A few months before, some friends and I rented a houseboat and “mothershipped” our kayaks to the islands. That was an epic trip, but I wanted to try something a little rougher. For this trip, we planned on only taking our kayaks, and what we could pack on them. When you plan on packing a kayak for camping in a remote spot, space becomes a huge issue. I have many kayaks, but I chose the Wilderness Systems Tarpon 160. Between the ample storage space under the front hatch, and the generous tankwell, I thought this the best choice for carrying all the gear and still being able to paddle well.
My friends and I decided to pack as if it was a solo trip. Each of us was responsible for our own food, water, safety gear, etc. I carried a small pack tent, five MRE’s, a large soft-sided cooler with water, first aid kit, small camp stove, all the things one would require to make a small camp. Everything fit neatly into a dry bag and went under the front hatch. All my normal fishing gear went in back. Things that I don’t normally worry about when just fishing had to be addressed as well. I carried a handheld GPS with mapping, and a handheld VHF radio for emergencies. There is no cell phone service to speak of, and it’s a long paddle back if you get hurt. Once my kayak was all loaded up, she was so heavy that I was sitting in water during the entire paddle out.
We chose Jewel Key, a little island with a small beach about 5 miles paddling. To get a campsite in the park, you have to get there when the office opens in Everglades City and reserve it for that night. We launched from the park office and started the journey. The trail led us across the bay and into some of the most pristine mangroves and oyster beds I have ever seen. The water here is very clear for the most part and the tides are very strong. The fishing is great as well and it wasn’t long before we were on the redfish. We paddled out against the tide, which is not easy. The water moves quickly and our 5 mile paddle took 3 ½ hours. We did fish on the way and probably could have made the paddle shorter. The scenery was beautiful and with so many mangroves and waterways, we only saw one other boat during our journey.
We reached Jewel Key mid-morning and set up camp. It didn’t take long and we were fishing again. There are so many oyster beds and mangrove inlets that we could never cover it all in one day. The fish were everywhere and we caught reds, snook and trout. After a while, we checked out our little island. The small beach area was just big enough at high tide to hold us and next to a narrow, deep channel. We ate and fished, and fished and ate. At night, we built a fire, and put out shark lines. Under the stars we caught sharks and talked about all the fish we caught that day. We all agreed this was an epic trip!
The next morning, we pack up our camp and fished our little channel on an incoming tide. The snook were crazy and we caught many until they finally shut down. We rode the incoming tide back to Everglades City and without paddling at all, we fished to entire way in and still made the 5 mile journey in two hours. At the launch, all we could talk about was why we didn’t stay another night.
Many people say they don’t take overnight road trips because they don’t have the time or money. This trip lasted less than 40 hours. The campsite and outback pass cost us $20 and the all the food, water and supplies, less than $50. It ended up being one of those epics that we will do again and again. It doesn’t matter where you live, there is a 10,000 Islands close to you. Go do it!
About the Author: Bob Bramblet is an avid tournament angler. He is the President of the Southwest Florida Kayak Angler’s Association at www.swfkaa.com, and Captain of the Blue Line Fishing Team at www.bluelinefishingteam.com. Bob also writes kayak fishing articles and reviews for several online resources and kayak fishing magazines.