You’ll learn a lot along the way when you begin taking unguided trips into the backcountry. We began our winter Everglades National Park camping trips with my 20′ Old Town canoe outfitted with retractable outriggers, powered by the paddle and a 2½ hp. outboard. It is extremely stable, safe and carries all the gear needed for a week of camping. We knew we’d be able to find our way around easily enough using a NOAA chart and compass (with a gps back-up) and not get into much trouble. Tides hide dangers below so our thoughts were “If we’re not going very fast shallow water, sand and oyster bar encounters won’t be very serious.” We had no one to show us the way so the canoe seemed like the logical choice to safely find our way about. Our plan was to go 25 miles in. The learning curve taught us many things. The first being our big canoe served us well but it had its limitations. It was slow traveling at a maximum speed of 6-8 mph so it took all day to get where we wanted to be. When fully loaded it only handled a foot of sea chop before taking spray over the side. Many bays we had to cross were much bigger in real time than they appear on the chart sitting in our lap so we constantly needed to leave the main trail for a lea shore to avoid choppy water, adding to our travel distance between destinations. We hadn’t bitten off more than we could chew. The issue became, travel time seriously cut into our productive fishing time.
On our return from last winter’s canoe trip one thing became very obvious. Our flats boats would eliminate these obstacles. We would be able to remain on the marked trail staying in deeper water allowing us to run at 25 mph, carry more gear, and have two boats just in case. Once there we could cover greater distances and explore a lot more country. It proved to be a very wise decision.
On Monday of the third week in January we launched out of Chokoloskee at the north end of the park then headed 25 miles south towards Lostman’s River. Our plans were to camp on the same spot as last winter and explore as much water as time would allow within a ten mile radius of our campsite.
The learning curve began at the launch. In our haste to squeeze every bit of daylight into our trip we began our journey in a bay all but void of water, low tide. We know the channel but even it was too shallow and narrow so our 25 mph plans would have to wait until we hit the trail markers and deeper water 3 miles away. So with motors on tilt we idled our way along.
With only a couple of minor course corrections the journey in was easy and we were campsite tight in a little over 3 hours. Our only fishing plans on this day were to find familiar water that produced fish last winter. The spotted sea trout were still in the places we left them last time plus a couple of small snook were right where the text book said they should be, a very good sign. Last year we found very few snook in an entire week of fishing.
Mission accomplished we return to base to find another fisherman camped along side us. Randy was also in for the week, alone, very friendly and a fisherman’s bond began that proved to be invaluable.