The Everglades, Part 1: Nature on steroids

The Everglades is big and wild and intimidating. It’s also intimate and beautiful and serene. I know, this sounds like the beginning of a middle schooler’s essay. But it’s truly a challenge to describe the place. One thing’s for sure: we don’t have anything like it at home.

In case you’ve never been, the Everglades is an enormous subtropical wetlands that ranges from Lake Okeechobee to the southernmost Florida mainland. You see things like palm trees and sawgrass and mangroves, and it’s evident that you’re in a warm, wet climate. But when you’re out in a boat in the middle of one of the expansive watery areas, a glance at the distant verdant shores could make you believe you’re on a lake in Minnesota. The only clue that you’re not is that there are no houses dotting the landscape. The lack of ego in the form of architecture definitely adds an allure of mystery. 

But you’ll see birds and fish and reptiles…and mosquitos. Fortunately, my experience this time was mosquito light. (Not so four years ago in May, when those bloodsucking flesh drillers were so aggressive and relentless that I literally had to sprint from my car to the visitor center in Everglades National Park to find sanctuary.) 

Parts of the Everglades have an extensive canal system, and on the first day we fished one of them for peacock bass. I managed to hook ten different species over the course of three days. Some of them were old friends from Connecticut like largemouth bass and bluegill. Others were recent acquaintances from a few years ago, namely jack and ladyfish. But six of them were brand new to me: gar, oscar, peacock bass, speckled trout, snook, and tarpon. 
To get to the Flamingo boat launch in the southern end of the Everglades, you need to travel a two-lane road that cuts a straight edge for most of its 50 miles. Once you launch, you head along a canal much like the one in the first picture, then out into what I call “the lake.” There are all manner of rivers and creeks and islands and coves to explore off the lake, and this is where the massive Everglades can reach that wonderful state of intimacy. Here’s a still from a video I shot. We’re water bushwhacking — those are mangrove trees — though a creek that’s not much wider than the boat. You had to parry the branches away from your head and body. It leads, as many of them do, to a small cove that resembles a New England salt pond flat. You go into stealth mode — whispering and hand signals only — and you look for cruising fish or travel lanes or little pockets against the mangroves to cast into. We blanked in most of these, but a few of them produced, and in a week where the bite was considered to be slow, you take those moments and don’t ask questions.
Air plants are epiphytes, meaning they grow on other plants, in this case a mangrove. These look like the dried tops of pineapples. They draw their water from the humid air and from rainfall. One of the best parts of fishing in the Everglades is that you get to see and hear and sometimes even touch plants and animals that aren’t ever found where you’re from. Speaking of humidity, it wasn’t very warm or humid the first two days on the boat, but by the third the layers were getting peeled off as sunrise transitioned to mid-late-morning.
Bon appetit! Monday’s quarry was peacock bass. This gator beat me to this particular fish, but I’ll tell you all about my first experience with peacocks next. Spoiler alert: there were lots of them, they provide great sport, and I want to catch more. Photo by Mark Giacobba.

And we’re back!

Whew. It’s been a hectic — albeit very pleasurable — couple of weeks. (Spending a chunk of time in Florida in November will always introduce an element of pleasure. Not to mention, skin that isn’t horrifically New-England-in-late-fall dry. And, with my eldest son now married, we can all shout out a hearty woo-hoo!) So, time to get back to one of the things I enjoy the most: providing original, meaningful content on currentseams. It will come as no surprise to you that I arranged to spend several days fishing. I managed to hook ten different species, including my first snook and peacock bass, and my first tussles with tarpon. I think the best way to tell you about it all is to divvy it up by days. So tomorrow I’ll be writing about day one. Stay tuned…

My guide, Capt. Mark Giacobba, and me burrowing our way through a mangrove-choked creek deep within the Everglades. Mark is an exceptional guide, and I’ll be writing more about him in detail. If it looks like we’re dressed for steelhead, not quite — but we did have chilly starts to our days.

Everglades Report: Absolutely, positively, definitely not in Kansas anymore

I fished in Everglades National Park on Wednesday and it was — well, like nothing I’ve experienced before with a fly rod. I’m not sure what I expected, but like any fishing trip, the day had its highs and lows. I can tell you this: it was never boring.

Let’s start with the mosquitos. There were more per cubic foot of space than I’ve ever seen. Ravenous little suckers, too. The most remarkable thing about them was how quickly they descended upon you the moment you opened the car door — or stopped the boat in a cove. Unlike some of the noseeums I’ve encountered, these could be kept at bay with standard-issue bug spray. Still…wow.

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This outing was part of Number One Son Bill’s UMiami Law School graduation present. He was spinning, I was fly rodding. We murdered them at our first stop (technically accessory-to-murdered them). To wit: one of the ladyfish Bill caught got whacked by a shark after he released it. The fish floated away about 30 feet when the shark came back and rolled over on it. It gave me a new appreciation for watching trout take spinners. Bill had an Everglades hat trick of ladyfish, sea trout, and reef snapper within 30 minutes. He outcaught me about three-to-one.

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The Everglades is an intimidating place. The wildlife ranges from the innocuous (butterflies) to the annoying (mosquitoes, snook, tarpon — we’ll get to those last two in a bit) to the potentially deadly (sharks, crocs.) I was amazed that they let people canoe in a canal where we spotted three crocs in the space of 50 yards. The heat and sun can get to you, too, especially if your last outing was in neoprene waders. Then, there’s the structure of the place. From the point-of-view of a boat in a watery expanse, it looks like any big lake. But its creeks and diversions and coves are labyrinthine, mysterious, and untamed. Our guide, Capt. Mark Giacobba, did a great job getting us in and out of some very fishy looking water. As you can see, he knows how to dress for his job.

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We spent most of the day working the mangrove-layered shorelines, but my favorite spot was the tidal pond — I dubbed it “Dead Mangrove Cove” — we poled into. You can’t see from the photo, but in many places the water is only 1-2 foot deep. The snook were not in thick, but there were enough over the course of 90 minutes to keep us on high alert. Now, if you’ve never sight-fished for snook in shallow water under bright sun, you don’t know from spooky fish. I was wholly unprepared for this. We spooked one by pointing at it — and it was 50 feet away. I spooked several starting my first false cast. Hell, I think we spooked a few by just thinking about them. They say that wild brown trout are wary. My new perspective is that that’s just about laughable.  

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It took me a good hour to remember not to step on my line — using a shooting basket in perpetuity will do that to you — while I was casting. The zip ties along the edge of the deck are a brilliant idea when there’s a breeze. So here it is: I blanked on snook. I had one good presentation and follow, but the fish turned away at the last moment. I would have loved a second day to redeem myself, but that will have to wait. The tarpon were even more bashful than the snook. We finally found a diversion where a couple rolled, but by the time we poled over they’d either vanished or been spooked. As the final insult, a school of seven tarpon swam purposefully past the boat as we prepared to leave. They wanted nothing to do with my fly. Bastards.

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Objection! Bill outfished his old man! Overruled, and that’s not a bad first snook. Bill just about dropped his cast in the fish’s mouth. Bill confirmed that this certainly made up for those three miserable snowy days in Pulaski a few years ago when he didn’t get a touch. Great job, kid.

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