Ten Thousand Islands Everglades National Park
Planning a fishing get-away is exciting no matter how far you go; taking off
to a brand new place as wild and scenic as the Ten Thousand Islands
corner of Everglades National Park just drives the excitement level that
much higher. Throw in poled skiff and kayak runs for the Park’s legendary snook
and tarpon opportunities and it gets pretty tough to sit still ‘til blast off.
The plan to fish the ‘Glades grew out of several conversations I had with
Capt. Charles Wright last spring. Charlie lives in Everglades City right at the
edge of the park and runs Chokoloskee Charters. Charlie’s business slogan
reads, “Not just another boat ride,” in reference to his dedication to putting his
clients on lots of exciting fish. Well, to be honest, we found it held a good deal
more meaning than that. . . the whole experience, not just the fishing, is top shelf
all the way.
Getting our trip off the ground required more than a little tenacity and it had
nothing to do with publishing deadlines or guide service bookings; we had
Mother Nature working against us.
I’m sure you will remember what happened in Florida last summer; they
experienced the most wicked hurricane season in something like 100 years. Our
travel plan suffered three revisions before we finally got in the airplane at
Houston Hobby. Somehow with three hurricanes and innumerable tornados ripping
across Florida, Everglades City suffered little more than thunderstorms and
moderate tidal surges. Many communities between there and Ft. Lauderdale
were not as fortunate.
The ride across I-75, or “Alligator Alley” as it’s also known, takes less than
two hours until you’re headed south on Florida State Road 29. We rented a car
at the Ft. Lauderdale airport
and the total drive
time to Everglades City is
less than three hours.
Everglades City, and
nearby sister town,
Chokoloskee (about 3.0
miles further south,) are
true end of the road villages.
If you end up there
you were either aiming
right at it or lost as hell.
The ever-narrowing pavement
and roadside rightof-
ways hint that you’re
getting close. The country
you cover on 29 is wilderness
believe it or not. . .
complete with “Panther
Crossing” signs. I do not
recall seeing any filling
stations or eating places.
Crossing the bridge
over Barron River puts you
in Everglades City - without a doubt the cleanest and prettiest fishing village
I’ve ever visited. We came in late, and like Charlie said we’d find, everything
was closed except the all-night Circle-K. We found our cabin unlocked and the
lights on at Glades Haven (gotta love these kind of places,) unpacked and hit
Up early, we rigged our rods,
gulped morning caffeine, threw
two Poorboys and some bottled
waters in the soft cooler and hurried
to the dock across the parking
lot to meet Charlie.
The early November sunrise
over the Everglades was awesome.
The air was brisk; multiplied
by the speed of
Charlie’s skiff you can bet we
snuggled into our jackets. Our
run to the snook waters
Charlie had chosen for us
took us across Huston,
Chevelier and Cannon Bays,
twisting and turning through a
veritable labyrinth of creeks, channels and rivers.
Charlie steered us into a creek about twice as wide as the boat, cut the
motor and climbed atop the poling platform. This was our first trip to the
Everglades and the only snook we’d seen up ‘til this day were in pictures. Man,
were we eager.
Arriving on a low and still falling tide is critical. Snook live in the mangrove
roots, way up under a maze of overhanging limbs. It’s hard to believe you’re still
in tide influenced country, but a two foot swing over three or four hours is all the
window you get some days. . . we hit
this one perfect.
Pam was up first, poised on the
casting deck, she took aim at the
beast in the brush that was making
an awful commotion. . . schmucking
and popping sounds, and about ten
gallons of water flew out of the tangle
of roots every time the fish took
a bite out of whatever it was eating.
Flipping under brush and
between prop roots is not impossible,
but that damned snook was
making things even tougher.
Somehow she threaded the jig
through the jungle and the second it
splashed the surface the drag was
squealing. How’s that for storybook?
Trouble was; the fish was going in,
and way too strong and way too fast
to turn in close quarters.
Our cabin was neat as a pin and very comfortable. It
is outfitted to accomodate two couples or four singles.
Charlie ran us through an
amazing tangle of creeks, bayous
and channels. How he
remembered his way baffled me.
How’d you like to try a few sight shots in here? We
left a few lures dangling in this spot.
