing another bay and I turn on the weather radio to hear the same 10-15 knot and smooth seas report from NOAA.
Are they nuts!

We decided not to go through House Hammock as planned. The tides will be outgoing on the Huston and with the wind direction now from the east and blowing up a nice 1 – 2 foot chop in the deeper areas. The passage from the Huston River to the upper arm of the Chatham would be too much effort. It was a bit of a struggle but we finally made it to the Chatham. Our speed never went above 2 mph in that wind so our arrival time into Watsons Place was very late, 4 pm. Later than we have ever made landing there previously.

Luckily we had the place to ourselves which was a bit of a shock. This would not last long as a powerboat approached after we had set up. The boaters were looking for Sweetwater Chickee. The powerboat had a kayak on it's bow and we figured it was a shuttle. The captain could not find Sweetwater and we gave him the gps coordinates plus showed him on the map where it was. They left and thanked us. He showed up a half hour later saying that the chickee did not exist and asked if his passenger could camp at Watsons with us that evening. We had no problem with her camping there and helped her with the gear as she bid him farewell until tomorrow.
Our camp guest had apparently hired this captain for a through trip to Flamingo. We learned she was left off to fend for herself with what looked like gear from Walmart and a kayak that had lots of water in the hatches. I did not know if it was from lack of knowledge in closing the hatch covers or from a busted bulkhead. She also lacked maps and a compass. How they expected her to make the trip to Flamingo without a chart, compass and adequate gear was unbelievable. She was also under the impression that the mileages permitted for her were under 10 miles per day. Looking at her permit I found there were some rather long days and one that ran her from Broad River to Watsons River Chickee, much more than 10 miles. More like 20 miles and she would be facing a strong outgoing tide on the Shark that morning! We talked her into getting her money back and/or trying to get a guide to come out with her. The outfitter told her she did not need a chart or compass as she just had to follow the markers! Well that was the same outfitter that could not find Sweetwater Chickee…makes one wonder about some of the "professional" guides in the area posing as outfitters.


The next morning we bid her good luck and hoped she could salvage her vacation and end up doing a fun trip in this area. We were off for a day of relaxation and some fishing at Gopher Creek a short 4 miles away.

Our morning paddle was nice and calm and we made good time across Chevelier Bay to Darwins Place. Again, we had the place to ourselves and set up our gear and took off for Gopher Creek. This is one of my favorite places in the Everglades. It is full of snook for the most part and lots of beautiful birds. There have been times when the alligator population is large but I have not had many problems fishing around them. Today will prove to be a different story. At camp I switched to my St Croix travel rod that I keep in a rod case for those days off from paddling I attached a 3000 Spheros reel and tied on a gold shad tail with an 1/8 oz red cottee jig head. I got my cooler set up near my seat back, pliers, tackle dry bag, lip gaff and was on my way.Clearing the first creek I came across my usual snook spot and cast, bam! A nice hit from a pretty large snook that came up shaking his head from side to side. It headed towards one of the many deadfalls in this creek and I was afraid I could not stop it. Meanwhile, from the corner of my eye I spot a very large alligator next to my canoe very interested in the hooked snook.

Now, I am not usually scared of alligators but this one was intent on my fish and the creek was not big enough for all of us to respect our distances. At this point I had lost control of the snook and let it wrap up and break off in the snag. I quickly moved on too the next bend much to the disappointment of the alligator.
I came to the second bend in the creek and another spot where I had some action in the past. Stopping to tie on a new lure I find out that I brought the wrong lure bag and brought my clothes bag instead of my fishing bag, ugh! Both my clothes dry bag and fishing gear dry bag are the same size and blue. I have to be more careful next time or look to find a way to mark them differently. Luckily I keep a small tackle box behind my seat with trolling lures and hard baits. I had none of those lucky gold shad tails that work so well in this creek and the backcountry in general so I tied on a space guppy shad tail. I started casting and working the deadfall and snags around the bend. I get another hit and look around to see that numerous gator heads are now coming up to the surface. Never have I been surrounded by so many alligators in here. At this point I am hesitant to fish in this creek. Too bad, because there are fish here. But at what price? I continue to the large lake and the winds start up with some sporadic rain.
Working the shorelines I get no takers; those dang fish are all in that alligator infested creek. What to do….I muster enough courage to go back to the fish and try to ignore the alligators but they are getting more interested with every cast. I give up fishing and just enjoy the creek for the beautiful place that it is. The alligators win...
At this point the winds were much stronger and I decided it was time to head back to camp and just relax and drink some wine while Connie (our designated camp-cook and food planner) starts dinner. Back at camp while having our afternoon wine, we share alligator stories and I find out that Connie had a very scary encounter with one of the gators she was trying to photograph. A couple of canoeists come in for the evening, Heather and Alex. These two were well prepared and had a great trip planned for their vacation. It was pleasant evening of conversation and great food.

