We left on Christmas Eve from Outdoor Resorts to camp at Lopez, a mere 5 miles away. The winds were pretty stiff, blowing 15-20 and gusting from the south. Yes, a headwind and a new moon outgoing tide made for a long and strenuous paddle. That evening a very powerful storm roared through. We had figured it was going to hit around 6 pm so we had a very early dinner and set up the tarp to have a dry place to cook and eat. It rained some but nothing major until about midnight. Just before the storm hit and lightning flashed, the mullet were jumping out of the water hitting the side of the port-a-let and landing on the ground. It was a feeding frenzy! I was worried one or the trees on the site would get hit and fall on the tent, but we survived.
Christmas Day we left for Rabbit Key and followed the outgoing tide out; it was one of those negative tides. We walked the canoes from Turtle Key to Lumber Key! We went around Lumber and a huge flat was formed between Crate Key and Lumber so we could not continue and had to wait. I scoped out for some fishing in the lee of the NE winds that were 15 knots. I found a very deep area not too large adjacent to a point off Lumber. I caught a gorgeous 30 plus snook just working the area with the space guppy. Unfortunately, it wrapped around my stick-it pin and while trying to lip it, the leader frayed and off it went. I am sorry the lure was still in her but it is barbless so hopefully it will fall out. A nice red followed on same lure color and then the water started coming in.
Notice the pattern of fish catches at the end of an extreme low out here. Water came in and we were free to go to our second nights camp at Rabbit Key where Alex met us.
The next day was a paddling day to Watsons. The tide would be incoming on the Chatham at 11 am and winds now NE 10-15. My plan was to fish the Duck and Houston coves but when I got there the coves were bone dry and I only worked the points until Gun Rock. Again the best action was at the end of the low in barely any water. This time it was a 36" beauty using same lure.
I did catch trout along the way and a nice little red. Best action was the Huston cove points trout are everywhere. Strangely no maks or bluefish...
Lining up around Gun Rock to take the Huston to Storter then into the Chatam and the tide is still coming out and strong even after 11 am. We waited another hour but decided to go for it as maybe the wind was driving it out. It was a struggle but we got to Watsons and the tide did not reverse until much later that afternoon and brought in another friend, Kathy.
We had the campsite to ourselves until a skiff came in with two nice guys that had a heck of a time finding enough water to get there. They set up and went fishing, brought back a trout for dinner. Pretty bug free evening catching up with Kathy and Alex.
Next morning we headed to Darwin's a short paddle away with the intention of spending two days in the Gopher Creek area. The fog was thick this morning but the winds were low. After setting up on an empty site with a CLEAN port-a-let (thanks to the Honey Barge that had arrived earlier).
We went into Gopher against a raging current. It was difficult to paddle to the first lake. The water levels are so high in here, I could have gotten lost. There were no mud banks dead trees exposed. There were numerous power boats all over (more than I have ever seen in here) and going into rookery and pelican bay because the water was so deep. If they continue speeding through the no wake zones and flying by without concern this place will become a pole troll only area. I got pissed off and just called it a day after getting almost swamped twice while trying to work the creek. Fishing was tough because the fish are scattered deep in the roots. You can hear the snook popping but good luck trying to get way up in there. BTW water never stops flowing out of this creek into Cannon Bay.
Darwin basecamp day two and the winds shifted to the SE. I decided to fish the barrier islands separating Chevalier and Cannon. Alex has left and Toby arrived later. The winds were problematic for fishing and my stick-it pin did not hold me where the fishing is good. I should have brought my anchor. Caught some small reds and a few pretty golden trout but no snook.
The fishing back here is not very good, much better on the outside. Night two and no other party shows up. It is getting warmer, where is winter? We had a bug free night thanks to twin Thermacells, a punk stick and our citronella Candelier. We had some good company as usual.Great to have Toby along tomorrow for his second run down to Turkey with us via Charley and Kathy's first.
Today we head out of the backcountry to Turkey Key via Charley Creek. We woke up to beautiful calm water and blue skies. In the creek we paddled again against that very strong current trying to get to Charley to ride the outgoing to Turkey. Now, how is it that the tide is outgoing and that current runs up into the bay? Is there an elevation change in the middle that funnels water out? A beautiful paddle and again had two boats almost buzz us in that creek, WTH is going on with these guys? It clearly says NO wake until you get to the first lake! One can tell the price of gas is under $2.50 a gallon.
