Our 2012 end of year trip was planned to allow a base camp, some fishing and photography. I also wanted to escape into the Everglades as long as possible. I sure could use some time off from the phone, email and news of the fiscal cliff. Our canoes could hold enough water/food/gear for a 10 day trip and after much planning we came up with the following and my initial fishing plan:
Everglades City to Pavilion Key - trolling to camp
Pavillion to Mormon - fish Duck Rock, Gun Rock and Chatham Bend
Turkey Key for two nights - fish the mouth of Charley Creek
Darwins via Charley Creek - fish entire area
Lostmans 5 two nights - fish connector creeks, troll bays and fish Lostmans 5 bay
Sweetwater Chickee - fish Sweetwater creeks
Lopez - fish northwater route coves
Connie and I met our friends Fred and Judy at the ranger station two days before Christmas. It was a cool and windless morning. There was no rush in leaving as the tides were incoming until 11:30 am. There was no sense in paddling out until 10 am. Fortunately, Connie had secured our permit the day before. Our other friends Alex and Erica were on their way to rabbit key to meet us for lunch. They had spent the previous night at Picnic Key.
As I approached the Rabbit Key via the pass, I got a huge strike and when I turned around noticed my braid line had wrapped around the third guide as the fish took a run. It was as if in slow motion...CRACK! My fishing rod had broken in 3 pieces....on the first day of a 10 day fishing trip. This was a really depressing, but I did bring extra repair tips and did bring a 3 piece travel rod. Unfortunately, I do not want to use that travel rod for trolling it is for basecamp fishing and would not survive 10 days of trolling use. On the bright side, it was a rather large trout that broke my fishing rod so that was a sure sign of good fishing out here.
We set up at Pavilion Key which has been changed from the last time we camped here. There are less shoals at low tide and the beach has more sand. Time to relax and repair my fishing rod. As I was sitting down to do this, I noticed Everglades Area Tours was on the island and Capt Bruce Hitchcock was leading the group. He passed by and I told him what happened to the fishing rod. He immediately offered to bring me a replacement the next day as he was going to be in the area of Mormon Key! Wow! he just saved my entire vacation!!! As a matter of fact, Everglades Area Tours have always been our trail angels out here. They are the best outfitters and tour company in the area IMHO. Thanks Bruce!
The next day we took off for Mormon Key which is a short 4 mile paddle away. The perfect conditions were a gift for my planned fishing day. I worked all the areas from Duck Rock Cove to the Chatham Bend using my travel rod and soft plastics. Tides were morning incoming and a front had passed two days before so it was still cool in the morning.
I found redfish everywhere from small, medium to large. The trout at Chatham Bend were also abundant with every cast. The bigger ones were solo and responded to lures worked slowly. Today I did not keep any fish for dinner beacause we still had to set up camp at Mormon and I wanted to fish as long as possible.
Mormon Key unlike Pavillion Key, has lost alot of it's beaches. You are now forced to camp near the sign and there are plenty of stickers so be sure to wear shoes that protect your feet. This is also a good place to bring a tent ground sheet so you can protect the tent floor.
At noon and as promised, Bruce delivers my replacement fishing rod. Thank you!
In the evening the racoons (notorious on this key) were in full party mood. They kept trying to take Erica's PFD and she finally had to bring it with her in the tent vestibule. Those critters smelled a cliff bar or granola bar she had stored in one of the pockets a day before! The worse incident was that Fred's kayak was damaged when one of them smelled a bag of apples inside the hull. That racoon told all it's friends and they chewed around the rear hatch gasket to try and open it. Luckily Fred heard them before they totally destroyed the hatch cover! I remember last time we were here with Michaleen, a racoon unzipped the back of Connie's seat and removed a 12 guage flare gun with flares and was walking with them on the beach heading for the forest. Luckily Michaleen saw this happening and she scared it off and he dropped the flares on the sand. I don't think I'll be camping here next year unless a storm delivers a few more feet of sand to the beach.
