Everglades City, Chokoloskee and Everglades National Park
Capt. Charles Wright
December 15, 2004
Everglades City - Saltwater Fishing Report
2005 -- Time to Restart
It is the beginning of a new year … 2005, at last. Personally, I have always had a hard time getting upbeat in the beginning of the year. If there is a “low” time for me, traditionally, the first few weeks of January have to be it.
The festivities of the holidays are over. The family and holiday friends are gone. I usually have added on about ten pounds and two inches. Those “special” bills from December show up in the mail. Hunting season is all but shot and it is darn right cold!
The fishing is about the only thing that gets me up. While it is cold here in the Western Everglades and the 10,000 Islands (but, I think, anything below 70 degrees is unfit for human habitation), it is warmer here than just about anywhere else. While, the fishing is here is different in January than in warmer months, we probably have some of the best action in all of North America.
January, to me, means lots of speckled trout, tons of Spanish mackerel and bluefish(?), sheep head, 50 snook days in the back country, redfish and grouper in the passes. Offshore there is cobia, 20” mangrove snappers, grouper, kingfish and triple-digit tarpon.
January can be some very good fishing, but still I suggest a survival suit for those days that drop below 70.
This year is different than years past, I was actually looking forward to January…feeling good about. You see, January restarts my “clock” … everything, in my mind at least, starts over. 2004 was a very tough year for most Florida fishing enthusiasts … primarily because of the winds!
It actually started blowing in October 2003! But, it did not stop until June 2004. It seemed to affect everything, not necessarily for the worse, just changed what we could do. Several great things came out of the “blow”. First, I re-discovered how many trout are actually in the area. Further, having not really focused on them before, I began to. Once I figured them out, there was some absolutely fabulous trout fishing … consistently … “trout on every cast” type fishing.
Second, with the fishing kayaks and the wind, I ventured further and further into the mangrove backcountry. Places where only another kayak or a helicopter can reach. Here, even though blustery elsewhere, we found calm conditions, plenty of nice snook and small tarpon, warm in these small saltwater lakes. Additionally, the feeder creeks were alive with snook well into the spring. These were and are still some of my favorite trips.
Perhaps best of all, forced by the wind to move to different areas to sight fish in January, late in the month and into February produced some of the best tarpon fishing of the entire year. Giant shiners, laid up in the calm, sunning themselves … few things beat the feeling you get when you put one of these critters into the air.
This type of sight fishing is not for everyone, however. It is as close to hunting as you will find. Like still-hunting a large buck, there is a lot that goes into getting a good “shot” at one of these beauties. Lots of patience, stealth and dedication are required, but the reward is real and very great. You will know exactly what I mean the first time one of these sleeping giant sucks in your lure or fly. (It can actually be one of those “life changing events” … it was for me).
The blow of the first part of the year lasted until June. Things subsided and then here came late August and then September … another September to remember … What was it 237 named storms … Hurricanes of all “classes” raged the State. The costs in physical damage and emotional stress were horrific. Many are still only beginning to recover.
Florida’s tourism is extremely important to everyone here … either directly or indirectly. It is the life blood of the State’s economy. The sports fishing industry is a major part of that. What the hurricanes did not destroy in actual business; the news media did with its sensational coverage. We were hard hit as a whole, but the storms did not destroy the whole State as was depicted.
Well the September blows had some distinct affects on the fishery. Like the blows of the first part of the year, you can not really qualify the affects as “good” or “bad”. Mother Nature is very dynamic. Things can and will change; as fishermen, we must change also.
Some of the affects were quite dramatic, however. Near shore structures were moved hundreds of yards … many still have not yet been found. Sand islands formed, others destroyed. Holes filled in, created in other areas.
The storms scattered the permit schools for months. They never really recovered. They were here, but it took a lot time to get to them. Two years ago, Chokoloskee Charters anglers released nearly 300 permits, this year it was less than 150.
The bait fish that usually shows up like clockwork, did not show up until 4-5 weeks late. The massive amounts of water, left over from the storms, flowing out of the backcountry kept the water very “high” in the “back”. The snook deep in “kayak country” stayed there. They were not forced in the backcountry bay systems like they typically are in the late fall. I have come to believe that most of the big snook that we love so much in the fall, left very early this year for parts in the deep. The fishing in the “back” was bland to say the least. The fall snook season, in general, was as poor as I have seen it.
However, I never though I would say this, but, I was waiting for it to get cold! The cold means cold fronts and cold fronts mean strong northerly breezes. Breezes so strong and temperatures so low that the water blows out and gets so low that you can play golf in the bays! I was waiting to see flats skiff stuck on the bottom everywhere!! It is only then that the snook would come back out of the kayak lands and be forced in the warm dark bays. We would get to re-start the clock.
Well it happen, the first big blow, Vickie and I, and our neighbors Tim and Marilynn went for a quick paddle-fishing trip. Tim’s first kayak fishing trip. The water was so low that we almost could not make it across the bay … dragging bottom in a kayak!
We made it to a creek entrance where the water deepened. We fished the creek catching, but a few fish. It was still cold and the fish sluggish. We had a date, however.
Exiting the creek into the bay, we found what I had hoped to see. Lying in the mud, warming in the sun, there they were … big resident “snuke”. Tim was leading the way into the area. He made a cast with a top-water well past the fish and began slowing walking the plug home. Splash! Crash! Holler! I wasn’t looking … what was it?
A fish about six pound rushed in but missed the bait … splash!. Tim set up like a Saturday morning bass fisherman. The crash was the sound one makes with a full bodied effort to catch your “full” body from coming out of the boat. The holler comes from the gut when think that you can not make the “catch”. Tim stayed in the boat.
The commotion, however, spooked everything in the area. I saw four fish in the 16-18 pound range blow by five feet from my kayak. As it turned out, we did not catch a single fish in that area. However, paddling back home we did manage a few small snook to make us feel better.
All-in-all, out three hour voyage was a success; we had verified that the clock had been re-started!! January is very happy time … this year.
Capt. Charles Wright
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Everglades City, FL 34139
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