We get up very early and were on the water by 7 am. Our day would be very long as we paddled from Darwins to Willy Willy. We planned to stop at Lostmans 5 for a break before heading into the larger bays. By leaving early we get to see the Everglades in its most beautiful light. The birds and animals are active and the winds are usually manageable. If you are not in a hurry, this is also a very productive time to fish. Unfortunately I would not have the luxury of fishing this morning but kept my rod in the rod holder because NOAA predicted 10-15 knot winds with smooth seas. This would be wonderful but would it be another of the "accurate" forecasts I have heard these past two days? I had planned to fish the markers at the head of the Lostmans River on my way to Willy Willy.

I have some thoughts about the Everglades concerning wind. I am convinced that there is a wind machine that is powered by two different beings. These beings work each a 12 hour shift. One of them turns off the wind machine in the early morning around 5 am so that the bugs can feed and then turn it back on at 9 am. This machine is on all day and afternoon and it is turned off at about 5 pm so that the bugs can feed again until after sundown when the machine is turned back on. In light of this observation we have chosen to eat breakfast in the tent and to have dinner before 5pm. And most importantly, to paddle fast and hard to get some miles in before 9 am. We are then required to get up at 5 am each day so that we can be on the water by 7. Our strategy has worked well with the aid of a thermos we can make coffee or tea in the tent and eat a breakfast bar while we pack our clothes in the comfort of our bug-free tents. When we emerge we are ready to pack our canoes, which take very little effort and we are on our way. Our group starts cooking dinner by 4 pm in the early winter so that at 5 when the sun is heading down we are mostly done with cleaning chores and can relax before the bugs start feeding.
While waiting for Michaleen in Tarpon Bay, we see hundreds of birds that have obviously spent the night in the northern part of the bay streaming into Gopher Creek. In the water a few alligators follow the flocks. An incredible scene I am witnessing, all of these animals going to this creek!

Why is it that there is so much concentrated life in that creek? This creek is also a connector between the backcountry and the gulf islands. Some of the creeks leading to the gulf are not passable in the lower water seasons. Does this trap the baitfish? Obviously the baitfish attracts the larger predators, the fish also attract the birds and the birds attract the alligators. I am sure there are other areas similar to this one. I just have to find them one day.

We begin our paddle and will be traveling through some large bays and the beautiful creeks that connect them. This portion of the backcountry is one of my favorite paddles. As we paddle through Alligator Creek we stop to listen to what sounds like a waterfall. It is coming from the central portion that is marked by three large palms. Could this be a freshwater spring? I try to get a closer look but can't see much unless I get out of the canoe to investigate. Unfortunately this will be something to explore next time I come through this way. We come out of the creek to find the winds have not picked up enough to make crossing Alligator Bay a problem and we continue along to Lostmans 5.

Finally a rest stop at about 9 am surely time for the wind machine to get turned back on. We get out to have a quick early lunch. A kayaker shows up and it's Alex Oancea. I had met him last season at the ranger station he was on a trip with another fellow paddler Keith Wellman. Alex was to stay at Rodgers River this evening but was looking at the wind reports and he may have to stay with us at Willy Willy. We all decide to paddle together to cross the larger bays ahead. He is a very strong and fast paddler and self sufficient. Not to mention, good company. The kind of people we like to travel with out here.

Exiting the creek that leads out to Onion Key we are pushed back into it by the strong winds. The mouth of the creek is whitecapping so I cinched my spray skirt and grabbed the 230 kayak paddle. With much effort we pushed out of the creek into a nasty chop that made the boat rise up over the chop and come down with sprays of water onto my fabric deck. I am glad that the bow of this heavy laden boat can rise over these waves. Luckily I loaded the boat stern heavy and relied on my kneeling to bring the bow down a bit in headwinds. I am also fortunate to have this spray deck or I would have a mess of water in my boat. Connie was high and dry and looked like she was making good progress across the bay using her ZRE paddle.

I was getting blisters and sore shoulders from using the long 230 paddle in the canoe. After I get to a lee shore I put the paddle away and grab the ZRE. Somehow the kayak paddle when used from a higher seat position or a kneeling position puts some strain on my shoulders. This does not happen when I use a kayak paddle in my kayak..