Another perfect morning as we head for Turkey Key!
A big front is heading through this area the next evening so my fishing opportunity will be just before it hits. I trolled all the deeper cuts on the incoming and found plenty of trout. Today I would be cooking fish and it was the last day that I had enough ice left in my cooler to store the fillets until dinner. I kept two trout and instantly killed them with a quick hit on the head. Then I placed them in a mesh bag in the canoe. I covered them with a wet rag to protect them from the heat/sun until I could get to the beach.
We camped on the SE side of Turkey Key so we could have easy access at the predicted low tide conditions we were to face on departure into Charley Creek.
The next morning we got up early and scanned the path to Charley Creek. There was zero water! We waited an hour until we could get through and the dolphin were crazy after the baitfish. You could see the big wakes, spashes and fast approach from these powerful predators as they skid into the shallows . Such fun!
I set up at the mouth of the creek while Connie made her way near Pelican Bay for some photography.
The fishing was slow and I used every plug and lure I brought. They were not interested in topwater, midwater, weightless, weighted, plastic shad or jerkbait. Finally after some more water started pumping through the mouth I was catching some redfish using a small Tsunami swim bait that looked just like the baitfish in the area. The redfish again were just all over this place and I saw some big ones. I keep a slot sized redfish for lunch when I was about to leave. The front was starting to bring very high winds making the crossing back to camp difficult.
Connie met me near the mouth of the creek and she told me that she had an encounter with a very territorial gator on her way to Pelican Bay. It appeared very agitated as she approached it and it quickly dived into the water straight toward her boat. She decided to come back to me worried that I would have a worse encounter if I paddled up on it. The incident on Turner River last year when a large gator attacked a kayak was on Connie's mind as she paddled quickly away from the reptile.
We both headed back to camp and she made a small fire while I took care of the fish. When the fire went to coals I placed the aluminum foil packet with the fillets, lemon, spices and a dab of olive oil on it. We had a nice lunch of redfish tacos with some added shredded cabbage and onion. By today my cooler was to become the trash receptacle, we were out of ice.
After the front came through I had very little expectations and was grateful to have had such good fishing on the first few days. I fished the entire way from Pelican Bay to Darwins and came up with a smallish snooklet which I let go immediately when all the gators around me got interested. The territorial gator was not there when we went through. It was cold and windy so I suspect it was in the water somewhere. We did see two dead white pelicans in the creek. After discussing this with a law enforcement ranger we met, he suspects that the red tide might have had something to do with it.
It felt good to be in the backcountry where mud will replace the dreaded sand from the beaches. Darwins was not as crowded as I thought it would be, there was a party of two fishermen sharing one tent and another party that was not scheduled to be there but still pitched their tent and left to go fishing. Luckily they were also sharing one tent.
Lostmans5 - Another short paddle from Darwins to Lostmans 5 and trolling opportunities in the morning.
Connie and I woke up very early before the sun was up to make the most of our day. High winds again were predicted so we wanted to get past Alligator Bay and get to the next camp early to explore, fish and photograph. Fred and Judy wanted to sleep in so they left later. We packed up so quickly in the morning that we forgot to take down our tent! Luckily Fred had been up and mentioned if we were coming back to camp. I said "no, why do you ask"? He motioned over to my tent still up, LOL! Getting old and forgetful, luckily he saw that or we would have had to come back to get it.
The fishing was still not as good as in the gulf, I worked all the connectors, points, etc that I usually catch fish at. Very small trout in the bays and huge ladyfish everywhere. The snook are not abundant this morning but I suspect it's because of the cold weather.
