Everglades National Park canoe trip Jan. 24-27, 2011
Steve Cole and I did a 4 day canoe trip into the backcountry of remote Waterwater Bay in Everglades National Park. We had a wonderful time. We both agreed we would do it again tomorrow. Below is the account of our trip. I hope you find my ramblings interesting.
There are also a number of addition photos posted on our “Photos” page of the website.
Launched at Flamingo, the south most access to Everglades National Park, at 10:30 am and headed to the North River Chickee platform, a distance of about 25 miles. We are sporting around in my 20’ Old Town XL Tripper with a 2.5 hp outboard motor and outriggers for added stability. Our thought is we will be able to cover some water, stay upright (so we won’t be eaten by gators), and still get a lot of fishing time in. I will add we are spending 4 days afloat in the park and we will not once set foot on dry land, pythons are rumored to be out there.
A strong southeast wind kept us from the direct route across Whitewater Bay. It’s huge and appeared to be more than we wanted to take on with a full load. So we motored along the lea shore till we could enter the river system and the backcountry to avoid the open water of the huge bay. Bear in mind this entire area is a maze of tidal rivers that all look alike. There are three way intersections and dead end channels. Once we were in the Roberts River wind was no longer an issue. We just had to find our way along the maze of river channels. Steve was the navigator and kept our position on the map at all times. We also had a GPS that helped reinforce our position. With the map, compass, and GPS we never were lost and after 3 days in the wilderness we reentered Whitewater Bay and Steve said “That channel marker you can see over there should be Red #44” and it was. A top notch navigator is an absolute must.
Fishing was the easy part. Find the deeper water of the river corners and we caught spotted and sand sea trout. Ladyfish are everywhere.
The chickee platform was just large enough for our 10 X 10 tent and all our stuff. The winds died by happy hour and we dined on sea trout fillets with mac and cheese then checked out till dawn.
We fished around the area of the chickee then packed to head for the next one at Watson River. You are only allowed one night at any chickee platform. It’s like an Allagash canoe trip when everyone moves everyday so others travelers have a place to call home at the end of the day. Once you are in the backcountry chickees are about 5-8 miles apart.
We fished all day and caught many fish in the river system. When we found fish it was literally a fish a cast. If one fell off another would hit. At one point I counted and had 4 different fish on in one retrieve. It was a wonderful day on the water and we again dined on sea trout fillets for dinner on the Watson River chickee. After a beautiful sunset we settled in for the night.
We were all tucked in and sound asleep, then at 11:30 pm the leading edge of an unknown, to us, cold front slammed us with 50-60 mph winds. We woke to the sound of a freight train just before the wind arrived. I have experienced them before but knew they were coming and always managed to scamper away and hide while they passed. These are the kind of fronts that leave boats, caught in the middle of a lake, upside down. The initial blast just about flattened the tent and it was a wild state of affairs for 30 minutes with an upside down kitchen in the tent. I learned long ago to always police the campsite before retiring. It’s more about rain and raccoons than wind but we had the tent tied down tight to the chickee platform and the canoe very secure with everything packed away. Our Eureka tent held fast and the canoe and motor stayed put and upright. A hard rain accompanied the front but we were safe, secure, tucked back in, and all was well an hour later.
We woke at dawn to rain and thunderstorms but the winds had died and shifted to the south which left us in the lea so we enjoyed an extra pot of coffee and added a layer of clothing because the front brought with it cooler air. Here layering means an additional long sleeve shirt.
Just as we were getting the canoe loaded we saw one of the two other canonists we passed on our journey. He was alone, very wide eyed and planning on putting a lot of water behind him before his day was done. His one comment was “Big winds today according to my weather radio. How come it’s so calm?” Ten more words and he was long gone.
Once packed, we fished our way to our next chickee, about 8 miles away. The winds slowly built during the morning so we moved from the open bay back into the shelter of the tidal rivers. Fishing today was slow, probably due to the cold front and colder water temperature. The entire area seemed like the size of Moosehead Lake but with water depths that average less than 5 feet. The cool, wind driven rain and fallen air temps cool this water quickly. Falling water temps always put the fish off. Blue skies, rising water temps, and fishing gets better and better. Read any fishing report from Florida and it’s the same story. January just seems to have more cold fronts than any other time of season. It is a winter month.
Once we were set-up on the Oyster Bay chickee skies cleared for another beautiful sunset while we were entertained during happy hour by three dolphins hunting in the bay around our campsite. They weigh-in at over a 100 pounds and are fierce predator. Every fish out there is on the menu. A crystal clear, star filled night followed. There is a low red glow on the eastern horizon, probably Miami.
We woke to a beautiful, calm, clear day but night air temps have fallen into the 40’s. It wasn’t long before the sun showed and immediately warmed the air around us. Steve caught a nice breakfast sea trout literally out of the tent flap. We added Canadian bacon, eggs and an English muffin for an Oyster Bay breakfast.
Today we have to make tracks. We have a long haul, maybe 25 miles back to the take-out at Flamingo.
Winds remained light the entire way and temps climbed into the high 60’s. We caught sea trout, ladyfish, lizard fish (ugly little beasts), Spanish mackerel, and mangrove snapper. Finished the day with a fish a cast at the Tarpon River and watched a fabulous sunset on our way out of the park.
Every person I mentioned our trip plans to had the same comments. “What about all those alligators?” And “The snakes man, there are pythons out there.” And my favorite “Are you aware the bugs will suck every ounce of blood from you if you are not prepared.”
So Steve and I took extra bottles of DEET, pledged to zip the tent flap extra tight every night and remained on alligator watch throughout the journey.
I’m sorry to report the most dangerous things we encountered were the two inch long platform crabs living on the chickees that were afraid of their own shadow and scurried off to hide if you even looked their way.
We were a bit disappointed that we truly never spotted an alligator, snake of any kind, and only may have been bitten by two honest to goodness non-see-ems, but that was the first night and most likely a product of our over active imaginations. I wonder if this is not just an act to keep the masses away. We did only see two other parties in four days. Maybe next time.
I must say I would head back in tomorrow. It is a wonderful experience in the real wilderness of Florida where you could get good and lost. Everglades National Park is way over 1,000,000 acres of unspoiled backcountry. The chickee platforms are well maintained and a welcome sight at the end of a day in the canoe. A fish a cast ain’t half bad either. I should probably wait though till warmer weather brings warmer water temps and the snook out of hiding just in time for the bugs, snakes, and gators to resurface.
For those interested I will probably offer a couple of 3-4 night backcountry canoe/fishing trips next winter. I have to do a bit more investigating later this winter to confirm my findings.
You’ll find a number of trip photos posted on our “Photos” page.