In the early 70s, I would paddle my canoe down Black Creek Canal in South Miami in search of largemouth bass, snook and tarpon on a fly rod that my grandfather gave me. Little did I know where I would be 35-years later.
Skipping all the in between details, I started guiding professionally in Everglades National Park in the mid 1990s. Previously, I had used fishing trips in the Park as a means of entertainment for my environmental engineering clientele.
From few-hour trips to multi-day excursions, the plastic armada is continuing to open doors for anglers of all ages and all skill levels. Read on and see for yourself what makes this fishery so appealing.
A “lifestyle choice” led to my escape from engineering into the world of a fishing guide. I have not looked back. Chokoloskee Charters has developed into one of the most reputable traditional fishing operations in the region. With an association of some very experienced, full-time, professional guides, we are able to offer the most complete fishing experiences you can find in the ‘Glades. You can take a technical poling skiff into the extreme shallows to sight-fish for laid-up snook and redfish one day, a flats boat into the backcountry for tarpon the next, and then fish offshore structure in a large center-console the third.
About six-years ago, primarily because of the unique ecosystem and fisheries in the Everglades National Park, we began utilizing kayaks as a fishing platform. Now, Everglades Kayak Fishing (EKF), a division of Chokoloskee Charters, is one of the most recognized kayak outfitters in the industry.
Anglers have been fishing from paddle-craft for a long time…actually since antiquity. However, in the last decade we have seen an explosion of modern anglers embracing paddle-craft…particularly the fishing kayak. As you drive through town, look around. You will see the “plastic armada” atop vehicles everywhere.
So many people are entering the sport that the entire fishing industry is evolving to service this new breed of angler. Retailers, manufacturers, media and advertisers are increasingly getting on the “band-wagon.” Most “big box” sport retailers now sell fishing kayaks and regularly host seminars on the sport. Several magazines, both print and web-based, are exclusively dedicated to the sport. Numerous kayak fishing books and videos have been released in the last couple of years and I know of at least three others in the works. Traditional fishing magazines are regularly including articles and advertisements for kayak fishing. New manufacturers have sprung up with specialty kayaks, but just as important, mainstream kayak manufacturers are building dedicated boats designed by experienced kayak anglers. Some of these manufacturers credit the growth in kayak fishing for “saving” their industry.
The net effect is that kayak fishing has become the fastest growing portion of the sport fishing industry. The reasons are easy to understand. Fishing kayaks provide access to fish and fisheries across the state, which are simply unreachable by other means. It takes about 14-inches to squeeze a kayak between the trees and into a bay or estuary. They are simple devices so with some very basic equipment, anyone can be on the water enjoying themselves. They are a personal craft that allow each angler to enjoy their time on the water at their own personal pace. Each is their own captain and crew subject only to his or her own limitations, not those of the boat driver or owner. Fishing kayaks require little or no maintenance freeing up our increasingly valuable time. It takes just a few minutes to launch a kayak, so you can actually squeeze in a couple hours of fishing…in a couple of hours. It typically takes that long to prepare a powerboat for a trip.
The biggest driving force, however, may simply be economics. For about $1,000, you can outfit yourself with a very nice, brand new, personal fishing platform that does not break down, does not require maintenance or a tow vehicle, does not have special storage considerations, does not have to be insured or registered, and does not have to be fed fuel and oil.
Take a moment and think about all of the costs truly associated with your powerboat and you may be amazed. We have six boats in our fishing “fleet” from small technical poling skiffs to 27-foot center-consoles. Operating costs are high and real. Maintenance is constant, but our fishing kayaks work every time!
Across the country, the fishing kayak has allowed anglers to enter into and now enjoy sport fishing. However, it is not just newcomers driving the growth. Traditional anglers, too, in droves, are including kayaks in their arsenal of fishing tools. They have realized that a kayak is a great fishing platform and provides different opportunities to enjoy their sport…just in a different way.
Like most things, kayak fishing is not for everyone. If you do decide to pick up the sport, I am sure that you are going to really enjoy it for years to come. However, as with anything, there is a learning curve. There are a couple of key things to consider to help you along this curve.
First, there is a kayak for every derriere and every body type…find one that fits you …one that you are comfortable in. If you are 6’8″ and lean, you have different considerations than if you are 5’9″ and round. Personal comfort is very important to your early experience. If you are not comfortable, you may not stick-it-out long enough to learn if you truly enjoy the sport. Kayak selection is a subject in its own. However, it suffices to say … try several kayaks before you buy.
You should expect to learn something different on every trip. Anchoring, controlling drift, landing fish and even photographing your catch are techniques that you will need to get used to. Do not try and reinvent the wheel. Learn from others. Use the Internet and hook up with other experienced kayak anglers. If you can, fish with them. Most are more than eager to show you the ropes.
