The following is a report from an Everglades trip during the summer of 2008.
I’ve also made a link to this page as an “Action Photo Prompt” through the Outdoor Blogger Network. I misunderstood the directions for the photo prompt so to actually see the ‘action’ shots, scroll to the middle of the story
It amazes me how far one can drive in Florida and never actually leave the state. I blame the its goofy, dog leg shape. It’s especially far if one drives from Pensacola to the Everglades. In fact, the only possible way to make a longer trip within the state is to keep going to Key West. Bottom line, the drive sucks and lasts anywhere from 11 hours to an eternity.
In the summer of 2008, my dad and I drove the grueling 11 hours down to Homestead, Fl to fish for exotics, Tarpon, and Snook. Our first stop while down there was Holiday Park, just south of Alligator Alley. The place was a nut house when we arrived. Airboats, motorboats, and people everywhere. We drove to the back of the park near the RV campground and noticed a small canal running due south out of the park. The best part was that there wasn’t a soul in it because there was no boat launch. So my dad and I unloaded the yaks from the truck and proceeded to launch the kayaks from the near vertical bank…snapping a rod tip in the process.
After launching and fighting our way through a thick mat of Lilly pads and Hydrilla, my dad and I had the canal to ourselves. Luckily, at this point in my life, I had yet to be bitten by the fly fishing bug. Yes, I enjoyed fly fishing, but only for a few minutes at a time and I didn’t have the overwhelming urge to catch -everything- on a fly rod. After about 20 minutes of no luck with the fly rod, I brought out the bream buster and began drowning live worms.
To my surprise, I was having very little luck even with live bait. Fish were few and far between but after a few hours I had managed to put a decent amount of bluegill and exotics in the cooler.
The primary exotic fish caught in this particular canal was the Spotted Tilapia. It’s not an actual tilapia. In fact, its another form of cichlid. But just like all other cichlids, it fights like a fish weighing 10lbs heavier than it really does.
With almost no success on the fly rod the first day, my dad wanted to head into the Everglades National Park to try our luck with Tarpon or Snook. The park is located just a few miles outside of Homestead and we arrived early the next morning. We parked at the visitor’s center and my dad wandered inside to use the bathroom. Being bored and curious, I stepped out of the truck and walked over to take a look at a large map of the park that had been put up on a display sign. I hadn’t been outside of the truck for more than 30 seconds before I realized I had made a mistake. One look down at my legs confirmed my fears: my legs were black with thousands of mosquitoes. They proceeded to reduce me to a mixture of a screaming 10 yr. old girl and a shriveled husk from blood loss in just a few seconds. I made it back to the truck, slammed the door and set about killing the few hundred I’d let into the cab in the seconds the door was open.
As I sat in the truck and set about hooking up a blood transfusion, a family of tourists parked next to me and hopped out of the minivan to look at the same trap I had just fallen for. I wanted to warn them…tell them to at least keep their two little girls in the car as I feared one of the blood sucking pterodactyls might be able to carry one off…but I was too afraid to open the door or roll down the window. Instead, I watched with mild anticipation as the family realized they’d fallen into a trap.
A few seconds passed and the mother slapped her leg, but continued looking at the map. Almost immediately afterwards the father slapped a bug on his neck, then his arm. The little girls began slapping bugs on their legs in quick succession. Then the mom began slapping her neck, arms, face, back, legs and started screaming and bolted back for the car. The rest of the family followed right behind her, slapping themselves and screaming the whole way. Then they made a near fatal move. Instead of rushing into the car, they opened the back of the minivan and whipped out a can of bug spray. They quickly sprayed themselves down while doing a very unhappy dance. A few seconds passed with the family still spraying, stomping, yelling, and dancing about like their hair was on fire before they realized it was futile and possibly fatal to remain outside and then slammed themselves shut in the van.
Moments later my dad came casually strolling out of the visitor’s center. Why mosquitoes rarely bother him is a mystery to me and I envy him every time I have to apply a thick coat of bug spray. He walked up, looked at the sign, and headed back to the truck. As soon as he hopped into the cab with me, another car drove up and parked. “Watch this”, I told him as a young couple hopped out of their car and walked over to look at the death trap.
“What am I watching?” my dad asked.
“Just watch these two”, I told him as I wide grin came across my face. Sure enough, the couple began slapping themselves, and were sent screaming back to their car. It’s hilarious to watch when it isn’t happening to you. A few minutes later, another car full of people showed up and stepped out to look at the sign. Once again, they were nearly carried off and slapped and cussed their way back to the car. I wish I had thought to video tape it. Watching this was almost better than fishing….Almost.
We drove into the park and stopped at a lake a few miles in. It looked fishy, so we launched and proceeded to try our luck. Every once in a while, I could see tarpon roll in the distance, but I couldn’t get anything to hit. After paddling around for a while, I noticed a small opening in the mangroves and paddled over to it. The opening led to another pond. I slipped my yak through the narrow opening and drifted out into the middle of a deep pond. I cast my top water lure along the edge of the pond and began working it back toward me. Suddenly, the lure exploded and a tarpon was sent skyward underneath it. I watched in shock as my lure landed a few feet ahead of where it had been and the tarpon landed with a splash. I immediately kept up the action of the lure. Another explosion, and the lure went flying again. A few more twitches, a third hit and then the sound of my drag peeling out. The fight was on.
I yelled at my dad in the other pond to come over and kept the tension on the fish. I was nervous the whole time of breaking the fish off on the 12lb test I was using but I bowed every time he jumped, and let him drag the yak in circles in the pond. My dad finally showed up to see the end of the 20 minute battle.
|Bow to the King
|The fight continues
I finally got the fish close enough to lip and pulled him into the kayak.
This fish made my trip. It was my second Tarpon ever and weighed close to 30 lbs.
I revived him for a few minutes and let him go. Not 5 casts later, I hooked yet another one. This one was much smaller, and it proceeded to drag me into a bunch of mangroves and almost to my death from mosquitoes. One can see from the picture that I’m busy wiping them from my face with my other arm.
We also caught several bass in the pond and missed a few more tarpon. After a while, the bite stopped and we loaded up the truck for the day. The following day, we went back to the Park, but this time fished a different pond. I caught one HUGE Myan Cichlid on a lure, and missed several bass and tarpon. My dad managed to land a very nice Snook as well.
The last morning we were there, we headed into town and bank fished for exotics. I caught my very first Peacock Bass and certainly broke no size records:
A bit later in the morning, we stopped at a different spot and I noticed a big Peacock Bass sitting in the shallows. I began casting everything in the tackle box at it, but it wouldn’t take a thing. The last thing I had in the tackle box was a chartreuse double-tailed grub. I tied it on, and cast to the bass in one last hope of at least catching its interest. I was shocked when I did far more than grab its attention…the bass absolutely clobbered it. After a very good fight, I landed the fish and threw it in the cooler.
My 2008 Everglades trip was certainly worth it. I had a blast and found several places to fish in the future. The Tarpon also made the trip for me and I can’t wait to go back year after year.