The paddle past Rookery to Pelican bay is still gorgeous even with high water levels. The birds are not around feeding on the shallows as they usually are but there were some big lizards guarding the entrance to Charley creek. As we were going into the creek, the current started flowing out to the gulf. There were some snags to work around but no major obstructions to get through. We see ahead that the Turkey key SE spit was available with no campers on it. Good because the winds shifted to the SE for the two nights we were there and the weather is super warm, almost unpleasant.
The next morning was again foggy/windless and the tides were low, Toby had left early in the morning. I head to the mouth of Charley Creek to see if there were any fish there on the incoming. Connie had gone in towards Pelican Bay to photograph. I worked the area with topwater and weedless jigs but not much going on. Somehow the outgoing tide seems better for this area. Next I head over to the New Turkey Key area and catch a few trout. I saw numerous giant sized sheepshead in the shallows. I pulled out the fly rod and tried to cast far enough to the area they were at without spooking them. It is just not working well for me and that side arm cast is difficult from a seated even from a kneeling position. Will have to resort to using the fly rod on shore until I can figure this out, it truly is frustrating. I start heading back towards Turkey when I spot a huge fin working a point. Yes, there is a big black drum here and he/she is waving a large fin at me. I spent a good hour following this fish around and I tried everything even the shrimp lure scented with shrimp goop. It was not even caring that I was throwing everything near it sometimes on it. Well back to camp I have a nice trout to fry up for lunch.
Afterwards. I found another grass flat full of whiting and trout and had fun until it was time for cocktail hour and enjoy some time with Kathy before she leaves.
Final day at Turkey and of course the winds are shifting to the NE and picking up speed. I decide to hide from the wind between Buzzard and Plover that morning to fish the incoming. Again, starting with topwater and ending with jigs, caught nothing but trout and some big jacks. Back to camp to catch up on some reading and to rig the tarp for the rain that will be coming in again this afternoon.
It is New Years Eve and unfortunately, Kathy and Toby have left. We had the place to ourselves, there was no one on either Turkey or New Turkey, until just before dinner we spot some paddlers we had met at Darwins passing through. They were Tom, Thomas and Katy who were looping around the Rodgers River. They camped with us and were also going back to Watsons via Charley Creek the next day. The rain came and we all huddled under the tarp to tell stories until late that night. We always meet really interesting people out here and enjoyed their company.
The paddle towards Rabbit was in the fog and with higher winds during the first part of the morning. After we crossed Chatham Bend the winds stopped and the conditions were perfectly smooth. It was windless and getting warmer. I trolled and worked the beautiful Duck Rock cove and found the usual trout and jacks but could not really stop to work the coves as I wanted. It was very hot and without wind I really wanted to just get to camp and into some shade.
Once we got to Rabbit we pitched in the little high point next to the creek. It had trees and I wanted shade. As soon as we get there an armada of powerboats all head to Rabbit with dogs, kids, picnic baskets. One group set up right next to us and almost walk into our site. Hoping the outgoing tide comes quickly to rid the island of people. Yes, they were soon gone!
Later, Alex paid us a surprise visit on his way to Turkey and then looping around the Nightmare/Broad Creek area. We were really happy to see him. Soon after he left, a group of kayakers come in late blaring loud heavy metal music. Luckily we set up in here and away from the main island to get peace and quiet! That is what we get for camping so close to Chokoloskee on a holiday weekend. By dinner time that group quieted down and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset and campfire.
It rained again that night and the heat did not let up. We left at about 8 am and were at Havana Café having lunch by 11 after loading up the car.
This was an unusual trip for us with a lot of basecamping and relaxing. It is my 5th month after back surgery and we wanted to do a conservative trip with low mileage. Luckily, I am feeling pain-free and stronger each day. It is good to have Connie and all my friends helping me with moving the heavy stuff at camp. This trip made me decide I really don't like to basecamp for more than two nights and I like to get as far away as I can from the noise. I wonder what our route will be next New Years 2015. Any suggestions???
Connie wrote her version and included a very beautiful slide show with trip route here