Tired but running on adrenaline we get out of the lee and continue to the hardest part of the trip, crossing Big Lostmans Bay into the Willy Willy Creek east of Marker 44. Michaeleen and I were doing the same speed (2 mph) while our star paddlers were moving much quicker and were almost to the entrance to the creek. The winds were sustained at what we believe to be 20 mph with higher gusts. It became clear that I had to learn a more efficient paddling technique to use in high winds and waves.

Finally at the creek we no longer had waves but the sustained wind produced a laborious head wind all the way to camp. After paddling just over 17 miles, we made it to camp at 3 pm. Luckily we had left Darwins early!Upon arriving at Willly Willy one notices a T-Shaped dock and an area to the left that is used to bring up a canoe or kayak.

This area has not been used much and was a bit overgrown with brush. We cleared it with our folding saw and machete so that Michaleen and Alex could get their kayaks up and out of the way. Connie and I used the dock to unload our gear and tied our canoes off. After the kayakers were finished we also brought our canoes up thinking that maybe some more people would be arriving and we could make their unloading process simpler.
Willy Willy is a small camp and used heavily by powerboaters in the winter. They come here for the fishing. The area offers many places to explore and they could run out to the gulf via the Lostmans River or fish the bays and backcountry creeks for days on end. There is usually a resident gator at the dock but we did not see him tonight. It was named Gaylord by Michaleen a couple of years back. It looks like we would have the camp to ourselves and we did. At night while reading Gladesmen by Glen Simmons I kept hearing bait fish being crashed by a larger predator. I'll start off my morning with a topwater on my trolling rod.


We listened to the weather report for the day and the forecast called for increased wind 15-20 knots and from the East. Alex was heading back to Darwins and we were going to Camp Lonesome. The winds would be particularly strong once we start up the Broad River. Alex was going to ave a hard paddle back unfortunately.
All of us departed at the same time except for Michaleen who would catch up to us later. It took her much longer to get packed. Her kayak required careful packing or the many items would not fit. Connie and I were thankful for the ease of packing and unloading our canoes from these backcountry sites. The park did not plan for kayakers when they made these camps available to the public. They are really designed for powerboats and canoes.
My first order of business was to find out what predator was scaring the baitfish the night before and they were at it again this morning. Casting around the shorelines with my topwater I got some attention and finally got a solid hit! Unfortunately it was one of those gigantic jacks but it was fun for awhile.


I kept working the Rocky Creek shorelines and that did not produce anything so I put my fishing rod on the rod holder and paddled out to meet Connie and Fred.We were now on Rodgers River Bay which is pretty protected compared to the last big bays we crossed.

Today I would use my GPS speed indicator to work on my paddling stroke. My canoe was still overloaded past the manufacturers "efficient" carrying capacity of 250 lbs. We made good time into the Broad River Bay area where the full force of those predicted winds made paddling up river a chore. At this point I was very tired from the previous days of paddling long distances in high winds and just continued with all the reserve strength I had to get to Camp Lonesome.

Working on my paddling technique I noticed an increase in speed when kneeling and planting the paddle far forward almost hinging a bit at the waist to extend the reach. I would pull the paddle back until my lower arm reached my knee. With a strong torso rotation I kept up the pace but with fewer strokes. This worked better than the short and fast sit and switch technique I was using earlier. I got so involved in this that I passed Camp Lonesome trusting my GPS and not looking at the map.

Coming up to Camp Lonesome one sees a T-shaped dock with the porta potti on the right. There is not really a place to get out of a kayak so this would present a difficulty especially for Michaeleen. She showed up shortly after we did and was not happy about the situation. We found an area on the right of the walkway that leads to the campground right behind the porta potty where the water is shallower, about waist deep. Fred tested it and was able to find some solid ground to step on. He unloaded his boat while we worked Michaleen's long touring kayak into that small area. Fred had to cut out some of the low hanging branches with the machete so she could get her kayak in. Connie and I again had no problems unloading and climbing out of our canoes by using the dock so we were able to setup and help the others.
There was another party on the site and the permit read that there were six people in that party. They had 3 powerboats and a very large tent that took up a full portion of the site. Well, at least they did not have 6 large tents! We found a way to pitch our 3 tents in a small section of the campsite and bring up the kayaks and one canoe to an area on the other side of the camp.
Lonesome is a very small but pretty campsite with palms and ferns. This is mostly a freshwater area so there is more of a variety in the flora. Camp Lonesome would be our home for 2 of the 8 nights of our trip. My goal was to paddle to the Mud Lakes via the Wood River tomorrow morning and do some fishing. I would have liked to explore the upper reaches of the Broad but had to give myself a break from the persistent east winds that would make that paddle a hard one the next day.
We set up camp and I rigged a bath house for us girls seeking privacy and the luxury of a nice shampoo and full body bath. There was ample freshwater right at the dock and I brought a collapsible bucket just for this very thing. After bathing I felt totally refreshed and sat down to some delicious wine and appetizers. After dinner the powerboaters came in from a successful fishing trip. We learned that there were only two of them as the others cancelled. This is a good thing because if they used such an enormous tent for two people we could have never fit all 10 of us on this site. I asked them if they had done the Cutoff and if it was passable. They told us that it was and they had no problems running it at planing speeds. This was very good news as we did not want our 6th day to be a struggle trying to cut our way through that creek. Luckily, they also offered to take our trash back with them in the morning. We let them know that we wanted to leave early and they told us we could move their boat out of the way so we could launch. I was excited to hear that they had good fishing in the area I was planning to fish in the morning. Going to bed early to read some more of my book.