When we got to Lostmans 5 we saw some very large tents on the approach. There is now just one wooden platform and the rest of the site is a mud hole. These guys were out fishing and from the permit it indicated a party of four. They each had brought a four man tent EACH plus all kinds of big chairs, kitchen, gas tanks, gear boxes, etc. Thus leaving no place for our group of four to pitch our tents. I had to use the port o let and when I opened the door a big bag of trash that was quite heavy was blocking access. It was set inside while they were away. So we had to move that too. Obviously these guys had no idea they had to share the site and bathroom with another party. So the day I had planned for my fishing day was spent moving their heavy big tents so we could pitch ours in a tiny corner of the site. At this point I dared not leave Connie alone in case they did come back and were not amused we had touched their gear.
Once Fred and Judy arrived I was too tired from moving and getting our camp set up to go fishing so I just hung out and read my book. The rangers came in for a check and noted their permit and recorded the situation.
I will be writing the superintendant of the park to suggest that Lostmans 5 be closed to only one party until the other platform is built and to educate those securing a permit to backcountry sites, that they have to be shared and that one party can only occupy half of the site not the entire site. Here we are relegated to a small corner of Lostmans 5:
The marine forecast is for a very strong front to arrive the next afternoon bringing very high winds 20-25 knots from the NE. This worried us because we were to cross Chevelier Bay on our way to Sweetwater Chickee. But for today I would concentrate on fishing the morning before the winds arrived (and they did). The fishing according to all those I spoke with including our campmates was very slow in the backcountry. These fronts are not helping matters much and will probably ruin the next days fishing as well.
I did manage many small trout and two small reds plus 3 snooklets while staked out in the protection of the wind at a tiny cove near camp.
That evening the winds were howling through the forest and I had that feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach. We decide to leave at 6:00 am to get past the big bays. In the morning the winds were relatively light about 10-15 knots. So we did get past the bigger bays and as we were coming out of the creek that enters Cannon Bay we were pushed back by the winds. Cannon Bay was full of whitecaps. I scanned my chart and remembered a wind route to Darwins in the lee on the island directly left as one exits the creek. We took this sheltered route to Darwins Place and took a break there. Connie turned on the stove made everyone a cup of hot tea or coffee. We were trying to warm up. It was freezing! I made a decision that we were going to camp here for the night as the party that was supposed to be here had left (probably heard the weather forecast) and it was too risky for one of our friends to battle Chevalier Bay with the shoulder problem she had. We tried calling the ranger station to change our site for the night but had no signal on any of our phones.
In the afternoon the next party showed up and it was the group of women we see here during Christmas and New Years. We call them the Golden Girls as they are all longtime friends with the oldest at 84 years of age! Such an inspiration to us! They were happy to see us as well and we had a wonderful evening catching up on their trips and stories.
The next day we leave even earlier to our next destination, it was 5:30 am when we shoved off towards Lopez for our final night. We had two planned routes, one was the Northwater Route along the northern shoreline but with the wind blowing all the water out of the backcountry we decided on House Hammock if it got really bad after we crossed Chevalier Bay.
In the darkness and quiet we paddled past the Chatham River in relative calm water and made a decision to take the quickest path towards Sunday Bay before the sun came up. We took a quick break at 9 am at MM 113 when the winds started gathering some speed. Still less than 20 knots so not a problem for us as we paddled to the protected NE shoreline of Sunday Bay.
About the end of the outgoing tide now and I decided to take a break from paddling and start working a few of the coves in Sunday Bay. It was great! Lot's of trout, feisty jacks plus one big 'ole redfish which is now my last big fish of 2012 .
After that, we took the last of the outflow to Lopez. After setting up camp we had a relaxing afternoon with wine, dinner and desert. Another beautiful paddle and gorgeous sunset at Lopez camp.
The next day we get up early to get to the Havana Cafe for our New Years Day breakfast :-) Carlos makes a dang good omelet and they've got the best coffee in the area. The thought of this breakfast after 9 days in the backcountry was overwhelming and we made it back to the ranger station in less than 3 hours.
My thanks to Connie and Alex for the pictures I used in this post. My camera was full of video which had to be deleted for lack of space. My new years resolution is to figure out how to use my camera.........