There are also many seasoned kayak-fishing guides. You can certainly shorten your way up the learning curve by reaping the benefit of the lessons that most guides have learned the hard way. Do yourself right; fish with other experienced anglers or hire a professional kayak guide for the first couple of trips. Many times, just watching the pro fish is as valuable as any advice that they can offer verbally.
When you’re with your guide, look at how they setup their kayak. Where are the rod holders? How do they store tackle and gear? What type of anchoring system do they prefer? Many new anglers learn as much about the sport on the shore as they do on the water.
Everglades National Park is an exceptional area to kayak fish. The Park is massive, but the east and west sides are very different. I grew up fishing the east side of the Park, both from the Keys and Flamingo. For the last 16-years, I have fished the Park’s west side. Here, we can experience tides that approach eight-feet between high and low. Many areas are significantly deeper and the currents stronger than those on the east side of the Park. As such, the variety of the terrain and fishing opportunities are typically greater.
Snook, small tarpon, redfish and trout are the species that Park kayak anglers target most often. The vast majority of kayak anglers, myself included, fish with artificial lures. I tend to keep things very simple. A few jigheads, some soft-plastics, a topwater plug, a couple of plastic shrimp, a suspending twitch-bait, some leader material and a multi-tool, and I am off. Others choose to bring it all.
Flamingo is your access to the Park’s east side. On the west side, Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island are your gateways to the Park and are located about 90-minutes from Ft. Myers, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. In Everglades City, there are several launch sites that provide easy access to the local fishing areas. First, the National Park’s Gulf Coast Ranger Station has a launch that is free of charge. This provides access to the Barron River and the northeast and southwest sides of Chokoloskee Bay. An alternative is Glades Haven Marina. If you launch here, plan on a launch fee, strong currents and a longer paddle.
Generally, we find the fishing around Chokoloskee Island to be more productive. Certainly the access to the fishery is much better. Currents are not as bad and the fishing opportunities much closer. Outdoor Resorts of America, Chokoloskee Island Park and Parkway Village Motel & Marina all have lodging and kayak fishing access. Expect a launch fee, although it may be waived if you are a guest staying overnight.
Everglades Kayak Fishing is located on Chokoloskee Island at JT’s Café and Gallery, a historic building centrally located on the island. It has become a popular gathering spot for anglers. With five full-time, year-round guides and a fleet of rigged kayaks, tackle, charts, etc., we are able to offer anglers a wide range of services. For those who want to fish on their own, we offer several types of rental fishing kayaks with tons of local knowledge and advice to boot.
For those who prefer a guided experience, we offer two options. The first is what we refer to as a “shore-launched” trip. As it sounds, this is a trip that launches from and returns to shore. Trailers are used to haul the kayaks and guests to our launch sites. Where we launch and fish depends on many factors…targeted species, seasonal patterns, local conditions, etc. With the versatility of the trailers, we fish from Naples to the eastern portion of the Everglades.
The shore-launched trip can be particular beneficial for those new to the sport of kayak angling as it provides the most personal attention of the two trips. As alluded to above, there is a lot to learn from your guide, both on and off the water. The shore-launched trip is likely to be very similar to what you will be doing on your own.
Our “signature” trip uses one of our dedicated kayak transport boats, affectionately called the Yak Attacks. The Park is huge and the fishing opportunities seemingly endless. Many of the most remote areas are particularly good for kayak fishing. The Yak Attacks, with six outfitted fishing kayaks nestled in their bows, transport guides, anglers and gear deep into the Park for a day’s fishing in some spectacular areas…areas that literally would take you days to paddle to.
The Yak Attack trips allow returning anglers to fish areas that are entirely different than those that can be reached on the shore-launched trips. Anglers booking multi-day packages are able to fish and experience a different part of the Park on each day they fish.
The price of a typical guided powerboat trip is now approaching $600. If fishing for more than one day or traveling you must also factor in lodging and meals. Not cheap. It seems reasonable that our present economic “crisis” will likely fuel another growth spurt in the kayak fishing industry.
Very popular with all of the Everglades Kayak Fishing guides and anglers alike, are the multi-day camping/kayak fishing trips. The most popular trip is a three-day, two-night adventure departing almost every Friday. Just as soon as we can get away in the morning, the Yak Attack, complete with kayaks and a boatload of gear, is off. Make no mistake; these are not your ordinary camping trips. Individual tents, comfortable air mattresses, sun shelters, patio chairs, local seafood, homemade meals…you get the idea.
These trips are popular primarily because of the extraordinary experience. Being out there is truly phenomenal. They are also a great value. Where can you get three days of guided fishing, lodging and excellent meals for under $750 per person? Hardcore anglers fish night and day. Personally, after a couple bowls of conch-chowder, I am ready for some quality time around the campfire with a cigar, a cold beverage and good friends.
Kayak fishing the Everglades certainly is not for everyone, but everyone should try it. As we like to say, “Everglades Kayak Fishing – Catch the Experience.”