March 2005 Gulf Coast Connections 38
While Pam was busy retying, I took a
shot. . . danged mangrove limbs. Pam
hooked up a frisky 3-pounder on her next
cast and I caught another tree. Man, was I
ever making an impression on my guide!
Finally, it was my turn to plop the jig in
the sweet spot. . . wooo-weee, snook can
pull! They require the application of at least
two or three times as much “act right” as
trout and redfish of similar size.
Charlie moved us three or four times,
squeezing everything we could out of the
bite. We caught roughly 20 fish apiece up
to six pounds and learned a lot of things
that day. . . snook like shade, snook like
roots, snook can shred 30-pound leaders
like tissue paper, snook can blow a Spook
eight feet straight up into the limbs, snook
have bad attitudes, we love snook!
Eventually the tide quit us and no matter how hard we tried, the best we could do
was an occasional blow up or a weak bite on a jig that was very tricky to drive a
hook into. Charlie took us sight-seeing and gave us a gorgeous ride home into a perfect
Kayak fishing was the game for
day two. Charlie runs a 28-foot
Carolina Skiff that he rigged to be the
perfect mother ship. Now I transport
kayaks on my 21-ft Majek RFL, but
let me tell you, this boat is the ultimate
transport barge. There is room
for six kayaks stacked on edge, captain’s
chair seating for six, and
Heaven only knows how many cubic
yards of ice chests and dry lockers.
Our group met on Charlie’s dock
at daybreak; Pam and I, Rick Roberts
of Extreme Edge Fishing Tournament
fame, Sue Cocking of the Miami
Herald, and Darren Bienvenue of
Miami. Charlie cranked the near silent
Yamaha 150 4-stroke and we were off down the Barron River through Chokoloskee
Bay to the south eastern shoreline of the Everglades National Park.
The five miles of
Highland Beach we drove
past was bedecked in white
sand, turquoise water and
more colorful birdlife than
you could count. I think we
saw everything from flamingos
to ospreys and eagles.
Our destination for the day
was the mouth of the
Rodgers River with its myriad
tidal creeks and lagoons.
Before the boat was taut on
the anchor, it was obvious that
the tide was rushing out and
getting in front of a creek as
soon as possible was a priority.
We departed quickly, each
going there own way, following
the popping noises under the
Darren hooked a tarpon almost immediately that appeared 50-poundish but it
shook loose on the second jump. Rick and Pam got into 4 to 5 pound snook within
a short while, and I took off into the jungle. The scenery was almost surreal; the
silence broken only by the squawk of birds chased from their fishing and of
course, the snook.
I stuck several that made it to the roots and landed several more that absolutely
inhaled my bone-colored baby Spook. Charlie told me to keep a fresh leader. . .
shoulda paid better heed, my best snook escaped with my plug!
Right then is when I heard it for the first time. It was female shrill and it gave
me chills. Susan or Pam had to be in some kind of terrible wreck. I paddled back
around the mangrove corner frantically, just in time to see Susan in a life and
death bent rod fight. Whatever she had hooked had enough power to raise a wake
behind her kayak.
Charlie was paddling madly, eventually getting alongside at enough angle to
drive her boat toward open water. The snook, you see, wasn’t finished. It had its
sights set on dragging Susan into the mangroves. . . boat and all!
Pam was into an adventure all her own. . . several coves back she found herself
in the middle of what appeared to be a family reunion, alligator family that is. At
one point she could count eighteen and at least twelve of them were displaying
interest in the Baby 1-minus she was throwing.
Apart from Susan’s big snook we never really landed any heavyweights; but we
hooked several and saw dozens basking at the edge of the shadows as we glided
by, barely paddling. The scenery was magnificent, being closer to it in a kayak made
it even more powerful. This place ripped into my heart the same as the Upper Kenai
did the first day I drifted it.
My final rating is Five Stars; I can’t wait to go back. Capt. Charlie’s operation is
first-class all the way - from the cabin he rented us to the fishing adventures he took
us on. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who enjoys snook, poled skiff
fishing, and of course kayaking.
The Ten Thousand Islands area offers many types of fishing year ‘round and the
scenery that goes with it is breath-taking. To learn more, visit Capt. Charles Wright
on the web at www.ChokoloskeeCharters.com or telephone him at 239-682-9920.
Tell him you’re from Texas!
By Everett Johnson - Gulf Coast Connections - March 2005