Early morning and on the water by 7 am a bit later than anticipated as we had to help the kayakers get their boats in the water and move the powerboat out of the way so we could launch our canoes. The day started calm and warm and the river that Lonesome sits in was beautiful. We found the entrance to the Wood River and made our way through. I was hearing loud growling noises as I paddled this creek. It was frightening. I could not make out if it was a mammal or a gator bellowing as the growling continued all the way down the first creek. Fred heard it as well and surmised there were some large alligators in the forest of mangroves. Oh great, another day of fighting alligators.
I got to the first large opening and worked all the shorelines and points. There was no sign of any baitfish or birds and other than the growling alligators it was pretty barren. The tide was outgoing and the water I tasted was very fresh. I wonder if this area might yield better fishing on an incoming tide? There was a small island in the center where my Mirrolure caught the attention of the resident snappers.

I had one in my bucket which served as a livewell as my ice had already melted and the cooler at this point was a receptacle for trash. I would use it too as a livewell if I caught some larger fish. After many casts I was only able to produce this one snapper and that would not be enough to feed my friends so I let it go and continued exploring the river to the Mud Lakes. One of these days I will take the Wood River up to this area from the Gulf. It is very beautiful and looks challenging judging from the mangrove canopy and deadfall in the water up in this area. After awhile I headed back to camp for another luxury bath and rest. I was very tired today.
When I got to camp our friends Alex and Heather had just come in from Willy Willy. I was glad to see them and spend some time catching up on their trip. We asked them if they had seen Alex on the way here but they had not. We invited Heather and Alex to use our luxurious bath house. Heather was happy for the invite and took up the offer. For some reason the men don't find the bath house as appealing as the women do…
In the late afternoon a couple of powerboats came in wanting to stay as they were low on gas. We had no room for them but I offered them a look around to see if they could find a place. A big problem was that we all had to leave a dusk to make the long paddle to our next day's destinations. There was just no place on the dock to tie up those two powerboats. We were not happy to turn them away and I suggested they go to Willy Willy for the night. Apparently the gas pump at Flamingo had run out of gas and there were no shipments coming until later in the week. I had to find a way to get this message to my friend Dan. He was coming to Lonesome on the 1st of January and wanted to run to Flamingo and back. Unfortunately, I could not get a phone signal out here.

Our 6th night would be on the beautiful Rodgers River Chickee. Connie, Fred and I would take the Broad River down to the Cutoff where it connects to the Rodgers River. From there we would paddle the bay and look for the chickee. Michaleen was heading to Lostmans 5 and Alex and Heather were catching the outgoing tide down to Highland Beach. I gave Alex a handful of Saltwater Assasins in Space Guppy and a few Cottee jig heads to troll with. Heather got a supply of aluminum foil too cook the fish with on the embers of a fire while camping at Highland Beach. Alex had brought a handline but had no lures just hooks and sinkers.
(As of today January 13th, Alex wrote that he caught so many fish trolling that "magical lure" that he had to bring it in or stop paddling.)
The morning was calm and fog was laying over the water. This day we would not use our covers on our canoes. I think the covers would be a problem when we get to the chickee and we were already at safe load capacity.

We traveled with much lighter boats making good speed down the Broad River Bay. Schools of hundreds of ladyfish were in the water and pods of large tarpon rolled everywhere. It was a fisherman's dream! I tried to get the tarpon to take my lure but got none interested. On the other hand, the ladyfish were extremely interested and made my morning productive. The action increased as the fish congregated at the mouth of the Cutoff. Birds were everywhere and it felt as alive as Gopher Creek.

