I told several friends that they could come or they could stay home, but one way or another I would be going to the Everglades. My friend Robert immediately stepped up, and our plans began. The 12.5 hour ride was a lot more pleasant with a friend, I can promise you that!
After a small fortune in tolls through southern Florida, we finally reached the gate to the park. The fees are pretty steep, and they charged for each kayak as well. Keep your receipt, because if you exit the park and reenter they will charge you for the kayaks again when you return - even if you have a park pass. It was a forty-five minute ride from the gate to the campground itself, so be prepared before you get there. You do not want to have to go to the park store for just one thing, if at all possible. The store is apparently run by a leftover band of pirates, and they will get your gold any way they can. Three pieces of firewood were $7, and the small propane cylinders that cost $5 for two any other place were $17 apiece! Other than that, the campground was nice with large, flat sites. On the primitive sites you could launch your kayak right from your campsite!
Aside from the long ride and price gouging, Flamingo was an incredible experience. It was every bit as awesome as I hoped and dreamed. Multiple launches for inland estuaries and several places for launching on the flats gave us plenty of options for fishing. Our first trek was in the back bays of Mud Lake and Bear Lake across a wind-churned bay called Coot Bay Pond. This was an awesome paddle, with mangrove tunnels and mud flats full of small snook. I even hooked a small tarpon and fought it for three glorious jumps before it spit out my Mirrolure. Let me throw a bit of caution out here: without a friend who had been before, I am not sure we would have found the trails to the other lakes. The trail markings are small PVC pipes that are not easy to see at any distance. A good chart, GPS, or guide would be a great asset down there. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get back out. I could not imagine hunting one of those trails in the dark!
Another word of caution: I had slipped off by myself, checking out a good-looking area, when I found a nice sandy-looking bank. We had been in mud all morning, and this looked like a nice place to stretch my legs and get a bite to eat. I eased my kayak up in the shallow water and felt the bottom with my paddle. It had about 3” of mud then felt solid, so I eased out of the boat and stood up. As soon as I put full weight on my feet the ground gave way and I sunk all the way to my chest. My elbow hit the kayak and it stopped me from going any further into the mire. I am probably the only guy ever to do a deep water re-entry from 2” of water but that is exactly how it happened. I was covered in stinky grey mud, and I felt like it could have been MUCH worse. My PFD would have kept me up, but in the wind had my elbow not caught the kayak I would have been in bad shape. You don’t want to swim for a kayak in crocodile country!
The next day we hit the open flats, and paddled up toward Snake Bight. It’s such a cool-sounding place, and we had high hopes of getting a different type of bite there. The wind made it a brutal paddle, and after a fishless morning we drifted out toward an island just south of the marina. The current was pushing around the island, and caused a pretty good rip in certain areas. These spots were full of small lemon sharks, and I just couldn’t pass up a shark-fishing opportunity. We netted a few mullet, and then it was game on. Sharks can save a slow fishing trip, and sight fishing for them just makes it even better. We had an absolute blast watching them eat the baits in that shallow water!
We paddled right at fifty miles on our three-day trip, and caught plenty of fish, including Robert’s first snook and my personal best snook. In fact, my personal best increased three times on that trip! The snook were caught on Mirrodines and on DOA Shrimp under popping corks. The DOA caught mangrove snapper and speckled trout, as well. A Slayer bait on a jig head in deeper cuts was almost immediately engulfed by jack crevalle. Anyone who has ever caught one knows how incredibly strong they are and what a fun fight that can be. Our evenings were spent near the marina, chasing jacks until we couldn’t feel our arms any more.
Flamingo was an awesome adventure, and I can’t wait to go back again! We went right after a major cold front and it slowed things down, but still we caught a pile of fish. The cool weather had the mosquitos and no-see-ums at bay for the most part, but I understand they can be brutal in the right conditions. Be prepared for them when you go! Another pest that folks forget to plan for is the vulture. Both black and turkey vultures have decided to destroy peoples vehicles at the landings, so there are boxes of tarps and bungee cords at several locations to cover up. I had read about this and was prepared with my own, and would recommend you do the same. If they are all out and the vultures get bored, your vehicle damage bill could be several thousand dollars by the time you get back to the landing.
When you go, study the area and make a plan. There is no way to experience it all in one normal trip. There are several remote campsites that I would love to experience one day. The remote backcountry has some of the most incredible fishing due to limited pressure. Wherever you go, tell someone your float plan and stick to it. Everything looks the same and it is very easy to get turned around out there. The Everglades trip is an experience every YakAngler should try at least once in their life. I am hoping for many more!