I beat the alarm to the punch, as is often the case when a remote fishing expedition is about to commence. Waking before the 4:45 a.m. alarm helped take the sting out of the buzz, but either way the lack of sleep would catch up at some point. Fortunately, we wouldn’t have to wake up as early the next morning since we would be spending the night far from our launching point and right in the middle of the action. We splashed the skiff in the darkness and quickly left the few lights of Islamorada in our wake. I’d made this run fishing with Captain Shafter Johnston dozens of times, but this would be the first time we wouldn’t be returning that day.
Few venues are as pristine and inspiring as Everglades National Park.
I always enjoy weaving through the channels and basins of Florida Bay, but it’s a little different in complete darkness with only a GPS and handheld spotlight to guide you. A half hour into our trek the sun began to illuminate the skies to our east and the last few spoil islands appeared, giving way to the mainland of the Everglades on the horizon. We passed East Cape and cruised up the coast as the clouds lit up with the brilliant colors of the sunrise.
As often happens, the tarpon action dwindled as the hot sun rose high above the trees, signaling it was time for us to move on.
Our plan was to throw flies at rolling tarpon in the low light, and then explore the numerous coastal creeks and shorelines for snook and redfish. We pulled up along a nondescript shoreline blanketed in standing and fallen timber from past hurricanes. After idling in toward shore we shut down, quietly grabbed fly rod and push pole, and took position on our platforms while letting the wake dissipate. Just as Captain Shafter had promised, they were there, lit up with the sunrise casting down the shoreline. They appeared to be singles and in small groups slowly rolling, with a few laid up on the surface finned out. It’s a different game compared to feeding them ocean side in the Keys. Out here in the Everglades we cast at rollers and laid up fish, often making an educated guess as to their current location. From here you strip long and slow until you feel the weight of the fish or see the trademark golden flash. Large black and purple flies fished deep with sink-tip line often out fish all other artificials. The soft presentation and gentle landing of a fly simply can’t be beat.
On this morning we put a few nice fish in the air and brought a spunky 60-pounder to the skiff for a quick photo. We likely could have stuck a couple more fish, but got sidetracked by the sight of bigger fish pushing north just offshore. We struggled poling to intersect them in 12- to 15-feet of water but managed to jump one out of a user-friendly daisy chain that gave us a number of shots. As often happens, the tarpon action dwindled as the hot sun rose high above the trees, signaling it was time for us to move on.
We cooled off for a little bit running north up the coast before turning into a creek that quickly shrank to the point it was barely wide enough to fit the skiff. After a few hundred yards of winding mangrove tunnels, we emerged into a series of mudflats that were draining the last of the tide from the interior of the Everglades. The little bit of water that was left was only a foot deep in the channel and we could see mullet waking everywhere in the shallows.
Occasionally, the bigger push of a redfish or pop of a snook would break the surface tension in the tannin-tinted waters. We managed a couple good hours of fishing before the heat of the day brewed up a nasty thunderstorm, at which point we pushed back out into the Gulf where we could better assess the situation. Normally, this would be time to batten down the hatches and run for the hills,but lucky for us our mothership for the night was on its way.
Just before the storm closed in on us, the Blue Moon Expedition mothership pulled up to save the day. We ran through the building surface chop, tied up along-side the 74’ Hatteras and ducked inside for some cover and a little afternoon rest. Shelter is pretty much non-existent in the Everglades, and with such incredible and unpressured habitat around it’s nice to be able to have a place to wait out the weather. Once the intense storm passed, we were able to run back over and put a few more fish in the air.
When the sun sets in the Everglades it quickly becomes apparent how far you are from civilization. With almost zero light pollution, the sky goes black and the moon and stars light up without urban-based competition. After a grilled steak, warm shower and a great night’s sleep, the morning alarm was no big deal knowing the fish were only a few minutes away.
On this trip we were focused on hunting tarpon on fly, with redfish and snook as excellent alternatives, but numerous options exist, especially if you have the luxury of spending a night or two on the mothership. Having a home base makes it easier than ever to explore one of the world’s most diverse and complex ecosystems and target the numerous game fish species that call these waters home.
I’ve been visiting the Everglades for over 30 years, but recently had the opportunity to experience it like never before. Sure, you can camp in the chickees or under the stars on the beach, but the older I get, the more I enjoy the comforts of a comfortable bed, air-conditioning, a warm shower and home-cooked meal, all right in the middle of some of the best backcountry fishing on the planet.
Life at Sea:
Over the last several years Captain Shafter has been evolving Blue Moon Expeditions to offer the best access and fishing experiences possible. Recently, Blue Moon Expeditions (bluemoonexpeditions.com) merged with Eleven Experience (elevenexperience.com) to provide the highest level of service possible. The fully customized 74’ Hatteras mothership with brand new Hell’s Bay Biscayne skiffs provide an unparalleled experience, and an exciting new offering of destinations not limited to the Everglades. The new mothership offers room for six adventurous anglers and crew to fish and live in comfort for extended stays on distant waters where game fish flourish and others only visit in their wildest dreams.