The Cutoff is a beautiful paddle through a wide creek with a mangrove edged shoreline and marsh prairie beyond. We found the turn into the Rodgers River and paddled against the tide but not the wind. The river was shallow in many areas with a sand bottom. There were numerous alligators on the banks and occasionally in the water. I heard another one of those waterfall sounds marking what we think are springs. We found the rushing water as it cascaded into the river. Connie went to put her hand out to taste it when she saw a very large alligator had taken residence underneath the waterfall and was not happy to share.
She quickly back paddled out of its lair and we moved on never knowing if it was a spring or not.The river opens up to a beautiful island studded bay. We turn towards the direction the chickee and I started trolling. Midway to the chickee I got such a powerful jolt on my trolled lure that the entire outfit was pulled out of the rod holder and into the water. Luckily I had my trolling rod tethered to my canoe and I was able to rescue the outfit as it was paying out line. I tried setting the hook and felt nothing. The fish or whatever got away. Now I was worried my reel would be damaged by this saltwater dunking. As I put my rod back on the holder I looked to the shoreline to see another alligator. I swear it was laughing at me.

We come to the cove where the chickee sits and not where the map indicates it is. Setting up and getting on the platform was super easy with our canoes. I could not imagine doing this with my kayak. I know some people are very athletic and have good balance and don't see it a problem to get on the platforms from their kayaks. But for the backcountry, give me a canoe or a powerboat. Again, there was no one there but there could be someone coming in later. So we picked the left platform for our tents and the right platform for cooking and my luxurious privacy shower rig. I wanted to take advantage of these fresher waters for bathing.

As we sat and relaxed I noticed an alligator coming in from a distant point. He was coming in just about dinner time. Might be a food habituated gator which is always a sad thing to witness. These gators become pests and could be dangerous if they should mistake a hand or foot with someone dropping a morsel of food to them. I blame a lot of the fishermen that clean their catch on these platforms and docks and create these problems. Once these alligators become a nuisance as this one has already become, the park will have to remove it and kill it.
We decide to call it Rodger.
The alligator circles our platform, stops and eyes us, goes under, comes back up and circles. I throw water out that I was using for bathing and it snaps its jaws trying to catch it. Not good…I rig a rope to the bucket to lower it without getting my hands in the water to clean dishes. At nightfall it leaves disappointed it did not get a snack.


In the morning while loading the boats I kept looking around for Rodger but he had not made his presence known. Today our route would cut about 2 miles from our trip to Darwins. We decided to go through Rogers River Bay and skirt the northern shore towards Onion Key. It was a calm morning and we were happy that for once on this trip we could enjoy the day with calm conditions in the forecast. Finally I could troll all the way to the next campsite!

Unfortunately all I caught were trout, jacks and snapper.

We got to Darwins to find Michaleen had already set up her tent. She had a great paddle there from Lostmans 5. A couple of Canadians, Heather and Matt were there and we got to talking to them. They were doing a through trip to Flamingo and rented the canoes and paid for the shuttle out of Everglades Hostel. We spoke at length about the lack of well designed and efficient canoes available for renting in this part of the world. They were given heavy Old Town Discovery’s and some awful paddles. Fortunately they both were experienced canoeists and would work with what they had. Good thing as they had to make the outgoing at the mouth of Lostmans by 9 am the next day. We sent them to Gopher Creek before sundown and they came back thanking us for that great suggestion. Nowhere on their trip will they have seen all the animals in that area. I am glad they got to see it.


We had one last long paddle and it would be to Lopez River campsite. Another glorious day was forecast. I was looking forward to crossing Huston Bay and driving the canoe as fast as it could go. I was not looking to fish this route, rather I would simply enjoy the paddle there. Michaleen was trying to get to Lopez before the tide turned on her. She was going home today. We did stop for a break before heading into Sunday Bay. When we got to Sunday Bay it was as smooth as glass. What a difference a few days make out here.
We got to Lopez and set up in an empty site. Connie and I took turns taking a much needed full bath and shampoo on the other side of the cistern. Refreshed and done with our chores we would relax and read while watching the rivers current go by.
Fred, Connie and I enjoy our camp chairs and relax away our afternoon, so different from the previous days that included long paddles. We savored in our journey while beginning the plans of our next year's new years eve trip.And this is where my story begins above with the group of kayakers that came in near dinner time.

Connie also did write up on her experiences on this trip. For those interested in her view of the Everglades from a photographers perspective: